Grant awards and research projects
CLINICAL: A telehealth model of screening for autism in under-resourced communities: Closing the gap in access
The UCR SEARCH Center (Pl: Dr. Katherine Stavropoulos, Co-I: Dr. Yasamin Bolourian) is seeking a UC Riverside Health Disparities grant from the UC Riverside Center for Health Disparities Research to expand our current free autism screening/diagnosis program to include telehealth. This project is strengthened by partnerships with the UCR School of Medicine (Co-Investigator Dr. Takesha Cooper), stakeholders (Mirna Sucena), and internationally-recognized experts in telehealth assessments (Dr. Zachary Warren). There is growing recognition of inequity related to accessibility of early autism screenings and diagnosis for underserved families. The current grant is designed to both increase access to quality autism diagnoses for families who would otherwise have difficulty accessing such services, and to systematically measure the efficacy and validity of telehealth compared to traditional in-person screenings. Our measures will include both caregiver ratings of satisfaction, feasibility, and utility of telehealth procedures and comparisons of diagnostic agreement across assessment settings (e.g. in person vs. telehealth). This dual approach is critical to increase our understanding of both whether telehealth is objectively as accurate as traditional in-person screenings, and whether families who would utilize telehealth services find the format acceptable, satisfactory, and convenient. By asking families about what aspects of telehealth they find most helpful ( e.g. it saves time, does not necessitate taking time off work, does not require travel), we can tailor SEARCH's approach to implementing telehealth procedures for families across the Inland Empire. Finally, our ability to provide all services in both English and Spanish based on caregiver/child preference will allow us to reach families who would otherwise be left out of research conducted only in English. We are requesting $50,000 to cover graduate-student researcher's time, funds for the PIs, computers for families who do not have access to technology required for telehealth, and equipment.
Katherine Stavropoulos PI Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Jan Blacher Co-I Distinguished Professor Graduate School of Education, UCR Yasamin Bolourian Co-I Postdoctoral Research Fellow Graduate School of Education, UCR Takesha Cooper Co-I Associate Clinical Professor School of Medicine, UCR
COVID: Mental Health and Educational Risks through the Lens of Disparities: Elevating Family Resilience during COVID-19
COVID-19 has caused an unprecedented disruption to K-12 education. To prevent the spread of coronavirus, in-person instruction was suddenly replaced with remote learning, or the education of children at home. This major change led to worsened issues of equity in education, as well as heightened caregiving burdens and parenting stress at home. Although adverse effects of school closures are likely felt by all families, the impact may be disproportionally higher among vulnerable groups, including: young children who are largely dependent on caregivers for remote learning; children with special education needs who have experienced a significant reduction in support services that they rely on, and racial/ethnic minority children for whom inequalities might widen. For the richly diverse communities of the Inland Empire, pre-existing socioeconomic and health disparities threaten to exacerbate consequences of school closures. Yet, the existing research on COVID-19 has overlooked the role of distance learning in contributing to health outcomes and disparities. To address this limitation in the field, this proposal seeks to conduct a study of family adaptation as a function of family stressors, resources, and perceptions of remote learning with 500 parents of school-aged children in the Inland Empire. Utilizing a mixed-methods longitudinal design, the specific aims are to: 1) describe immediate family needs and experiences of school closures; 2) assess how families fare across spectrums of child development, disability, and race/ethnicity over time; and 3) investigate intervening variables that may predict family adaptation outcomes. This proposal generates a new opportunity to empirically explore parent narratives as a step towards determining the impact of COVID-19 on families with school-aged children, as well as assessing community resources and capacities for mitigation. Findings from this research will contribute to our understanding of the underlying mechanisms through which disparities emerge, with the goal of elucidating pathways to family resilience.
