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December 3, 2021

iTHRIV Grants Target Obesity Among Latinx Youth, Hepatitis C

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The integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia, or iTHRIV, a National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Science Award hub, has awarded almost $80,000 in seed funding across two community-focused projects. 

The seed grant program is part of iTHRIV’s goal to promote translational science that bridges the gap between health researchers and community. The projects also reflect iTHRIV’s commitment to advancing social equity by funding research that will benefit underserved groups across Virginia.

The 2022 projects will study: 

Obesity Rates Among the Latinx Population

Obesity rates are significantly higher among Latinx youth than in other groups across the United States, putting these children at a disproportionate risk for obesity-related diseases such as hypertension, dyslipidemia and impaired glucose tolerance. Despite this disparity, there is a lack of information pertaining to culturally relevant, family-centered interventions for Latinx youth and their families. 

While virtual programming offers an innovative option for pediatric weight management, limited data exists on the efficacy of telehealth/virtual interventions for this population. HealthWorks for Northern Virginia pediatrician Medhine Wijetilleke and Inova nurse educator Elyssa Wood will conduct a community-engaged research study to determine whether a family-based, culturally tailored virtual intervention motivates parents and children to follow healthy weight practices. The team hopes to educate families on weight-related aspects of home environments as well as lifestyle behavioral practices such as diet, exercise and sleep.

The project is an extension of a well-established community-based program. The team will provide expanded programming to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking children and families in the community. To test the effectiveness of the expanded intervention, outcomes from participants will be compared with those from a group of similar families who receive standard nutrition counseling during their regularly scheduled check-ups. 

The team will enroll 25 children and their families in the expanded intervention and the same number in the comparison group. The study uses community health workers to ensure a relevant and language-appropriate intervention. The intervention incorporates concepts of community-engaged research, including the use of a study advisory board, to help direct study activities and contribute insights to create a successful intervention.

Education and Resources for Patients at Risk of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is an ongoing challenge in the United States, with an estimated 2.4 million individuals living with HCV. According to the Virginia Department of Health, more than 11,500 Virginians are affected. People with HCV infection usually are unaware of the infection, which, if left untreated, allows the disease to progress to liver damage, liver cancer and death.

Treatment with antiviral medication is curative and well-tolerated. However, gaps remain in the ability of the health system to engage the most vulnerable patients to start and complete treatment. There is significant patient “loss and drop-off” at every stage of screening, testing and treatment. Key barriers to successful engagement include communication breakdowns and lack of transportation, as well as significant social issues such as poverty, substance-use disorder and a limited understanding of the consequences of untreated HCV infection. Cynthia Morrow from the Virginia Department of Health has partnered with Carilion Clinic’s Marrieth Rubio to study and address patient loss. Both Morrow and Rubio are faculty members at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.

The researchers propose a mixed-method pilot study that will provide education and resources, such as vouchers for phone service, transportation and meals, to the most vulnerable patients. The aim is to facilitate engagement in treatment as the team evaluates additional factors that may influence dropout rates.

If the researchers are able to demonstrate the impact of the interventions in this pilot study, they hope to conduct a more comprehensive study that would evaluate each intervention separately.

About iTHRIV

iTHRIV is supported by the NIH through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (award number UL1TR003015). A cross-commonwealth collaboration of the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic and the Inova Health System, iTHRIV unites the research infrastructure of these flagship institutions to accelerate innovation in health-related research with the latest advances in data science. iTHRIV is committed to engaging with community voices to understand what is important to them regarding their health and their needs.

Learn more about the NIH CTSA program.

Learn more about iTHRIV.

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