Now Viewing: Pioneer

We Want to Know Your Thoughts About the TEDMED Great Challenges

Apr 10, 2012, 6:34 AM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

Brian Quinn, RWJF assistant vice president Brian Quinn, RWJF assistant vice president

At the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), our mission is to improve the health and health care of all Americans. Good health and health care are fundamental measures of our success as a nation. That’s why we are pleased to support this year’s TEDMED conference (April 10-13), which brings together leaders from a wide array of medical and non-medical disciplines to explore the future of health and medicine.

In our 40 years, RWJF has learned several lessons that led us to support this year’s TEDMED conference. We’ve learned the importance of working with partners and building on the efforts of others; facilitating collaboration among unlikely allies; resisting the illusion of complete understanding; and being persistent.

View Full Post

Positive Deviance Research Continues to Impact Health Care System

Mar 23, 2012, 9:53 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

We are proud to see that an earlier grant supporting research into how positive deviance can be applied to methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) prevention in hospitals continues to influence the way health care systems approach and solve challenges.

An article in last week’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report profiles the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, which participated in the CDC Hemodialysis BSI Prevention Collaborative to reduce bloodstream infections (BSIs). The medical center implemented the positive deviance method, identifying individuals within an organization who have overcome seemingly intractable problems and spreading their solutions throughout, to engage staff members in BSI prevention interventions. For example, a nurse developed a mnemonic device to meet the hand hygiene compliance that she then shared with other nurses. The program found that collaborative interventions and the use of positive deviance were associated with significant reduction in BSIs. 

Curt Lindberg, project director on a 2006 Pioneer grant to Plexus Institute to study the effect of using positive deviance to prevent hospital-acquired infections, recently served as a positive deviance coach at AtlanticCare. In his earlier research, Lindberg and other investigators developed a pilot program at six hospitals to control and reduce the rate of MRSA, one of the most virulent hospital-acquired infections in the United States. The study showed that MRSA infections rates declined by 73 percent in four of the six pilot units.

Read more about the results of the grant and learn about Pioneer’s work researching the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Life Purpose May Help Reduce Heart Attack Risk

Mar 21, 2012, 10:29 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

Evidence continues to emerge that our psyche influences heart health.

In a new study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, researchers working under a Pioneer Portfolio grant found that having a sense of purpose in life may help protect older adults with coronary heart disease from heart attacks. The article, “Purpose in Life and Reduced Risk of Myocardial Infarction among Older U.S. Adults with Coronary Heart Disease: A Two-year Follow-up,” comes from researchers at the University of Michigan and the Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,500 older adults with coronary heart disease and followed up after two years to investigate the association between the occurrence of a heart attack and the degree to which participants had a sense of purpose in their lives, which is typically conceptualized as a person’s sense of directedness and meaning. The study found a significantly reduced risk of heart attack among participants who reported a higher sense of meaning, regardless of socio-demographic differences. Each unit increase in purpose was associated with a 27 percent reduction in the likelihood of a myocardial infarction.

This finding is notable because adults with coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among Americans, are five to seven times more likely to experience a heart attack. Most research focuses on preventive and risk factors contributing to coronary heart disease, and not on resilience factors that help promote health and longevity. The study flows from our work in Positive Health, an emerging concept that explores whether people have health assets that can be strengthened and lead to a healthier life. In contrast, traditional medicine focuses on health risk factors for disease and treatment if it occurs.

In addition to life purpose, the study investigated the association of other positive and negative psychological factors, including optimism, positive affect, anxiety, cynical hostility, and depression with risk of experiencing a heart attack. The study found that all these factors were significantly associated with myocardial infarction rates, but the sense of meaning in one’s life exhibited a protective effect on cardiovascular health above and beyond the presence of these other factors.

Researchers also noted that when people have a strong feeling of meaning in their lives, their will to live may encourage heart health-promoting behaviors, such as exercising, healthy eating, adhering to medical advice, and abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption or smoking.  

Learn more about our work in Positive Health.

Congratulations to Scott Johnson, an Inspirational Innovator

Mar 14, 2012, 4:28 AM, Posted by Nancy Barrand

Tonight in Washington, Scott Johnson, the CEO of the Myelin Repair Foundation (MRF), will be honored as the recipient of the prestigious Gordon and Llura Gund Leadership Award from Research!America. The Pioneer Portfolio congratulates Scott and the MRF on what has been truly pioneering and inspiring work.

Scott, an engineer by training, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has lived with multiple sclerosis since 1976. His keen desire to improve treatment led him to start MRF in 2004. Though RWJF does not fund biomedical research nor focus on specific diseases, we saw MRF’s Accelerated Research Collaboration model as pioneering a new approach to biomedical research – one that had the potential to speed the process of discovery.

With the help of RWJF’s support, MRF piloted the Accelerated Research Collaboration model. The model re-engineers the painfully slow and siloed research enterprise into a collaborative venture to accelerate discovery and move more potential candidates into the pipeline for development of new treatments. From 2005 to 2008, MRF researchers produced 50 peer-reviewed articles, pinpointed 19 new pathways and therapeutic targets for myelin repair, identified 24 new tools for neurological disease research, and filed applications for nine patents, with eight additional applications in the works.

In the process, MRF’s work shifted the field of MS research to focus on myelin repair as the more promising avenue to slow progression of the disease and develop treatments. But as significantly, his fresh view of the biomedical research process – based on how it can and should work, not how it has been traditionally conducted – will shift the future.

The RWJF Pioneer Portfolio is proud to have supported such innovative and life-changing work, and we congratulate Scott Johnson on receiving this much-deserved honor.

Pioneer's Commitment to Health Games Profiled in New Games for Health Journal

Mar 12, 2012, 10:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

I recently had the good fortune of sitting down with Bill Ferguson to discuss the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s pivotal role in health games research for the inaugural issue of the Games for Health Journal. In our talk, I detailed the Foundation’s early investment in the field, the challenges to advancing health games and some grantee findings to date.

Thinking about our conversation, I’m struck by how far the field has come since the early days of our health games support in 2004. Back then, there wasn’t much intersection between the games space and the health space, but Pioneer saw potential. So we worked with Ben Sawyer (@BenSawyer) of Digitalmill to do some community building within the gaming industry around health interests and funded the first-ever Games for Health Conference.   

Now, with seven conferences behind us and the eighth scheduled for June 12-14, 2012, in Boston, Pioneer can proudly claim we helped create and sustain a way for the games and health communities to come together. But we didn’t stop there.

Pioneer expanded its support to the Health Games Research national program, directed by Debra Lieberman at UC Santa Barbara (who is featured in a roundtable discussion of health games experts in the Journal), where we are seeing our 21 grantees test some fascinating ways health games can be optimally designed. They're exploring game features such as competition, collaboration, social comparison, social support, nurturing of characters, immersion in fictional worlds and alternate realities, interacting with a human-like robots to motivate exercise, using a mobile phone game as a substitute for a cigarette, and much more. And there’s more to come.

Health Games Research's work to identify a broad range of features that make for effective health games will help to further expand the creative horizons of future developers. Well-designed and well-implemented games can motivate and support prevention, lifestyle behavior change, and self-management of chronic conditions, and Pioneer is proud to be part of this work. We are excited to see a journal devoted to the research, development, and clinical application of games and health.

Check out the inaugural issue and read about the work of Pioneer’s grantees and others in this important field on the Pioneer Health Games homepage. Tell @pioneerrwjf or @gamesresearch what you think.