UAMS Approved for Nearly $2.1M for Study to Aid Marshallese with Diabetes

By Spencer Watson

UAMS Northwest Vice Chancellor Peter Kohler, M.D., a distinguished professor in the College of Medicine, will lead the research project with co-principal investigators Peter Goulden, M.D., assistant professor and director of the UAMS Diabetes Program, and Pearl McElfish, director of research at UAMS Northwest.

The study will focus on bridging the gap between knowledge of effective diabetes self-management education and actual implementation of that knowledge among the Pacific Islander community that has a rate of diabetes that is 400 percent higher than the general U.S. population.

The study is being conducted in partnership with the Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and the Gaps in Services to the Marshallese Task Force.

“We hope to work closely with the Marshallese families to prevent, delay or moderate the complications of type 2 diabetes and thereby improve the health of this at-risk group,” Kohler said.

Northwest Arkansas is home to the largest Marshallese population in the U.S., which experiences a significant and disproportionate burden of type 2 diabetes and as well as health disparities. The rate of occurrence among the Marshallese is one of the highest of any population group in the world.

This PCORI-funded research is part of a community–based participatory research partnership between UAMS Northwest and the Marshallese. Key support for the partnership and development of the award application was provided by the UAMS Translational Research Institute.

UAMS Northwest is working to align its interprofessional education, student service learning, and community health programs with its research agenda to address health disparities in northwest Arkansas.

“Locally, the Marshallese community identified diabetes as their primary health concern, and our interprofessional student screenings documented that approximately 50 percent of the adult Marshallese population have diabetes,” said McElfish.

Prior attempts to implement diabetes self-management education in Marshallese populations have failed to produce even short-term results, McElfish said. But, “working with the Marshallese community, we designed a family model of diabetes self-management, based on the family-centered values of the Marshallese community.”

The study will implement that family model of intervention and evaluate its effectiveness compared to traditional methods.

The award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract. The study is one of 33 proposals PCORI approved for funding on July 29.

PCORI is an independent, non-profit organization authorized by Congress in 2010 to fund comparative effectiveness research that will provide patients, their caregivers, and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed health and health care decisions. PCORI is committed to seeking input from a broad range of stakeholders to guide its work.

“This project was selected for PCORI funding not only for its scientific merit and commitment to engaging patients and other stakeholders, but also for its potential to fill an important gap in our health knowledge and give people information to help them weigh the effectiveness of their care options,” said PCORI Executive Director Joe Selby, M.D., M.P.H. “We look forward to following the study’s progress and working with UAMS Northwest to share the results.”

The UAMS Northwest study and the other projects approved for funding by PCORI’s Board of Governors on July 29 were selected from 325 applications. Only 10 percent of proposals were funded and only 8 percent of new applications. They were selected through a highly competitive review process in which patients, clinicians, and other stakeholders joined clinical scientists to evaluate the proposals. Applications were assessed for scientific merit, how well they will engage patients and other stakeholders, and their methodological rigor among other criteria.

McElfish said the success of the award application was aided significantly by the UAMS Translational Research Institute, which awarded a pilot research grant to Kohler that provided data to support the application; provided critical biostatistics support to ensure the application met PCORI’s methodology standards; and sponsored a Community Review Board that included Marshallese residents who helped design the study intervention.

UAMS is the state’s only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and eight institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute, Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and the Institute for Community Health Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS’ clinical enterprise. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. UAMS has 3,275 students, 890 medical residents and fellows, and five dental residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 12,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children’s, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), YouTube or Instagram.