Community Engagement Conference celebrates five-years of NIH-funded programs

Christiana Care and its research partners discussed the successful conclusion of a $25 million five-year effort to grow clinical and translational research in Delaware, and discussed the likely renewal of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding at a March 12 Community Engagement Conference at the University of Delaware’s Clayton Hall.

Federal peer reviewers overseeing the Delaware renewal application scored it in the outstanding range in early March, which is “good news,” said Stuart Binder-Macleod, PT, Ph.D., FAPTA, principal investigator and program director of Delaware-CTR.

Binder-Macleod said once an NIH budget is approved there is a strong possibility that the project to accelerate Delaware’s clinical and translational research (Delaware-CTR ACCEL) with financial backing from NIH, the state of Delaware and research partners, will be renewed.

Under ACCEL, Christiana Care and partners Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, the University of Delaware and the Medical University of South Carolina are building research infrastructure and initiating research that matches the health priorities of communities in Delaware and South Carolina.

Heather Bittner Fagan, M.D., FAAFP, MPH, told conference attendees that other “NIH-funded investigators from other states have been asking how to duplicate our success.”

“Our community engagement has been a vibrant element of ACCEL,” said Heather Bittner Fagan, M.D., MPH, associate vice chair for research in Family & Community Medicine and lead of the Community Engagement and Outreach Core of Delaware ACCEL. “NIH-funded investigators from other states have been asking how to duplicate our success.”

The March 12 Community Research Exchange drew 275 registered attendees interested in how ACCEL investigators are collaborating with community leaders to translate basic science into improved health outcomes for Delawareans. A social network map of research relationships fostered through ACCEL shows a rich and growing connection of ties among the nearly 900 registered users of the ACCEL website.

Jennifer Passarella, MBA(c), reported on the high level of participation and achievement over the past five years.

According to Jennifer Passarella, program manager of the Community Engagement and Outreach Core, who also serves on the Evaluation Core of ACCEL, during the five-year-duration of the award:

  • Nearly 700 individuals attended annual community-engagement conferences, including 145 from Christiana Care.
  • 213 publications were cited ACCEL.
  • $4.9 million in grants were awarded.

Christiana Care has played a leading role in projects dealing with epidemiology and biostatistics, and in the broad area of community engagement, where there is a growing emphasis on identifying and correcting health disparities — a theme of this year’s conference.

One example of the campaign to reduce and correct health disparities is the research led by Jennifer Sims-Mourtada, Ph.D., senior research scientist and director of Translational Breast Cancer Research in the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. Her work focuses on the identification and treatment of triple negative breast cancer. As a conference platform presenter, Sims-Mourtada explained that triple negative breast cancer is an aggressive disease that disproportionately affects African-American women, who are underrepresented in genetic testing and clinical trials.

In addition to working with scientists from the University of Delaware and the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, Sims-Mourtada has partnered with a research advisory group made up of members of the Delaware Breast Cancer Coalition, the American Cancer Society, Christiana Care physicians and members of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, an African-American sorority.

Conference Chair Omar Khan, M.D., MHS

The advisory group members all agreed on the need to improve outreach to African-American women and worked on the creation of breast cancer educational materials, which have already been presented to 70 community members by trained volunteers. The piloted materials, which were greatly improved by the research advisory group, are now being shared at more public events in hopes of increasing education about breast cancer, preventive check-ups and genetic testing and helping advance translational science by taking part in clinical trials.

Conference Chair Omar Khan, M.D., MHS, who has chaired or co-chaired all five of the annual conferences, is president and CEO of the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance, which includes Christiana Care, Nemours/A.I. DuPont Hospital, UD and Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Khan also serves as physician leader for partnerships and academic programs at Christiana Care.

“DHSA is working to connect ACCEL and the Alliance partners in ongoing efforts to advance cutting-edge biomedical research and improve the health of Delawareans,” Dr. Khan said. “We will do so through collaborative partnerships, demonstrating value in research, and education of the next generation of health care professionals and Delawareans.”

The DE-CTR ACCEL Community Advisory Council Chair Marlene Saunders, DSW, MSW, led a community panel discussion around identifying and overcoming barriers within health disparities research and the importance of promoting community engagement within a context of health equity, genetics, and promoting well-being for all.