Christie Befort understands the obstacles to good health in rural America. Her family’s experience has inspired her to investigate solutions.
Obesity is an issue for reasons beyond diet and exercise, said the associate professor of preventive medicine and public health, citing her mother as an example.
When Befort encouraged her to exercise by walking to the store, her mother, a small town resident, declined. “She said, ‘What am I going to do, take a cart with me? People would be talking about that all over town.’
“It’s just not part of the culture to do that,” Befort said. “Just having grown up watching the ups and downs of people in my family struggling with weight, I feel like I’ve had the inside scoop.”
She has received a $10 million award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute to
rural areas is six percent
higher than in urban areas.
— SOURCE: National Rural
figure out what works in rural communities. Befort and her team will compare the effectiveness of three obesity treatment options in rural primary care practices in Kansas, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The project, known as the Midwestern Collaborative for Treating Obesity in Rural Primary Care, is expected to last five years.
Befort cites a range of issues, including a lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, the absence of recreational activities, and insufficient support systems as barriers to good health and weight loss.
Although obesity increases the risk of serious and often deadly diseases such as heart disease, stroke, and breast cancer, Befort says few primary care physicians offer intensive programs to patients. In rural areas, where residents already have a higher rate of obesity than in cities, the problem is more prevalent.
Studies have shown that physicians don’t always know how to raise the issues or don’t think patients want to talk about obesity because they are embarassed or uncomfortable, she said. "Then, in the rural setting that's exacerbated in a small town where everybody knows each other."
Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and
It supports scientists. It involves the health care community. And it reduces the time it takes to get newly discovered cures or therapies out to patients.
It’s called Frontiers: The Heartland Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. Located at the KU Medical Center, it was established in 2011 by a $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.
Each year, Frontiers awards pilot grants of $20,000 to researchers at participating institutions to conduct promising early-stage research projects. This year, 27 individuals — 23 of whom are affiliated with KU — received funding.
Top-class investigators at KU are creating new vaccines and customizing molecules with therapeutic promise — a “one-two punch” to fight disease and keep Kansas at the forefront of human and animal health research.
The Drug and Vaccine Discovery Institute is a high-priority effort with dual parts: the Kansas Vaccine Institute and the Translational Chemical Biology Institute. Each will save lives worldwide and boost the economy close to home.
Highly sought-after pharmaceutical chemists William and Wendy Picking arrived at KU this summer to establish the Kansas Vaccine Institute, where they are refining immunizations to combat killer pathogens like Shigella, Salmonella, and Burkholderia.
While KVI develops vaccines to ward off diseases, the Translational Chemical Biology Institute combats illnesses that have already developed. The institute, led by renowned pharmaceutical chemist Jeff Aube, discovers and modifies small molecules that show potential as disease fighters, transforming them into “probes” that are even more efficient at protecting human health.
The TCBI will be a pipeline between investigation into this basic chemical biology of molecules at KU’s Lawrence campus and clinical scientists at the KU Medical Center, where the work will progress into life-saving treatments for disease ranging from AIDS to cancer to chronic illness.
According to Joe Heppert, associate vice chancellor of the Office of Research, both “punches” in the KU Drug and Vaccine Discovery Institute’s battle against disease will deepen Kansas’ contribution to the world.
“Kansas has carved out a place of leadership in areas that are critical to the future of human and animal health and to economic development. This research effort has brought great benefits to our state, to our universities, and to our people over the past 50 years — and it is one that we need to continue to invest in.”
— Joe Heppert, associate vice chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies
KU researchers — both professors and students —
have built innovative behavioral experiments
around these simple actions.
By gently strumming a guitar and softly singing to the tiniest of infants, a KU researcher has been creating a crescendo of discoveries in the field of music therapy.
Deanna Hanson-Abromeit, assistant professor of music education and music therapy, has found that crooning a simple lullaby to premature infants soothes their overwhelmed nervous systems, organizes their behaviors, and ultimately helps them grow.
