FAMU Faculty Receives Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant to Examine Maternal and Child Health Disparities

December 13, 2021
CoPPS Researchers
FAMU Faculty Receives Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Grant to Examine Maternal and Child Health Disparities

Photo caption: from left-top- Selina Darling-Reed, Karam F. Soliman,  Arlesia Mathis, Fran Close; from left: bottom, Sandra Suther, Elizabeth Mazzio, Remelda Saunder-Jones, Sarah Buxbaum

Credit: CoPPS,IPH

A Florida A&M University (FAMU) College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health (CoPPS, IPH) team of researchers has secured a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) grant to examine maternal and child health disparities in the Big Bend region.

The team led by principal investigator Selina Darling-Reed, Ph.D., associate dean and associate professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences, received $469,128 for 18 months from BMGF for a study titled “Maternal and Child Health Disparities: HBCU partnership initiative.”

Darling-Reed said the funding represents the University’s first BMGF research grant.

“We are grateful for the funding and opportunity that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given us to gain a better understanding of the impact of socioeconomic, lifestyle and environmental factors on Maternal and Child Health in the minority community using a multidisciplinary approach,” she said. “We are hopeful that the results from this study could have a significant impact on health disparities and mortality inequities experienced in mothers and infants in the Big Bend Area of Florida and in many minority and underserved communities throughout the country.”

The study, which runs from October 2021 to April 2023 seeks to answer such questions as what is the relationship between lifestyle, including diet, factors, behaviors, and maternal and fetal health outcomes in minority women in Florida, using Florida Department of Health Office of Vital Statistics data; what nutritional services and educational services do minority women receive; what breakdown products of biological molecules are detected as an indicator of poor maternal outcomes and external changes to the DNA occur in minority women peri and post pregnancy that correlate to specific lifestyle health disparities.

Researchers are seeking to determine the impact of poor nutrition, environmental, or lifestyle factors on pregnant minority on maternal health and the future health of their infant in the Big Bend area. They also want to improve the poor maternal and child health outcomes among minority women, said Darling-Reed.

The seeds for the grant proposal were sown during a meeting with FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., and BMGF representatives. Following that meeting, Associate Dean for IPH in CoPPS, IPH Cynthia Harris, Ph.D., identified several faculty members with a track record of maternal and child health research. Harris then introduced those faculty members to BMGF representatives, who informed them of the opportunity to develop a maternal health research proposal.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity and opens up the door for a sustained fruitful research partnership with the Gates Foundation,” Harris said. “Dr. Darling-Reed will provide phenomenal leadership with an outstanding talented team of maternal and child health faculty in public health, basic sciences, economic, social and administrative pharmacy, and the health care community.”

The team includes co-principal investigators, Professor Fran Close, Ph.D.; Associate Professor Sarah Buxbaum, Ph.D., and Associate Professor Arlesia Mathis, Ph.D., faculty from the Institute of Public Health, and Professor Sandra Suther, Ph.D.,  director of the Economic, Social, and Administrative Pharmacy Division, and Associate Dean of Research and Distinguished Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Karam F Soliman, Ph.D.;  and Elizabeth Mazzio, Ph.D., assistant professor of research of Pharmaceutical Sciences Division in partnership with Primary Healthcare physician Dr. Remelda Saunders-Jones.

An adjunct professor at FAMU, Saunders-Jones has served the Big Bend region as a primary care physician for more than 20 years and is president of the Gunn Medical Society.