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Inaugural Collaborative Health Disparities Conference Aims to Combat Regional Health Inequities for Southerners

Researchers from Tennessee, Louisiana, and Mississippi participated in the inaugural Delta Clinical and Translational Health Disparities Conference held July 19. (Photo courtesy of UMMC)

Nearly 200 researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Tulane University, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) gathered on Thursday, July 19 for the Delta Clinical and Translational Health Disparities Conference.

Envisioned by Steven R. Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, Richard L. Summers, MD, vice chancellor for Research at UMMC, and Laura S. Levy, PhD, vice president for Research at Tulane, the conference was designed to bring together health disparities researchers from UTHSC with those from UMMC and Tulane, allowing them to share their research interests, and catalyze new collaborative partnerships that will result in the submission of a UTHSC/TU/UMMC Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) Award proposal in Health Disparities Research.

“The Delta Clinical and Translational Science Conference, on the subject of Health Disparities, is the first event of this kind engaging researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Tulane University, and the University of Mississippi Medical Center,” said Dr. Goodman. “This conference, with its outstanding symposia and poster sessions, will further enhance partnerships that will lead to robust basic, translational, clinical and population research on major diseases that impact our region and the nation.”

Participants listen intently to a health disparities research presentation. (Photo courtesy of UMMC)

The Southern United States is home to the largest minority population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with heightened levels of poverty and health disparities. By pulling together leading health disparities researchers from each university and providing a seed funding opportunity for new collaborative projects, the three universities are looking to tackle regional health disparities together.

“If you draw a triangle from Memphis to Jackson across to New Orleans and back up to Memphis, it encompasses the population on either side of the Mississippi River,” said Dr. Summers. “That is the population our three states share a moral and operational responsibility for.”

The UTHSC/TU/UMMC CORNET Award proposal in Health Disparities Research was announced earlier this summer and is poised to stimulate innovative, interdisciplinary, team-based health disparities research that involves investigators from UTHSC, Tulane, and UMMC. The award is designed to promote new lines of research and provide seed money that will give rise to future external grant funding. To be eligible for a UTHSC/TU/UMMC CORNET Award in Health Disparities Research, each proposal must include, at a minimum, one faculty member from each participating institution. Resources are available to fund up to two awards, for up to $75,000/award, for one year.

“Increasingly, we recognize the importance of bringing together multiple disciplines to solve complex health issues. The CORNET Awards will facilitate new collaborations and innovative solutions to persistent health disparities,” said Michelle Martin, PhD, co-director of the UTHSC Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute and director of the Center for Innovation in Health Equity Research: A Community Cancer Alliance for Transformative Change.

The free conference featured nine keynote speakers from each institution, a robust poster session which allowed attendees to feature their health disparities research, and networking. It was open to all faculty, staff, and students interested in health disparities research. A diverse set of research topics were presented, ranging from disparities in breast cancer to pediatric inequities associated with healthy mental and physical development.

“We were very excited about the enthusiastic response for our faculty who are interested in preventing and eliminating health disparities in the region and look forward to improving the health of our states,” said Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, co-director of the UTHSC Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute and Endowed Professor of Women’s Health in the Department of Preventive Medicine.

Launched almost three years ago by Dr. Goodman, the CORNET Awards program has been the catalyst of multiple collaborative partnerships between researchers at UTHSC internally and across the state of Tennessee, with various academic institutions regionally and globally, and with industry partners. To date, the CORNET Awards have provided more than $1.4 million in funding to new teams of researchers.

Recently, UTHSC formed its newest research institute, the Tennessee Clinical and Translational Science Institute (TN-CTSI). Together with the University of Mississippi Medical Center Clinical Research Institute and the Tulane University Translational Science Institute, the universities have formed the Delta Clinical and Translational Science Consortium. This collaborative consortium was created to address the most-pressing health needs of underserved populations in the Mississippi Delta region through high-quality interdisciplinary team-based clinical and translational research.

Long-term, the Delta Consortium’s goal is to obtain a Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA), which will identify the consortium as a hub linked to a national network of medical research institutes recognized by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. UTHSC and Tulane are partners, with UMMC a collaborating Institution, within this consortium. Cores within each university’s research institute will support the clinical and translational science spectrum and will focus on innovative training, developing new research tools, and engaging the community in meaningful clinical and translational research.

“We at Tulane are really pleased to participate in this newly formed Delta Consortium,” said Dr. Levy. “We look forward to engaging new and long-standing collaborators, now partner institutions, in Tennessee and Mississippi, to explore the potential of that collaboration.”