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Researchers receive $11.5 million grant to address health disparities through implementation science

Team seeks to improve real-world uptake of latest research evidence.

September 14, 2023

A new $11.5 million five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will support researchers’ efforts to ensure everyone benefits from the latest research advances. The effort is led by Kimber Richter, PhD, MPH, professor of population health and director of the UKanQuit tobacco program at the University of Kansas Health System and Christie Befort, PhD, associate director of cancer prevention and control.

Research has led to incredible advances in the treatment and prevention of cancer and other diseases. However, moving the latest research advances into a real-world setting can be complex and arduous. According to a widely cited estimate, it takes about 17 years for research evidence to reach widespread adoption. 

“About 40% of patients do not receive care consistent with current scientific evidence,” Dr. Befort said. “What’s more, the gap between research and clinical practice tends to be even more pronounced in disadvantaged communities.” 

Drs. Richter and Befort aim to address this pressing issue through implementation science, a field of study that links evidence-based interventions to the real-world setting. Implementation science aims to address the gap between what is known to be effective and what is actually done in the clinic. In addition to accelerating the adoption of new findings into the clinic, researchers can ensure that the methods they develop are culturally responsive, equitable and effective for diverse groups of people.

“We not only need to figure out why research advances aren’t making it into routine clinical care, but we must find ways for it to happen faster,” Dr. Richter said.

The University of Kansas Medical Center has considerable strengths in health behavior research, implementation science and disparities research, with established strong relationships with rural and urban health systems that can provide ‘implementation laboratories’ for studying and testing innovations in health care delivery. For example, The University of Kansas Cancer Center leans on its outreach network, the Masonic Cancer Alliance, to partner with providers in community practice settings.

“There is a clear opportunity for us to take the lead in this area by creating a center that focuses on the nexus of implementation and equity,” Dr. Richter said. “We are well-positioned to be a national leader in this effort, especially in the context of rurality and inequity.”

The new Center on Implementation Science and Equity is part of the NIH’s Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program, which supports the establishment and development of innovative biomedical and behavioral research centers. One of the main objectives of COBRE-funded centers is to provide guidance and assistance to early-career researchers. The eventual goal of this center is to develop a critical mass of investigators well-trained in the science of implementation who can compete effectively for independent research funding.

The first junior investigators funded by the COBRE are Heather Gibbs, PhD, RD, LD, associate professor of Dietetics and Nutrition; Jaime Perales-Puchalt, PhD, assistant professor in Neurology; Taneisha Scheuermann, PhD, associate professor in Population Health; and Sharla Smith, PhD, MPH, associate professor in Population Health.


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