LIFT KY Alliance Combines Expertise to Help Reduce Tobacco Use in Kentucky

The single greatest health behavior change that could improve health and decrease mortality is to assist tobacco users to quit smoking and using other tobacco products. This is particularly important to people living in Kentucky, where the rate of smoking is 1.5 times that of the general population of the United States.

Leveraging Clinical and Behavioral, Biomedical, and Policy Innovations to Facilitate Tobacco Treatment in Kentucky (LIFT KY) is designed to strategically leverage the expertise and knowledge of senior faculty with ongoing portfolios of research in tobacco treatment throughout the University of Kentucky. The goal of LIFT KY is to build the administrative infrastructure and research training environment to drive the growth of innovative, multidisciplinary clinical, behavioral, biomedical, and policy-related research to reduce tobacco use in rural Kentucky and beyond.

“LIFT KY provides a space for researchers who are independently working on tobacco cessation research to come together and think more broadly about things that can be done to help people quit smoking,” said Seth Himelhoch, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the department of psychiatry, who serves as principal investigator for the LIFT KY team. “The Alliance structure has allowed a great team of people to work more creatively on finding ways to help people quit.”

To address the various branches of the issue, the LIFT KY Alliance includes four cores led by faculty from a variety of departments and specialties throughout the University of Kentucky. The clinical/behavioral core is directed by Craig Rush, PhD, professor in the department of behavioral science. The biomedical/molecular core is led by Tim McClintock, PhD, professor in the department of physiology. The community engagement, policy, and health economics core is overseen by Ellen Hahn, PhD, professor in the College of Nursing and director of Bridging Research Efforts and Advocacy toward Healthy Environments (BREATHE) Center, and Teresa Waters, PhD, professor and chair of the department of health management and policy in the College of Public Health. Finally, the training core is directed by Dr. Rush and Mark Evers, MD, director of the Markey Cancer Center.

These cores allow LIFT KY to bridge connections across the research continuum and work toward finding solutions from the bench to the bedside, as well as through policy change.

The LIFT KY Alliance currently includes 27 members from five departments in the College of Medicine, as well as the College of Arts and Sciences, College of Public Health, and College of Nursing. As of March 2021, the team had already submitted several intramural and extramural grants as well as published 20 research papers.

A major benefit of the Alliance Research Initiative is how it allows for enhanced mentorship for faculty, paving the way for a stronger research environment. The faculty on LIFT KY are developing promising research projects.

For example, Shyanika Rose, PhD, assistant professor in the department of behavioral science and the Center for Health Equity and Transformation (CHET), submitted an R01 grant to the National Cancer Institute entitled, “Local Flavor Policies to Enhance Equity in Tobacco,” which recently received a very favorable score.

Rakesh Gopalkumar, MD, assistant professor of psychiatry, submitted a National Institute on Drug Abuse R01 grant entitled, “Theta Burst Stimulation in Conjunction with Varenicline for Smoking Cessation in People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA): A Randomized Clinical Trial,” that received a favorable review.

It’s rewarding for Dr. Himelhoch to be able to help faculty succeed. He credits the outstanding mentorship he received during his fellowship training as a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar as being central to his academic success. He believes the LIFT KY Alliance is one way for senior investigators to “pay it forward.”

With that in mind, Himelhoch emphasized the importance of faculty being able to work with a team of research scientists who can mentor them and help shape their enthusiasm and natural curiosity into fundable research projects.

To learn more about LIFT KY and other Alliance teams, visit www.med.uky.edu/alliance.

LIFT KY Alliance Team Members:

  • Kristin Ashford, PhD, Professor – College of Nursing
  • Joe Benitez, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Public Health
  • Jessica Burris, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Arts and Sciences
  • Audrey Darville, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Nursing
  • Mark Evers, MD, Director, Markey Cancer Center – Department of Surgery
  • Amanda Fallin-Bennett, PhD, Assistant Professor – College of Nursing
  • Ellen Hahn, PhD, Professor – College of Nursing
  • Seth Himelhoch, MD, MPH, Chair and Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Melinda Ickes, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Education
  • Lindsey Jasinski, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Catherine Martin, MD, Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Tim McClintock, PhD, Professor – Department of Physiology
  • Amy Meadows, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Chizimuzo “Zim” Okoli, PhD, Associate Professor – College of Nursing
  • Sarah Oros, MD, Assistant Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Janet Otachi, MA, Program Coordinator – College of Nursing
  • Gopalkumar Rakesh, MD, Associate Professor – Department of Psychiatry
  • Mary Kay Rayens, PhD, Professor – College of Nursing
  • Shyanika Rose, PhD, Assistant Professor – Department of Behavioral Science
  • Craig Rush, PhD, Professor – Department of Behavioral Science
  • Nancy Schoenberg, PhD, Regular Faculty – Department of Behavioral Science
  • Teresa Waters, PhD, Chair and Endowed Professor – College of Public Health
  • Amanda Wiggins, PhD, Lecturer – College of Nursing