UArizona Health Sciences made impactful contributions to health care and advanced major projects that are building a healthier future for Arizona and beyond.
The University of Arizona Health Sciences announced major funding for a Phoenix-based health sciences hub, reported on major research in the areas of long COVID-19 and firefighter sleep patterns, and celebrated the establishment of the College of Health Sciences. From investigating critical health care issues to training the next generation of health care workers, UArizona Health Sciences researchers, staff, physician-scientists and students worked together to create healthier communities for all.
Here are the top 10 UArizona Health Sciences news releases of 2023:
Researchers with the ongoing Arizona CoVHORT research study at the UArizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health were awarded $3.2 million by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases for a five-year study of gastrointestinal symptoms, specifically irritable bowel syndrome, as a condition of long COVID.
“We have an outstanding team of researchers, staff and students working on the CoVHORT study and investigating a range of long COVID symptoms,” said lead researcher Kristen Pogreba-Brown, PhD, MPH, associate professor of epidemiology at the Zuckerman College of Public Health and member of the BIO5 Institute. “And, we have a large, diverse group of participants, so we gather crucial data that deliver answers about specific symptoms, such as irritable bowel syndrome, and help find effective treatments.”
In September 2022, new bivalent COVID-19 boosters became available in the United States, but less than 20% of the eligible population ultimately received one. A study led by researchers in the Zuckerman College of Public Health identified why so many Americans did not receive a booster.
“Our results indicate that we have a lot more work to do in terms of educating the public and health care providers about the importance of staying up to date on COVID-19 boosters,” said first author Elizabeth Jacobs, PhD, professor of epidemiology at the Zuckerman College of Public Health, who led the research with associate professor of epidemiology Kristen Pogreba-Brown, PhD, MPH.
Opioids such as morphine are the gold standard for treating cancer-induced bone pain, but new UArizona Health Sciences research uncovered a mechanism by which chronic morphine use may increase bone loss and pain. Nearly 70% of patients with prostate and breast cancers and 30%-40% of patients with lung cancer develop bone metastases. The most frequent and important symptom of bone metastasis is pain.
“These findings suggest that chronic morphine for the treatment of things like metastatic cancer may not be the best, since it may be actually decreasing bone density,” said senior author Todd Vanderah, PhD, director of the UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction, professor and head of the Department of Pharmacology in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and member of the BIO5 Institute and the UArizona Cancer Center. “This does not mean doctors should remove opioids from their treatment plans, but it does highlight a need to develop alternative therapies that can lower the risk of side effects from opioids.”
UArizona Health Sciences researchers found that nearly 1 in 20 adults in the United States experience the co-occurrence of chronic pain and anxiety or depression, resulting in functional limitations in daily life. The paper, published in the journal PAIN, is one of the few to examine the national prevalence of chronic pain with anxiety or depression symptoms in adults. The results shed light on the fact that millions of people may be experiencing symptoms that can limit their ability to work, complete daily tasks and socialize.
“The study’s findings highlight an underappreciated population and health care need – the interdependency between mental health and chronic pain,” said the paper’s lead author, Jennifer S. De La Rosa, PhD, assistant research professor in the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Family and Community Medicine and director of strategy for the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, which funded the study. “This work is so exciting because it offers the opportunity to use team-based interdisciplinary approaches to medicine, leveraging what is known across disciplines to meet the needs of these individuals.”
A team in the Valley Fever Center for Excellence at the College of Medicine – Tucson has created a forecasting tool to determine when the illness is spiking in the community. Data for July indicated that Arizona was in Valley fever season that month.
“Right now, if you’re diagnosed with pneumonia, there is about a 1 in 5 chance that your pneumonia is caused by Valley fever,” said John Galgiani, MD, director of the Valley Fever Center for Excellence, professor of medicine and member of the BIO5 Institute. “If you live in Arizona and you get pneumonia, you should be tested for Valley fever.”
