Year 2 Pilot Projects (2024)

Benjamin Green, MD
Assistant Professor
Cancer Biology
University of Hawaii Cancer Center

Targeting CD29+ Tregs for liver cancer immunotherapy

Project Summary:  Liver cancer is a highly prevalent and deadly form of cancer, both worldwide and particularly in the Pacific. A cure for liver cancer remains elusive. The aim of this study is to eliminate pro-cancer cells called regulatory T cells (Tregs) from the liver microenvironment in order to boost the activity of anti-cancer immune cells. We hypothesize that Treg elimination will benefit all patients suffering from liver cancer.

Donna-Marie Palakiko, PhD
Nancy Atmospera-Walch School of Nursing

Developing a culturally tailored asthma mHealth tool for Native Hawaiians

Project Summary: Asthma is a breathing illness that occurs in many Native Hawaiians living in Hawai‘i. As a breathing illness, asthma is best cared for through proper use of medication, avoiding triggers which cause asthma (e.g. dust, pet dander, cockroach drippings, mold, etc.), and having current asthma information. During COVID-19, people were unable to get in person asthma information and began getting online health information. This project will ask caregivers of children with asthma, teenagers with asthma and adults with asthma who live in Hawai‘i to provide input on the re-design of an existing online health resource (asthma mHealth tool). We will work with Papa Ola Lokahi and their network of Native Hawaiian serving organizations to recruit individuals. Individuals will volunteer to participate, complete a short survey, and two talk story session. In return for their time, participants will receive an online gift card. Findings will inform the re-design of the asthma mHealth tool and the development of a future study. Findings will also be shared with the Native Hawaiian community through newsletters, social media posts and in articles.

Simone Schmid, PhD, Msc, MPH
Post-doctoral Fellow
Office of Public Health Studies
Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health, UH Manoa

Chronic Disease & Health Promotion Division (CDHPD), Hawaii State Department of Health

Metabolic equivalent determinations (METs) for outrigger canoe paddling for health equity

Research Summary: Outrigger Canoe Paddling (“Paddling”) is a popular, culturally-relevant physical activity in Hawai‘i and beyond. Regular physical activity can reduce chronic disease, dementia, and early morbidity. Culturally-relevant practices, such as hula, can reduce disease risk and provide strong health benefits. Looking at existing cultural-relevant activities and their practitioners, is a strength-based public health approach, in comparison of using a deficiency-based lens. Paddling may hold similar promise as Hula but is understudied. In a critical research gap, the metabolic equivalents (METs) for paddling are not established. METs determine the metabolic intensity of a physical activity and provide comparative benchmarks with over 800 other physical activities for research and practice. This study will establish METs for paddling and will include people with disabilities who are often excluded in physical activity research or guidelines, for a cultural-relevant sport in Hawai‘i which has often been excluded from population-level surveillance data. Using best practice measurement (standard indirect-calorimetry procedures) coupled with cutting-edge tools we will: Establish Paddling METs for people with and without Spinal Cord Injury, using relative (easy, medium, hard) and/or absolute (canoe speed) references to paddling intensity. Given the high interest in the community for paddling, we will also communicate results to the extended community across canoe clubs in the state and other venues and with public health practitioners and policy makers to build momentum for this fruitful area of strength-based health promotion.

Peter Washington, PhD
Assistant Professor
Information and Computer Sciences
University of Hawaii at Manoa

Fair Artificial Intelligence for Breast Cancer Risk Prediction

Research Summary: While it is highly likely that AI models for breast cancer prediction are biased based on the countless examples in other medical AI domains, bias has not been quantified in AI analyses in this field. The nascent field of algorithmic fairness offers numerous solutions to bias which have yet to be applied to breast cancer AI. This project will first simulate the effect of varying the representation of age, gender, and race/ethnic groups on model bias within breast cancer imaging datasets. We will then develop and evaluate data augmentation strategies to improve fairness of cancer risk ML models. Finally, we will develop and evaluate a fairness regularizer in the ML model’s objective function to improve the fairness of cancer risk ML models. The methods explored in this pilot proposal have the potential to become standard practice in the larger field of AI for health and medical imaging.

Rosana Weldon, PhD
Associate Specialist Research Faculty
Office of Public Health Studies
Thompson School of Social Work & Public Health, UH Manoa

Restricted use pesticides in Hawaii: community concerns and health associations

Research Summary: Local food production is a priority for Hawaiʻi, but there are concerns around declining production, climate change, and health effects of pesticide use. This study will gather information from community members who reside near fields and growers to learn about health issues and current and future farming practices in light of climate change. In addition, this study will ecologically assess associations between pesticide use and health effects using GIS mapping.