Congratulations to Cycle 3 C3EN Pilot Awardees Victoria Flores, Melissa Gutierrez-Kapheim, Shilpa Iyer, Lauren Little and Anne Hoffmann (co-PIs), Milkie Vu, and Mohan Zalake!

C3EN Pilot Awardees receive up to $60,000 in funding to obtain data to establish an NIH-funded program of health disparities research. Awardees also receive mentorship from experienced investigators in the C3EN Investigator Development Core and access to the research infrastructure at both University of Chicago and Rush University Medical Center. Learn more and apply for a Pilot Award.

Victoria Flores, MS, PhD, Postdoctoral Research Associate at University of Illinois Chicago

Feasibility and Efficacy of a Remotely Delivered Exercise Training Intervention for the Hispanic/Latino Community with Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Flores has dedicated her academic and professional journey to enhancing lives of individuals with chronic conditions. She holds a master’s degree in kinesiology, with an emphasis in biomechanics and a doctoral degree in exercise physiology. During her doctorate, she worked with cancer patients and survivors as a cancer exercise rehabilitation specialist. This ignited her interest in improving the quality of life in those living with chronic conditions, leading her to work in the field of multiple sclerosis (MS) and rehabilitation medicine. Currently, Victoria plays a pivotal role as an exercise and behavioral coach, specifically focusing on African Americans with MS in the US’s southern region in the Targeted Exercise for African Americans with MS” (TEAAMS) Study. In tandem, she coordinates the national Race, Ethnicity, and Active Lifestyle in MS (REAL MS) Study. This multidimensional engagement provides her a comprehensive perspective, as it reveals distinct challenges faced by diverse, and often underserved, persons with MS. This inspired her research focus on the intersection of social determinants of health and disease management, notably within the Hispanic/Latino demographic in Chicago. Beyond her research roles, Victoria is actively involved in advocacy and community engagement in Chicago, participating in health fairs, giving educational talks, and attending local support groups to increase MS awareness and empower those affected. She is a proactive voice, advocating for more exercise and physical activity, as well as inclusivity in MS research. Victoria’s ultimate vision is to bridge the gap between healthcare professionals, research, and the grassroots community to offer care that is accessible, culturally sensitive, and effective.

Feasibility and Efficacy of a Remotely Delivered Exercise Training Intervention for the Hispanic/Latino Community with Multiple Sclerosis aims to determine the feasibility and efficacy of a remotely-delivered and culturally-tailored exercise training intervention for improving physical and mental health outcomes for Hispanics/Latinos with MS in Chicago. Additionally, the study will explore the impact of individual and structural factors of social determinants of health (e.g., income, education, access to healthcare, and social support) by examining how each influence the success of the exercise intervention and its ability to bring about positive changes in symptoms of MS and overall quality of life.

Melissa Gutierrez-Kapheim, PhD, Director of Health Equity and Assessment Research at the Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI)

Neighborhood Social Engagement as a Strategy to Decrease Loneliness and Improve Health Behaviors among Latinx Adults: A proof-of-concept study conducted with Chicago’s Little Village Community

Dr. Gutierrez-Kapheim oversees community-engaged research that focuses on the structural causes of health inequities. She has over 15 years of experience conducting community-based health research, managing randomized control trials, and analyzing individual and neighborhood-level data to understand structural factors that exacerbate inequities in vulnerable communities. She is currently a Co-Investigator on the NIH-funded Chicagoland CEAL initiative (PI Martin), co-leading the deployment of Community Health Workers to increase vaccine confidence in Chicago’s Black and Latinx communities. She previously worked at SUHI from 2006-2016, where she led two community-based asthma studies funded by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. She also co-directed the design and implementation of Sinai Community Health Survey 2.0, a community-based, representative survey of ten Chicago communities to better understand health disparities at a local-level and across Chicago. From 2016-2022, she worked at the University of Illinois Chicago in various capacities. While at UIC College of Nursing, she worked on a NINR-funded RCT, Heart Up! (PI Dunn), examining the relationship between hopelessness, heart disease, and physical activity. During her graduate education, she worked with Uchechi Mitchell, PhD, investigating mental health and discrimination in Black older adults. Gutierrez-Kapheim received her PhD in Public Health from the University of Illinois Chicago in 2022. Her dissertation research focused on the relationship between the social neighborhood environment and loneliness in Chicago Black and Latinx communities. Her research interest include neighborhood determines of health, the measurement of structural racism, and the effect of psychosocial wellbeing and health behaviors and its relationship to cardiometabolic health.

