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Chronic, non-communicable diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease can lead to serious complications, and even death, if not treated early enough. Research in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education’s Health & Integrative Physiology (HIP) Lab focuses on identifying biomarkers that can predict those at increased risk for these diseases or those individuals more likely to progress to serious complications.

Early detection of these risks leads to earlier intervention and improved health outcomes. This is especially relevant since these early interventional strategies involve lifestyle modifications such as improved diet and increased physical activity.

Michelle Harrison and student standing near biomedical research equipment

Michelle Harrison, director of the HIP Lab, coordinates the research activities in the lab. HIP is a shared laboratory space among faculty and student researchers in the department and across the university. Students who participate in research projects in the HIP lab do so under the guidance of Harrison. With 10 years of experience in a clinical hospital laboratory setting, Harrison is able to share her past experiences and instruct students on testing procedures.

The lab has requisite equipment for phlebotomy, sample processing, and standard biochemical analyses that identify and count biomarkers in saliva, urine, blood, and tissues. Biomarkers are measurable substances whose presence is indicative of disease which can include proteins, amino acids, fatty acids, glucose, HbA1c, etc. – all of which can be measured in the HIP lab.

“Being able to identify specific biomarker ‘footprints’ that are predictive for disease progression is translatable to improved diagnostic and treatment options and, most importantly, overall health and well-being,” says Harrison.

Harrison recently was named co-investigator for a $2.4 million grant awarded to Assistant Professor Audrey Stone by the National Health Institute. Their project will examine the role of inflammation on the cardiovascular response to exercise throughout the progression of type 2 diabetes. Harrison will be involved in mapping the changes in both pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokine signalers throughout disease progression.

This information will then be used to predict when the cardiovascular response to exercise has been altered by diabetes. From a global perspective, this knowledge is translatable to informing exercise prescriptions in this vulnerable population.

Much of Harrison’s work also involves collaborations with other researchers on campus, including the School of Nursing. She recently completed a project with Assistant Professor Julie Zuniga investigating biomarker differences in HIV patients with and without type 2 diabetes.

This led to a recent publication in the journal Amino Acids titled “The additive effect of type 2 diabetes on fibrinogen, von Willebrand factor, tryptophan, and threonine in people living with HIV.” These preliminary results suggest that these four biomarkers were altered when type 2 diabetes was also present in people with HIV. Monitoring these biomarkers may hold predictive power in identifying diabetes in a person living with HIV.

student sitting at a lab bench using a pipette

Another aspect of the project focused on whether biomarkers could predict symptoms in these individuals, since symptom severity can affect treatment adherence. A publication in this regard is pending.

A current study with Assistant Professor Ashley Henneghan from the School of Nursing is investigating the ability of a select group of biomarkers to predict risk for the mild cognitive impairment that follows chemotherapy in breast cancer survivors.

Learn about the effects of educational injustices on the lives of urban youth, primarily youth of color, in order to interrupt cycles of miseducation. David E. Kirkland focuses on the education and miseducation of Black males and highlights how cycles of inequity (i.e., racial injustice) influence how, why, and what youth of color learn to read and write. Second, he will analyze how critical educators can disrupt such cycles to empower urban youth to transform their own communities, lives, and educational destinies.

Kirkland is an associate professor of English and Urban Education and the executive director of the NYU Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. He received his PhD from Mighican State University in Language, Literacy, and Urban Education. His research broadly examines the intersections of race, gender, and education.

Each year, nearly 7.5 million students are chronically absent – missing 10% or more of the school year. How should researchers, policymakers, and educators address chronic absenteeism and its effects on students?

Panelists include Kevin Gee (UC Davis – School of Education and Center for Poverty Research), Shaun Dougherty (Vanderbilt University – Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations), Sarah Lenhoff (Wayne State University – Educational Leadership and Policy Studies), Bertha Arellano (Austin Independent School District), and Sonia Dominguez (E3 Alliance, Senior Director of Learning Networks).

Research shows that when parents practice positive parenting while their children are young, they can protect them from a host of emotional and behavioral issues down the road.

For families who already experience social and economic disadvantages, access to information and resources that can teach them about these practices and provide guidance are often unavailable until children enter the school system when they are five or six years old.

This lack of access to resources during the critical early years for a child’s behavioral development can leave families vulnerable to future behavior issues such as delinquency and substance abuse.

Photo of Abby Bailin and Sarah Kate Bearman

Abby Bailin (left) and Sarah Kate Bearman (right)

Sarah Kate Bearman, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Abby Bailin, a doctoral candidate in the school psychology program have created and are testing e-health intervention that can fill this gap in primary and pediatric care settings. It’s part of “Promoting Positive Parenting for Families in Pediatric Primary Care,” a project through the Leveraging Evidence and Advancing Practice for Youth Mental Health Services (LEAP) Lab.

The intervention is a seven-minute video, which is available in both English and Spanish. It is shown to parents and children while they wait in the exam room before seeing their pediatrician for a well-child visit.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans are required to cover well-child visits to primary and pediatric care facilities within the first few years of the child’s life, making clinics the perfect place to provide additional resources for families with the greatest need.

“We believe that pediatric primary care is a natural place to meet families in a setting they already trust. By creating an e-health intervention, we were able to take advantage of the time that families spend waiting in these clinics without requiring more from care providers in these clinics,” says Bearman.

Parents are shown examples of positive attending and brief mild ignoring – known as differential attention parenting strategies – that demonstrate how to encourage desirable behaviors with praise and discourage undesirable ones by removing attention. The video focuses on practices that prevent disruptive behaviors like child noncompliance and mild aggressive behaviors, which increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.

After watching the video, families are able to ask questions of their care provider about the techniques in the video and receive additional information that could benefit them after viewing the video or during their next appointment.

The intervention is currently being tested at four pediatric clinics in the Austin area where 63 percent of participating families are at or below the poverty line: CommUnity Care East, People’s Community Clinic, Seton McCarthy Community Clinic, and Del Valle Children’s Wellness Center.

Early results suggest decreases in parenting stress, an important predictor of family well-being.

“One of the key outcomes we’re focusing on is reducing parenting stress. When parents are given support in the important job of parenting, they may feel less overwhelmed and more able to connect with and enjoy their children—which is good for everyone in the family,” says Bearman.

Funding for the project was secured through the Seton Family Healthcare Partners, UT Center for Health and Social Policy, and the UT Office of the Vice President for Research.