Jan Blacher PI Distinguished Professor Graduate School of Education, UCR Yasamin Bolourian Co-I Postdoctoral Research Fellow Graduate School of Education, UCR Richard Lee Co-I Clinical Assistant Professor School of Medicine, UCR
COVID: A solution to Halt Further Isolation of People Aging with HIV during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Significance: Prior to COVID-19, the HIV epidemic was arguably the worst public health crisis affecting the United States. While previously a death sentence, combination therapy transformed HIV infection into a largely manageable, chronic condition so that the majority of people with HIV now are over age 50. Many people aging with HIV have also endured significant trauma due to AIDS, including personal losses of friends and loved ones, contributing to high rates of depression. Physical distancing required for older people living with HIV who may be at increased risk for severe COVID-19 complications has enhanced the urgency to develop interventions that mitigate depression and isolation. Our preliminary COVID-19 survey data show that half of people aging with HIV reported experiencing anxiety and depression. Some reported skipping meals due to worries about money for food, and many reported missing a dose of their HIV medication during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the majority stating that they forgot as the reason.
Aims: Our overall objective is to develop an online “virtual village” for use by older people living with HIV (PLWH) so that they can remain socially connected during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond. We will do this by (Aim 1) further characterizing issues related to depression, isolation, and basic needs of people aging with HIV during the COVID-19 pandemic, (Aim 2) co-develop ideas for what to include in a virtual village, and (Aim 3) piloting activities for the virtual village.
Methods: We will conduct key informant interviews and virtual focus groups as a follow-up to our quantitative needs assessment for older PLWH isolated during COVID-19. We will then utilize conjoint analysis for decision making on the key areas to include in the virtual village. Finally, we will pilot activities for the virtual village in a group of people aging with HIV in Palm Springs, including the deaf community which is often overlooked.
Community Engagement: We will utilize community-based participatory action research (CBPAR) processes throughout the project, allowing our community advisory board (which we developed from a previous project on HIV and aging) to steer all phases of the work. Community-driven research helps ensure community investment and a higher likelihood of sustainability of any outcomes, rather than researchers deciding what they feel is best.
Brandon Brown PI Associate Professor Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health, UCR Jeff Taylor Co-I Director HIV and Aging Research Project
FIRST: Does replenishing California’s groundwater adversely affect water quality and disadvantaged communities?
Although the quantity of water being returned to aquifers is vital to meet California’s water demands, hydrologic and biogeochemical processes that decrease the quality of the water can increase the risk of contaminant exposure with particularly adverse effects on disadvantaged communities. The installation of flood-managed aquifer recharge (flood-MAR) basins presents an increased risk of nitrate contamination in groundwater drinking sources. A fraction of the disadvantaged communities within close proximity to agricultural areas where the basins are installed depend on groundwater as their main drinking water source. These communities often lack adequate infrastructure to treat and monitor water contaminants. Furthermore, more can be done to communicate with communities about their drinking water sources, how new innovations in groundwater recharge may affect their water source, and provide a venue for to communicate their concerns. Previous work demonstrated that the addition of organic matter amendments to the flood-MAR basins stimulates transformation of nitrate into safe nitrogen gas (N2). However, simultaneously, naturally-occurring toxic metals such as arsenic (As) and manganese (Mn) were released into the aquifer at concentrations from two to 100-times greater than health-based limits. Our long-term goal is to determine how the health of communities in close proximity to flood-MAR basins are affected by flood-MAR implementation and maintenance in order to holistically evaluate whether it is a safe aquifer replenishment method. However, prior to investigating the potential long-term health impacts of flood-MAR, the hydrological and biogeochemical processes responsible for releasing toxic metals from MAR basis needs to be unraveled to be able to measure, predict, and minimize human exposure. Accordingly, we propose to combine field- and laboratory-based methods to identify the key controls on arsenic and manganese mobilization within flood-MAR basins. Continued collaborations with Resource Conservation District Santa Cruz County, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, individual landowners and tenants, and Community Water Dialogue of the Pajaro Valley will result in more informed decisions regarding the installation and management of future flood-MAR basins to minimize aquifer contamination during recharge and preserve groundwater quality in communities around California.
