Current Research Projects

The current research projects in the College of Public Health organized by research areas.

Cancer

Case cohort studies of cancers in excess in poultry workers (Johnson)

Eric S. Johnson, MBBS, Ph.D., MPH, DTPH

Research Areas: Cancer
Funding Agency: CDC and NIOSH

Project Period: 2012 – 2016

Abstract

A wide variety of cancers in chickens and turkeys are caused by very potent cancer-causing viruses, some of which can cause cancer in chickens within a few days of exposure. These viruses are naturally present in diseased as well as healthy chickens at the time of slaughter for human consumption. Humans are commonly exposed to these viruses from direct contact with live poultry birds, or the blood and secretions of killed chickens during preparation for cooking at home, by ingesting raw or inadequately cooked poultry products including raw eggs, and through inoculation with vaccines such as measles, mumps, and yellow fever vaccines that are manufactured by growing these viruses in chicken eggs that are contaminated with the endogenous forms of these viruses. However, it is not known if these viruses cause cancer in humans.

This five-year project is a research study to investigate whether persons who work in chickens and turkey slaughterhouses and processing plants (who have one of the highest known human exposures to these viruses) are dying at an observed excessive rate from several cancers, because of their exposure to these viruses. The proposed study will enable us to determine for the first time whether exposure to these viruses is the probable cause of why poultry workers are dying at an excessive rate from several cancers as observed from previous epidemiologic studies. Additionally, with the help of laboratory studies that we are also conducting, it may be possible to determine definitively if these viruses cause cancer in humans.

The Witness Project: Arkansas Cancer Plan Implementation (Greene)

Paul Greene, Ph.D.

Research Areas:  Cancer
Funding Agency: Arkansas Department of Health/CDC

Project Period: 2010 – 2015

Partners/collaborators on the project

Arkansas Department of Health, UAMS Mobile Mammography Program, St Bernard’s Mobile Mammography Program

Aims

The Witness Project attempts to reduce cancer disparities by creating a direct path of assistance from attending a Witness Outreach Program to obtaining any services required for screening, diagnosis, and treatment.

What you hope to learn or achieve

The project is a public service program designed to disseminate an evidence-based screening promotion intervention with potential to reduce cancer disparities in Arkansas.

Methodology

The project promotes screening for breast cancer among African American and medically underserved women, age 40-64 by conducting breast cancer awareness programs and providing patient navigation services in collaboration with mobile mammography programs. Role Models, Lay Health Advisors and project staff work together as a team to present Witness Outreach Programs and provide navigation services. Program participants complete a registration form that documents demographics and use of preventive health services. Program personnel also monitor attendance at scheduled appointments, results of screening and diagnostic evaluation, and referral for treatment.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

Program activities are expected to improve public health by promoting access to preventive services and facilitating diagnosis of breast cancer at early stages that are more responsive to treatment.

Community-Based Research

Faith-Academic Initiatives for Transforming Health (FAITH) in the Delta (Yeary, Bryant)

Karen Yeary, Ph.D.
Keneshia Bryant, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Community-Based
Funding Agency: NIMHD

Project Period: 2013 – 2015

Partners/collaborators on the project

  • Faith Task Force of Phillips County
  • Faith Task Force of Jefferson County
  • Mid-Delta Community Consortium
  • Tri-County Rural Health Network
  • VA Rural Clergy Partnership
  • Translational Research Institute
  • Colleges of Public Health, Medicine, Nursing
  • Arkansas Prevention Research Center

Aims

  1.  Build the capacity of both community members and academics to conduct and collaborate in partnered health research in the Delta region.
  2. Conduct a health assessment through churches in both Phillips and Jefferson counties
  3. Identify a key health issue or condition on which to focus in each of the two counties
  4. Pilot an intervention based on evidence in each county

What you hope to learn or achieve

We hope to build community and academic partnerships with the aim of improving the health of Delta residents.

Methodology

This work takes place in two counties in the Arkansas Delta, and focuses on African American adults. Health assessment data was collected through the Audience Response System. A pilot of the chosen intervention will be done in the last year of the project and will include baseline and two follow-up measurements using iPads.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

I am passionate about eliminating health inequities and hope these findings will contribute to the improvement of health among underserved communities.

Weight loss and maintenance for rural, African American communities of faith (The WORD) (Yeary)

Karen H. Kim Yeary, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Obesity, Community-Based

Project Period: 2012 – 2017

Abstract

This randomized controlled trial will test the efficacy of a community-based participatory, lay health advisor-delivered comprehensive weight management intervention culturally adapted for rural African American adults in faith communities that address both weight loss and weight maintenance in comparison to a shorter term weight loss only intervention. A total of 450 adults across 30 churches will be involved.

