Scientist granted $700K to study care barriers for Latino MS patients

Focus will be on how barriers impact cardiovascular risk factors, outcomes

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by Mary Chapman |

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A Kessler Foundation research scientist will use a multiyear, $704,054 federal grant to study care barriers, cardiovascular risk factors, and accelerated brain aging in Latino multiple sclerosis (MS) patients, the nonprofit healthcare organization announced in a press release.

Cristina A. F. Román, PhD, an investigator with Kessler’s Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center, in New Jersey, is the recipient a five-year grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award will fund a novel mixed-method study that will focus on the effects of MS in the Latino patient community. Specifically, her work will combine elements of quantitative and qualitative research to address how barriers to care impact cardiovascular risk factors and MS outcomes in this population.

“The findings from our work will have direct implications for early intervention strategies, focusing on improving healthcare access and quality,” Román said.

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Project Aims to ‘Bridge the Gap’ in Care Disparities for Latinos With MS

Grant will fund novel mixed-method study involving Latino MS patients

According to Kessler, despite a relative dearth of research on MS in the Latino community, there is evidence that this patient population generally experiences more severe disease trajectories than do non-Latino individuals with the progressive neurodegenerative disorder.

MS is thought to affect 2.9 of every 100,000 people identified as Latino individuals, meaning that it tends to impact this demographic in the U.S. more severely. However, these patients generally have less access to specialty care, studies have shown.

“These disparities are believed to be strongly influenced by social determinants of health, particularly factors related to healthcare access,” Román said.

“Timely intervention and consistent, ongoing medical care are crucial for improving MS prognosis, especially in historically minoritized groups that face greater health disparities,” Román added .

Care barriers can contribute to poorer MS outcomes and also raise the risk for comorbidities — having multiple medical conditions simultaneously — such as cardiovascular conditions.

Cardiovascular risk factors are disproportionately more common in people with MS and in Latino populations living in the U.S. These factors also seem to correlate with MS outcomes, leading to more severe neurodegeneration and brain aging.

“This means that Latinos with MS are at especially high risk for the compounding effects of barriers to healthcare, cardiovascular risk factors, and MS, yet the extent to which these factors interact to impact MS-related outcomes, especially brain aging, remains unknown,” Román said.

Her project, dubbed “Barriers to Healthcare and Cardiovascular Risk Influences on Accelerated Brain Aging and Disability in Hispanic Persons with Multiple Sclerosis,” is expected to recruit 80 Latino people with MS to participate in virtual or in-person study sessions.

Our research will significantly contribute to filling a substantial gap in our understanding of how societal and systemic factors (i.e., social determinants of health) influence brain health and health disparities in neurological disorders.

Participants will be asked about their lived experiences accessing healthcare. Meanwhile, the presence of cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes among these MS patients will be assessed. About half will also undergo brain imaging scans.

The study aims to determine how cardiovascular risk factors impact the relationship between barriers to care and MS disability. It also will seek to determine any correlations between a faster aging of the brain and care barriers.

“Our research will significantly contribute to filling a substantial gap in our understanding of how societal and systemic factors (i.e., social determinants of health) influence brain health and health disparities in neurological disorders,” Román said.

The Kessler Foundation is a global leader in rehabilitation research and seeks to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for those with multiple sclerosis and related conditions.

For more information about the study, send an email to Deb Hauss at [email protected] or Carolann Murphy at [email protected].