Samantha C. Ying PI Assistant Professor Environmental Geochemistry, UCR Katheryn Elizabeth Urich Co-I Professor Department of Chemistry, UCR Scott Fendorf Co-I Senior Associate Dean School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Science, UCR
FIRST: Healing the Academy: Addressing Mental Health Disparities Among Underrepresented Graduate Students
Background: One of the factors that influence academic researchers' mental health is the hostile, toxic, and oppressive work environments promoted in the academy (Lovitts, 2001; Zambrana 2018). Hostile work environments, regardless of their gender, professional status, or academic discipline, affect academic researchers' psychosocial development, emotional well-being, and mental health (Morales Vazquez, 2019). Academic researchers that already experience oppression and discrimination, such as graduate students, due to their socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and/or gender are most affected by hostile academic environments (Gardner & Mendoza, 201 O; Wulff, Austin, & Associates, 2004). Given that exposure to this hostility is reproduced in graduate school (Gupta, 2018), it is critical to identify ways to intervene early. By doing so, this student population can be provided with effective mental health resources designed to help them to overcome health disparities promoted in higher education settings. The proposed research focuses on underrepresented graduate students (UGSs), which include students who have had to overcome oppression and discrimination in their life. This includes first-generation students (Holley & Gardner, 2012; Stebleton, Soria, and Huesman, 2014), students from underrepresented minorities (URMs) [Lovitts, 2001; Zambrana, 2018], and students who are English as second language (ESL) learners (Erichsen & Bolliger, 2011 ). The proposed research builds on pilot work that found UGSs experience microaggressions and feel devalued, marginalized, and censored in their academic environments, which leaves them feeling disrespected and excluded from resources and opportunities. This pattern reproduces inequality that negatively affects their mental health and wellbeing. This project proposes a pilot feasibility study that will assess the use of theory and methods to address the unmet needs of UGSs. The research itself will engage stakeholders in research on underrepresented graduate student health and examine academic structures that contribute to poor mental health among this student population. The project work consists of two specific aims. Aim 1: Engage key stakeholders in examining the impact of academic environments on UGS mental health. Aim 2: Characterize the academic environmental conditions that contribute to poor mental health among UGSs.
Hypothesis to be tested: Hostile work environments are one of the driving factors in poor mental health among UGSs (particularly for first-generation, URMs, and/or graduate students who are ESL learners). We anticipate that the structural vulnerability model can explain how hostile work environments influence mental health burden among UGSs. We also anticipate that the combination of surveys and tech-enabled longitudinal light-weight data collection will capture nuances in academic structures explaining both historical and institutional factors in UGS mental health outcomes.
Approach: A community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach will inform the research design, data collection, and data analysis of this investigation.
Evelyn Vázquez PI Postdoctoral Scholar Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health, UCR Ann Cheney Co-Mentor Assistant Professor Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health, UCR Michalis Faloutsos Co-Mentor Professor Department of Computer Science and Engineering, UCR
IRWG: Contextualizing Latinx children’s developing psychopathology: An interdisciplinary investigation of sociocultural and psychological processes contributing to health disparities in anxiety
Growing evidence suggests that Latinx children have a heightened risk for anxiety symptoms. We lack a clear understanding of how early-emerging symptoms are maintained, worsened, or improved. Even less clear are the reasons for the disparity in mental health outcomes among Latinx youth. Given the heightened risk for anxiety and other psychopathology among Latinx, the primary goal of this new IRWG is to improve understanding of the disproportionate risk for psychopathology (like anxiety) faced by Latinx youth.
