CAS grants spur interdisciplinary research

Written by 

rep cas itp campus 550px CREDITThe Interdisciplinary Team Proposal competition in the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS), which launched in 2012, supports CAS faculty in new collaborations with researchers in other departments and in other UAB schools.

In addition to fueling work in new areas, the grants enable faculty to generate the data they need to apply for large external grants. In 2020, preliminary data gathered by Despina Stavrinos, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Psychology, as part of an Interdisciplinary Team Grant project funded in 2016, resulted in a five-year NIH award to Stavrinos of more than $3 million in collaboration with the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s of Alabama and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

All told, the interdisciplinary grants “have led to very promising outcomes and a huge return on investment” of more than 10 to 1, said Yogesh Vohra, Ph.D., professor, University Scholar and associate dean for Research and Innovation in the College of Arts and Sciences.

2021 selections

For 2021, two Interdisciplinary Team Proposals were funded.

Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights and associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and Department of Anthropology, will study inclusive transportation systems in Birmingham with Nassim Uddin, Ph.D., research director for the UAB Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center and professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Enhancing UAB’s institutional culture of collaboration and innovation is a key strategic objective of Forging the Future, the university's strategic plan.

Yookyong Lee, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Social Work, will conduct the first study to focus on older persons with HIV who are caregivers, along with David Vance, Ph.D., professor in the School of Nursing, and Scott Batey, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Social Work.

Inclusive transportation systems

Transportation, Reuter and Uddin explained in their research proposal, is a basic human need that is "inextricably linked to independence, autonomy, opportunity and quality of life." But older people and persons with physical, sensory, developmental, cognitive or psychosocial disabilities have less access to transportation options than other groups and often are marginalized in transportation-related decision-making.

Some 61 million people, or 26% of all adults in the United States, have some type of disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And the region with the highest number of people living with disabilities is the South. There are now 54 million Americans ages 65 and older and those numbers continue to increase as the baby boom generation continues to go gray.

What does this mean for Birmingham residents with disabilities? In their study, Reuter and Uddin will work with the Lakeshore Foundation and the City of Birmingham to gather the first detailed picture of current experience and travel demand for people with disabilities in the Birmingham region. They also will assess and document the resources in place to support mobility of people with disabilities. The researchers then will design and test solutions using simulation modeling and offer suggestions and policy recommendations to help guide future policy and projects.

Pilot funding from the Interdisciplinary Team Proposal program “would enable us to use the data gathered and models developed to apply for larger grants to implement our project and the simulation, to test our outcomes and toolkits in large-scale live testbeds and expand our project to other regions and cities,” Reuter and Uddin write. “Our goal is to provide a collaborative environment for cutting-edge research on innovative and sustainable solutions for people with disabilities.”

Caregivers with HIV

The same demographics of aging that play a role in Reuter’s transportation study also are a motivating factor in Lee's caregiving project. More than 14% of American adults act as caregivers to someone age 50 or older, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and the American Association of Retired Persons, and more than 34 million Americans provide informal caregiving to those 50 or older. The majority of these caregivers, 55%, are older than 50 themselves.

One particular group of caregivers is all but nonexistent in the research literature, however: people with HIV. Effective antiretroviral therapy has allowed people with HIV to live nearly normal lifespans. In 2018, according to the latest data from the CDC, more than half of those living with HIV in the United States were age 50 and older. By 2030, 73% of people with HIV will be at least 50 years old, according to a modeling study conducted in 2015.

Statistically, many of these older Americans with HIV are likely to be acting as caregivers, although the number is unknown. Lee, Vance and Batey, along with other UAB co-authors, first elucidated the problem in a review article in the January-February 2021 edition of the Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care.

Now, with the CAS grant support, the UAB researchers aim to qualitatively explore the lived experiences of older caregivers with HIV, including their responsibilities, support systems and caregiving outcomes. 

Persons with HIV "may face even more challenges and worse health conditions when caregiving responsibilities are assumed," write Lee and her co-investigators in their Interdisciplinary Team Proposal. "Their caregiving responsibilities may hinder them from maintaining their HIV care and health, which may impede achieving viral suppression. This issue of fulfilling caregiving responsibilities may be more compelling in the Deep South as family values and cohesion are stronger in this region."