Two Kansas City Physicians Named Recipients of Blue KC Health Outcomes Research Grants
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For Release April 17, 2012

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Helping the local Latino community better manage diabetes and providing a much-improved procedure to diagnose common upper gastrointestinal disorders are the focal points of the research programs that will receive this year’s Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) Health Outcomes Research grants.

The two $50,000 grants were awarded to Dr. Edward Ellerbeck, University of Kansas Medical Center, department of preventive medicine and public health, and Dr. Prateek Sharma, professor of medicine, division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the Kansas City Veterans Administration Hospital.

The winning research programs exemplify the goals of the Blue KC Health Outcomes Research grants: to improve health care access, the quality of health care, and the quality of life for the Kansas City community.

“Blue KC is committed to putting its resources into initiatives that will help improve our communities’ health,” said David Gentile, president and chief executive officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City.  “Both of the winning programs are outstanding examples of how health outcomes research can potentially impact the level of health care and reduce health care costs. 

“This was the first year our grants program was managed by the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI).  As evidenced by the large number of quality grant applications they received, there is significant outcomes research expertise in the region and a need for funding.  KCALSI’s expertise helped us to wisely invest in these two research projects with great potential,” Gentile said.

Empowering Latinos to Control Diabetes

 The epidemic of diabetes in the United States has paralleled the country’s increase in obesity rates.  However, due to a variety of factors, minority communities suffer significantly higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Dr. Edward Ellerbeck’s research program would provide the Wyandotte County Latino community with a unique tool to empower them to better manage their diabetes – a website designed to meet their educational and resource needs.   

“Taking care of diabetes is not a simple matter,” Ellerbeck explained, “and if you’re a Latino with diabetes, you have a lot of obstacles to getting care.

“You have to find a health care provider.  It can be difficult to get access to those individuals, and once you find a provider, they may not speak your language or understand how your culture relates to your diabetes,” he said.  “In addition, there are issues in finding understandable Spanish-language information about diabetes, getting diabetes supplies, and paying for medications, particularly insulin.”

The program’s proposed site would educate users about diabetes and link them to physicians and resources for obtaining testing equipment and medication.  The goal, Ellerbeck said, is to help Latinos become “lifelong learners with the ability to manage their own disease.”

Using the Web can be intimidating, but Ellerbeck’s program has identified a way to overcome this hurdle.  His program will utilize the Latino community’s strong cultural history of community health workers, called “promotores,” to provide Internet literacy instruction, helping their friends and neighbors access and use the website.

“We’re not asking the promotores to become content experts in diabetes, but rather to serve as support personnel by helping their friends and neighbors in the Latino community access credible information,” Ellerbeck said.  “We hope to empower the community to better understand this disease.”

The research program’s goal is to test a prototype website within nine months.

Developing Convenient and Cost-Effective

Acid reflux is a common upper gastrointestinal symptom that affects 10 to 20 percent of the adult U.S. population.  It is important to screen acid reflux patients for esophageal cancer, which is currently the fastest growing cancer in the United States, and other conditions such as esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus.  A standard endoscopy is the common method used by physicians to identify and evaluate such diseases.

But the standard endoscopy has its drawbacks.  The patient must receive an IV line for sedation so that a nine to 10 millimeter endoscope can be inserted into the mouth and into the esophagus and stomach.  In addition, this procedure includes the risk of sedation and requires that the patient experience recovery time, post-procedure drowsiness, and the inability to drive or work that day.   

 Dr. Prateek Sharma’s research program will evaluate an alternative to the standard endoscopy.  The trans-nasal endoscopy holds the promise of a less invasive, faster procedure that would also cost dramatically less.

 “We are proposing using an ultra-thin endoscope that can be inserted through the nose and into the esophagus,” Sharma said.  “Called a trans-nasal endoscopy, it can be inserted after a local spray of anesthetic into the nostril, eliminating the need for an IV line.”

            The procedure can be completed in about 10 minutes, with the patient sitting in a chair, fully awake, the entire time, Sharma said.  

“The patient won’t have to take a day off from work and won’t need sedation or to be monitored by a nurse in a procedure unit,” Sharma explained.  “The patient can drive himself to get this procedure, which could potentially be done in a doctor’s office.”

According to Sharma, approximately 1,200 to 1,500 standard endoscopies are done each year at the Kansas City VA Hospital alone.  His research program would include a minimum of 50 patients in the study to determine if the proposed trans-nasal endoscopy provides the anticipated advantages while delivering the same quality diagnostic tool.“Our department is a recognized leader in new technologies development and esophageal cancer research,” Sharma said.  “We continuously look for novel ways to improve health care and make it more efficient and cost effective for our patients.”

Information about the Blue KC Health Outcomes Research Grants, including eligibility, review criteria and application procedures, can be found on the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute’s (KCALSI) website at www.kclifesciences.org

KCALSI manages a variety of individual grants for area corporations and trusts, helping them identify proposals with the best scientific and technical merit.  Research grants are awarded to generate initial results and stimulate the submission of major multidisciplinary research proposals to government or private agencies.  The organization’s Research Development Grants program includes proposal review, evaluation by subject matter experts, written reviews for all applicants, and post-award management.  rom 2006 to 2010, KCALSI’s Research Development Grants program managed 40 grants totaling $1.4 million.  These seed grants have enabled area researchers to successfully compete for $10.3 millionin additional funding and publish nearly 40 articles in medical and scientific journals.          

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For More Information, Contact:  Dr. Keith Gary, KCALSI director of development, (816) 753-7700.

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, the largest not-for-profit health insurer in the state and the only not-for-profit health insurer in Kansas City, has been part of the Kansas City community since 1938.  Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City provides health coverage services to nearly one million residents in the greater Kansas City area and Northwest Missouri.  Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.  For more information on the company, visit the website at www.BlueKC.com

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