This IRWG will bring together five UCR faculty from three different disciplines (Psychology, Hispanic Studies, Political Science) to interrogate the open question of why this specific health disparity—increased risk for and prevalence of anxiety—exists for Latinx children. The faculty participants have complementary expertise in child development, clinical science, emotion regulation, bilingualism and linguistic contexts, and the socioeconomic ramifications of work, labor, and labor-related polices, all of which influence and contextualize children’s development and lives. This project will enable a deep investigation into the factors that may help explain Latinx children’s anxiety development, including emotion regulation abilities, and the sociocultural contexts in which children live and grow. This interdisciplinary approach represents a promising, problem-focused way to advance our understanding of Latinx children’s psychopathology. In addition to providing opportunities for mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students in interdisciplinary work and developmental/clinical science, the efforts of the IRWG will culminate in the publication of a new conceptual model, and the preparation and submission of a Pilot Interdisciplinary Collaborative grant proposal in the next year.
Elizabeth Davis Organizer Associate Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Marissa Brookes Participant Assistant Professor Political Science, UCR Covadonga Lamar Prieto Participant Associate Professor Hispanic Studies, UCR John Franchak Participant Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Kalina Michalska Participant Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR
FIRST: The Impact of Stress from Cognitive Interventions Involving Novel Skill Learning on Inflammation and Vascular Functions in Older Minority Adults
Background. Although several studies have investigated ways to mitigate cognitive decline in older adults, only three have included a sizeable proportion of minority older adults in the sample. A growing literature shows that older adults from particular minority ethnic and racial groups (African American and Hispanic/Latinx), with low socio-economic status, and with low formal education levels (up to some college) are disproportionately at greater risk for cognitive decline and Alzheimer's Disease and related dementias (ADRD) compared to higher SES, non-Hispanic Whites. It is unclear whether and how cognitive interventions, such as learning new skills, may be differentially beneficial for older adults in minority/disadvantaged groups compared to majority groups.
Although learning new skills enhances cognitive abilities and brain structures in older adults on average (e.g., white matter integrity and grey matter volume), skill learning is an inherently stressful activity, which may increase inflammatory markers that may interfere with neural growth factor signaling. No published study has yet investigated the impact of stress from cognitive interventions involving novel skill learning on inflammation and vascular functions in older adults. These key metabolic pathways are affected early and robustly by AD pathobiology.
Approach. The proposed research builds on a new NSF-funded intervention project, where older adults learn new skills over a 3-month period. The funded intervention will collect cognitive and socio-motivational data, and the proposed research would fund additional data collection and analyses of biological markers of inflammation and vascular function, which would reflect stress from novel skill learning. The study population is expected to include at least 30% racial/ethnic minorities and/or individuals with low levels of formal education and/or low socio-economic status.
An important aspect of our proposed research includes community engagement (e.g., older adult research assistants, talks at community events) to open communication channels to align scientific and community goals for the intervention project.
Potential outcomes (Hypotheses). In terms of cognitive and socio-motivational outcomes, minority older adults may benefit more from the skill learning intervention compared to majority older adults, given their societal disadvantages (e.g., restricted access to education). In terms of biological markers, minority older adults may have higher initial levels of inflammatory markers compared to majority older adults, but may not increase as much from the stress from novel skill learning to developed coping strategies to stress in their daily lives.
Rachel Wu PI Assistant Professor Department of Psychiatry, UCR Mark Mapstone Co-I Professor Clinical Neurology, UCI Marcus Kaul Co-I Associate Professor Biomedical Sciences, UCR
- IRWG: The Contribution of Hearing Loss to Age-related Cognitive Decline in the Inland Empire
IRWG: Fight or Flight: Anti-black Terror, Fear, and Mental Health in the Contemporary United States
The present proposal is requesting funds to establish an Interdisciplinary Research Working Group (IRWG), with a specific focus on fear as a foundational element of the Black youth experience which impacts both their physical and mental health, and results in extremely disparate health outcomes. This project will follow principles of community participatory research. Specifically, the underlying principles are:
(1) The project seeks to enhance the community’s welfare through empowering the community to address its own health issues.
(2) The project will be designed to increase community knowledge of the issue, such as understanding the effects of violence on the psyche of children in the Black community.
(3) Community and academic participants will be involved in all project phases, including planning, implementation, research and evaluation, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination.
(4) The project will consider and address the political, social, and economic determinants of the main health issue addressed by the project.
