Welcome to Ola HAWAII


Hawai’i ranks as one of the health states in the nation by certain public health measures, yet significant health disparities exist for racial and ethnic groups, such as Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders (NHOPI), Filipinos, and other underserved populations.  With continued support from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) through the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI), the overall long-term goal of the RCMI Specialized Center, titled Ola HAWAII, is to improve minority health and reduce disparities for those communities in Hawai’i which suffer disproportionately in health outcomes and healthcare access.  Recently funded for five years (2022 – 2027), the objective of the Center is to lead and advance minority health and health disparities research in Hawaii.  Our Center name is derived from Ola meaning “health” and “to heal” in Hawaiian and HAWAII which designates both our island homeland and our aspiration “Heath And Wellness Achieved by Impacting Inequalities”.

With this five-year competitive renewal, Ola HAWAII will achieve its objective through four strategic aims:  1) Enhance institutional capacity to facilitate basic biomedical, clinical and behavioral research; 2) Address health disparities and health-related concerns of underserved communities; 3) Mentor and support a diversified health disparities research workforce and 4) Enhance the quality and productivity of health disparities and health-related research through world-class research facilities and services.

Ola HAWAII Research Projects and Investigator Teams

Following a highly competitive university-wide open call for proposals, Ola HAWAII selected three (five-year) Research Projects, focused on basic biomedical, behavioral, and clinical research which emphasized NHOPI and Filipino populations.

MALAMA (Mini Ahupua’a for Lifestyle and Mea’ai through Aquaponics): Backyard Aquaponics to Promote Healthy Eating and Reduce Cardiometabolic Risk: In 2017, Ola HAWAII funded a pilot project, led by Jane Chung-Do, DrPH (Associate Professor of Public Health) and Ilima Ho-Lastimosa, MSW (a Native Hawaiian faculty member in CTAHR), which tested the feasibility and acceptability of a three-month backyard aquaponics intervention among Native Hawaiian families living in a rural/underserved community. Informed by knowledge gained from the pilot project and incorporating exciting innovations, this proposed five-year project will examine the effectiveness of MALAMA, a culturally grounded backyard aquaponics intervention, to improve eating habits and to decrease cardiovascular disease risk in three dispersed Native Hawaiian communities. MALAMA will assess potential barriers to broad dissemination of this intervention. This behavioral research project with a strong clinical component will embrace the Native Hawaiian view of health and wellness and seek to achieve health equity by advancing culturally based education, food and nutrition.

Factors Responsible for the Development of Pulmonary Post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 Infection (PASC) in Hawai’i:  NHOPI and Filipinos have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.  It is estimated that nearly one third of individuals with acute COVID-19 disease have chronic symptomatic complaints even 6 months after infection onset.  There are limited data available on the impact of health disparities on pulmonary PASC especially among NHOPI and Filipinos. Gehan Devendra, MD (Assistant Professor of Medicine) and Juwon Park, PhD (Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology) will identify the pathophysiologic mechanisms underlying the development from acute COVID disease to PASC and explore how underlying health disparities in Hawai’i compound these mechanisms. This clinical research project with a basic biomedical component has significance for an improved understanding and treatment of the long-term effect of COVID-19, with unique implications for underrepresented communities.

Exercise, Exosomes, and Metabolic Health in Type-2 Diabetes: Type-2 diabetes represents one of the deadliest health disparities affecting NHOPI. The clinical benefits of exercise for diabetic and pre-diabetic patients has long been known, but the scientific basis for this is unclear. Recent knowledge that almost all cells release nano-sized extracellular vesicles (i.e., exosomes) containing signaling proteins and RNA has revolutionized our understanding of cell-cell communication. Noemi Polgar, PhD (Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Biochemistry, and Physiology) and Nicholas James, PhD (Assistant Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology) will investigate how skeletal muscle cells generate exosomes, the effect of exercise, and how signaling affects the metabolic mileau. This basic biomedical research project has enormous potential for guiding clinical therapeutic applications of culturally relevant exercise activities such as hula or ocean paddling.

About the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities:

NIMHD is one of NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers. It leads scientific research to improve minority health and eliminate health disparities by conducting and supporting research; planning, reviewing, coordinating, and evaluating all minority health and health disparities research at NIH; promoting and supporting the training of a diverse research workforce; translating and disseminating research information; and fostering collaborations and partnerships. For more information about NIMHD, visit http://www.nimhd.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH):

NIH, the nation’s major medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

About the Ola HAWAII grant: 

Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, National Institutes of Health, Ola HAWAII has been awarded for 5 years (September 2022-May 2027), grant #2U54MD007601-36 for a total amount of $22,557,840.