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Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention a magnet for grants

by Cindy Weiss - March 12, 2007

One of the University’s most successful interdisciplinary ventures, the Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), has secured more than $44.7 million in research funding since 1999.

In January, it won its largest grant ever, a nearly $7 million award from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

The award funds a partnership between CHIP and the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal in Durban, South Africa, and other institutions.

Researchers will test an HIV/AIDS prevention intervention called Options at 16 clinics in South Africa, where AIDS is a menacing public health problem.

Options, developed at CHIP, is a modified version of an NIMH-supported HIV/AIDS intervention that is theory-based and has been shown to help people with HIV to practice safer sex.

It has been widely disseminated to HIV healthcare clinics throughout the U.S.

In New York state, the Department of Health is recommending that all HIV clinics use Options with their HIV-infected patients.

The principal investigator on the new grant is Jeffrey Fisher, professor of psychology, founding director of CHIP.

Co-investigators include Deborah Cornman, associate director of CHIP, and Paul Shuper, psychology research associate in CHIP, along with investigators in South Africa and at Yale, Columbia, and the University of Western Ontario.

The Options program is based on a preventive behavior model first described in Psychological Bulletin in 1992 by Fisher and psychologist William Fisher at the University of Western Toronto, a CHIP-affiliated researcher. The two are brothers.

Other active CHIP grants include a $5.1 million NIMH grant directed by Fisher on treatment adherence; a $3.4 million NIMH-funded program directed by psychology professor Seth Kalichman on HIV treatment adherence and risk reduction; and $3.8 million from the federal Centers for Disease Control to principal investigator Leslie Snyder, professor of communication sciences, to establish a center within CHIP for health communication and marketing.

Last year, CHIP’s external grant total represented a 550 percent increase, compared to the $1.4 million CHIP researchers were awarded in 2002. CHIP grants are increasingly international in scope.

Although it began in the psychology department, CHIP is now a fully interdisciplinary University Research Center reporting to the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and Education.

It has benefited departments beyond those in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, establishing collaborative ties to almost all other schools and colleges at UConn, and in some cases, other universities.

About 72 percent of total CHIP grant awards are in psychology, but its researchers also come from the departments of sociology, communication sciences, anthropology, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the School of Nursing, the Neag School of Education, the School of Social Work, the UConn Health Center, and elsewhere.

Even when a grant is developed by a CHIP affiliate and submitted by CHIP, an indirect cost return still goes to the department of the principal investigator, notes Professor Charles Lowe, head of the psychology department.

For fiscal year 2006, CHIP generated $1.9 million in indirect costs. Since 1999, it has accounted for $10 million in indirect costs, including the most recent grants.

CHIP’s research engine has helped power psychology at UConn into fifth place nationally in federal funding for psychology research, according to rankings by the National Science Foundation.

Jeffrey Fisher, professor of psychology and director of CHIP, and Deborah Cornman, associate director    
Jeffrey Fisher, professor of psychology and director of CHIP, and Deborah Cornman, associate director, stand in front of a South African tapestry. The Center recently won a federal grant of nearly $7 million for a research partnership with a medical school in Durban, South Africa.   
Photo by Jordan Bender   

The latest rankings, based on 2005 figures and released recently, do not include CHIP’s nearly $7 million award from NIMH or the $7.7 million in grants that its researchers won in 2005-06.

Faculty members affiliated with CHIP may have access to office space in the center’s 8,000-square-foot home on the first floor of Ryan Refectory. A 6,000-square-foot expansion into the second floor is now under way to accommodate the growing number of researchers. The renovations are expected to be completed in May.

HIV/AIDS prevention research was the initial focus of CHIP, when psychology faculty members Fisher, Blair Johnson, and Kerry Marsh began building the center. They were joined a year later by Kalichman.

Today, CHIP has about 100 affiliated researchers.

CHIP’s research has broadened in recent years to other health issues. Snyder’s recent grant in health communications and marketing is one example.

Last year, CHIP developed a new cancer prevention and control interest group with research affiliates from the UConn Health Center

. It also has interest groups in alcohol and substance abuse, health disparities, and diabetes management. Recent grants have involved nutrition, pharmacology, and telehealth.

Last summer CHIP changed its name, although not its acronym, from Center for HIV/Health Intervention and Prevention to the Center for Health, Intervention and Prevention, to reflect its wider scope.

Part of CHIP’s success is due to the University’s support, particularly in renovating the first floor of Ryan Refectory several years ago and providing CHIP with $300,000 to build its program, says Lowe.

“The idea was, if we make some meaningful investments now, the pay-offs will be greater later,” he says.

While its growth in grant support has been dramatic, the real benefit of CHIP has been in promoting scholarly research, say Lowe and Fisher.

“A number of faculty are submitting grants now who never did before,” says Lowe.

The center has developed procedures to assist both faculty and graduate students in writing successful grants. Its funded researchers critique newcomers’ proposals, and CHIP provides seed money for their pilot programs, which the new researchers often parlay into external funding.

Funds are available from CHIP for pre-submission reviews of grants by outside experts, as well as statistical and methodological reviews.

In recent years, eight of CHIP’s graduate students have been fully supported by National Research Service Awards, prestigious graduate fellowships from the National Institutes of Health.

In fiscal year 2006, CHIP external grants funded 28 graduate students in psychology, communication sciences, anthropology, sociology, and nursing.

When CHIP began, recalls Fisher, “We felt we could create a great deal of synergy by having faculty from different disciplines work together.”

The roadmap of the federal funding agencies directs scholars toward interdisciplinary research, he says, “and that’s what we do.” 

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