Population Health

December 6, 2022

Initiative announces award of five autumn quarter 2022 Tier 2 pilot research grants

UW team conducting research on a boatFive new Population Health Initiative Tier 2 pilot grants were awarded today to teams representing researchers from six different UW schools and colleges as well as several community-based partners. The total value of these awards was roughly $530,000, which included $280,000 in funding from the initiative plus additional matching funds from different schools, colleges and departments.

“We are thrilled to support these research teams in pursuing potential solutions to key population-level challenges such as mental health and well-being, healthcare access and point-of-care diagnostics,” shared Ali H. Mokdad, the university’s chief strategy officer for population health and professor of health metrics sciences. “The strong, interdisciplinary make-up of these teams, including community-based partners, has them well positioned for project success.”

The initiative’s Tier 2 pilot grant program supports researchers in developing preliminary data or the proof-of-concept needed to pursue follow-on funding to scale one’s efforts. The awardees for this cycle are:

Be REAL: A Task-sharing Approach to Implementing a Mental Health Prevention Program for College Students

Liliana Lengua, Department of Psychology, Center for Child & Family Well-Being
Megan Kennedy, UW Resilience Lab
Paula Nurius, School of Social Work
Sasha Duttchoudhury, Resilience Lab
Sara McDermott, Center for Child & Family Well-Being
Tyneshia Valdez, Department of Astronomy

Project abstract
The rise in mental health concerns among college students has resulted in a need for increased options for supporting mental health. This study evaluates a task-sharing model for delivering a preventive program at colleges across the country. A task-sharing model in which staff already working with students in advising, student services, and affinity spaces deliver the program can enhance acceptability, feasibility, and scalability.

We propose to adapt and evaluate an online Be REAL (Resilient Attitudes & Living) facilitator training with a cohort of staff from colleges within Washington and across the country. Be REAL is a six-week program that has demonstrated success in improving college student well-being when delivered by UW staff. The UW Center for Child & Family Well-Being will partner with higher education institutions across the country to offer Be REAL on their campuses. Requests already received emphasize the need to support students, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

This project will enable us to improve the online cross-campus Be REAL training and evaluate the effectiveness of Be REAL when delivered to students by staff who receive this training. Across approximately four to six campuses, we anticipate that up to 200 students could participate in a pre-/post-test evaluation of the program, providing robust pilot data to support a larger RCT. Be REAL offers a model to address social inequities by laying the groundwork to scale a task-sharing approach to prevention, ensuring students have access to programs where they can strengthen resilience skills and build social connections, addressing the population health pillars of human health and social equity.

Evaluate potential delays in access to abortion services in Washington State following the U.S. Supreme Court decision

Jen Balkus, Department of Epidemiology
Lyndsey Benson, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology
Anna Fiastro, Department of Family Medicine
Emily Godfrey, Department of Family Medicine
Anuj Khattar, Cedar River Clinic
Sarah Prager, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology
Taylor Riley, Department of Epidemiology

Project abstract
On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the U.S. Constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. This decision abolished the precedent of abortion access guaranteed in Roe v. Wade and critically altered the healthcare landscape for pregnant-capable people, as a cascade of abortion restrictions have been implemented across the country. States with laws protecting abortion access, like Washington, are likely to see significant increases in patients from states with more restrictive laws. Increased demand for abortion services without an accompanying increase in health system infrastructure and capacity could result in delays in accessing care.

Our multi-disciplinary team of reproductive health researchers and University of Washington abortion providers seeks to collaborate with community partners at Cedar River Clinics, a non-profit charitable organization and one of the largest providers of abortion care across Washington, to develop a system to efficiently extract and summarize electronic medical records data and utilize these data to evaluate potential delays in abortion access in Washington following Dobbs.

This project directly addresses the population health pillars of human health and social and economic equity by focusing on the population-level health impacts of restrictive anti-abortion policies that have economic, social and health consequences. This work fills an important gap in abortion surveillance and will help to inform changes in health services delivery and public health policy in Washington to support improved access to care, especially for populations most impacted.

Development of PCR-free, phage-mediated molecular diagnostic tools for bacterial infection detection at the point-of-care

Alex Meeske, Department of Microbiology
Jeff Nivala, Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering
Nuttada Panpradist, Department of Bioengineering
Holly Rawizza, Department of Medicine, Harvard University
Georg Seelig, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Project abstract
Sepsis causes over 11 million deaths annually and is the leading cause of death among infants and children globally. However, the standard diagnostic is unavailable in many low-and-middle-income countries where most sepsis-related deaths occur. Rapid, low-resource diagnostics for sepsis-causing bacteria have the potential to transform treatment for this rapidly fatal condition by improving physicians’ ability to detect and appropriately treat sepsis and, in turn, increase survival.