Her research suggests that prerecorded music may have less of an effect — the musician must watch the infant and adapt tempo and volume to the newborn’s reactions.
Hanson-Abromeit’s work has resounded across the globe. It’s led to the formation of Music and Neuro-developmentally At-Risk Infant, or MANDARI, a group of researchers from the United Kingdom and Australia who are exploring how music therapy affects the brain.
She is co-leading MANDARI’s international effort to develop procedures for music therapists based on specific response of the infants, answering questions like “What should I do if the infant looks away from me?”
Eventually, Hanson-Abromeit wants to help parents understand the cues and adapt their lullabies to help babies manage pain or discomfort.
Everyday activities like going to the doctor or getting a haircut can terrify some children with autism. Take 2-year-old Mark’s first trip to the barber, for example: He screamed and cried. And his dad had to restrain him.
But Mark’s mom, KU senior Kristin Miller, had an idea — she would seek a KU Undergraduate Research Award to develop ways for children with developmental disabilities like Mark to learn how to accept routine health care treatment, such as going to the dentist or even getting a buzz cut. The research involved creating and evaluating techniques using repetition and familiarization to increase her son’s compliance with routines.
Miller, an applied behavioral science and communication studies major, assessed the treatment in a behavioral laboratory and at actual health care appointments.
Change in perspective
For nearly 20 years, Cynthia Colwell has asked her students to read sheet music with jumbled words, put on goggles that distort their vision, and use wheelchairs in public places.
She is investigating the best way to prepare therapists, teachers, and children to interact with people with disabilities.
Recently, Colwell, a professor of music education and music therapy and director of music therapy, published her research in the International Journal of Music Education. Her findings: Students who had simulated a disability were changed by their experience — they had more positive attitudes toward people with disabilities afterward and said they gained helpful insights.
Teaching is seeing
Using one-on-one coaching and immediate feedback, the Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training (K-CART) helps parents of children with autism teach independent living skills and manage disruptive behaviors.
The parent training program — known as OASIS — uses teleconferencing and the Internet to help families in dozens of Kansas communities, including Emporia, Hays, and Salina. The program is successful, but the waiting list is long.
That’s why K-CART is testing a new headset technology, Google Glass. It could take the training to another level — by putting the instructional coach remotely into a live situation — and to even more remote locations across the country and around the globe.
Learning is listening
Volunteers — not physicians or other health care professionals — are usually the first responders for those who are contemplating suicide. In his upcoming documentary, “The Listeners,” KU filmmaker Bob Hurst focuses on the power of empathy, interviewing college-age trained volunteers at a statewide suicide prevention hotline. Hurst, associate professor of film & media studies, also examines how we could reshape public policy to improve prevention services.
Training autism specialists
Children and youth with autism spectrum disorder may find it difficult to connect with the world, and they need lots of support. To help meet the growing need professionals in the field, the School of Education has developed an ASD program at the Edwards Campus in Overland Park. Students participate in multiple field-based practica in a variety of school and clinical sites, including multicultural settings.
The U.S. Census Bureau’s newest Research Data Center, coming soon to Kansas City, is one of just a few across the nation.
The new RDC, located in the Federal Reserve Bank, will provide restricted micro-level Census data to approved researchers.
Researchers can use the data to produce economic indicators and spark deeper understanding into the regional and national economy, including changes affecting business and personal households.
“The RDC will improve the quality of social science, economic, and health research by providing access to the highest quality data collected by the federal government,” says Donna Ginther, professor of economics and director of the Center for Science Technology & Economic Policy at KU’s Institute for Policy & Social Research.
Ginther led the effort to bring the RDC to Kansas City by spearheading a National Science Foundation proposal that ultimately led to the creation of the center and provided some of its funding.
In addition to KU, the consortium that established the center included the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, the Kauffman Foundation, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and the University of Missouri-Columbia.
territory, but know firsthand about the losses suffered by the men and
women of America’s military.
This year, KU’s Office of Graduate Military Programs awarded Wounded
Warrior scholarships to four of these heroes.
