A two-year, $5 million award from the National Institutes of Health RADx-UP program will support The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center projects designed to rapidly implement COVID-19 testing strategies in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Part of the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative, the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program will support research that aims to better understand testing patterns among Blacks, American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Latinos/Latinas, Native Hawaiians, older adults, pregnant women, and those who are homeless or incarcerated.

It will also strengthen the data on disparities in infection rates, disease progression and outcomes, and develop strategies to reduce the disparities in COVID-19 testing, treatment and contact tracing.

“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,” says NIH Director Francis 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.”

The Ohio State University is among 32 institutions to receive awards to study and help these vulnerable populations.

“We decided to pursue this opportunity to benefit the residents of Ohio, especially minority and vulnerable populations who bear the brunt of COVID-19 and its impacts in all facets of life,” says multiple-principal investigator Electra Paskett, PhD, director of the Division of Cancer Prevention and Control in the Department of Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

Noted in the researchers’ proposal is that as of Aug. 1 in Ohio, the burden of COVID-19 had disproportionally affected Black and Latinx communities. Though Black and Latino/Latina individuals make up just 13.1% and 4% of the population, respectively, 26% of Ohio’s COVID-19 cases were among Black residents and 7% were among Latino/Latina populations.

“We plan to go to the populations within communities with the highest rates of health disparities to understand and develop ways to help increase education, testing, and contact tracing in concert with the communities. We’ll also facilitate access to testing to those populations,” says Dr. Paskett, director of the Diversity Enhancement Program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Center.

The research team includes more than a dozen investigators from multiple disciplines—from the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center; Ohio State’s colleges of Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Public Health and the John Glenn College of Public Affairs; Nationwide Children’s Hospital; the state of Ohio; and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity.

“This project reflects our ongoing commitment to apply rigorous scientific methods embedded in community-engaged research to improve health equity and address the most pressing health issues,” says multiple-principal investigator Rebecca Jackson, MD, director of The Ohio State University Center for Clinical and Translational Science and associate dean for Clinical Translational Research. “If successful, RADx-UP Ohio can be disseminated throughout Ohio and across the United States to scale up COVID-19 testing and, later, vaccination in minority, underserved and vulnerable populations.”

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