UK has, for the last several years, been ranked highly by Military Times magazine for our institution's support of and dedication to military veterans. The Veterans Resource Center was established, and recently significantly renovated, to provide veterans with assistance in transitioning to college life. These services focus on veterans across the span of experience, whether a veteran is entering college for the first time, transferring from another school, or returning after a deployment. Please join me in thanking each of these individuals for their commitment to our country and our UK community. They are reminders of our most fundamental purpose as an institution: to positively impact those we serve. We look forward to celebrating Veterans Day. Tim Tracy@UKYProvost#seeblue#seeservice
Wednesday, November 2, 2016
As a $3.5 billion academic, research and health enterprise, discovery lies at the core of our institution. We are called to answer still lingering questions that affect our communities and at the same time dare to pioneer the questions yet asked. Because of this commitment, our research and scholarly endeavors offer the brightest hope for transformation of our Commonwealth and the broader world we serve.
The past month has been a particularly exciting time for our research enterprise.
Nearly two weeks ago, Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis presented to our Board of Trustees our progress with respect to UK research, in alignment with our strategic plan. She told a compelling story of our impact on and our promise to Kentucky.
A week ago today, we celebrated the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS) receiving a four-year, $19.8 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health—the second CTSA grant that the UK CCTS has competed for and received. These grants are extremely competitive and place UK in elite company. Other institutions funded in this round include Columbia University, University of Pennsylvania, Yale University, Rockefeller University and UCLA.
Every day, I am inspired by the talent, passion and collaboration I see across our campus, particularly in the impactful research carried out by our faculty. Our research and scholarly endeavors address the compelling questions of our day and serve our communities in profound, tangible ways.
Take, for example, the work of Dr. Jennifer Havens, an epidemiologist in the University of Kentucky Center for Drug and Alcohol Research. Her work involves a particular focus on Appalachia and on a public health issue that’s afflicting our fellow Kentuckians.
About 15 years ago, a shift toward injection drug use behaviors occurred in rural Appalachia.
These changes in drug use patterns signaled the potential for infiltration of blood-borne pathogens transmitted through shared needles, initiating a spread of infectious disease. Increases in hepatitis C (HCV) infections have paralleled the increase in injection drug use behaviors among opioid users, with the rate of HCV infection in three Appalachian states tripling within six years.
Because of these staggering rates of injection drug use and HCV in Appalachia, the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA) issued planning grants in 2016 to support researchers expediting and implementing solutions to the epidemic. Dr. Havens was recently awarded two of the competitive planning grants to launch projects that will inform interventions and policies directed at opioid abuse across Appalachia.
Dr. Havens has followed the simultaneous rise in injection drug use and HCV in Appalachia since 2004, accruing valuable data imperative for informing interventions and effective health policies. In 2008, she embarked on a longitudinal study funded by NIDA. The project involved working with a community-based research team to recruit more than 500 injection and non-injection opioid users and opening a storefront research site in Hazard, Kentucky.
The site enabled researchers to build rapport in the community and retain research participants through several years of observation and data collection.
For the past eight years, Dr. Havens has accumulated data from the cohort regarding infectious disease prevalence and incidence, HCV risk factors, social networks, transmission behaviors and availability of preventive health services. To identify factors contributing to disease transmission, Dr. Havens and the study team analyzed social networks in rural communities, which remain relatively stable over time and provide a firm basis for examining how disease transmits through communities. The researchers collected information about individual drug-use behavior, as well as the social linkages between members of drug-using networks.
This information allowed Havens, in collaboration with researchers in the UK College of Public Health, to visually map Appalachian drug-using networks and disease transmission with unprecedented specificity. She also assessed risk factors such as syringe sharing, years of injection drug use and history of incarceration as predictors of HCV infection.
Dr. Havens is just one example, among many, of a researcher who has applied her knowledge, passion and life’s work to tackling a stubborn health disparity that is a scourge impacting our entire Commonwealth.
Her work reminds us of why we are here.
As members of the University FOR Kentucky, we ask ourselves each day: how can we use our talent to serve our community—to make it better, healthier, safer, and a place where everyone belongs.
Timothy S. Tracy