With NIH grant, Emory researchers aim to increase COVID-19 testing for people affected by diabetes

October 23, 2020

By Catherine Morrow 

Emory University researchers, in collaboration with Morehouse School of Medicine and Georgia Institute of Technology, have received a $5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to increase COVID-19 testing for people affected by diabetes in Georgia.

A part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program will support research that aims to better understand COVID-19 testing patterns among underserved and vulnerable populations; strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes; and develop strategies to reduce disparities in COVID-19 testing. 

K.M. Venkat Narayan, MD, MSc, MBA, Ruth and O.C. Hubert Professor of Global Health at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, is the principal investigator on the project. 

Tabia Henry Akintobi, PhD, MPH, Morehouse School of Medicine Professor of Community Health and Preventive Medicine and Director, Prevention Research Center, and Elizabeth Mynatt, PhD, MS, Regents’ Professor of Computing and Executive Director of Georgia Tech’s Institute of People and Technology, will serve as lead investigators at their respective institutions.

“People with or at risk of diabetes are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and its complications,” says Narayan. “This project will facilitate testing for COVID-19 in these populations in Georgia.” 

The study will optimize testing for minority populations affected by diabetes and associated comorbidities, including pre-diabetes and obesity. An iterative testing strategy will be implemented at federally qualified health centers that provide care for uninsured and at-risk individuals and offer community engagement techniques.

“It is critical that all Americans have access to rapid, accurate diagnostics for COVID-19, especially underserved and vulnerable populations who are bearing the brunt of this disease,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “The RADx-UP program will help us better understand and alleviate the barriers to testing for those most vulnerable and reduce the burden of this disease on all Americans.”

The grant has been awarded to The Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research (GCDTR), a joint collaboration with Emory University, Morehouse School of Medicine, and Georgia Institute of Technology.

About The Georgia Center for Diabetes Translation Research (GCDTR): 

Established in 2016 (P30DK111024) as a partnership among Emory University (schools of public health, medicine, nursing, business, college of arts and sciences), Morehouse School of Medicine, and Georgia Institute of Technology, GCDTR embarked on the vision of promoting translation research to generate and disseminate knowledge that influences practice and policy.

The GCDTR embraces a comprehensive approach of addressing all populations that disproportionately experience diabetes and its complications based on their: 1) demographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity/culture, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status), 2) position over the lifespan (e.g., youth, pregnant, elderly), 3) geographic location (e.g., rural, urban), and 4) associated co-morbidities (e.g., cardiovascular disease, depression, HIV, COVID-19). GCDTR will strive for equity and will operationalize this through: (a) an overarching theme of reducing diabetes disparities across age, race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, geography, sexual orientation, and associated comorbidities; (b) a core dedicated to socioecological and behavioral science approaches to promote equity at the population and community level; (d) a core dedicated to reducing disparities in diabetes prevention, access to care, and healthcare quality with a patient-centered focus across healthcare systems; and (e) vision, philosophy, and leadership structure embracing an inclusive and active approach to advance equity as an aspirational goal.