Skip navigation

NIH Awards $800K to USM Faculty Studying Cardiometabolic Diseases

Tue, 11/07/2023 - 01:43pm | By: Karelia Pitts

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded four grants through the Mississippi Center for Clinical and Translational Research (MCCTR) worth $200,000 each to an interdisciplinary research collaborative in The University of 51 Mississippi (USM) College of Education and Human Sciences (CEHS).

Through four coordinated research projects, the team at USM will focus on identifying and implementing effective cardiometabolic disease mitigation strategies which are especially important for young Mississippians.


Dr. Jon Stavres

“Cardiometabolic diseases, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, disproportionately affect Mississippi residents relative to other areas of the United States. In fact, MS ranks second in the nation for both heart disease and diabetes-related deaths,” said Dr. Jon Stavres, assistant professor of kinesiology. “Even more alarming is the fact that U.S. adults between 20 and 39 years of age experienced a considerable increase in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome from 2011 to 2016, a trend that is expected to continue.”

A shared desire to use their skills to make an impact in this area inspired the CEHS team to apply for funding from MCCTR.


Dr. Tanner Thorsen

“We are eager to kickstart this important work that truly has the power to save lives in our state,” said Dr. Tanner Thorsen, assistant professor of kinesiology. “We believe change will begin by improving early detection and intervention on cardiometabolic disease risk in this population, so our proposed projects all contribute to that central aim. It’s pretty special to have the opportunity to put all of our minds and resources together for this impactful initiative.”


Dr. Austin Graybeal

In the School of Kinesiology and Nutrition, Drs. Austin Graybeal, Stavres and Thorsen will each be contributing research from their respective areas of expertise – body composition, exercise and cardiovascular physiology and biomechanics. With a keen interest in the intersection of psychological and physical health, Dr. Megan Renna from the School of Psychology will be offering her expertise in clinical psychology and psychophysiology.


Dr. Megan Renna

Our cross-disciplinary approach emphasizes the idea that figuring out the biological and functional factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome risk is only one part of the puzzle in improving physical health and preventing disease. We need to take that information and use it to tailor interventions to help facilitate behavioral change and reduce health risks,” said Dr. Megan Renna, assistant professor of psychology. “These four projects, collectively, will be a big step towards this multidisciplinary goal.”

This collaborative effort also demonstrates how Golden Eagles achieve the college’s mission to empower individuals to transform the human condition through exemplary teaching, excellence in research and meaningful service that advances professional knowledge and practice.

“Our interdisciplinary research team is a superb example of how hardworking faculty at USM are improving the educational, physical, psychological and social well-being of our students and society,” said Dr. Trent Gould, dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences. “We are incredibly proud of their continued efforts to make a difference in the lives of others and thank NIH and MCCTR for providing the funding needed to advance knowledge and practice regarding cardiometabolic disease mitigation for Mississippians.”

Over the next year, the research team will work together to answer the following research questions:

  • Project 1 (led by Dr. Graybeal) – Can access to preventative care be improved through smartphone-based anthropometrics?
  • Project 2 (led by Dr. Stavres) – Can a continuous metabolic syndrome risk score improve the early detection of cardiovascular dysfunction, particularly in young adults?
  • Project 3 (led by Dr. Thorsen) – Can functional movement assessments improve prediction of cardiometabolic disease risk?
  • Project 4 (led by Dr. Renna) – Can we identify the barriers and facilitators of behavior change and develop effective disease mitigation strategies for Mississippians?

“Unfortunately, the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome often comes too late, typically when disease progression has increased the risk for other complications,” said Dr. Graybeal, assistant professor of kinesiology. “We are excited to investigate this cross-disciplinary approach to metabolic syndrome, with a special focus on earlier detection and prevention strategies, especially in the lives of young adults in Mississippi.”

Learn more about this research endeavor and others in the .