CRISP Pilot Program 2022 Awardees

CRISP offers campus investigators up to $25,000 in funding to support research initiatives that work with groups that are frequently underrepresented in research. For the 2022 competition, applications that demonstrated meaningful integration of a community ambassador into the research team were eligible for an additional $5,000 in bonus funding to support the ambassador position.

Cerebral Aneurysm Test (CAT-7)

$30,000 Awardee

Team: Aditya Mittal, MD, Kamil Nowicki, MD, PhD, Robert Friedlander, MD (PI)

Abstract: Cerebral aneurysms are a dilation in the wall of a blood vessel and can rupture causing subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). It is well known that African American and Hispanic women have nearly a two-time higher risk of having an aneurysm compared to Caucasians.1 The SAH mortality rate among African Americans is 2.2 time that of Caucasians and higher in women compared to men in all races.2,3 These differences have been attributed to lack of access to early diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis of aneurysms is an invasive and expensive procedure requiring taking time off work and transportation to a properly equipped hospital. Patients who undergo treatment for SAH or an unruptured aneurysm are more likely to be insured and Caucasian.4 To improve aneurysm screening access our group is developing the first simple blood test to detect cerebral aneurysm formation and progression. The Cerebral Aneurysm Test 7 (CAT-7) is a blood test that measures seven cytokines to detect aneurysm formation, provide risk stratification and provide a probability of rupture metric. CAT-7 has been validated in a preclinical mouse model and retrospective human samples. The next step in the development of CAT-7 is a prospective study to validate the cytokines we have identified through our retrospective studies. We plan to enroll 100-150 patients undergoing cerebral angiography for the treatment of cerebral aneurysms at UPMC from 12/22-7/23. Further development of this test will result in a point of care test that can routinely screen at-risk groups in the outpatient setting.

Increasing Representation in Aphasia Research

$30,000 Awardee

Team: William Evans, PhD (PI), Sarah Wallace, PhD, Michael Walsh Dickey, PhD, William Hula, PhD

Abstract: People with aphasia from racial and ethnic minority groups are substantially underrepresented in stroke and aphasia research due to the intersectionality of language and communication difficulties and systemic barriers to research participation. This underrepresentation is likely multifactorial, rooted in historical research practices, cultural norms, and systemic disparities in access to healthcare. Inadequate representation undermines the external validity of aphasia rehabilitation research. The current proposal seeks to address underrepresentation in aphasia treatment research by leveraging multiple ongoing NIH-funded aphasia clinical trials, a recently established multi-investigator Pitt aphasia research cluster (PTARI), and newly launched aphasia community support group at the Pitt SHRS Homewood Community Engagement Center. First, we aim to increase representation and engagement of Black stroke survivors with aphasia in treatment research and an aphasia community support group through targeted community ambassador-driven outreach. Second, we seek to identify a) potential barriers and facilitators to research participation and b) unmet community needs and service gaps. We will conduct semi-structured interviews with our hard-to-reach target population of Black stroke survivors with aphasia contacted through targeted community outreach, and compare findings to interviews completed with our ‘typical’ (predominantly white) aphasia research participants recruited through standard existing referral sources. Successful outcomes will help increase the diversity, inclusivity, and representation of Pitt-sponsored aphasia treatment research, identify unmet community needs to support research reciprocity, and ensure that Black stroke survivors with aphasia have a voice at the table as stakeholders and collaborators in our planned NIH-funded P50 aphasia treatment center grant application.

