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June 12, 2008

UMBC Receives Grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to Study Sickle Cell Disease

New Connections Initiative seeks to link the Foundation to a new cadre of scholars


CONTACT: Kavan Peterson
Phone: 410-455-1896

BALTIMORE -- A grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) will support University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) Assistant Professor of Psychology Shawn Bediako in a study of how adults with sickle-cell disease manage workplace absenteeism and limited access to health care.

The research is intended to inform policymakers on the types of social support services needed by adults with sickle-cell disease (SCD), a debilitating genetic blood disorder that disproportionately affects minorities.

“Due to wide health care disparities among low-income minorities, adults with sickle-cell disease make up a particularly vulnerable and under-represented population,” said Bediako, who co-chairs the Maryland Statewide Steering Committee on Services for Adults with Sickle-Cell Disease.

Although Maryland has an estimated 3,400 SCD patients, the state’s only service provider for adults with SCD is the Johns Hopkins Sickle Cell Clinic for Adults. Moreover, the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene does not provide support services for SCD patients once they become adults.

By exploring data from a national 10-year longitudinal study of SCD patients compiled by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bediako will examine the employment status of adults with SCD and the rates at which they can access and use health care and mental health services. Bediako will use the data to create a computer model projecting unemployment rates among SCD patients in Maryland during the next decade.

Social work intervention by certified genetic counselors and psychological counselors is critical to treating adults with SCD, Bediako said. Job counseling and support services are also important because many SCD patients lose their jobs due to illness-related absenteeism. Unemployment rates among SCD populations can reach 70 percent, he said.

African-Americans are the largest high-risk group for SCD in Maryland. The state has the fourth largest African-American population in the U.S.

Approximately 1-in-400 African-American babies is born with some form of sickle-cell disease and approximately 1-in-10 African-Americans is a carrier for abnormal hemoglobin that could lead to some form of sickle-cell disease in their children.
The $55,000 grant Bediako received to conduct the study was awarded through RWJF's New Connections Initiative, created three years ago to expand the organization's diversity of research by supporting underrepresented scholars and research topics. Twelve such grants are awarded annually.

New Connections is a competitive award for scholars who have historically been underrepresented in research activities. For more information about The New Connections Initiative, go to

About UMBC:

UMBC is a medium-sized public research university of 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students who collaborate with faculty to address real-world challenges. Located just south of Baltimore near I-95 and the BWI airport, UMBC's residential campus houses state-of-the-art facilities in the sciences, engineering, arts, social sciences and humanities. UMBC combines the energy of a research university with the close community feel and attention to individual students found in liberal arts colleges.

About RWJF

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. The Foundation's Pioneer Portfolio supports innovative ideas and projects that may trigger important breakthroughs in health and health care. Projects in the Pioneer Portfolio are future-oriented and look beyond conventional thinking to explore solutions at the cutting edge of health and health care. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.

Posted by kavan at June 12, 2008 8:36 AM