Grant Recipients Share Interest In Improving Children’s Healthcare

For Release Aug. 6, 201

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A focus on children’s health was the common theme among the proposals from three local scientists who are the recipients of the 2014 Blue KC Health Outcomes Research grants recently awarded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC).

Two of the three grants were presented to Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics, and one was awarded to the University of Kansas Medical Center.  Each grant totals $50,000.

“One of our focus areas at Blue KC is children’s health,” said David Gentile, Blue KC president and chief executive officer.  “We’re excited and proud to be able to give grants to local organizations dedicated to improving the health and wellness of children in the Kansas City area.”

This marks the third consecutive year that the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) has managed the grants program for Blue KC.  “We work with highly skilled researchers, scientists and physicians to review and assess each application,” said Dr. Wayne Carter, KCALSI president and chief executive officer.  “The panel evaluates the potential for future federal funding by the impact these programs could have on enhancing patient care, reducing healthcare costs, and improving medical outcomes.”

This year’s grant recipients and a brief description of their research programs follow.

Removing Healthcare Barriers for Teens

A computerized system that helps create an open, comfortable environment for teens to discuss sexual health and also improves access to essential health services will be studied at Children’s Mercy with the help of the grant from Blue KC.

“Adolescents may feel more comfortable answering questions about sexual health on a computer than talking to a healthcare provider,” explained Dr. Melissa Miller, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics.  “Starting the conversation is a crucial first step in increasing access to services and care that teens need to have good health outcomes.”

The United States has one of the highest teen birth rates among developed nations.  It’s nearly twice that of the United Kingdom, which has the highest teen birth rate in Western Europe, and nearly three times higher than Canada’s, according to 2009 statistics.

“We have a lot of work to do to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases),” Miller said.

By providing teens with tablets containing a uniform set of questions, the hospital can gather critical health information that will be analyzed by a computerized expert system (or algorithm) to generate healthcare recommendations specific to each patient.  Then the teen will meet with a specially trained provider who discusses healthcare options and assists the teen in making decisions.

“We believe this system will help eliminate many of the barriers adolescents face in accessing and receiving sexual health services,” Dr. Miller said.

Treating Young Cancer Patients at Home

Joy Bartholomew, a family nurse practitioner at Children’s Mercy, has been a member of the hospital’s oncology team for 25 years.  During that time, she looked for ways to provide cancer treatment that’s better for the child, less expensive for the parents, and improves the quality of life for the whole family.

Her research grant will help fund a program that will study whether a chemotherapy treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) can be performed on an outpatient basis rather than in the hospital.  The treatment delivers high doses of methotrexate, followed by folic acid supplements, to children during the third of a five-phase ALL treatment regimen.

“Our supportive care is so much better than it used to be,” Bartholomew said, “which has prompted me to question whether we can also change the ways we deliver that care.”

Outfitted with a small backpack, the child could receive the 24-hour infusion of methotrexate at home.  Likewise, the folic acid supplements, which are taken orally, would also be done at home accompanied by IV fluids and regular nurse visits to change the fluid bag and perform blood draws.

“The children can run around with their little backpacks, go to the playground, and lead a regular, normal life,” Bartholomew said.  “Kids actually do so much better during treatment when they’re playing.”

The outpatient treatment could also provide a tremendous cost savings for the family, according to Bartholomew, who said the cost of phase three inpatient treatments are approximately $130,000 compared with $16,000 for outpatient treatments.  “To let the kids remain at home, provide them the same quality of care with a better quality of life for less money … that’s a double win!”

A Unique Approach to Preventing Excessive Gestational Weight Gain

More than half of all women in the United States are overweight or obese, and of these women, about 75 percent gain too much weight during pregnancy.  While this poses health problems for the mother, it also presents health issues for the baby.

“When a mom gains too much weight, there are particular negative health outcomes for both her and the baby,” said Dr. Holly Hull, assistant professor, Department of Dietetics and Nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC).  “For moms we see higher rates of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and hypertension.  If babies have higher birth weights, they have a greater chance of obesity later in life, which can lead to obesity-related diseases such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and altered lipid status.”

A research program at KUMC will study a novel approach to preventing excessive weight gain during pregnancy via the use of group-based phone counseling and an interactive physical activity monitoring system.

“Our intervention program aims to blunt the high rate of weight gain in the second and third trimesters by looking at all aspects of the women’s lifestyles, particularly eating habits and physical activity,” Hull said.  “We want to educate women about the best types of food and the right amount of food as well as encourage them to be active.”

A monitoring device that the women will wear on their waistbands provides valuable biofeedback to the researchers.  The device also vibrates if the wearer has been sitting too long – a reminder that she needs to get up and move around.  The group-based phone counseling provides a convenient way for KU’s healthcare providers to deliver nutritional education without the women having to come to the campus.  The phone counseling occurs weekly for 18 weeks and includes an informational manual and weekly lessons.

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 website at www.kclifesciences.org.

Through its Research Development Grants program, KCALSI manages a variety of individual grants for area corporations and trusts, helping them identify proposals with the best scientific, medical 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.  From 2007 to 2012, KCALSI’s program managed 44 grants totaling $2,200,144 million, which enabled area researchers to successfully compete for $14,674,319 million in additional funding.  Importantly, grants totaling an additional $16,805,709 million are waiting for final funding decisions. KCALSI’s Research Development Grants program includes proposal review, evaluation by subject matter experts, written reviews for all applicants, and post-award management.

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Contact: Dr. Keith Gary
KCALSI Director of Program Development
(816) 753-7700

Kelly Cannon
Blue Cross and Blue Shield
(816) 395-3711

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 Missouri and the only not-for-profit commercial 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 more than one million residents in the greater Kansas City area, including Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and 30 counties in Northwest Missouri.  Our mission: to use our role as the area’s leading health insurer to provide affordable access to health care and to improve the health and wellness of our members.  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 its website at BlueKC.com.

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