The US Surgeon General has declared loneliness a public health emergency, calling for studies to increase social connection at the community-level. Feelings of loneliness are linked to increased risk of poor cardiometabolic health and premature death. Consequently, those that are at risk for these health conditions–low-income, minority, and older adults–also have high rates of loneliness. In Neighborhood Social Engagement as a Strategy to Decrease Loneliness and Improve Health Behaviors among Latinx Adults: A proof-of-concept study conducted with Chicago’s Little Village Community, Dr. Gutierrez-Kapheim will partner with Enlace Chicago to design and conduct a proof-of-concept study aimed at increasing neighborhood social engagement to address loneliness among Latinx adults aged 55 and older living in the Little Village community.

Shilpa Iyer, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Chicago

Piloting Mind Over Matter in Chicago, a community-based program for urinary and bowel incontinence

Dr. Iyer’s interest in clinical research and health service delivery started when she was working in public health as a project development intern at Access Community Health Center in Chicago and Morris Heights Community Health Center in New York City, federally qualified community health center networks after finishing college. She conducted community assessments, developed programs to fit the needs of local communities, and analyzed health outcome data. She then matriculated to medical school at the University of Illinois to gain clinical skills and concurrently pursued a master’s degree in public health with a concentration in epidemiology and biostatistics. Desiring a career caring for women through their reproductive years, she moved to Boston to complete residency in Obstetrics & Gynecology at a combined program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Her interest in surgery and pelvic floor disorders during residency led her to pursue fellowship training at North Shore/ The University of Chicago after completing residency. During her fellowship training, she developed a specific interest in overactive bladder pathology, etiology, treatment safety, and shared decision making as well as access to care in underserved communities. Her prior research experience has enabled her to build effective and motivated research teams, convince patients to return for follow up, propose creative solutions to logistical problems, and bring studies to completion.

Many women suffer from urinary and bowel incontinence but either do not or are not able to access care. Mind over Matter is a 3 session program lasting 2 hours every other week led by a trained community educator in person or virtually based at the South Shore Senior Center and other community centers. This program was developed at the University of Wisconsin. In Piloting Mind Over Matter in Chicago, a community-based program for urinary and bowel incontinence, Dr. Iyer’s team will pilot the program on Chicago’s south side with the aim of determining program efficacy, feasibility, and appropriateness based on participant feedback.

Lauren Little, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, Associate Dean of Research and Associate Professor in Occupational Therapy in the College of Health Sciences and Anne Hoffmann, PhD, CCC-SLP, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Disorders at Rush University

Equity-focused Implementation of Caregiver Coaching for Unhoused Children at-risk for Developmental Delay

Dr. Little’s clinical background is occupational therapy and her program of research focuses on innovative service delivery for young children diagnosed and at-risk for neurodevelopmental conditions, with an emphasis on family focused intervention, caregiver coaching, and strengths-based ways to support caregivers of young children. The overarching goal and theme of her work is focused on evaluation and intervention related to inequities in access and utilization to developmental care for young children with and at-risk for neurodevelopmental conditions.

Anne Hoffmann’’s expertise as a speech-language pathologist and researcher lies in language development for young children with and at-risk for developmental disorders. Both her clinical and research interests center on fostering communication development for individuals with language delay, with an emphasis on supporting families. Dr. Hoffmann is involved in several projects focused on  increasing access to services, including the efficacy of a tele-delivered parent responsivity training, and a study examining how to equip childcare providers in under-resourced communities to encourage communication development in young children.

