AUSTIN, Texas—The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing inaugurates its new Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations at 3 p.m. on Monday (Dec. 13). The facility, funded with $1.5 million from the National Institute of Nursing Research, is one of only seven such facilities in the nation.
Dr. Sharon A. Brown, associate vice president of research, said: “Of the seven programs funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, the UT Austin program is one of only two new centers. The rest were established centers that were funded again.”
Brown, a James R. Dougherty Jr. Centennial Professor, explained that the phrase “health promotion” includes informing people about resources and strategies they can adopt to improve their health as well as keeping them informed about the latest research.
“We want to focus on specific research interventions that will be tested and that can promote health and prevent disease. This can include traditional interventions such as diet, exercise and smoking cessation. But we are taking a broader approach to include promoting health in people who may already have chronic illnesses — to help them learn to live with their chronic illness more effectively,” Brown said.
“Within the center, we will have a small grant mechanism through which we will fund pilot studies conducted by investigators who either are just getting started in this area or who have new ideas that the want to try out before they seek major funding,” Brown said.
“We want the center to be a resource for people doing research on health promotion across campus.”
She also explained that the focus at the center on the issue of health promotion will be unique because most of the other centers focus on specific diseases such as cancer.
In addition, dissemination of findings from the studies, not only to health professionals but also to the general public, will be a key function of the facility.
Brown said UT Austin’s proposal for the center competed against 17 applications nationwide.
“We had to have a minimum of three major relevant projects that already had been funded as a base before we could request a center,” she explained. Among ongoing projects at the School of Nursing cited by the proposal were studies by Dr. Alexa Stuifbergen, an associate professor, on ways that women living with multiple sclerosis and other chronic conditions can improve their lives; Brown’s work on the effectiveness of diabetes education and support programs tailored to the Mexican-American community in South Texas; and studies by Dr. Lorraine O. Walker, a Luci B. Johnson Centennial Professor in Nursing, involving weight management programs.
In addition, three pilot studies had to be submitted with the center grant application. All three involve interdisciplinary teams lead by nursing school faculty that include investigators from across the UT Austin campus.
These studies include investigations on predictors of well being in the elderly by Dr. Gayle J. Acton, an assistant professor, who will be working with members of the UT Austin Gerontology Institute; an investigation of decisions on hormone replacement therapy among women with disabilities by an interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Heather Becker, a research scientist; and a study focusing on exercise practices among Mexican-American women conducted by Dr. Shirley Laffrey, an associate professor.
Brown explained that medically underserved populations to be involved in research conducted at the center include the elderly, the chronically disabled, members of minority groups, women who are either from minority groups or poverty backgrounds as well as children and adolescents, particularly from poverty backgrounds.
Although the center is a research facility, not a clinic, Brown said she expects many Texans in these groups to benefit from the research studies.
Visit the Center for Health Promotion & Disease Prevention Research in Underserved Populations Website at www.utexas.edu/nursing/research/chpr.html