University of Hawaiʻi researchers are teaming up with community groups, clinics and hospitals under a $12.6-million effort dubbed RMATRIX that supports interdisciplinary and translational research on health disparities among isle residents.
The goal is to improve the health of people who suffer from disproportionately higher rates of (and worse outcomes from) serious illness. In Hawaiʻi, that includes heart disease, diabetes, asthma, cancer and dementia.
UH Mānoa is one of five U.S. academic institutions funded through the National Institutes of Health’s Research Centers in Minority Institutions. That’s the “R.” MATRIX stands for Multidisciplinary and Translational Research Infrastructure Expansion.
Translational research rapidly transfers study findings to treatment settings to benefit patients. UH investigators will use the resources to build on years of experience identifying and addressing health disparities in Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and other populations in multicultural and multiethnic Hawaiʻi, says lead investigator Jerris Hedges, dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
- cardiovascular health
- respiratory health
- nutritional and metabolic health
- cancer prevention, epidemiology, treatment and drug discovery
- perinatal, growth and developmental health
- aging and neurocognitive health
“Understanding and addressing these health outcome disparities in our multicultural setting will help our nation as a whole answer why some diseases are more prevalent in minority populations and what can be done to reduce the burden of these diseases,” says Shiramizu.
The grant will provide infrastructure to bolster research collaborations and investigations, such as assistance in putting grants together and navigating regulatory requirements, to “make scientific studies more doable,” he explains.
At the university, faculty in nursing, engineering, geosciences, law and other programs throughout UH’s Mānoa and Hilo campuses are encouraged to collaborate with medical school investigators. A single administrative infrastructure will consolidate and enhance existing resources, drawing from similar NIH-funded sites with overlapping research needs and interests, and will support investigators through education, training and career development.
In the community, Native Hawaiians and others will help identify major health issues. Successful programs in Hawaiʻi hospitals, neighborhood health clinics and Hawaiian civic groups (the longest-standing community organizations representing Native Hawaiians) will be integrated, and resources will support clinical and translational projects.
On the Big Island, for example, Professor of Medicine Elizabeth Tam, who leads the RMATRIX respiratory health initiative, will build on her partnership with the Kaʻū Rural Health Community Association. Environmental health is an overriding issue on the Big Island because of the vog created by gases from the ongoing eruption of Kīlauea volcano.
The Queen’s Health Systems will help identify ways to enhance collaborative activities, recruit investigators, encourage community involvement and streamline approval of studies based at the hospital, pledges CEO Arthur Ushijima, a member of the RMATRIX Council.
The university and community are very different cultures, and it can be a challenge to work together, notes David Derauf, executive director of the Kōkua Kalihi Valley Health Center. “This grant gives us an opportunity to narrow that gap considerably,” building on projects begun over the past decade, such as an innovative gardening project suggested by a group of patients that promotes a healthier lifestyle.
“We want capacity in the community where ideas are self-generated and people can go to the university and ask, How about this? How about trying this out? Here are some obstacles. How can we get funding?“ RMATRIX can move the university and communities in that direction with shared goals and resources.