American Heart Association awards $20 million for research to improve outcomes in pregnancy, CVD health

UAB will act as the coordinating center of the P3 EQUATE Network and leverage expertise across network sites and nationally, to help train the next generation of pregnancy health equity researchers.

WIC StreamUAB Women and Infants Center
Photography: Steve Wood
More than one in four pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are tied to poor heart health, especially among people of color, putting both parents-to-be and their babies at risk, according to the American Heart Association Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2022 Update. To address this issue, the American Heart Association is funding a new $20 million initiative composed of a network of special projects focused on advancing the understanding of the factors underlying the disproportionate impact of pregnancy complications and deaths among Black and Native American pregnant people and those living in rural areas.

Scientists from University of Alabama at Birmingham Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine will help lead community engagement programs as a part of the American Heart Association’s Health Equity Research Network (HERN) on Disparities in Maternal-Infant Health Outcomes. The programs are part of the multi-pronged approach of the American Heart Association’s unprecedented pledge to aggressively address social determinants of health, while working to improve health equity for all communities.

“Social determinants of health contribute to approximately 80 percent of all cardiovascular risk, and structural racism in the health care system specifically impacts how people of color are treated across the spectrum of pre-conception, pregnancy and postpartum care,” said Michelle A. Albert, M.D., 2022-23 volunteer president of the American Heart Association. “Geographic disparities also exist among people living in rural communities who experience higher pregnancy-related mortality rates than people living in urban communities. We are excited to launch this new research initiative to support the fast-track advancement of science to improve pregnancy-related and infant health through improved health equity.” 

The overarching research network’s coordinating center, P3 EQUATE Network or Pregnancy and Postpartum/Postnatal Enhancing Access and Quality to Achieve Equitable Maternal and Infant Health, will be managed by UAB and led by Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., senior vice chair for Research and Innovation in the UAB Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, associate dean for Global and Women’s Health at the UAB Heersink School of Medicine, and director of the UAB Center for Women’s Reproductive Health.

Alan Tita.current photo.2013Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D.“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to transform maternal and infant health outcomes and equity, where all pregnant and birthing persons and their families thrive,” Tita said. “We applaud the American Heart Association for this huge investment in the health of mothers and infants. We look forward to building partnerships that extend beyond the EQUATE Network to maximize the long-term impact of these investments.”

UAB will leverage exceptional expertise and extensive resources across the P3 EQUATE Network sites and nationally, to help train the next generation of pregnancy health equity researchers, providing consultation and guidance, compiling data reports, and coordinating the administration of the initiative. It will also oversee the establishment of, and provide support and resources to, the five research projects, including five thematic cores, two key partners, and community and expert advisory boards. Data support will involve a partnership with the UAB School of Public Health.

The P3 EQUATE Network will test multiple strategies to help people overcome social determinants of health that increase risk for cardiovascular disease and poor pregnancy-related health outcomes. Network institutions include North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro, Northwestern University in Chicago, The Ohio State University in Columbus, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

The five targeted research projects, which began July 1 and run for four years, include:

  • P3 Providing an Optimized and emPowered Pregnancy for You, or POPPY, led by UAB’s Rachel Sinkey, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and Wally Carlo, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at UAB.
  • A community engagement approach to understanding the impact of structural racism on maternal health equity, at Northwestern University, led by Kiarri Kershaw, Ph.D.
  • Better birth outcomes and Experiences Through Technology, Education and Reporting, or BETTER, at The Ohio State University, led by Ann McAlearney, Sc.D., and William Grobman, M.D.
  • Rachel and Wally InsideRachel Sinkey, M.D. and Wally Carlo, M.D. (Photography by Lexi Coon and Steve Wood)Building Equitable Linkages with Interprofessional Education Valuing Everyone, or BELIEVE, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in collaboration with North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, led by Alison Stuebe, Kimberly Harper and Janiya Williams.
  • Implementation and Evaluation of a Perinatal CV Risk-Assessment Algorithm to Improve Maternal and Infant Health During Pregnancy, Peri & Postpartum: IMPACT P3, at the University of Pennsylvania, led by Lisa Levine, M.D. and Abuike James, M.D. 

Local and national leaders serving in relevant cores within the coordinating center will support the optimal design and implementation of the projects. Cores and leaders include Interventions and Outcomes, led by Alison Stuebe, M.D., UNC Chapel Hill; Community Engagement, led by Melissa Simon, M.D., Northwestern University; Social Determinants of Health, led by Elizabeth Howell, M.D., University of Pennsylvania; Methods, Data Analysis and Implementation, led by Jeff Szychowski, Ph.D., UAB; and Training, led by Paul Muntner, Ph.D., UAB. 

For more information about the HERN research projects, visit the American Heart Association website.