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Spring 2023 Spark Awards

May 10, 2023
by Koleyatu Sheriff

The Yale Institute for Global Health (YIGH) has selected Laura Forastiere, assistant professor of biostatistics, Edward Miller, associate professor of medicine (cardiovascular medicine), Daniel O’Neil, assistant clinical professor of medicine (medical oncology), Julia Rosenberg, assistant professor, pediatrics (general pediatrics), and Melanie Sion, assistant professor of surgery (general, trauma and surgical critical care) to receive Global Health Spark Awards. Each recipient will receive an award for up to $10,000 and were selected based on their technical merit and long-reaching implications for future global health work.

“We are delighted to fund these outstanding proposals, which rose to the top among our most competitive round of applications so far. Helping to catalyze global health research and practice by YIGH-affiliated faculty is one of our signature goals of the YIGH Faculty Support Initiative,” said Kristina Talbert-Slagle, assistant professor and associate director of faculty mentorship and academic programs at YIGH. Below is a summary of each project.

Laura Forastiere, Assistant Professor of Biostatistics (Biostatistics)

Project Summary: Malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Uganda. As in most other malaria-endemic countries, many people in Uganda who suspect they have malaria visit private sector outlets to purchase medications. Presumptive treatment for malaria based on symptoms without a diagnostic test can have serious public health implications including contributing to wastage of limited public funds as well as antimalarial resistance. The Spark Award will be used to conduct a feasibility pilot to understand barriers to malaria testing and to assess a pay-it-forward approach to enhance malaria testing and treatment among people attending private health services. It will also be used to investigate the feasibility of a future trial of this approach.

Edward Miller, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiovascular Medicine)

Project Summary: Transthyretin cardiac amyloids (ATTR-CM) is an increasingly recognized cause of congestive heart failure. ATTR-CM disproportionally affects individuals of West African descent and is underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed due to limited resources and expertise in countries with large populations at risk such as Jamaica. Increasing diagnostic testing resources, research infrastructure, and clinical care is crucial to addressing this unmet public health need. The Spark Award will build on an existing partnership to develop the infrastructure needed for future research on population-wide identification of ATTR-CM. Specific activities include training in genetic testing and heart imaging, along with establishing data capture and management infrastructure.

Daniel O’Neil, Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine (Medical Oncology)

Project Summary: While people living with HIV are living longer because of highly active antiretroviral therapy, typical age-related cancers, including breast cancer, is expanding. South Africa has the world's largest population of people living with comorbid HIV and cancer, and 20% of breast cancer diagnoses are women living with HIV. Data from the United States, Botswana, and South Africa shows that breast cancer patients with comorbid HIV have 50% to 85% higher overall mortality than other breast cancer patients. Building on a longstanding collaboration with breast cancer researchers at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the project aims to begin comparisons of breast cancer tumor immune responses in women living with and without comorbid HIV in South Africa.

Julia Rosenberg, Assistant Professor, Pediatrics (General Pediatrics)

Project Summary: Refugee and immigrant children face a higher risk for mental health and behavioral health problems because of the stress they experienced before, during, and after immigrating to the United States. Evidence-based preventive interventions, including social-emotional learning, can help children achieve long-term success emotionally and academically. In the New Haven region, most recently arrived refugees are from Afghanistan. Spark Award funding will be used to train interpreters and translators to translate, pilot and validate a preventive mental health intervention called EMPOWER (Emotions Program Outside the clinic and Wellness Education for Recent arrivals) with Afghani refugee families in New Haven.

Melanie Sion, Assistant Professor of Surgery (General, Trauma and Surgical Critical Care)

Project Summary: Developing a trauma system informed by collecting and analyzing data from a trauma registry is the first step to combat the burden of injury globally. For many hospitals, ministries of health, and other institutions, implementing a trauma registry can be the first step toward data-informed quality improvement. Trauma registries have been created throughout East, Central, and Southern Africa but with little coordination or capacity building. The focus of the Spark Award is to transfer tangible real-time research skills to a group of African women surgeons from Women in Surgery Africa (WiSA), which is part of the College of Surgeons of East, Central, and Southern Africa (COSECSA). The goal of the project is to create and empower this network who are invested in trauma, registries, and care in their countries and region. The Spark Award will help lay the groundwork for the first large multinational trauma registry network in East, Central and Southern Africa.

Submitted by Alyssa Cruz on May 10, 2023