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2024 Research Symposium Recap

2024 Research Symposium Recap

In Case You Missed It (ICYMI), the excited energy was palpable on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, for Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute’s (HHRI) Research Symposium and Poster Session. This was a hybrid event, held in person and via Zoom. It included leadership updates from the Dr. Kirsten Johansen, HHRI President, and Dr. Meghan Walsh, Hennepin Healthcare System (HHS) Chief Academic and Research Officer.

The leadership updates were followed by presentations and a panel discussion from researchers who are aiming toward better equity of care through better equity in research.  Investigators Dr. Sandra Japuntich, Dr. Warren McKinney, and Dr. Allyson Hart spoke on their current and ongoing research programs, as well as answering questions from both the in-person and online audience. The symposium concluded with poster presentations and networking.

Dr Johansen speaking at research symposium
Dr Walsh speaking at research symposium

State of the Institute

Dr. Johansen shared highlights from 2023 and plans for the institute going forward. Takeaways from Dr. Kirsten Johansen’s presentation:

  • The goal is to have research forums every six months and to increase the number of presenters.
  • HHRI generated more than $55 million in revenue in 2023.
  • Several HHRI investigators received new R01 awards last year.
  • Upcoming goals for the organization include greater transparency, support for investigators, community engagement, organizational connection, and strategic planning.

HHS & HHRI: Integration and Innovation

Dr. Walsh discussed HHS' and HHRI's connection and how research aligns with the health system's mission. Takeaways from Dr. Walsh’s presentation:

  • HHRI research correlates with Hennepin Healthcare's unique role in providing accessible care focused on serving patients with complex healthcare needs through health equity, prevention/early intervention, complex care, and health/wellness management.
  • HHS and HHRI are building a governance structure that integrates leaders from both organizations and bridging the gap between the academic and research sectors through collaboration and communication.
  • HHRI and HHS are enhancing collaboration between clinical and research teams on joint projects such as the Research and Evaluation Data Analytics Core (REDAC) and the IRB pathway for Quality Improvement projects, and forging partnerships between health systems and public health agencies with the MN EHR Consortium.
  • Information systems across HHRI and HHS are being integrated to improve organizational communications and streamline data sharing.
  • The organizations are strategically aligning financials that reflect the priorities of both academics and research.
  • Community engagement, regulatory compliance, and building a diverse and successful researcher pipeline are key focus areas.

Investigator Presentations

Innovative Interventions to Increase Access to Smoking Cessation Treatment

About 5-7% of people quit smoking each year without treatment, and with the help of medication, it would significantly improve these outcomes; but many folks struggle with gaining access to the medication. Clinical psychologist Sandra Japuntich, PhD, LP, hopes to change that through her study Free Samples for Health (FreSH), which is testing whether free samples of nicotine replacement therapy during routine dental care will help people quit smoking. Dr. Japuntich's Smoking Cessation Outreach for Racial Equity (SCORE) study is testing the effect of healthcare providers proactively offering BIPOC patients who smoke cigarettes smoking cessation assistance to usual care for smoking (routine screening in primary care practices).

Building Community Partnerships to Advance Equity in Transplantation   

Nephrology investigator and HHRI VP of Equity in Research Warren McKinney, PhD, is researching the cause of disparities in access to kidney transplantation, evaluating patient-level barriers and facilitators to transplantation, and developing support interventions for patients and families. One of his current focuses is the Center for Chronic Disease Reduction Across Minnesota (C2DREAM), which is addressing disparities related to cardiovascular disease and related chronic conditions such as obesity and hypertension among Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Dr. McKinney and Guillaume Onyeaghala, PhD are Principal Investigators on two C2DREAM pilot studies. As part of these studies, they are collaborating with community partners, The Links, Incorporated and SoLaHmo to engage with BIPOC communities and educate those most impacted by health inequities about the risk factors and treatment for heart and chronic kidney disease.

Research Efforts to Improve Access to Kidney Transplantation

Social Determinants of Health determine many things, including how long patients live after they receive kidney transplants. Alyson Hart, MD, MS, is working to change this narrative through racial concordance, culturally tailored interventions, improving knowledge around risk factors, and supporting patients as they navigate complex healthcare systems. In her Journey to Transplant study, Dr. Hart is conducting a pilot randomized controlled trial to study the practicability of conducting a virtual counseling session with a potential kidney transplant candidate along with their support networks versus usual pre-transplant education in a safety net hospital setting.

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