Equity-focused Implementation of Caregiver Coaching for Unhoused Children at-risk for Developmental Delay will investigate how equity-focused implementation strategies influence uptake of shelter-based caregiver coaching and subsequent child outcomes. While disparities in access to evidence-based developmental care for children experiencing homelessness is documented, we will identify how strategies that promote equity in access result in caregiver uptake and costs.

Ha Ngan (Milkie) Vu, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Division of Behavioral Medicine, Northwestern University

Adaptation and Community Integration of Project HPV Education and Resources for the U.S. Vietnamese POpulation (HERO)

Dr. Vu is a mixed-methods researcher with over a decade of experience conducting community-engaged research to promote health equity. She is interested in leveraging implementation science and community engagement to implement evidence-based programs, particularly in underserved communities or low-resource settings. Currently, she is leading the development of culturally-relevant interventions to increase HPV vaccine confidence and uptake among Asian Americans and immigrant populations. Additionally, her research also focuses on describing and finding solutions to food insecurity in diverse populations. Dr. Vu’s research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute, American Psychological Foundation, American Association for Cancer Education, Georgia Clinical & Translational Science Alliance, Northwestern University Clinical & Translational Sciences Institute, and other sources. Dr. Vu has also been selected for several prestigious national fellowships, including the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable Emerging Leaders Program and the Health Equity Fellowship for Trainees (Health Affairs). She received her undergraduate degree in History and Cultural Anthropology from Duke University, her master’s degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and her PhD degree in Behavioral, Social, and Health Education Sciences from Emory University. She completed her postdoctoral training through the NCI-funded T32 fellowship in Cancer Prevention & Control at Northwestern University.

Dr. Vu will adapt, pilot-test, and explore possible community-based adoption of Project HPV Education and Resources for the U.S. Vietnamese POpulation (HERO), a digital health evidence-based intervention targeting HPV vaccine acceptance and uptake in partnership with Chinese Mutual Aid Association, a community-based organization that has been serving Asian, Vietnamese, and low-income immigrant populations in Chicagoland since 1981. The specific aims of this proposal are: (1) to conduct a rigorous adaptation process to ensure cross-cultural conceptual equivalence and assess the acceptability of HERO, and (2) to determine contextual factors influencing the future implementation of HERO in community-based routine programs.

Mohan Zalake, PhD, Research Assistant Professor in Biomedical and Health Information Sciences Department at University of Illinois Chicago and Director, V-ARE Lab (Virtual healthcARe Experiences Laboratory) at UIC

AI-PROMOTORA (Providing Resources and Outreach to Middle-aged Older adults Through Online and Realistic Agents)

Dr. Zalake’s research is at the intersection of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI), Virtual Reality (VR), and healthcare technologies. His current research interests include the design and development of virtual experiences that enable effective communication of health information. The virtual experiences developed from his research have been used by more than 4000 users in real-world settings across different health behavior change contexts, such as improving mental health among college students, supporting suicidal patients, and increasing awareness of colon cancer screening among the elderly population. He frequently collaborates with interdisciplinary teams of domain experts in health, education, communication science, and social psychology. He has also developed several virtual reality experiences that explore virtual reality’s applicability in medical training, simulation, health, and e-commerce. His work has been recognized with the Best Paper Award by the Intelligent Virtual Agents Conference in 2019 and an Innovation of the Year from the University of Florida in 2021. Mohan holds a Bachelors in Electronics and Communication (PES University, 2015), a Masters in Digital Arts and Sciences (University of Florida, 2017), and a PhD in Human-Centered Computing (University of Florida, 2022).

The goal of AI-PROMOTORA (Providing Resources and Outreach to Middle-aged Older adults Through Online and Realistic Agents) is to reduce disparities in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia (ADRD) awareness among Latinos by developing digital interventions. The study proposes to develop a web-based intervention, AI-PROMOTORA, for Latino caregivers in collaboration with a Chicago-based Latino community organization, LA CARE. The intervention will use AI-generated characters to discuss ADRD information with caregivers. The study’s impact includes identifying effective intervention delivery strategies for ADRD research and evaluating the acceptability of AI-generated characters in healthcare contexts.

Learn more about current Pilot awardees and their projects. Learn more and apply for a Pilot Award.