The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health announces four new awards through its Collaborative Health Sciences Program. The new awards provide up to $600,000 each over three years to support the work of collaborative teams to bring novel approaches to interdisciplinary research.

This collaborative approach encourages researchers to explore different parts of a problem, or new avenues of research, as they come together to find solutions to health and healthcare issues that have not yielded to traditional approaches. This year’s awards support innovative approaches to significant and diverse health issues. The following projects were funded:

Leaving Prison and Connecting with Medical Care: Medicaid Expansion, Treatment Access and Outcomes for Opioid Use Disorder and Hepatitis C Infection

Hepatitis C infection (HCV) and opioid use disorder are interdependent epidemics in the United States, and no population has been more affected by these epidemics than individuals involved with the criminal justice system. In Wisconsin, the prevalence of HCV among inmates is 12.5 percent compared to only 1 percent in the general population; and, in 2016, 69 percent of adult inmates needed substance abuse treatment. The consequences of these conditions, if left untreated, are dire. Drug overdose is the leading cause of death among recently-released prisoners, and individuals with HCV risk cirrhosis and liver cancer, as well as infecting others.

Led by Marguerite Burns, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and co-principal investigator Ryan Westergaard, MD, PhD, department of Medicine, the project will explore the effects of the April 2014 expansion of Medicaid eligibility and the subsequent addition of prison-based Medicaid enrollment on treatment access, use and outcomes for opioid use disorder and HCV for adults released from state prisons.

The study will quantify the influence of opioid and HCV treatment and prevention resources on the relationship between Medicaid and post-incarceration healthcare use, mortality and reincarceration. The study’s findings will inform federal and state efforts to identify policies that will address these issues. The long-term objective of this research is to prevent opioid overdose deaths and reduce HCV transmission by improving the transition to care when individuals are released from prison.

Testing Effectiveness of a Community Resource Navigation Intervention to Enhance Health Profession Education

Social needs, such as housing and food security, influence health outcomes. Yet these social needs are beyond the scope of practice for most primary healthcare providers. In order to meet patients’ needs beyond the clinic setting, resource navigation programs have been created to connect patients with available community resources. The Community Resource Navigator Program, which has been underway at two UW Health clinics since 2016, incorporates screening for unmet social needs into routine clinical care. When patients screen positive for unmet social needs, they are paired with student navigators who help connect patients with community resources.

This project, led by Sara Lindberg, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences, in collaboration with the UW Center for Patient Partnerships and its Community Resource Navigator Program, and co-principal investigators Jennifer Edgoose, MD, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and Jill Jacklitz, MSSW, UW-Madison Law School, will determine whether the training and experience of being a student navigator enhances inter-professional development of future health professionals. The study will assess how the student navigator role influences pre-health professionals' knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and career trajectories and its effectiveness in enhancing health workforce development.

The findings have the potential to inform national conversation on the effectiveness of using a volunteer-driven social resource navigator program in a clinical setting. Future work by this team will evaluate whether the navigator program is effective in reducing unmet social needs and improving patient outcomes.

Toward an Integrated Understanding of Stress, Inflammation and Immune Response

Modern lifestyles are characterized by high stress levels and an increased prevalence of obesity, both of which have consequences for immune cell function and inflammation. Increasing evidence implicates inflammation as a major contributor to many diseases including autoimmune conditions such as lupus and arthritis, as well as atherosclerosis, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. 

A multidisciplinary team including Anna Huttenlocher, MD, Department of Pediatrics, Richard Davidson, PhD, Department of Psychology and David Beebe, PhD, Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, will explore the intersection of stress, inflammation and immune response. The research team seeks to improve understanding of both the complex regulation of the human immune system and the influence of lifestyle factors such as glucose consumption and stress on this regulation.
The project will study the markers of inflammation and whether or not mindfulness-based stress reduction, including techniques that promote mind and body awareness to reduce the physiological effects of stress, pain or illness, can modify or optimize the immune response. The findings have the potential to impact human health, where small changes in behavior, such as practicing mindfulness techniques, could have a large impact on public health and change clinical practice in the treatment of inflammation-driven and autoimmune diseases.

UW Innovations in Malignancy Personalized Advanced Cell Therapies (UW-IMPACT)

Leaders in cancer immunotherapy and basic and translational cell technology are joining forces to develop transformative innovations in the use of a patient’s own B-cells to treat cancer by initiating an anti-tumor immune response. Led by Jacques Galipeau, MD, Department of Medicine, in collaboration with Paul M. Sondel, MD, PhD, Department of Pediatrics, Douglas G. McNeel, MD, PhD, Department of Medicine and David J. Beebe, PhD, UW-Madison Departments of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Biomedical Engineering, this project seeks to bring the UW discovery science of B-cell therapy to first-in-human cancer clinical trials in Wisconsin.

The project aims to produce personalized cell therapies for otherwise incurable adult prostate and pediatric neuroblastoma malignancies. This is the first study using B-cells to treat cancer in humans. These discoveries may provide a new therapeutic approach to treating cancer. Such novel approaches are crucial, especially in Wisconsin where both where both prostate cancer and neuroblastoma have high incidence rates in adults and children respectively. By translating these discoveries into treatments, the team hopes to improve cancer outcomes for the young and old, in Wisconsin and beyond.

About the Wisconsin Partnership Program

The Wisconsin Partnership Program at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health is committed to improving the health and well-being of Wisconsin residents through investments in research, education and community partnerships. It was established at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health through a gift from Blue Cross Blue Shield United of Wisconsin as a result of its conversion to a stock insurance corporation.