Heritage College welcomes professors from the population health group focusing on the social determinants of health
The Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine at Ohio University welcomed three new faculty members as part of a new population health research group focused on research on the social determinants of health.
The new recruits are Graciela Muniz-Terrera, Ph.D., Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Ralph S. Licklider, DO Endowed Professor in Health and Aging and Professor of Social Medicine; Allyson Hughes, Ph.D., assistant professor of primary care; and Ángela Gutiérrez, Ph.D., MPH, assistant professor of social medicine. Each new faculty member brings a different type of experience and research focus to Heritage College, all with the same ultimate goal – to conduct research on ways to help members of society who are often overlooked in Health care.
The three faculty members hired as a group – the third group hired by the University – and – will work with the Ohio Musculoskeletal and Neurological Institute (OMNI) and the Diabetes Institute.
“Population health research is interdisciplinary, meaning it cuts across many fields and complements the University’s health-focused research institutes,” said Darlene Berryman, Associate Dean of the research and innovation and professor of biomedical sciences. “For this reason, and also because this type of research typically focuses on health outcomes, we saw that researchers could be a bridge between the college’s strong basic science research program and our efforts to ensure the health and well-being of the communities we serve.
Muniz-Terrera’s research focuses on aging and brain health, including dementia, as well as studying modifiable risk factors for cognitive and physical decline in older adults.
After starting to study mathematics and statistics in Uruguay, she found that what she loved most was solving real-world problems through data analysis. She got her doctorate. in statistics from the University of Cambridge. While working on her doctorate, Muniz-Terrera focused on understanding healthy aging and what can be done to help support healthy aging. She also wanted to understand and tailor recommendations to improve health based on an individual’s situation and lived experience.
“For me, the way forward in this area is through evidence-based research and the continued development and use of improved investigative methods,” Muniz-Terrera said. “So having a background in statistics and being able to look at the results is integral to the research that we do and will do together.”
Before coming to OHIO, Muniz-Terrera was a lecturer in biostatistics and epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh’s Dementia Prevention Center, where she worked with others to research initiatives on aging. and brain health across the university and Europe. She co-led the Integrative Analysis of Longitudinal Studies in Aging, a project involving a large network of international collaborators, and is currently involved in BrainLat, a new initiative focusing on brain health in Latin America.
Prior to working in Edinburgh, she was also a Lecturer at University College London (UCL) and Program Leader in the MRC Lifelong Health and Aging Unit at UCL. She also worked for several years in Cambridge with the biostatistics unit of the MRC.
Muniz-Terrera wanted to be part of this cluster hire to have the chance to work with other experts on aging, but also to be part of the Athens community.
“It was good to get here and already have people I could talk to about research,” Muniz-Terrera said.
One of his current projects is investigating how an individual’s personality traits can make them more likely to engage in behaviors that may affect their risk of dementia later in life. For example, people who enjoy playing contact sports may have an increased risk of dementia later in life due to sports-related traumatic brain injury. However, people with personality traits that make them more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, such as healthy eating and regular physical activity, may have a lower risk of dementia.
While working in Scotland, Muniz-Terrera gave public talks in rural areas to help people understand how to stay healthy and also hopes to bring this idea to the Athens community.
His research has been supported by the Medical Research Council, the Alzheimer Society, the National Institutes of Health and various other funding bodies.
Hughes is a behavioral medicine expert who has worked in academia and for non-profit organizations and partnered with pharmaceutical companies to understand patient perspectives on post-marketing drugs and disease management. His research in diabetes and behavioral medicine focuses on the psychosocial challenges of diabetes management, including health equity regarding severe hypoglycemia, diabetes distress, diabetes complications, and disability. She also advocates for health policies that give people with diabetes and their families a voice and greater accessibility to care.
Hughes’ interest in managing the disease grew when she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at a young age.
“What I noticed was that we weren’t all thriving despite having the same resources,” Hughes said. Her goal is to apply her lived experience, the data she collects, and clinical best practices to transform the healthcare experiences of others.
Before coming to OHIO, Hughes worked for a nonprofit organization in Boston, collecting data from people with diabetes. She has also done advocacy work on how people with blindness and diabetes manage diabetes self-management, what relationships with healthcare providers look like, and looked at data from children’s hospitals to determine whether the diabetes prevention used there is evidence-based. She earned a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a doctorate in health psychology from the University of Texas at El Paso.
Hughes’ current research focuses on aging populations with diabetes as well as the language health care providers use when treating people with diabetes.
She is currently building her lab and a team for the summer, in addition to mentoring students who are interested in health policy and advocacy and providing resources and opportunities for students to conduct research. She says she wants to help students understand what chronic disease looks like. She believes that OHIO has created a caring environment focused on student success both in school and after graduation.
“Coming here and working in this type of environment has been a positive experience,” Hughes said. “It was really cool working with the students.”
Gutiérrez’s research focuses on improving health outcomes and quality of life for racial and ethnic minority populations – populations that have been forcibly marginalized, devalued, or abused and generally have less access to resources, compared to other groups. She is interested in risk and resilience among older Latinx and other racial and ethnic minority groups with chronic health conditions; community-based and culturally-informed research among underresourced communities in Mexico, California, and Ohio; and workforce diversity in health-related sectors.
“I examine the direct factors that contribute to the well-being of these populations, mental health and physical health outcomes, and measure accelerated aging across the lifespan,” said Gutiérrez, who completed his doctoral training in community health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles Fielding School of Public Health and has formal training in public health policy, sociology and education.
Previously, she worked in rural Mexico to implement and evaluate a diabetes self-management program. More recently, she explored promoters’ (subset of community health workers) as public health personnel. She also studies the science of recruitment in Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and cognitive function in Latinx people. For example, in a study published in “Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine,” she recently documented the role of the digital divide in widening disparities in Latinx recruitment to dementia research.
Gutiérrez was introduced to these lines of research after majoring in sociology and taking a course in social stratification that opened her eyes to patterns she had seen growing up, where some people tend to be more burdened. high chronic health and other disadvantages. The course has given her the knowledge and skills to systematically explore health disparities, now the foundation of her research, which she plans to continue in collaboration with her cluster colleagues.
“I’ve made the case before that cluster hires are important for improving diversity and social support, so I’m really grateful to be part of this cluster hire and to start working with Drs. Muniz-Terrera and Hughes on projects focused on aging,” she added.
Currently, Gutiérrez is collaborating with another Heritage College professor, Berkeley Franz, Ph.D., Associate Professor, and Osteopathic Heritage Foundation Ralph S. Licklider, DO, Endowed Faculty Fellow in Population Health Science, on a paper that documents strategies that hospitals use for diabetes. prevention awareness. They are looking at whether these strategies use evidence-based approaches and whether they focus on individual or community factors.
“So far, Ohio University and HCOM have been very welcoming and collaborative, which sets HCOM apart from other places. I am delighted with the support provided and the infrastructure already in place for us help achieve success,” Gutiérrez said.