A $4 million award from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, will allow researchers in the Zuckerman College of Public Health to identify key factors for the successful implementation of workplace sleep coaching to improve sleep health in Arizona firefighters. Almost half of career firefighters report short sleep and poor sleep quality, and about 37% of firefighters screen positive for sleep disorders like sleep apnea, insomnia or shift-work disorder.
“Other studies have showed us that firefighters’ personal circumstances and shift schedules often dictate their sleep,” said principal investigator Patricia Haynes, PhD, CBSM, DBSM, whose previous research found that more recovery sleep in firefighters during off days is associated with less stress and irritability.
UArizona Health Sciences Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center researchers will use a $2.4 million grant from the United States Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity to determine the effectiveness of green light therapy on postsurgical pain and inflammation. The number of surgeries in the U.S. exceeded 40 million in 2010 and has steadily increased since then. At the same time, the opioid crisis continues to have devastating effects throughout the country. Despite the risks associated with opioids, they remain the most prescribed medications for managing surgical pain.
“Patients with anxiety, depression or sleep disturbances can experience exaggerated pain, necessitating higher doses of opioids to control their postsurgical pain. Military members and veterans have anxiety, depression and sleep disturbance at rates three to four times greater than civilians. Sadly, they are also at higher risk of opioid use disorder and dependence,” said pain management physician Mohab Ibrahim, MD, PhD, medical director for the Comprehensive Pain and Addiction Center, professor of anesthesiology in the College of Medicine – Tucson and director of the Pain Management Clinic. “Finding a therapy that can decrease reliance on opioids for postsurgical pain would be transformative.”
The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies received a strong vote of support from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors with the June 28 approval of $4 million in funding for the life sciences innovation hub being developed on the Phoenix Bioscience Core in downtown Phoenix. The Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies, or CAMI, builds on the idea that the most effective defense against health issues is the body’s natural immune system.
“The Center for Advanced Molecular and Immunological Therapies is designed to respond to health crises that have arisen and will arise in the future, to advance health care activities within the region and to provide additional fuel to the local economy’s engine,” said Michael D. Dake, MD, senior vice president for the University of Arizona Health Sciences. “This financial investment from the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors will catalyze advancements in both health sciences and economics as CAMI becomes the anchor for an innovation district that will establish Phoenix as a national hub for cell- and gene-based therapy research, startup activity, and corporate engagement.”
Twenty-five aspiring physicians are the latest to benefit from the UArizona Health Sciences Primary Care Physician Scholarship Program, which continues to address two critical issues in health care: Arizona’s shortage of primary care physicians and a rising amount of debt for medical students. The program awarded scholarships to 14 students in the College of Medicine – Tucson and 11 in the UArizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. The scholarships, which are awarded annually, are available to incoming and current students. They allow medical students to pursue careers in primary care without worrying about how they will repay medical school debt.
“I’ve seen and felt the physician shortage in primary care” said Marin Carter, a second-year medical student in the College of Medicine – Tucson who worked in Flagstaff at a Federally Qualified Health Center prior to medical school and participated in a Rural Health Professions Program this past summer. “I believe that everyone should have access to the quality primary care my family has received, and I want to provide that to the community. There’s so much value in preventive medicine and longitudinal care.”
UArizona Health Sciences is addressing critical health care needs within Arizona with the launch of a new College of Health Sciences, which was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents at its meeting in Flagstaff, Arizona, June 14-15.
“The College of Health Sciences will help fill much-needed positions in many crucial health care professions, while at the same time keeping education costs down for students,” said Kevin C. Lohenry, PhD, PA-C, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences and assistant vice president of interprofessional education for UArizona Health Sciences. “By creating a culture of health and wellness coupled with student success, the College of Health Sciences will play a strong role in training students to serve the needs of Arizona’s diverse and rural communities with compassionate and culturally sensitive care as health professionals and through inclusive and innovative translational research as scientists.”
For more information on UArizona Health Sciences’ impact in 2023, view the annual report at annualreports.healthsciences.arizona.edu.