Psychosocial and Biological Aging in Older Adults

$25,000 Awardee

Team: Rebecca Reed, PhD (PI), Michael Kobor, PhD

Abstract: The proposed research will provide analyses on aims in support of an external grant application that examines longitudinal associations among biopsychosocial factors and biological aging in older adults. This CTSI pilot project will use stored biospecimens and existing data from a subset of participants in my current NIA-funded Stress, Immunity, and Emotion Regulation in Aging (SIERA) study and add a novel aging biomarker, epigenetic aging, to test whether social hallmarks of aging, specifically being a member of a minority group and experiencing adverse psychological states, predict accelerated epigenetic aging. To be competitive for the larger grant, this proposed study is designed to provide needed analyses in a subset of SIERA participants to (1) characterize epigenetic aging using DNA methylation data; and (2) test whether race and psychological stress independently and/or interact to predict epigenetic aging. Stored dried blood spot samples will be used to quantify DNA methylation to estimate epigenetic aging, a known predictor of age-related morbidity and premature mortality risk. Ultimately, identifying biopsychosocial factors that predict biological aging will be useful for helping people at risk for accelerated health decline.

Sexual and Gender Minority Stress in Daily Life

$25,000 Awardee

Team: Aidan Wright, PhD (PI), Sophie Choukas-Bradley, PhD, Craig Rodriguez-Seijas, PhD

Abstract: Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a common, chronic, costly, difficult to treat, and at times lethal psychiatric disorder. Individuals identifying as sexual and/or gender minorities (SGM) are more likely to be diagnosed with BPD compared to the cisgender, heterosexual majority. This disparity may partially reflect day-to-day experiences of SGM-specific processes within a heteronormative society, including minority stressors (e.g., SGM-identity concealment) and protective factors (e.g., LGBTQ+ community connectedness). However, few studies have investigated BPD in the context of SGM-specific processes. We propose investigating the relationship between SGM-specific processes and BPD features in a sample of 225 young adults (ages 18-25), consisting of individuals self-identifying as sexual and/or gender minorities stratified for level of BPD severity. All participants will complete questionnaires on a) sexual orientation and gender identity, b) SGM-specific processes (e.g., SGM-targeted discrimination, SGM-identity concealment and disclosure, LGBTQ+ community connectedness, and SGM-identity centrality), and c) BPD features and BPD-related constructs (e.g., interpersonal problems, emotion regulation, impulsivity, and identity disturbance). Participants will also complete real-time smartphone surveys over a 1-week period on a) BPD features in varying interpersonal contexts and b) SGM-specific processes in daily life. We aim to add to conceptualizations of BPD in SGM populations by demonstrating associations between BPD features and minority stress in daily life. This project is therefore expected to yield critical and novel data on the relationships between minority stressors and BPD, enhancing a minority stress model of BPD and informing future studies on culturally competent treatment approaches of BPD for SGM individuals.

Sleep Among Juvenile Justice Involved Youth

$25,000 Awardee

Team: Jessica Levenson, PhD (PI)

Abstract: Juvenile justice-involved youth (JJIY) are a vulnerable population who have high rates of psychiatric disorders, suicidality, and trauma, and are more likely to be from a racial minority group. The need for mental health services is pervasive among JJIY, but very few JJIY receive mental health treatment while involved in the juvenile justice system. Though all of these factors have been associated with poor sleep, there has not been a study of the sleep of JJIY nor the options for implementing behavioral health treatments targeting sleep in various juvenile justice system settings. This is a critical gap in the literature, especially because sleep promotion is associated with reduced psychopathology. We propose a qualitative study that will investigate 1) the nature of and barriers to mental health treatment in various juvenile justice system settings; 2) pathways through which JJIY move through juvenile justice system settings and the continuity of behavioral healthcare across settings; 3) the nature of and contributors to sleep disturbances that JJIY experience; and 4) the nature of sleep-focused screening and treatment that JJIY currently receive while in the system. We will conduct interviews with JJIY (n=10) and staff working in various juvenile justice system settings (e.g., residential counselors, probation officers, healthcare providers; n=10) to obtain relevant qualitative feedback. Findings will elucidate the need for sleep-focused treatment in the juvenile court system and will inform strategies for translating existing sleep interventions to be relevant to the specific sleep problems reported by JJIY to suit implementation in juvenile justice settings.