(5) Dissemination of the research results will be the responsibility of all project participants.
To date, the community participants that have agreed to collaborate include: Cynthia Glover-Woods, Chief Academic Officer Educational Service Division Riverside County Office of Education; Sharron Lewis- Campbell, Advisor, Riverside County NAACP Youth Council; Shor Denny, MS. Certified Trauma-Informed Care Trainer, CEO - Community Now; Ariana Rodriguez, Loyola Law Public Interest Fellow/Staff Attorney, ACLU of Southern California; Coalition for Black Health and Wellness; and a host of others. The working group will develop a research proposal for more substantial funding to deal with the impacts of Black fear.
IRWG: How We Heal: Applying Structural Competency to Care for the Immigrant and the Refugee
The association between inequality and health is influenced by multiple environmental and sociopolitical contexts. Migration is considered a significant factor that reframes the experiences of specific subpopulations (i.e. foreign-born Latinos) into persistent and daily chronic strain; this can adversely affect health outcomes in a profound way, leading to psychological distress, psychosomatic symptoms, and compromised immune systems.
The ability to address these issues requires structural competency of the macrosystems, microsystems, and exo-systems that shape these individual health outcomes. Structural competency is broadly defined as the capacity to both recognize and respond to the downstream effects of social, political, and economic factors that extend beyond the clinical walls. There are several domains within each of these factors that require analytical understanding at the community level to impact lasting change.
The focus of our Interdisciplinary Research Working Groups is to develop a collaborative framework to address the issues that afflict immigrant and refugee health. Our goal is to bring together academics, advocates, providers, and community leaders with expertise in structural inequality in immigrant and refugee health to advance conversations and action. Community-level action is a precursor for healthcare policy change and research. As a first step toward this goal, we will organize a conference. Through the lens of structural competency, our conference will serve as a nexus for community-based clinicians, public health officials, public policy professionals, and local community organizers to share their experiences and collaborate to address each system level and improve health outcomes.
Moazzum Bajwa PI Assistant Professor Department of Family Medicine, School of Medicine, UCR Juliet McMullin Co-I Professor Department of Anthropology, UCR Diamond Bravo Co-I Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Ann Cheney Co-I Assistant Professor Department of Social Medicine, Population, and Public Health, UCR
IRWG: Human Exposure and Effects of Arsenic-Contaminated Groundwater within Low-Income Communities of Eastern Coachella Valley
Within the United States and around the world, arsenic is a naturally occurring trace element (metalloid) and groundwater contaminant primarily derived from weathering of porous, arsenic-containing rocks within underlying aquifers. Long-term exposure to elevated concentrations of inorganic arsenic (>50-100 μg/L) may lead to a range of adverse health effects within adults and children. Within pregnant women, arsenic readily migrates through the placenta and, in addition to maternal exposure, has the potential to expose the developing fetus, resulting in low birth weight and fetal malformations. Low-income residents within rural, unincorporated communities of eastern Coachella Valley (Thermal, Oasis, Mecca, and North Shore) are particularly vulnerable to elevated exposure to arsenic-contaminated groundwater. Therefore, from January 2020 through April 2021, the primary objective of our Interdisciplinary Research Working Group (IRWG) will be to catalyze discussions, develop a cohesive research/outreach strategy, and flesh out focused yet integrated projects/cores for a five-year UCR Superfund Research Program (UCR-SRP) Center (P42) application (maximum of $8.75M total direct costs over five years) to be submitted to the NIH’s National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in April 2021. The overall theme of our problem-oriented P42 application will be centered on human exposure and effects of arsenic-contaminated groundwater within low-income Latino communities of eastern Coachella Valley – a theme that is not specifically addressed within NIEHS’ existing P42 portfolio, has not been thoroughly investigated within eastern Coachella Valley, and has immediate relevance to other low-income desert regions of the Southwestern United States.
