School of Nursing launches chronic illness research center

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The School of Nursing will launch a new research center for chronic-illness treatments after receiving a $2.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health in late September.

Researchers at the Center for Trans-Disciplinary Collaborative Research in Self-Management Science will focus on new sustainable treatments for patients facing chronic illnesses such as hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.

According to a 2011 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seven out of 10 deaths are caused by chronic diseases, and more than 50 percent of Americans live with one or more chronic diseases.

According to Alexa Stuifbergen, dean of the School of Nursing, about 80 percent of a patient’s medical treatment consists of everyday lifestyle choices. She said feasible interventions must take into consideration external factors that influence patients’ regular decisions on exercise, diet and stress-management.

“There are women with children who are trying to work full time and are managing a chronic condition that can’t add another hour and a half to their day to exercise,” Stuifbergen said. “You have to find a new way to integrate it into their lifestyle.”

Miyong Kim, director of the center, said the center plans to collaborate with community health centers, such as CommUnityCare, to better understand the needs of low-income
communities.

Kim said the new center will create a formal space for researchers of different disciplines — such as education, law, technology and business — to explore treatments tailored to the needs of underserved communities. She said trans-disciplinary treatments can address the external factors influencing patients’ health.

“We have a lot of underserved populations that are dealing with legal issues or low literacy,” Kim said. “It’s a really complex problem, and just one discipline is not going to work.”

As technology continues to affect more and more Americans’ lives, it can also be integrated into patients’ treatment plans, Kim said. She said center researchers will collaborate with app developers to create an app that makes health publications more accessible for patients.

“If people have a choice between reading your patient educational material or playing Angry Birds, people will choose Angry Birds,” Kim said. “Say you are someone who needs information about serving sizes and calories — then we can make that into a game.”