Share this story

David McManus developing mobile health component for RURAL health study of disease risk factors

Study will explore why those born in the rural South are less healthy and prone to die sooner

David D. McManus, MD

According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control publication, rural areas of the South have the highest rates of potentially excess deaths related to heart disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and stroke. Researchers from UMass Medical School are participating in a novel study to understand why people born in rural communities in the South live shorter and less healthy lives than their counterparts elsewhere in the country.

The Risk Underlying Rural Areas Longitudinal Study (RURAL) will allow researchers to learn what causes the burden of heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders in select rural areas in Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, and offer clues regarding how to alleviate them.

To better understand why certain factors amplify risk in some rural counties and what renders some communities more resilient, researchers will be recruiting and studying 4,000 participants from 10 of the most economically disadvantaged rural counties in southern Appalachia and Mississippi Delta and parts of the rural South.

UMass Medical School is a collaborating institution on the grant. David D. McManus, MD, the Dr. Marcellette G. Williams Distinguished Scholar, and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, population & quantitative health sciences, is the primary investigator of the mobile health core of the RURAL study, who, along with Jomol Mathew, PhD, assistant professor of population & quantitative health sciences and chief research informatics officer for UMMS, have designed a mobile platform to be used in data gathering for the grant. The mobile platform includes a smartphone app and a wearable, wrist-based informatics system.

“We are very excited about the science that will flow from this one-of-a-kind project targeting members of rural communities,” said Dr. McManus. “We think that mobile health is a key piece of this big and information-rich research study.”

With funding from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, this six-year, $21.4 million multisite longitudinal cohort study will include 50 investigators from 15 other institutions.

Using a self-contained mobile examination unit—a research center on wheels—a transdisciplinary team will conduct an approximately four-hour detailed baseline examination on the study participants. Familial, lifestyle and behavioral factors, along with medical history including risk for heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders will be recorded. Environmental and economic factors will also be studied and novel risk factors for heart, lung, blood and sleep disorders will be assayed.

“The rural health challenge in the South does not spare any race or ethnicity. These high risk and economically disadvantaged communities are vulnerable to clusters of multiple health problems,” explained Vasan Ramachandran, MD, FAHA, FACC, principal investigator and Boston University director of the renowned Framingham Heart Study, with which he has been affiliated for more than 20 years. “We aim to understand the rural health challenge in the South and share our findings with and offer health education to these rural communities.”