Grant intended to educate healthcare providers about SCD care

U.S. Department of Agriculture grant targets medically underserved regions

Lindsey Shapiro, PhD avatar

by Lindsey Shapiro, PhD |

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Researchers at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) have received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to support a specialized education program for improving the care of people with sickle cell disease (SCD) in medically underserved areas of the U.S.

Led by principal investigator Sara Day, PhD, researchers will use the $364,502 grant to educate 240 primary and emergency healthcare providers in the Mid-South and Delta regions of the U.S. over the next two years.

The project will be conducted in collaboration with  St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Baptist Memorial Health Care, which, like UTHSC, are located in Memphis, Tennessee.

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“This grant is designed to help eliminate the health disparities we see for people with sickle cell disease and to improve the quality of care they receive,” Day said in a university press release. Day is the assistant dean for community and global partnerships at UTHSC’s College of Nursing.

In SCD, red blood cells take on an abnormal sickle-like shape that makes it difficult for them to properly move through blood vessels. This can lead to severe pain crises and hinder oxygen delivery to body tissues. As such, patients may experience damage to multiple different organ systems, including the kidneys, liver, and lungs, and are at a higher risk of developing certain complications, such as stroke.

About 100,000 people are living with SCD in the U.S., with 2,000 in the Mid-South region, including Tennessee and surrounding areas. Newborn screening data also indicates that Mississippi has the second highest incidence rate of SCD in infants across the country.

The research project was founded on the idea that healthcare providers in these regions must be appropriately trained to deal with SCD patients and the wide spectrum of disease symptoms they experience.

Implementing early detection and intervention approaches

These efforts should help healthcare providers implement early detection and intervention approaches, which are key for improving the prognosis and lowering SCD-associated mortality rates.

“Sickle cell is a disease of comorbidities [co-existing conditions], and health care professionals must have a high level of disease-specific knowledge,” said Yvonne M. Carrol, director of patient services in the department of Hematology at St. Jude, and one of the project’s co-investigators.

As such, the research project has three main goals, including conducting a primary care provider conference on the comprehensive management of SCD.

There also are plans to offer workshops on the emergency management of SCD complications for hospitals in the Baptist network throughout the Delta region of the U.S., which includes Mississippi.

Sickle Cell Boot Camp

Finally, it will support the Sickle Cell Boot Camp to Promote Nursing Excellence, a  collaboration between the UTHSC College of Nursing, the department of Hematology at St. Jude, and the International Association of Sickle Cell Nurses and Professional Associates.

The boot camp addresses the fact that SCD education in nursing schools is currently lacking. It was launched in 2022, with the third one to be held Oct. 30 to Nov. 3 in Memphis. About 35 nurses from the U.S. and other countries are expected to attend the one-week course.