David Volz Organizer Associate Professor Department of Environmental Sciences, UCR Qi Chen Participant Assistant Professor Department of Biomedical Sciences, UCR Changcheng Zhou Participant Professor Department of Biomedical Sciences, UCR Haizhou Liu Participant Associate Professor Department of Chemical and Environmental Engineering Yinsheng Wang Participant Distinguished Professor Department of Chemistry, UCR Wenwan Zhong Participant Professor Department of Chemistry, UCR Hoori Ajami Participant Assistant Professor Department of Environmental Sciences, UCR Samantha Ying Participant Assistant Professor Department of Environmental Sciences, UCR David Eastmond Participant Professor Department of Molecular, Cell, and Systems Biology, UCR
IRWG: Working group on underrepresented participant recruitment barriers
The University of California, Riverside (UCR) Aging Initiative seeks to create an Institute on Healthy Aging. The Institute will be a center of research on aging, provide education, and be a hub for the community. We envision a uniquely integrative research program that considers aging from molecule to individual to society. To date, our understanding of aging within and between these levels of study is significantly limited by the homogeneity of older adults who enroll in research studies. Situated in one of the most diverse areas of the country, the campus-wide Aging Initiative is poised to overcome this limitation. Yet, our participant enrollments fail to match the ethnic and racial diversity of the local Riverside community. To address this obstacle and to achieve better understanding of disparities across aging demographics, we are assembling a working group tasked to identify barriers to recruitment of individuals from underrepresented backgrounds and to overcome these barriers through outreach in the Riverside community. As such, this working group directly addresses health disparities among aging populations in our region. It will also lead to more represented research that will positively influence the scientific understanding of aging across diverse populations. Lastly, our work can also serve as a case study to be shared with other groups of how to successfully engage diverse, underserved and underrepresented older adult populations in research that can promote healthy aging.
Ilana Bennett Organizer Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Aaron Seitz Organizer Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Chandra Reynolds Participant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Rachel Wu Participant Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Diamond Bravo Participant Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Anja Pahor Participant Postdoctoral Fellow Department of Psychology, UCR Esra Kurum Participant Assistant Professor Department of Statistics, UCR Xiaoping Hu Participant Assistant Professor Department of BIoengineering Joshua Morgan Participant Assistant Professor Department of Bioengineering
NIH PIC: The effects of intergenerational transmission of cultural values on youth with disruptive behavior disorders
Background: Aggression and disruptive behavior disorders, such as conduct problems (CP) in girls have tremendous clinical and public health significance. In the past decade, while overall youth aggression and delinquency decreased significantly, criminal behavior and delinquency increased sharply among girls. Yet, there is little research on the intersectional mechanisms through which aggression and CP disadvantage girls of color, and even less research on Latina girls. Building on a growing body of literature demonstrating that first generation and more recent immigrants have better overall and particularly mental health outcomes than second generation (US born) immigrants, and that cultural value transmission and acculturation play a role in creating this 'health paradox' (e.g., Plundmar et al. 2005), our study study addresses this gap by focusing on the role of ethnic/racial value socialization practices among Latinx immigrant parents on their children's emotional regulation and reactivity during threat and safety learning and mother/child interaction tasks.
Hypothesis to be tested: Our main hypothesis is that a more successful transmission of cultural values, or ethnic/racial socialization (measured with surveys with the parents) will potentially lead to improved emotional regulation and reactivity in children that we will measure through both self-reported and psychophsyological indicators of emotion reactivity to stressors.
Approach: The current proposal will employ multiple methods (e.g., psychophysiology, survey, community advisory boards) to characterize the association between ethnic/racial family socialization and psychophysiological correlates (skin conductance and heart rate variability) of emotion processing with multidimensional measures of youth aggression, conduct problems, and delinquency. Drawing from the large Latino population in the Riverside county (California) catchment area, we will recruit a sample of 120 pre-adolescent Latina mother-daughter pairs to test our hypothesis.
Kalina J. Michalska PI Assistant Professor Department of Psychology, UCR Rengin B. Firat Co-PI Assistant Professor Department of Sociology, UCR