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$385,000 grant will create HBCU model diabetes prevention program

A WSSU School of Health Sciences student assists a patient at the Rams Know H.O.W. mobile unit.

Winston-Salem State University’s School of Health Sciences (SOHS) has been awarded a $385,000 research grant to carry out a model diabetes prevention program for high-risk, low-income communities.

The long-term goal of the grant – through the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities –will be to create a first-of-its-kind network of healthcare intervention programs delivered through historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), says Dr. Melicia Whitt-Glover, who will serve as co-project investigator (PI) on the grant.

“HBCUs are typically located within communities that are at high risk for chronic disease,” Whitt-Glover says. “Through this grant, we will research how HBCU faculty and students can become partners to provide interventions to prevent and treat chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in the communities they serve.”

In the United States, studies show that 86 million adults have pre-diabetes and are at high risk for joining the 29.1 million Americans who already have type 2 diabetes.

The two-year grant, titled “Implementing Evidence-Based Interventions to Prevent Chronic Disease Through HBCUs,” will focus on three main goals:

  • To assess and identify the barriers to diabetes prevention interventions in low-income, high-risk communities through HBCU-community partnerships.
  • To adapt, pilot test and evaluate a curriculum for training HBCU students to facilitate evidence-based interventions in low-income, high-risk communities.
  • To explore the feasibility for expanding the model to other HBCUs.

Whitt-Glover, who serves as director of the WSSU Center for Excellence for the Elimination of Health Disparities, said the neighborhoods surrounding WSSU have more than 50 percent of the racial and ethnic minority and low-income residents within Forsyth County. Also, the prevalence of chronic disease, including diabetes and related poor health behaviors, are among the highest in the county. Access to evidence-based interventions also are low, she added.

Initial research will be through WSSU’s SOHS and Wake Forest University Health Sciences.

Dr. Jeffrey Meixner, assistant professor of clinical lab sciences, will be the co-PI on the project. Co-investigators are: Dr. Jesse Pittsley (WSSU), Dr. Michael McKenzie (WSSU), Dr. Montrale Boykin (WSSU) and Dr. Mara Vitolins (Wake Forest).

A long-term goal is to expand the program through additional partner institutions. Faculty from three minority-serving institutions will serve on the advisory board for the grant: Huston-Tillotson University, Norfolk State University and Virginia State University. 

As part of the grant, students will receive learning opportunities through a for-credit multidisciplinary course. In the course, students will train to become facilitators who will offer the program on-campus and in the communities surrounding WSSU. The course is expected to begin in August 2018 with about 30 students.

This is one of a number of SOHS initiatives focused on the health of high-risk residents in Forsyth County. Between January and August, SOHS faculty and students have served more than 1,200 residents, providing services as free care at the Community Care Center, free health checks and referrals through the Rams Know H.O.W. mobile unit, and diabetes prevention and outreach and wellness services at churches to improve the rate of diabetes. WSSU is the only HBCU in the nation with a mobile unit focused on chronic disease prevention in the country.

The National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities is one of 27 institutes and center of the National Institutes of Health, the nation’s premier medical research agency.

WSSU’s School of Health Sciences is an ethnically diverse school that embraces health equity in education, research and service. Signature programs include master of science in occupational therapy, clinical doctoral degrees in nursing and physical therapy, and a bridge to the Ph.D. in nursing with Duke University.

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