Center for Dental Informatics

Contact: Mei Song, PhD: For immediate release (9/24/2008)

DBMI Doctoral Student Wins "RAAHPer of the Year" Award

Pittsburgh, PA Ė Jeannie Yuhaniak-Irwin, a third-year PhD student at the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI) at the University of Pittsburgh, got the biggest surprise of her academic life to see her name etched on a crystal plaque as she became the winner of the "2008 RAAHPer of the Year" Award from the NYU College of Dentistry.

Presented annually by the NYU Oral Cancer Research for Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion (RAAHP) Center, the award is to honor the individual who has made outstanding contributions to research activities at the RAAHP Center in the previous year. Established in 2001, the RAAHP Center won a seven-year, $8.3 million grant from the NIH to investigate several key questions in the research on oral cancer disparities in African American and Hispanic minority groups, These included identifying factors contributing to oral cancer disparities, determining the best techniques to diagnose oral cancer, and developing and testing new strategies for intervention.

Over the course of the project, the Center has been collaborating widely with researchers across various universities. To help facilitate the collaboration, the RAAHP Center subcontracted with the Center for Dental Informatics (CDI) to develop a "research collaboratory." The goals of the collaboratory research project were to create an electronic infrastructure to help participants work together more effectively and efficiently; study the collaborative process; disseminate research results to interested audiences; and investigate the feasibility of improving oral cancer diagnosis and management practices using information technology-based interventions.

In 2007-2008, the Informatics Core was actively involved in two research projects: the Oral Cancer Web Site Project and the project on Cancer Screening and Research Subject Participation by Minorities. The Oral Cancer Web Site Project aims to evaluate the design, organization and credibility of English and Spanish oral cancer Web sites to identify gaps in the dissemination of online oral cancer information. The goals of the Cancer Screening Project are to investigate if minorities have a greater reluctance to participate in biomedical studies than whites, and to determine how various factors influence the comparative willingness of ethnic/racial groups to participate in biomedical research.

As a member of the Informatics Core, Yuhaniak-Irwin was the lead investigator of the Oral Cancer Web Site Project and was in charge of conducting the study and developing the final manuscript. For the second project, her major responsibilities were to support the informatics needs of RAAHP researchers and facilitate the online bi-weekly meetings of six researchers from five states over the course of three years with Web-conferencing software.

With the high-quality and invaluable support from the CDI, especially with "Jeannieís skills and deep commitment," researchers of the Cancer Screening Project have been very prolific in writing and publishing 14 scientific papers and 22 abstracts, according to Ralph V. Katz, DMD, MPH, PhD, director of the RAAHP Center, and professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology & Health Promotion at New York University. "Without the Informatics Core, the Cancer Screening Project of the RAAHP Center would never have been as productive or as efficient," said Katz.

For Yuhaniak-Irwin, working with a group of top-ranking researchers and seeing their scientific productivity has been an equally exciting and fruitful experience. "Iíve not only learned about the RAAHP Centerís projects and findings, but also about how to be a productive and successful researcher. There were many great researchers in the past who have won the award and I was honored to be considered for the award and thrilled that my contributions helped enhance the RAAHP Center," she said.

It may be still overwhelming for her to believe that she actually won the award, but the crystal plaque is already sitting proudly on the bookshelf in her office.