USF COPH faculty team up to address women’s health issues

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Three of the four grants awarded by the University of South Florida Women’s Health Collaborative (WHC) this year went to faculty teams from the USF College of Public Health

Faculty teams compete for seed grants, which are made possible by sponsors and attendees of the previous year’s Leading the Way Awards Luncheon benefiting women’s health research.

The WHC provides the grants to support interdisciplinary research advancing women’s health.

COPH faculty awardees include:

  • $15,000 grant sponsored by PNC Bank for “COVID-19, peritraumatic distress, mental health and educational attainment in a sample of African American teen mothers in Hillsborough County’s alternative education programs” by Dr. Abraham A. Salinas-Miranda (College of Public Health); Dr. Heather Agazzi (Morsani College of Medicine); Dr. Manisha Joshi (College of Behavioral & Community Sciences); Dr. Guitele Rahill (College of Behavioral & Community Sciences); Dr. Linda Callejas (College of Behavioral & Community Sciences); Dr. Cheryl Vamos (College of Public Health). This study will investigate associations among pre- and current-COVID-19 disparities, social distancing mandates, peritraumatic distress, social support, and childhood experiences, in relation to educational achievement/attainment in a sample of African American teen mothers.
(Photo source: Pixabay)

“I feel very fortunate to have received the Women’s Health Collaborative seed grant for 2020. It’s the first time I apply and the first time I receive this grant,” said Dr. Abraham Salinas-Miranda, assistant professor and director of the Harrell Center for the Study of Family Violence. “The grant, however, is very interdisciplinary and I am so grateful to receive the mentorship and collaboration from distinguished colleagues.”

Salinas-Miranda said this grant will allow for the assessment of how teen mothers are being affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically their educational outcomes and mental health.

“In the current COVID-19 pandemic, there is ample evidence that African American populations have been disproportionally affected. Moreover, parents have faced a very difficult situation with the quarantine and loss of employment, as well as the added stress that comes with a very infectious disease going around,” he said. “We know also students have been hindered in their education as schools have been closed and not everyone can just continue as usual using online means. Now, imagine the combination of adversity that African American teen mothers must be suffering. Unfortunately, we don’t have data specifically for that population. That where our study comes in.”

  • $15,000 grant for “Preterm Vitamin A intake: from maternal diet to gut microbiome and postnatal growth” by Dr. Tina Ho (Morsani College of Medicine); Dr. Maureen Groer (College of Nursing); Dr. Heewon Gray (College of Public Health); Dr. Johanan Vargas (Morsani College of Medicine). This study will evaluate the health benefits of vitamin A intake in very low birth weight infants and the potential modification with maternal diet.
(Photo source: Pixabay)

“Findings from this study will provide clinically important information on the health benefits of vitamin A intake in very low birth weight infants and the potential modification with maternal diet,” said Dr. Heewon Gray, assistant professor.

She said that preterm birth affects about one in ten infants born in the U.S. and very low birth weight serves as majort risk factor of infant deaths amonth premature infants.

“This study will clarify the potential health benefits of oral vitamin A intake on growth and intestinal microbiome in preterm infants and how the maternal diet can affect the vitamin A level in preterm breast milk,” she said.

Gray said infants born less than 3.3 pounds (1,500g) without terminal congenital conditions or abdominal defects are eligible for the study.

“We will measure the vitamin A level in consumed breast milk and analyze its temporal relationships with the stool microbiome and postnatal growth. We will also assess the impact of maternal vitamin A intakes on their breast milk vitamin A levels,” she said.

  • $10,000 grant sponsored by Betty Castor for “Validation of a screening tool to predict women at high risk for surgical failure following pelvic organ prolapse repair” by Dr. Allison Wyman (Morsani College of Medicine); Dr. Russell Kirby (College of Public Health); Dr. Susana Lai-Yuen, (College of Engineering); Dr. Renee Bassaly (Morsani College of Medicine); Dr. Jean Tanner (College of Public Health); Dr. Jason L. Salemi (College of Public Health); Dr. Kristie Greene (Morsani College of Medicine). This study will examine an MRI-based measure of pelvic muscles to develop a model for predicting the risk of failure in surgical repairs.
(Photo source: Pixabay)

“It is incredibly humbling to have been awarded one of the Women’s Health Collaborative grants, especially knowing the quality of the other submitted proposals from interdisciplinary collaborative teams. It’s also validation that our research on what we feel is a very important issue affecting women, has public health importance and clinical significance,” said Dr. Jason Salemi, associate professor. “The generous funding afforded by the WHC, and sponsored by former USF President Betty Castor, will provide meaningful preliminary data that will serve our team well as we apply for external grant proposals.”

He said pelvic floor disorders affect millions of women in the U.S. and that each year, 225,000 women undergo surgery for these disorders, and many, about 30 percent, experience complications or undergo additional procedures due to surgical failure or recurrence of their disorder.

“We are attempting to incorporate a screening tool that can improve the clinical course of care, decrease adverse outcomes, and improve the quality of life in women affected by these disorders,” he said. “This project is designed to provide estimates of the repeatability and reliability of our proposed screening tool in clinical practice, a necessary precursor to evaluating clinical utility.”

All seed grant recipients will be honored with the 2020 “Remarkabull” award honoree USF President Emerita Judy Genshaft at the Leading the Way Awards Luncheon when it is rescheduled for spring 2021.

To support women’s health research through the USF Women’s Health Collaborative, visit

Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health