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Frontiers Research Day 2019 Highlights Community and Research Collaborations

April 12, 2019

By Marion During

Megha Ramaswamy, Matthew Macaluso, Richard Barohn, Allen Greiner, Hakima Payne, Eric Williams and Kelly Ranalo pose for a photo at Frontiers Research Day 2019.Frontiers: University of Kansas Clinical and Translational Science Institute promoted community and research collaboration at its region-wide Frontiers Research Day, which was held on Thursday, March 28, 2019, at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

In his keynote address titled "Community and Research Marriages," Reverend Eric D. Williams, pastor of Kansas City's Calvary Temple Baptist Church, challenged researchers to truly think about what and for whom they are doing their research.

"Are you asking the right questions," Williams said in his message. "And then are you listening to the answers?"

The Reverend spoke of his marriage to his wife, Brenda, and how they have overcome hurdles together as a team. He told the audience that involving the community in scientific and medical research is like a marriage relationship. Both sides must invest their time and commitment to truly make an impact.

"It's there in that intersection where we will find solutions," Williams said.

Williams, who is highly involved in the HIV/AIDS community in Kansas City, works to include health, wellness and lifestyle encouragement to reduce disparities with the vision of bringing African American's health status in our region at least in line with other populations.

Continuing the theme of community and research collaboration, the day ended with a panel session featuring a diverse group of community members including: Hakima Tafunzi Payne, M.S.N., R.N., Executive Director of Kansas City's Uzazi Village; Kelly Ranallo, Founder of RareKC; and Reverend Eric D. Williams; and researchers including: Allen Greiner, M.D., M.P.H., Research Director and Professor, University of Kansas Medical Center Department of Family Medicine and Community Health; Matthew Macaluso, D.O., Assistant Dean of Research at the University of Kansas School of Medicine - Wichita; and Megha Ramaswamy, Ph.D., M.P.H. Associate Professor, University of Kansas Medical Center Department of Preventive Medicine and Public Health.

The panel inspired dialogue and thoughtful conversation regarding the fact that many researchers are not trained to think about and include the community in their work.

"Good community engagement looks like engagement in which the community leads," Payne said. "The community wants a long-term commitment. We might actually need a new model, I think none of us knows what this actually looks like, it may be something we have never experienced before."

Ramaswamy noted that just acknowledging unconscious bias and learning about a community is not enough.

"Cultural competence implies otherness," she said. "I prefer to build structural competence. When researchers get on the same page of structural competence we can do good work."

Williams challenged researchers and the medical community to think about the last time they spent time in the community.

"It's time for the white coat to come off and for the person, the human being, to be exposed to the community that doesn't trust you," Williams said. "Just show up at a picnic, or a basketball game or a 5k. There are a number of events in the African American and Latino communities that would welcome folks from the healthcare community."

Kim Kimminau, Ph.D., Associate Director of Frontiers, has worked closely with community members on a variety of projects in the past.

"One of the things I've learned in just the last couple of years is how ready patients and communities are to partner, but how unready we are as a research community to accept and include them," she said. "We need to work on our own training and our own capacities to do this so that we as researchers are more confident and competent in our approach to the community."

Many investigators in the audience noted that they have not previously done much to include community members in their research but plan to do so moving forward. Kathleen Gustafson, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor of Neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, studies maternal-fetal health and child outcomes and has been troubled for years by reports of higher maternal and infant mortality in African American women.

"Reverend Williams' keynote address hit home with me," Gustafson said. "Are we listening, can we bring evidence-based research tools to help with the ‘pain in the valley,' can we leave something behind? These are the challenges we all should rise to meet. Our team was so inspired by this challenge and the comments from the panel discussion that we've already arranged to meet with community stakeholders."

Although the theme of the day was concentrated on community and research collaboration, the program also addressed the broad goals of the Frontiers consortium and its work in advancing all areas of clinical and translational research. Five oral presentations highlighted the outstanding work of researchers who have received Frontiers support on a wide range of topics from multiple sclerosis to autism: Catherine Siengsukon, P.T., Ph.D.; Randi Ryan, M.D.; Jonathan B. Wagner, D.O., F.A.A.P.; and Kathryn Unruh, Ph.D.

Kansas State University's Juergen A. Richt, D.V.M., Ph.D., also gave an oral presentation titled "Mitigation Strategies for Zoonotic Viral Diseases." In 2018, Frontiers formed a partnership with the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine as part of the Clinical and Translational Science Award One Health Alliance (COHA). COHA's mission is to advance our understanding of diseases shared by humans and animals by leveraging the expertise of physicians, research scientists, veterinarians and other professionals to find solutions for medical problems and to address the well-being of humans, animals and the environment.

Nearly 40 other researchers from Children's Mercy, Saint Luke's Health System and the University of Missouri-Kansas City presented posters about their work. These studies represent work being carried out across the Kansas City region by Frontiers' partner institutions.

"I'm glad we have been able to highlight some of the exceptional projects that have been supported and funded by Frontiers," said Richard J. Barohn, M.D., Primary Investigator and Director of Frontiers. "The research that was presented today is truly amazing and I'm proud that Frontiers has been able to play a part in so much outstanding research."

The event also featured the presentation of the 2019 Team Science Award to Douglas E. Wright, Ph.D., Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology; Patricia Kluding, P.T., Ph.D., Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences; and Mamatha Pasnoor, M.D., Department of Neurology for their project titled "Team Science Approaches to Translational Research in Diabetic Neuropathy." This annual award acknowledges investigators who bridge disciplinary boundaries, work with community members and accelerate their research using team-based approaches.

About Frontiers

Frontiers: University of Kansas Clinical and Translational Science Institute (KU CTSI) is part of a nationwide network of CTSI institutions working to speed the research process from scientific discovery to patient care. Frontiers supports the spectrum of translational research, from animal health studies to community-based and population health outcomes research. Frontiers recognizes that diverse teams are essential to improve health, and of utmost importance are the partnerships and collaborations with communities, families and individuals. Frontiers is supported by a five-year, $25 million grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Last modified: Jul 15, 2019