UChicago and Rush receive $20 million NIH grant to build health disparities research network

Originally reported in The Forefront, 10/19/2021

The University of Chicago and Rush University have received a $20M, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to establish a Center for Multiple Chronic Diseases Associated with Health Disparities. The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, a division of the NIH, awarded grants to establish 11 new Centers across the country to support clinical research to improve health in minority communities.

UChicago and Rush will use the grant to launch the Chicago Chronic Condition Equity Network (C3EN), a project that will focus research efforts on addressing health disparities for African Americans and Latinos in the Chicago region. The Network is designed to facilitate community-based research across the area, connecting existing community-based organizations and small medical practices with large academic medical institutions. It will support three clinical trials focused on reducing health problems associated with obesity and heart disease, with the flexibility to support research in other areas, including HIV, substance abuse, and social factors that affect health like crime and poverty.


“It’s really hard to do this kind of research in community organizations and small medical practices that are scattered across the city and serve different neighborhoods,” said Elbert Huang, MD, Professor of Medicine and Public Health Sciences at UChicago and Co-Director of C3EN with Elizabeth Lynch, PhD, Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Rush. “This really gives us the ability to build a true community research network that makes more connections across organizations at a much larger, regional scale.”


The first clinical trial, led by Arshiya Baig, MD, Associate Professor Medicine at UChicago, is called VIDA, or Virtual Diabetes Group Visits Across Health Systems. Instead of visiting a doctor and attending diabetes educations classes individually, patients in this trial will have combined, online doctor visits and classes with a group of other patients. The research will also take place across two Chicago medical systems: Access Community Health, a network of Federally Qualified Health Centers, and Advocate Health. The combination of multiple patient populations with different diabetes care options will give researchers unique insight into how the effects of the virtual group visits are affected by their setting.


The second trial, led by Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UChicago, will use an Amazon Alexa-based voice assistant called EngAGE to deliver exercise programming to older adults in their home to reduce frailty. Huisingh-Scheetz has already developed and tested the system with a pilot group of residents at an assisted living facility. The new trial will provide the system to homebound, older African American patients with multiple chronic conditions and their caregivers to test its effectiveness versus a control group that receives paper handouts with exercise routines.