Barkley Investment Launches Young Faculty Careers

The Charles Barkley Health Disparities Awards help build the careers of scientists who are seeking answers to health issues in underserved communities.
Charles Barkley with Dr. Monica Baskin(left) Dr. Derek DuBay (right) Charles Barkley with Dr. Monica BaskinWhen Charles Barkley made a gift in 2005 to the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center, his intent was characteristically straightforward: Change the lives of minorities and the underserved through better health care.

Over the last 10 years, 42 young UAB investigators have received Charles Barkley Health Disparities Awards -- pilot grants of $30,000 each -- to explore new ways to level the health care playing field. Many Barkley Award winners have leveraged those initial funds into large grants from the NIH, thus not only fulfilling Barkley’s wish to help others, but also helping to launch their careers. Projects have focused on a wide range of topics, including childhood obesity, improving access to eye care among Hispanic children, and understanding hypertension among black men in a faith-based setting.

Surgeon Jayme Locke, M.D., who leads UAB’s Incompatible Kidney Transplant Program, used her 2012 Barkley Award to study health risks of organ donation for African-Americans, and used that data to secure an NIH Career Development Award on her first try. “I had an idea, but I didn’t have any data, and most research awards require that you come to the table with some sort of data. The NIH certainly does,” Locke said. “Without the Barkley Award, I wouldn’t have had that data, and I’m not sure I would have gotten funded by NIH.”

Locke’s efforts continue to pay enormous dividends for patients through UAB’s Kidney Chain, a paired exchange in which a recipient gets an organ from someone in the chain, and a relative or friend of that recipient agrees to donate a kidney to another participant. UAB’s kidney chain is the longest transplant living-donor kidney transplant chain ever performed on record at one institution or anywhere, and to date, 25 percent of the 102 participants in the chain have been minorities.

“Getting the Charles Barkley Award in 2009 really sparked my research success,” said Derek DuBay, M.D., a liver transplant surgeon at UAB whose research focuses on increasing organ donation among African-Americans. “The Barkley Award provided seed money to generate preliminary data that I used to secure a large NIH grant on my first application, which greatly outmatched that original funding.”

Beyond the dollars, Dubay reflects on the vote of confidence the Barkley Award represented at that stage of his career. “The selection committee looked at me as a person – at my potential and the potential of my project to make a real difference.

MHRC Director Mona N. Fouad, M.D., M.P.H., emphasizes the importance of the Barkley Awards and other support on the future of young investigators. “These programs prepare our young faculty to be successful by giving them what is often their very first funding,” Fouad said. “Having funds for the early stages of your research increases your chances when you are competing in a national or international arena.”

Fouad believes the greatest impact of the Barkley Awards is yet to come. “You don’t just think about the return investment as money, but as building the careers of a generation of scientists studying problems that need to be solved,” she said. “Charles Barkley wanted to make a lasting change for minorities and the underserved. He has done that, and so much more.”

For information on supporting young investigators in the MHRC: Megann B. Cain, 205.934.7408; mbcain@uab.edu