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Designing Healthy Outcomes for Babies

By Anne Dreyfuss/University Public Affairs

The infant mortality rate in Virginia dropped by almost 20 percent from 2007 to 2012 according to a report released in November by the Virginia Department of Health, but the positive news didn’t extend to Richmond’s low-income African-American population, which continues to face a rate of infant deaths three to four times higher than that of non-Hispanic whites.

“There is a very high instance of infant mortality and low birth-weight babies in African-American families in the City of Richmond,” said Laura Chessin, associate professor of graphic design, Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts.

With the help of a VCU Quest Innovation Fund grant that supports partnerships between the university’s School of the Arts and School of Medicine, Chessin set out to directly address that disparity. The graphic design professor partnered with Rashel Charles, director of research development at the VCU Institute for Women’s Health, and Kirsten Olsen, an administrator with CenteringPregnancy at VCU, to achieve her goal. Charles recruited help from nonprofits in the community, including nutrition consultation service Healthy Hearts Plus II and managed care organization Virginia Premier.

“The idea was to create a visual mark that would be the start of a more extensive program,” Chessin said. “The first step of this potentially larger project is having the graphic design students come up with a way of visualizing how the community can support healthy outcomes for babies.”

For three consecutive Monday mornings from October to November, 16 graphic design students met with nine low-income African-American mothers and two fathers to discuss what it takes to raise a healthy child in Richmond. At the first meeting, students asked questions about the parents’ experiences, expectations and obstacles during pregnancy and after giving birth. The students brought rough sketches visualizing what they’d heard to the second meeting and parents offered feedback on what they saw. In the third meeting, the students presented the posters and visual marks they had created based on their conversations over the past couple of weeks.

“It was an interesting process because normally when we’re doing our projects we’re working off our own prompt and we’re designing for the teacher,” said 20-year-old graphic design student Hunter Zachwieja. “With this project we were working with people in the community for something that was larger than the class.”

One of the points that came across strongly during the meetings was that the visual material aimed at pregnant mothers often doesn’t include images of father figures.

“A huge issue for this population is that the dad needs to be a part of this,” Chessin said. “One of our primary ideas was looking at how the community comes together to support the baby.”

At a final presentation at The Depot, students presented their posters, which ranged from complex hand-drawn illustrations to pixilated abstract images. Parents from the discussion groups attended the presentation along with faculty from the School of the Arts and School of Medicine. While the designs varied in style, the messages remained constant. Images that represented community support, love, healthy foods and safe environments appeared in various forms throughout the presentations.

“Everyone found pieces of our conversations to bring to life,” said 24-year-old Kristen Forbes. The South Side resident, who was one of the mothers in the project, brought her 1-year-old son, Tristen, to the presentation.

In the next year, Chessin plans to put the students’ designs to use, possibly in a media campaign that addresses infant mortality rates in Richmond. She hopes that the work from this class will contribute to a larger project down the road.

“Graphic design is about more than making pretty things,” Chessin said. “It’s about how we engage in visual culture. This project is about how design can effect change.”

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Domestic Violence 101 course now available online

Domestic Violence: Understanding the Basics, a course presented by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence and VAWnet, the National Online Resource Center on Violence Against Women , is now available online.

The one-hour interactive course describes the behaviors and characteristics that are inherent to domestic violence. The 10-section course also provides an overview of the scope and impact on individuals and society, and explores the underlying factors that allow domestic violence to exist. The course offers insight into the various risks and choices that survivors face and shares how to be part of the solution.

The course answers common questions about domestic violence and is designed to help new advocates, allied professionals, students and the public gain a basic understanding of the complexity of domestic violence.

You can access the course here.

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VCU gets grant for stroke prevention in women’s project

The Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women’s Health has received a two-year grant totaling nearly $700,000 to support the Virginia Women’s Stroke Prevention Initiative.

The Medical Education Grant from Pfizer Inc. supports the initiative’s focus to promote the prevention of stokes in underserved women.

“Stroke is the third-leading cause of death in the United States,” said Warren Felton, M.D., the medical director of the VCU Stroke Center and the project’s principal investigator. “Ultimately, this study will serve to reduce the risk of stroke in both women and men served by VCU Medical Center and throughout Virginia.”

The initiative will implement stroke risk screening and evidence-based treatment guidelines in VCU Primary Care Clinics, incorporating the electronic medical health record.

To learn more, please click here.

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CEnR Lunch and Learn on December 6

Jessica Venerable, grant and research analyst for the Office of the Vice President for Research, will discuss grant funding for Community-Engaged Research on December 6. She will focus on how to find grants that support CEnR and what grantees are seeking. The talk is from noon to 1 p.m. in Room 1004A of the ASPIRE Building on 835 W. Grace St.

All are welcome to attend. The Lunch & Learn Series is sponsored by The Center for Clinical and Transitional Reseach, the Center on Health Disparities, the Division of Community Engagement, the Institute for Women’s Health and the Office of Research.

