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Faculty & Staff Honors

NIH Awards CHI, with a $1.5 Million Grant to Adapt South Carolina Research into Clinical Applications

Connecting Health Innovations LLC (CHI), a company that evolved from research conducted within the Cancer Prevention and Control Program (CPCP) at the University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health, intends to transform how we deal with inflammation-related illnesses ranging from arthritis to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Over the next 2.5 years, with funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the patent-pending Dietary Inflammatory Index (DII), which was invented by Dr. James R. Hébert (Health Sciences Distinguished Professor in the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics), will form the basis for a comprehensive set of tools for use by medical professionals and their patients to reduce chronic inflammation. The DII, which was developed in 2013, ranks 45 foods and micro and macronutrients for their inflammatory properties and has been scientifically proven to predict outcomes related to inflammation, ranging from inflammatory markers to cancer (especially colon cancer), diabetes, asthma, depression and metabolic syndrome. Currently, the Dr. Hébert’s group is collaborating with close to 100 research institutes, governmental agencies and universities across the globe to explore the association between the DII and various inflammation-related outcomes in different populations. The importance of this work is underlined by a large body of research linking chronic inflammation to virtually all of the chronic diseases that cause the majority of disability and death in the U.S. — diseases that affect more than 50 percent of the population and result in health care costs that add up to more than $470 billion annually.

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[Photo: (left to right) Dr. James Hebert, Ms. Julia Houston, Ms. Azza Shoaibi, Dr. Nitin Shivappa, Dr. Michael Wirth]

CHI, in collaboration with USC, will develop the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System. The first step will be to create a mobile technology App, DII Screen™.  Medical professionals can use DII Screen™ to efficiently screen patients for high-inflammatory diets. Once deemed at high risk, participants will be referred to the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System, which facilitates patient-physician interactions, provides guidance on dietary modifications and promotes group-based learning and support. Additionally, the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System will make use of the previously developed IF Tracker™ which provides a self-monitoring system for patients to effectively track and measure the inflammation in their diets. Dietary data collected through the IF Tracker™ will then be used to calculate the DII, which will be reported back to the physicians and dieticians for the counseling portion of this system. An intervention to test the effectiveness of the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System will be conducted by Dr. Gabrielle Turner-McGrievy, an assistant professor in the department of health promotion, education and behavior, Arnold School of Public Health, and Mr. Thomas Hurley, CPCP’s senior research associate. Additional collaborators include specialists who will lead or consult on various aspects of the project, such as the technological development of the Apps, application of technology-based behavioral interventions, nutrition and lifestyle counseling, developing business plans and marketing strategies, and trial oversight.

“Over time, we believe we can use this novel approach to create a national model to combat the growing epidemic of both obesity and inflammation-related chronic illness in the United States,” says CPCP Director James Hébert.

Funding for this project comes from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases within NIH. This particular grant mechanism is a Small Business Innovation Research grant, which is designed to empower small businesses to commercialize promising inventions. USC is the largest subcontractor on this project. Drs. Nitin Shivappa and Michael Wirth, who received doctoral degrees from the Arnold School’s Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, are the co-principal investigators on this grant. Dr. Shivappa, who graduated in August 2014, based his dissertation work on developing the DII and using it to predict various health related outcomes. Dr. Wirth, who graduated in 2012, is now a research assistant professor in the department of epidemiology and biostatistics, in addition to his appointment with CHI.  Ms. Julia Houston serves as the project coordinator.

The team will use the CPCP-inspired small business, CHI, as a mechanism for developing and disseminating the DII-Based Inflammatory Reduction Counseling System. Founded by Dr. Hébert in 2013, this start-up company was established to leverage the work he spearheads on the health effects of inflammatory diets by bringing CPCP innovations to commercial markets. Exploiting what we know about the ability of diet to control inflammation, CHI will be able to reduce health care costs by identifying at-risk patients through their innovative approach and use of technologies. Promoting diet modification to reduce inflammatory potential before it manifests as inflammation-related diseases is the primary goal of CHI. Understanding the potential to save lives and money, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina will serve as the organization’s primary commercialization partner.