Our ultimate goal is to develop a cost-effective and rapid diagnostic workflow that can simultaneously detect a panel of 10-plus sepsis-causing bacteria. In this proposal, we aim to develop proof-of-concept novel chemistry to detect the most common sepsis-causing bacterium, E. coli. We envision our novel chemistry to trick the E. coli into “performing self-diagnostics.” Our chemistry contains two parts: (i) an engineered phage that can infect E. coli and cause it to express and secret a restriction endonuclease based on the DNA we packaged into the phage; (ii) an engineered DNA strand displacement circuit that is responsive to the restriction endonuclease secreted by the infected E. coli. This system has not yet been demonstrated and could revolutionize bacterial sepsis detection by overcoming complex, costly, and time-consuming workflow in traditional PCR or blood culture.

Access to an easy-to-use, cost-effective rapid diagnostic that will identify the causative pathogen has the potential to significantly improve sepsis care globally. Additionally, proper use of antibiotics could help address the growing public health threat of antimicrobial resistance and prolong the effectiveness of current antibiotic options.

NEW Parents Connect: Nurturing Emotional Wellbeing in Perinatal Parents Living in a Low-income Context

Liliana J. Lengua, Department of Psychology, Center for Child and Family Well-being (CCFW)
Stephanie Thompson, Department of Psychology
Ira Kantrowitz-Gordon, Department of Child, Family, and Population Health Nursing
Becca Calhoun, Department of Psychology
Krystle Perez, Department of Pediatrics
Keshet Ronen, Department of Global Health

Project abstract
Economically disadvantaged and racially or ethnically diverse parents are more likely to experience stress and mental health problems in pregnancy and are less likely to receive pregnancy support. Mindfulness-based interventions have been shown to reduce stress and support mental health in advantaged samples but are not routinely offered to families living in the context of low income.

This research team developed mindfulness-based programs to be delivered in pregnancy and the early postpartum to diverse families. The programs improved mental health and parenting practices. However, the benefits observed during pregnancy did not last into the postpartum period and new parents struggled to attend the postpartum class with their infants.

The current study proposes an online adaptation and community partnership to address the barriers to attendance. First, the study team, in partnership with a community organization, will conduct an online version of the postpartum group. We will determine if this format improves attendance, collect feedback, and confirm the program’s benefits to mental health are seen via an online format. The program will then be delivered a second time, with both the pregnancy intervention and the postpartum intervention being offered online by the community partner. Similar verbal feedback and symptom reporting will be used to show the programs can be effectively delivered by individuals in the community outside of the UW research team. In so doing, the current study will lay the groundwork for additional partnerships that bring needed peripartum services to families across Washington who would otherwise be furthest from such supports.

Early Hearing Detection and Intervention in Kenya (EHDI-K): Opportunities and challenges to improve access and decrease loss to follow up

Sarah Benki-Nugent, Department of Global Health
Emily Gallagher, Department of Pediatrics
Nada Ali, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery
Serah Ndegwa, University of Nairobi Department of Surgery and Kenyatta National Hospital
Manaseh Bocha, Kenya Ministry of Health
Chimmy Omamo-Olende, Operation Ear Drop Kenya
Dalton Wamalwa, University of Nairobi Department of Pediatrics
Irene Njuguna, Kenyatta National Hospital
Maureen Kinge, University of Nairobi Department of Pediatrics and Kenyatta National Hospital
Caren Mburu, Kenyatta National Hospital

Project abstract
Hearing loss is a neglected global health issue, with the largest burden in low- and middle-income countries. The average age of identification of permanent pediatric hearing loss in Kenya is five years, yet it is imperative that services reach children much earlier because disabling hearing loss can disrupt critical language, psychosocial, and neurocognitive development in infancy and early childhood.

The proposed project is a multidisciplinary collaboration among faculty, trainees, policymakers, and community leaders at the University of Washington, University of Nairobi, Kenya Ministry of Health Ear and Hearing Care Technical Working Group, and Operation Ear Drop Kenya (OEDK). We will conduct formative research to understand key drivers of lack of access and loss to follow up to early hearing detection and intervention for infants and children under six in Kenya.

Our primary objective is to understand the caregiver and clinician experiences with early childhood hearing care services. Because these services in Kenya are limited, we will leverage an ongoing NIH-funded study in addition to public and private health facilities to identify eligible subjects. In-depth interviews and focus group discussions with caregivers and clinicians will be recorded and transcribed, and thematic analysis will be conducted.

The findings of this formative work will be presented to key stakeholders and used to develop a communication toolkit to enable OEDK community engagement activities. Guided by the expertise and priorities of our academic-community-policy partnership, the preliminary evidence base generated through this work will support policy development and future community-identified intervention-based research grant applications

More information about the Population Health Initiative pilot grant program, tiering and upcoming deadlines can be found by visiting our funding page.