For more information, contact CEnR@vcu.edu.

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Institute for Women’s Health requests pilot proposals

The VCU Institute for Women’s Health is preparing a National Institute of Health Center Grant application that focuses on the etiology and course of mental health disorders and unhealthy behaviors in male and female college students.

The Center will examine gender differences in the development of a variety of conditions so interventions can be tailored to best meet the specific needs. The conditions include:

  • Depression/anxiety
  • Substance use/abuse, ranging from caffeine to alcohol and other drugs
  • Physical inactivity and weight gain

Two research cores are integral to the project. The first, VCU Spit for Science, will direct online surveys, DNA testing, and longitudinal follow-up of college freshmen. The second, Technology Support, will oversee the development and maintenance of mobile health applications.

Proposals for Pilot and Feasibility Projects must utilize one or both Research Cores to conduct research that complements the primary goals of the Center.

Funding: Funding is limited to $50,000 for one year. The initial Center grant application will select two pilot studies for Year 1, with an additional two  projects per year for Years 2 and 3. 

Application Information: Interested investigators should submit a one-page abstract describing the:

1) Background

2) Goals

3) Specific Aims

4) Methods

5) Significance;

An NIH-style Biosketch and a detailed budget are also required.

Deadline: Proposals must be submitted by January 13, 2014 to RaShel Charles, director of grant management at the VCU Institute for Women’s Health.

If you have questions, please contact  Dace Svikis, the deputy director of the VCU Institute for Women’s Health.

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Study examines effect of uterine fibroids in African-American women

African-American women have a higher incidence of uterine fibroids, develop them at an earlier age and suffer more severe symptoms, according to a new national survey.

The survey of 268 African-American and 573 white women, ages 29 to 59, with symptomatic uterine fibroids was conducted from December 1, 2011, to January 16, 2012. Results were published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

“Uterine fibroids are a major source of morbidity for reproductive-aged women, and this is especially true for African American women,” says Susan G. Kornstein, the executive director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Institute for Women’s Health and the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Women’s Health.

Read more here.

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VCU Presidential Symposium on Cancer postponed

The VCU Presidential Symposium on Cancer, which was scheduled for October 12, has been postponed and will be rescheduled.

Douglas Lowy,  deputy director of the National Cancer Institute, was to deliver the keynote address on advances in cancer research and the direction of cancer research. In collaboration with colleague John Schiller, Lowy discovered a way to generate infection-fighting antibodies that led to the development of a vaccine for the types of human papillomavirus (HPV) that cause a majority of the forms of cervical cancer, which is the second most common cause of cancer death in women worldwide.

Learn more here.

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Series focuses on domestic and sexual violence

The VCU Institute for Women’s Health and the YMCA are sponsoring a series of brown bag lunches devoted to the topic of domestic and sexual violence during October.

The free events are held each Thursday from noon to 1:30 at the YWCA of Richmond at 6 N. Fifth St.

The topics include:

October 17: Domestic Violence in Later Life – It Matters To Us All
Lisa Furr from the Virginia Center on Aging at the VCU School of Applied Health Professionals is the featured speaker.

The aging baby boomers — those 85 or older — are the fastest growing segment of the population — and that group is disporportionaltely women. There are significant implications for victimization, safety and health.

October 24: Intimate Partner Violence & Reproductive Coercion: Understanding the Connection
Candace W. Burton, an assistant professor in the VCU Department of Family and Community Health Nursing, is the featured speaker.

Register for these events here.

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VCU receives NIH grant to study vaginal microbes

Virginia Commonwealth University has received a $7.4 million federal grant to study how microorganisms found in the vagina influence health and disease in women and their babies during pregnancy, labor and birth.

The Office of the Director at the National Institutes of Health awarded VCU the three-year grant to pursue work that ultimately could lead to interventions that promote healthier pregnancies and births.

VCU is one of three teams across the country to receive a NIH Common Fund grant this year to study the human microbiome. The project is a spinoff of VCU’s continuing $8 million National Institutes of Health Common Fund project that is characterizing the impact of microflora of the female urogenital tract on women’s health and well-being.

Read more here.

 

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FDA gives positive review to early-stage breast cancer drug

The Food and Drug Administration has recommended accelerated approval of a drug that could be the first pharmaceutical option for treating early-stage breast cancer.

“This is a whole new approach, which should dramatically accelerate the progress that we make in cancer treatment,” said Dr. Harry D. Bear, chairman of the division of surgical oncology and medical director of the Breast Health Center at VCU and Massey Cancer Center.

In documents posted online, FDA scientists said women who received the Roche drug Perjeta as initial treatment for breast cancer were more likely to be cancer-free at the time of surgery than women who received older drug combinations. Although the results come from midstage trials of the drug, FDA scientists recommended accelerating approval of the drug.

The FDA is scheduled to make a decision on whether to approve Perjeta for early-stage breast cancer by Oct. 31.

Read more here.

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