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Kessler Foundation Researcher Receives $700K Grant to Study Barriers to Healthcare in Latinos with Multiple Sclerosis

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Research scientist Dr. Cristina A. F. Román, based at the Kessler Foundation’s Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center, secured a $704,054 grant for a five-year mixed-method study exploring the impact of healthcare barriers on cardiovascular risk factors and accelerated brain aging in Latinos with multiple sclerosis (MS), an under-researched community facing more severe disease outcomes;

Research scientist Cristina A. F. Román, Ph.D., from the Kessler Foundation’s Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center in East Hanover, NJ, was awarded the Mentored Patient-Oriented Research Career Development Award from the National Institute on Minority and Health Disparities, a part of the National Institutes of Health.

The $704,054 five-year grant will fund an innovative mixed-method study investigating how barriers to healthcare impact cardiovascular risk factors and accelerated brain aging in Latinos living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

According to the Kessler Foundation, there is little research studying MS in the Latino community despite evidence that this population experiences more severe disease and worse outcomes compared with non-Latinos with MS. Additionally, studies have shown that Latinos face more significant barriers in accessing healthcare, which increases the risk of comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, and contributes to worse MS outcomes.

Ultimately, Latinos and people with MS are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular risk factors, which further contributes to 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 commented in a press release.

Román is the principal investigator on the project called Barriers to Healthcare and Cardiovascular Risk Influences on Accelerated Brain Aging and Disability in Hispanic Persons with Multiple Sclerosis. A total of 80 Latino individuals with MS are expected to participate in virtual or in-person study meetings.

During the sessions, study participants will answer questions regarding their experiences accessing healthcare. The researchers will also assess the participants’ cardiovascular risk factors, including high blood pressure and diabetes, and conduct brain imaging scans in about half of the participants.

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

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