Environmental and Occupational Health

HIPPY for Healthy Homes (HHHP): Curriculum Development and Capacity Building for Managing Indoor Air Quality in Homes (Ferguson)

Alesia Ferguson, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Environmental and Occupational Health
Funding Agency: EPA

Project Period: 2012 – 2015

Partners/collaborators: Dr. Ilias Kavouras and the organization Home-Instruction for Parents of Pre-School Youngsters (HIPPY) and their regional offices of home-based educators and coordinators.

Aims

HIPPY for Healthy Homes is a collaborative program between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ College of Public Health and the parent involvement, school readiness program called Home School Instruction for Parents of Pre-School Youngsters (HIPPY) to build capacity for education and knowledge on key hazards in the home.

What you hope to learn or achieve

We hope to have an impact on improving the home environment and therefore the health of citizens of Arkansas. Parents learn simple strategies to address radon, mold, carbon monoxide and allergy and asthma hazards in the home.

Methodology

Program implementation with HIPPY involved the development of materials (e.g., brochures, website) for the parents of children enrolled in HIPPY, an in-class and online training program for HIPPY coordinators and home-based educators, and an outreach format to inform and educate parents on these healthy home topics.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

Projects that have impact in the community are important to me. The health of the home has impact on family health. We can learn through program implementation, program acceptance, and program impact how to improve the process to other communities and families.

Environmental Education Regional Grants: Pest Management Practices and Chemical Use Reduction in Homes: Partnering with Arkansas STEM Centers in the Use of Liberating Structures for Environmental Education (Ferguson)

Alesia Ferguson, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Environmental and Occupational Health
Funding Agency: EPA

Project Period: 2013 – 2015

Partners/collaborators on the project: The College of Public Health within the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) will partner with two (2) Arkansas STEM Centers, (University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB) and University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR)) to engage teachers, students and parents in this environmental education project. Dr. Alesia Ferguson of UAMS will lead the effort, along with key partners from STEM Centers (i.e., Dr. Shelton Fitzpatrick/Felicia Webb and Keith Harris), and Dr. Robert Ulmer from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), a renowned leadership and communications expert. Drs. Jay Gandy and Dr. Ilias Kavouras with expertise in pesticide exposures, risk management, chemistry and air quality will also be key partners to enhance project outcomes. Graduate students from the three Universities and the Clinton School of Public Service (CSPS) are also involved through their capstone, integration and thesis projects to enhance their learning objectives and our project outcomes

Aims

This program will address the key topics of pest management practices and chemical use reduction to promote a healthier home and a reduction in adverse health outcomes. Innovatively, this program will apply a new model to enable the successful engagement of target groups on these environmental topics.

What you hope to learn or achieve?

This program will address pesticide management practices and chemical use reduction in the home to promote better indoor air quality, healthier homes and healthier people. In the process K-12 students and graduate students also learn and re-learn the scientific method and develop new interest in science and in particular environmental science.

Methodology

Partners use specific liberating structures to engage and achieve action towards environmental stewardship. First “Shift and Share” and “Wicked Questions” will be used in trainings to help teachers to learn and develop curriculum for the classroom. Students will be reached in the classroom through science projects that use the liberating structures of “design story boards” and “discovery and action dialog” to address pest management practices and chemical use reduction, The “Conflicting Uncertainties” and “Open Space” will be used to engage parents at workshops, while “Social Network Webbing” will be used to reach a wider audience of parents and community members (including other STEM Centers) and engage through the development of an interactive website. These liberating structures have specific formats adaptable to the intentions of this project to model effective environmental education.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

Health of the home and improving community health is important to me. Learning new implementation methods and how to better engage people to improve their own health is a worthy cause.

Advancing Regulatory Science through Translational Pharmacogenomics (Harrill)

Alison Harrill, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Environmental and Occupational Health
Funding Agency: The Burroughs Wellcome Fund

Project Period: 2013 – 2018

Partners/collaborators on the project: Dr. Gary Churchill, Professor and Dr. Daniel Gatti, Bioinformatics Analyst, the Jackson Laboratory

Background

Certain drugs have been found to be associated with very rare, but serious adverse side effects during clinical use. Recent findings have indicated that genetic differences in the patients experiencing the side effects may underlie the reason that they are uniquely sensitive to the drug. There is promise that identification of these genetic risk factors may help to personalize prescribing of medicines to ensure their safety for all patients (called ‘pharmacogenomics’) One challenge is that it is difficult to identify the genetic basis of rare adverse drug events because of challenges in obtaining enough clinical samples to do the testing. Our laboratory takes a translational approach to meet this challenge. We utilize a special mouse population called the Diversity Outbred mice, which has as much genetic diversity as humans do, in order to identify genetic risk factors for rare adverse drug events.

