November 30, 2011

Across generations: New center unites researchers in womens, childrens, adolescents health

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

Visit the Global WACh website.

The UWs new Global Center for Integrated Health of Women, Adolescents and Children (Global WACh) wants to help researchers overcome a daunting task – seeking solutions across generations.

Instead of viewing each group as a separate population, the center is looking at them as an “interconnected system” linked by common issues — nutrition, disease prevention, education and reproductive health topics like family planning.

Around the world, a mothers' health and her children's well-being are closely linked.

Around the world, a mothers

Global WACh officially launches Dec. 8 with a formal event on campus featuring keynote speaker Leslie Mancuso, CEO of the health advocacy group Jhpiego, who will deliver a lecture on ways to improve health throughout the WACh lifecycle. The event, co-sponsored by Washington Global Health Alliance, will take place in Foege Auditorium from 4-6 p.m.

The center is sponsored by three departments at the University of Washington: Global Health, Pediatrics and Obstetrics/Gynecology and was formed in 2011 after a competitive campus-wide search by the Department of Global Health for projects to bring together different disciplines. The center got off the ground in the summer of 2011 as a result of more than 40 members from UW and research organizations worldwide.

Initially, Global WACh had been planned as a research center for global pediatrics. But  John-Stewart said that it became clear early on that child health was tightly intertwined with womens and adolescents health issues, which necessitated a wider scope.

Global WACh already is engaged in ongoing research and community projects involving maternal and child HIV/AIDS interventions in Kenya and reducing maternal mortality in Latin America.

But the center is looking to expand.

“Wed like to heavily involve the University, but also extend our reach to people who are like-minded, such as PATH andther non-governmental organizations,” John-Stewart said. “Were very open to collaborations particularly those that will enable us to address healthcare challenges from a broader interdisciplinary perspective. ”

Global WACh is also looking toward more future academic integration within UW. A graduate certificate program in development would create a comprehensive curriculum focusing on interconnected health concerns for women, adolescents and children.  

“We wanted to create a certificate that was accessible to students University-wide and are hoping to engage students from disciplines such as business, engineering and law in addition to traditional health sciences program”, said Michael Ruffo, who has been working with Alison Drake, Global WACh Discovery lead, to develop the certificate program.

Additionally, Global WACh will award a few $25,000 seed grants to interdisciplinary research proposals that will investigate health impacts through the lifecycle. This year’s winners will be announced at the Global WACh launch in December.

“We had a lot of interest from a lot of different departments,” John-Stewart said of the nearly 20 applicants. “Some are thinking of social barriers, some are looking at technology to help advance interventions that will help women and adolescents and some are thinking outside the box to bring people together.”

She said the grants will be awarded to projects “worth growing” that involve researchers from multiple disciplines and at least two out of three lifecycle stages.

Pam Kohler, who leads the Global WACh Collaboration Core and oversees the seed grants competition, said that she was pleased with the level of interest that the seed grants garnered during their first year.

An additional pilot grant competition, co-sponsored by the W.H. Coulter Foundation Translational Research Partnership through the Department of Bioengineering, will also be unveiled in winter 2012 in conjunction with Global WAChs 10-week Bioengineering Seminar speaker series led by Kim Woodrow-Wilson from the Bioengineering Department and Jennifer Slyker, who heads the Global WACh Leadership Core.

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