Professor Holly Storkel, chair of the Department of Speech-Language-Hearing, was named a fellow of the American Speech Language-Hearing Association.
Nearly 28 percent of all physical therapists working in Kansas and licensed by the Kansas Board of Healing Arts were trained at KU — the largest percentage of any Kansas school.
The KU Medical Center received a five-year, $19 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to continue a Kansas cell and developmental biology research program. This grant has brought $64 million into the state since 2001.
Melissa Hutton goes home every night to a boisterous family — including an energetic 3-year-old toddler girl and 2-month-old twin boys.
An online tool called ECAP (Every Child a Priority) helped Hutton find her family. ECAP uses algorithms — like those used by online dating services — to help child welfare officials make better matches between children and foster families on the first try.
Information about the child is put into the program, which uses algorithms to rank possible matches from the available foster homes.
“It matches you with the behaviors that you can handle, so it matches the right kids to the right homes,” says Hutton, who is also a resource family worker for Topeka-based TFI Family Services.
Because foster parents have more knowledge about the child at the start, fewer children have to be moved later to different families.
Besides the emotional benefit, ECAP also provides an economic savings for foster care agencies. By eliminating the cost of moving kids around, KU researchers determined, ECAP saved $730,000 in just one year.
TFI developed and began using the ECAP online tool in 2010.
Its initial success led TFI to reach out to the School of Welfare to help test, validate, and improve the software. TFI also enlisted the Bioscience & Technology Business Center to help market the online application.
In 2014, they formed Foster Care Technologies LLC (fostercaretech.com), a startup with two full-time employees as a BTBC tenant in KU’s West District.
“ECAP is designed to get that placement for foster care right,” says Paul Epp, managing director. He is marketing ECAP to the thousands of foster care agencies around the country.
Crystal Lumpkins grew up in churches. The daughter of a preacher, she sees the power that spirituality and a religious community can have in a person’s life. Today, that community — and its ability to change the outcomes of health behaviors — is the focus of her research.
It’s also the subject that earned her a $600,000 National Cancer Institute grant, which she’s using to launch a pilot intervention program about the promotion of colorectal cancer screening within churches.
Lumpkins is an assistant professor of family medicine at the School of Medicine and teaches strategic communications at the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications. She kicked off the pilot intervention program in the fall after conducting 23 focus groups with members of predominately African-American churches. She used the focus groups — specifically, the community involvement and input she received — to develop educational materials for the program.
“We want to see how effective the church is and whether it’s poised to be the leader in marketing and not a silent partner,” Lumpkins says. “The church isn’t just a place where you leave promotional materials hoping someone will pick up — it’s at the forefront as the primary sponsor of cancer prevention among African Americans.”
The intervention study includes a workshop on colon cancer led by church members and a series of mini-campaigns where congregation members, including the pastor, take an active role in promoting awareness.
Some suffer from post-traumatic stress. Others are depressed. Still others struggle to raise children in American society, far from their homeland in east central Africa.
But now, thousands of women who fled the horrors of civil war in Sudan are benefiting from a culturally tailored support system in their new home in Kansas City.
Martha Baird, an assistant professor who teaches psychiatric nursing in the nurse practitioner program, is researching ways to improve the health and well-being of about 2,000 South Sudanese refugees living in the Kansas City area.
Sudan’s ongoing civil wars have displaced as many as 5 million people from South Sudan, including 20,000 who have fled to the United States. The majority are women with children.
Baird’s work focuses on community-based participatory action research that engages the refugees as collaborators. Baird has worked with one of the refugees to translate the Hopkins Symptom Checklist-25, a well-known anxiety and depression-screening instrument, into the South Sudanese tribal language of Dinka.
Baird used the translated checklist to screen refugee women for symptoms of anxiety and depression. She developed a culturally tailored intervention program for post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicide, domestic violence, and divorce.
The sessions include parenting skills, counseling, medication, and relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness, guided imagery, yoga, dance, and prayer.