What you hope to learn or achieve

In this study, we are investigating the ability of the Diversity Outbred mice to predict genetic risk factors for adverse drug reactions in patients. A successful outcome of the study will be the identification of genetic tests that could be used to personalize prescribing for the medicines being tested (which are all currently in the marketplace).

Methodology

We have selected a set of drugs which are known to cause injury to liver injury human patients, but which have not been previously shown to cause liver injury in standard animals. In this study, Diversity Outbred mice are exposed to the drug and blood levels of liver injury biomarkers will be measured. Following these measurements, each mouse will be assayed to determine its genetic sequence and genomic mapping strategies will be used to identify genes that convey sensitivity to the liver injury outcome. Candidate genes that are identified in mice will be validated in genetic material derived from human patients who experienced drug-induced liver injury.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

With the advent of the genomic era, there is great promise in being able to tailor drug therapy for each patient to maximize therapeutic benefit and to improve safety of drugs. Through these studies, we hope to inform the development of co-diagnostic tests that may improve the selection of drug therapies for each patient in the clinical setting.

The Diversity Outbred: A Tool to Improve Preclinical Safety Testing and Pharmacogenomics (Harrill)

Alison Harrill, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Environmental and Occupational Health
Funding Agency:  United States Food and Drug Administration

Project Period: 2014 – 2017

Partners/collaborators on the project: Dr. Gary Churchill, Professor and Dr. Daniel Gatti, Bioinformatics Analyst, the Jackson Laboratory

Background

In recent years, fewer medicines are gaining approval for patient use by the FDA, in part owing to a lack of strategies that help regulatory decision makers manage potential safety risks. At the same time, the costs to develop drugs has increased, with the end result being that fewer new medicines are reaching patients while the costs of these new medicines has grown. Liver injury is the major drug-induced safety risk that has led to late-stage failure in drug development or withdrawal of medicines post-marketing. Improved strategies that could better predict risks of drug-induced liver injury earlier in development would: (1) improve the efficiency of getting new drugs to market, (2) help guide regulatory decisions, and (3) provide a model for understanding the mechanisms of injury that could inform rational design of next-in-class drugs.

What you hope to learn or achieve

A successful outcome of the study would be an endorsement of the Diversity Outbred mice as a tool to both predict and understand human-relevant risks of adverse drug reactions.

Methodology

In this study, we will test two sets of drugs in the Diversity Outbred mice and assess the liver injury outcome using circulating biomarkers. The first set of drugs are candidates that failed during clinical trials because of elevations in liver injury biomarkers in the blood. The second set of drugs are on the marketplace, but are associated only very rarely with serious liver injury. In the second phase of the study, each mouse will be assayed to determine its genetic sequence and genomic mapping strategies will be used to identify genes that convey sensitivity to the liver injury outcome. Candidate risk genes will be investigated further to determine how they play a role in the mechanism of the drug-induced liver injury.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

Much recent attention has focused on the idea that animal models do not accurately represent humans, however much of the lack of translation of data between species can be attributed to inappropriate selection of an animal model. Animal models that are classically used for biomedical research are often genetically identical to each other, or have only a very limited amount of genetic variation. It is likely more appropriate to model human responses if a genetically diverse population is used because you can account for uniquely sensitive individuals. The hope is that these studies will influence how genetic differences are incorporated into pharmaceutical safety testing and the regulation of drugs. In addition, the findings may have broader implications for biomedical research by showing that selecting an appropriate animal model can better translate basic research findings to the benefit of human health.

Health Systems

DHS Contract #: 4600019246 Technical Analysis Consultation Services (Felix)

Holy Felix, Ph.D.

Research Areas: Health Systems

Funding Agency: Arkansas Department of Human Services

Project Period: 2011 – 2016

Aims

This contract provides data analysis and policy analysis services related to the provision of long-term services and supports in Arkansas for the Division of Aging and Adult Services.

What you hope to learn or achieve

The purpose of contract is to supply expertise to the Division of Aging and Adult Services in their efforts to transform the delivery of the long-term care services and supports in the state.

