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The Making of Medicine

Seeking Solutions to the South’s Health Problems

Our Paul V. Targonski, MD, PhD, is helping to lead a massive, multi-state effort to determine why people born in the rural South tend to have more health problems and die earlier than people elsewhere. Importantly, he and his colleagues are looking not just for causes but solutions.

Researchers will take high-tech “research centers on wheels” into economically disadvantaged areas in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi. There they will enlist the help of 4,000 study participants to understand what’s going wrong and how to improve public health.

For example, the researchers will look closely at familial, lifestyle and behavioral factors, along with environmental and economic contributors. Smart phones and wearable activity monitors will allow the researchers to collect health and lifestyle information about the participants.

The National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has provided $21.4 million to support the six-year study, dubbed the Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study (RURAL). The effort includes 50 investigators from many different institutions across the country.

“I’m humbled to be a part of such an expert and experienced investigative team coming from across the country to help address health disparities in rural populations,” Dr. Targonski told me.Paul Targonski “We bring unique skills to the team – for instance, in community collaboration, capacity building and the design and conduct of field studies like this. Many of our communities in Virginia and the communities we serve here at UVA are very much like the communities with whom we are partnering in this study, so this is directly relevant to communities at large, but also to us here in Virginia.”


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