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With donor support, new research aims to reduce health disparities.

Longstanding, underlying health disparities in America became even more apparent during  the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Then, on Memorial Day, the death of George Floyd ignited a nationwide social justice movement against racial bias.

Soon after, Mary Leonard, MD, MSCE, the Adalyn Jay Physician-in-Chief at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, and her colleagues in the Maternal and Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) launched a grant program called the Structural Racism, Social Injustice and Health Disparities in Maternal and Child Health Pilot Awards. Including the word “racism” in the title was intentional.

“We believe that those of us who care for children and pregnant women should be at the forefront of addressing racism, social injustice, and poverty as core determinants of health that impact a child for life,” says Leonard, who is also the Arline and Pete Harman Professor, chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and director of MCHRI.

The MCHRI pilot awards of $35,000 are designed to fund year-long projects that address issues of equity. Five inaugural award recipients began work on their projects in January, and more were selected this spring with an award start date of July 1.

“This is scholarship that has always existed, and particularly faculty of diverse backgrounds—Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, and all marginalized cultural/ ethnic groups—are often doing this work in addition to all of their other research demands,” says Carmin Powell, MD, who proposed the MCHRI pilot awards, along with her mentor Eric Sibley, MD, PhD. Powell works with underserved communities at Watsonville Community Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. “This new MCHRI grant is now being carved out in a very purposeful and intentional way.”

Working together to overcome inequities

The pilot awards are designed to support research that not only documents disparities but also aims to understand why racial disparities exist and takes action. Community involve­ment is a key element.

“To have a true impact on inequities, you really need to work with the communities that are affected to understand their perspectives and to also understand which questions are important to even ask,” says Anisha Patel, MD, MSPH, who serves as co-chair of the grant program with Lisa Chamberlain, MD, MPH.

Stanford investigators will work with partners such as nonprofit organizations, school systems, and policymakers to gather data and then use that data to change policies and practice.

One grant recipient, Sharon Chinthrajah, MD, will partner with the Food Equality Initiative, an organization that works to increase people’s access to allergy-friendly and gluten-free foods. Children with food allergies living in low-income households and relying on nutrition assistance programs are at increased risk of exposure to food allergens and have more frequent life-threatening reactions, says Chinthrajah. The study will evaluate whether fresh produce deliveries and one-on-one nutrition counseling can improve food allergy management among these patients.


COVID-19 Household Transmission and Social Determinants of Health in Pregnancy
Clinical Associate Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology (Maternal-Fetal Medicine)

Patient Evaluation of an Anti-Racism Perinatal Tool
Clinical Assistant Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology (Gynecology & Family Planning)

Improving Racial Diversity in Our Food Allergy Programs

Clinical Associate Professor, Pulmonary, Allergy & Critical Care Medicine

Measuring Children’s Early Vocabulary Using Large-Scale Data from Diverse Families

Associate Professor, Psychology

Telehealth Delivery to Change the Paradigm of Care Delivery in Children with Type 1 Diabetes
Clinical Assistant Professor, Pediatrics (Endocrinology and Diabetes)

This research is made possible by donors to the Children’s Fund, which supports programs and services that are not covered by insurance but are vital to the well-being of patients. Thirty-five cents of every dollar goes to research through MCHRI. We are so proud to partner with donors like you in this important work.


This article originally appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Packard Children’s News.