Font Size

content body

Auburn University’s College of Education recently received an $850,000 philanthropic grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS) Foundation to support research into health disparities in rural communities. This is the first grant Auburn has received from the BMS Foundation.

 The funding will support a pioneering study that examines the impact of discrimination on Black people living with multiple sclerosis in rural communities. Findings from the study will help researchers develop customized support for patients—improving the disproportionate health outcomes in this population.

 “For decades, the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation has worked with our grantees to improve health outcomes for underserved communities around the world. We are proud to support this project that will provide critical data about a population that has largely not been included in studies in the past,” said John Damonti, president, BMS Foundation. “We are confident that ultimately this work will help more patients have better health outcomes and advance health equity on a broad scale.”

 Evelyn Hunter, an associate professor of counseling psychology in Auburn’s College of Education and a licensed psychologist, will lead the project, collaborating with Dr. William Meador, a neurologist with the Multiple Sclerosis Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; Marilyn Cornish, an associate professor of counseling psychology in Auburn’s College of Education; and Candice Hargons, an associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of Kentucky.

 Multiple sclerosis attacks the central nervous system, disrupting and interrupting communication between the brain and body. Although the cause of the disease remains unknown, researchers estimate that nearly one million people in the U.S.—including three out of every 1,000 Black people—are living with the disease.

“The Black community experiences a more aggressive progression and greater incidence of disability from multiple sclerosis than other groups,” Hunter said. “Because this community is also underrepresented in research studies, scientists don’t yet know why the disease affects them differently. Our expectation is that this research and the psychological and medical insights that follow will improve the health and quality of life for those living with this disease.”

 During this study, researchers will collaboratively develop a patient-centered psychological intervention, with the potential to significantly advance science. The expected outcomes include a roadmap for an evidence-based psychological treatment plan that will provide a strong foundation for specialists to move toward clinical trials.

“Research with real-world impact is foundational to the work we do,” said Jeffrey T. Fairbrother, dean of Auburn’s College of Education and Wayne T. Smith Distinguished Professor. “We’re grateful for the generous support for Dr. Hunter’s research from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. This grant will help us advance our goals of increasing knowledge and making a difference in people’s lives.”