Methodology

Arkansas Medicaid beneficiaries who use long-term services and supports. Various methods are used to analysis the available data on the study population.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

I am interested in access to and the delivery of quality long-term services and supports in the state. This contract enables us to supply critical information that informs public policy decisions about long-term services and supports in the state.

HIV

Minority Populations Resource Core (Zaller)

Nickolas Zaller, Ph.D.

Research Areas: HIV
Funding Agency: National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

Project Period: 2014 – 2015

Partners/collaborators on the project: Brown University

Aims

  1. To conduct state-of-the-art, integrative, and multidisciplinary research on alcohol-HIV interactions through basic, intervention, and translational science;
  2. To serve as a local, regional, and national resource for alcohol-HIV research and dissemination.

What you hope to learn or achieve?

Strengthening research and intervention in the populations most severely affected by HIV, alcohol, and related health challenges.

Methodology

  • Compiling and performing theory-based secondary analysis of existing large survey datasets that include measures of HIV, alcohol, and co-occurring challenges in MSM and other sexual minority populations;
  • Synthesizing and critically appraising the state of prevention and intervention science research related to HIV, alcohol, and co-occurring challenges in these populations;
  • Developing collaborations with scientists at Brown University, other affiliated institutions, and with community groups in order to disseminate research and translate findings into new initiatives addressing HIV and alcohol in MSM and other sexually minority populations.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

This project fits with my overall interest in substance use, HIV and other comorbid conditions among specific marginalized population groups. It is anticipated that findings from this project will inform intervention studies on access to care and integration of care among HIV positive substance using populations.

HIV prevention trials network (HPTN) scholars: interventions to reduce HIV infection in communities at disproportionate risk for HIV acquisition in the US (HPTN) (Montgomery)

Brooke Montgomery, Ph.D.

Research Areas:  HIV

Project Period: 2012 – 2015

Abstract

Under the mentorship of Dr. Sally Hodder, the principal investigator of the Women’s HIV SeroIncidence Study (HPTN 064), this program provides early-career US minority researchers an opportunity to conduct secondary-data analyses with experienced researchers on large-scale domestic HIV prevention intervention datasets, develop scientific manuscripts for high impact peer-review journals, build research networks within the HPTN, and acquire new knowledge and skills in HIV science, intervention methodologies, and community engagement.

Mental Health

South Central Mental Illness Research, Education, and Clinical Center: Clergy-Mental Health Partnership to Improve Care for Rural Veterans in VISN 16 (Haynes)

Principal Investigators:

  • Steve Sullivan, M.D.iv, Chaplain Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System (CAVHS)
  • Jeffrey Pyne, M.D., Professor, College of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Division of Health Services Research and CAVHS
  • Caleb Lewis, Chaplain CAVHS
  • Michael Barnes, Chaplain CAVHS
  • Bo Barnes, Chaplain CAVHS
  • Susan Jegley, LCSW CAVHS
  • Tiffany Haynes, Ph.D., Assistant Professor
  • Keneshia Bryant, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, CON

Research Areas: Mental Health

Funding Agencies: Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health

Project Period: 2014 – 2015

Partners/collaborators on the project:

  • VA Suicide Prevention
  • Military Sexual Assault
  • CAVHS Chaplains office
  • National Chaplain Center
  • Vet Center
  • Rural Veterans and family members in target counties (Union, Pope, Jefferson, White, Craighead)
  • Clergy and lay congregation members in target counties

Aims

This study aims to encourage use of mental health services by rural Veterans by:

  • Provide training on mental health issues for community clergy
  • Develop processes for referring community members to mental health services
  • Building relationships between VA and non-VA providers and clergy
  • Provide mental health navigators in rural communities to assist rural Veterans with accessing services

What you hope to learn or achieve

We hope to reduce the risk of mental health problems for rural Veterans and their families.

Methodology

This project is located in 5 counties throughout Arkansas: Union, Pope, Jefferson, White, and Craighead Counties. This project uses principles of community engagement to engage relevant stakeholders and build community advisory boards (CAB) to lead efforts to develop community-based supportive programs that may reduce the risk of mental health problems for rural Veterans.

Why are you involved in this area of interest and how do you hope the findings will be used to improve public health?

The economic and social costs associated with untreated mental illness is staggering. I hope that this project provides effective and sustainable processes for encouraging the appropriate and timely use of mental health services, particularly among rural Veterans who are at a higher risk for experiencing untreated mental illness.

Past Research Projects 2003-2014 – PDF (541 KB)