Q&A: Study brings ‘science to the people’ to understand rural America’s health challenges
Researchers from more than a dozen institutions have launched a multiyear investigation to better understand heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders in nonurban U.S. locations.
“It's a fantastic project that I'm extremely excited about,” Jon Peter Durda, PhD, primary investigator of the Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study (or RURAL) and a faculty scientist at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont, told Healio Primary Care.
Funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute — part of the NIH — the RURAL cohort study will explore why people living in rural communities in the Southeast are at increased risk for certain health problems.
Durda spoke with us about where RURAL participants will be recruited, the study’s objectives and more.
Healio Primary Care: What prompted the RURAL cohort study?
Durda: NIH indicated it was looking to study a population that was underserved and not represented by other cohorts already in their profile. Ultimately, after soliciting input on study processes and applications, NIH chose RURAL, and 16 institutions are helping conduct the study.
Healio Primary Care: Can you tell us a little bit about the study participants?
Durda: We're looking to recruit 4,600 participants aged between 25 and 64 years from multiple races, ethnicities and genders, ideally about 44% white, 45% Black and 10% Hispanic. About half of them will be women.
We’re targeting 10 counties in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Kentucky that have high heart and lung mortality rates (approximately 70% above the national average mortality rate) and matching them with counties in the same state that have low (about 20% below the national average mortality rate) and pairing individuals based on their poverty level, race, ethnicity and other social and economic characteristics to see what might be causing those mortality rate disparities.
Healio Primary Care: You’re collecting hematological data. What do you hope to find?
Durda: There will be huge engagement with community members and community health workers to gain the rural residents’ trust. Once we do, we're going to bring science to underserved people in the areas I spoke about by bringing a 53-foot trailer to these communities that contains a CT scanner and sections for conducting ECGs, phlebotomies and performing blood counts on study participants right on site. Unlike some other studies, where blood is collected and then shipped somewhere else and analyzed later, we will do the analysis right on site using PixCell Medical’s HemoScreen hematology analyzer designed for applications like RURAL’s to provide complete blood counts in remote settings. Study participants will take these tests, get a physical exam, fill out questionnaires and receive a FitBit and smartphone to help us track their data during the study and answer other questionnaires later.
Healio Primary Care: What results are you most eager to see?
Durda: I’m a cardiovascular disease researcher, so I'm interested in cardiovascular risk factors that may be unique to these people. But, you know, there's going to be so much data, and so many opportunities here to maybe change things and not only improve the longevity of their lives, but the quality of these people's lives as well.
Healio Primary Care: When might we see results from RURAL?
Durda: The study goes on for 6 years, but it’s not a study where you will only see results after that timeframe. We hope to see our first study participants in April in Alabama, and we'll be publishing things as the study goes along. Another hope is that we'll be able to see study participants multiple times to gather longitudinal information, which would be phenomenal.
Pixcell Medical. https://www.prnewswire.com/il/news-releases/rural-cohort-study-to-utilize-pixcell-medicals-hemoscreen-hematology-analyzer-for-research-initiative-301233263.html. RURAL cohort study to utilize PixCell Medical's HemoScreen hematology analyzer for research initiative. Accessed March 8, 2021.