Wright Center series trains next generation of community-engaged researchers

How would you react if someone started a conversation by saying what was wrong with you and your family?

Probably not well. And that’s exactly what health researchers often do, when they try to talk to community members, said Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D, an associate professor at the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy.

“We go into communities and we tell them what the data says: ‘The county health rankings say that you have the worst health outcomes in this county,’” she said. “Well, they likely know that things are bad, and some things are good, too. They live in that neighborhood.”

Mosavel shared her experience in December in the first of the Wright Center’s Community Engaged Research Seminar Series. The inaugural three-part series was geared toward early career faculty at VCU whose research seeks to study and improve community health, as well as work in partnership with community groups and outside institutions. More than 75 researchers from across multiple disciplines attended the series, which is now available for all to view online.

Mosavel kicked things off with an introductory session: What is community engagement and why does it matter? Among other things, she said, “it’s a major social justice issue when we’re talking about marginalized, disenfranchised communities that, as researchers, we want to ‘study’ but we have never truly engaged with them in a meaningful way.

“And communities have not seen the benefit of the research that they have participated in.”

Her presentation gave examples of how to rectify that gap between research and results.

Amanda Hall, Ph.D., director of community-engaged research and special projects, followed up Mosavel’s introduction with a presentation on how VCU supports community-engaged research.

In January, the second session on developing and sustaining community relationships had Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., and Emily Zimmerman, Ph.D., M.P.H. as presenters. And the third session on ethical and practical considerations in community-engaged research featured Alex Krist, M.D., M.P.H., the Wright Center’s community-engaged research co-lead.

The speakers represented decades of combined experience in clinical and translational research that brings the community into projects in meaningful ways. They offered practical tips and real-world examples of community engagement, in addition to the theory and objectives.

photo of Maghboeba Mosavel
Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D, an associate professor at the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy, kicked off the Community Engaged Research Seminar Series.

“Community-engaged research is a phrase that’s sometimes thrown around without context or substance,” said Rob DiRenzo, M.S., faculty development manager at the Wright Center and the series co-lead. “The series sought to give real meaning to the phrase, and our speakers were well-positioned to do that.”

A pre-series survey showed that over half of the registrants were already engaged in some form of community-engaged research.

“We saw that researchers at our institution were hungry for more training on this topic,” said Rachel Hunley, M.A., community engagement program manager at the Wright Center and series co-lead. “We hope this series can be a model for future ones here at VCU and other institutions.”

“I really like this series,” said one participant in a post-session survey. “Even though I’ve done [community engaged research] before, it really helps to get back to the basics and do it right from the beginning as I start a new partnership.”

What community engagement looks like varies by discipline and research question, speakers said. By its nature, community-engaged research is contextual, guided by the reality, the history, the politics of the community. Mosavel emphasized that community-engaged research requires not only collaboration, but flexibility and a willingness to change course, when community feedback requires it.

“Research has a clearly specified process: step one, step two,” Mosavel said. “But when you add community engagement, it becomes fluid, dynamic, and requires a completely different approach and commitment. Be prepared to change course.”

Mosavel urged the attendees to recognize their position and privilege and how it impacts perception.

“If you go out into the community and do community-engaged research, you’re always representing your academic institution,” she said. “And not only are you representing the academic institution, you have to be mindful of the context and historical relationships. Community-engaged researchers must recognize the larger context and do work that is mutually beneficial.”

You can watch the Wright Center’s Community Engaged Research Seminar Series on its Kaltura page.

Contact Rob DiRenzo and Rachel Hunley for questions about the series.

community engaged research seminar series logo

photo of Nichole Hollie

Wright Center Translational Scholar brings addiction research to compassionate clinical care

Wright Center Translational Scholar Caitlin Martin, M.D., MPH, joined one of her patients, Nichole Hollie, for a conversation about addiction treatment and recovery this week.

Hollie sought care at VCU Health’s OB MOTIVATE Clinic, designed for women to address substance use disorders before, during and after pregnancy. Martin was her provider.

Dr. Martin headshot
Caitlin Martin, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the VCU School of Medicine

“The care I received from Dr. Martin is amazing,” Hollie told VCU Health News. “I love coming into the MOTIVATE Clinic to see Dr. Caitlin . . . just seeing the smile on her face, or just her asking me how I’m doing, or actually caring . . . I can feel that she cares.”

Martin returned Hollie’s praise and spoke about her work at the clinic to translate research into direct patient care.

“The care within the OB MOTIVATE Clinic is evidence-based so we make sure that all the treatments that we offer to patients are based in research, and we know they’re effective,” Martin said in the video interview.

Read and watch the full story at VCU Health.

Martin is a Translational Scholar at the Wright Center, part of a cohort of faculty scientists supported and mentored by the center. She won a Wright Center Endowment Fund grant last year to study the effectiveness of an addiction treatment.

close-up photos of Black and Brown men

Closing the gap in prostate and colorectal cancer disparities: a community conversation

Terrance Afer-Anderson wants to create an army of ambassadors.

The Norfolk native and prostate cancer survivor wrote, produced and directed a movie, “The Black Walnut,” to bring attention to inequities in screening and mortality rates for prostate cancer in the Black community.

“I tell men scared of the invasiveness of a prostate cancer screening, ‘You have to toughen up,’” Afer-Anderson said on Feb. 9 at a virtual community event on the topic. “And I want African-American men – and women – to help spread the word about the disparity, to get tested early.”

Research, strategies and collaboration were the topics of the day at Cancers Below the Belt, where Virginia Commonwealth University’s Debbie Cadet, Ph.D., M.S.W., moderated a panel of community leaders and experts in prostate and colorectal cancer disparities.

Debbie Cadet, Ph.D., MSW, program manager for community health education & research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center, hosted the Feb. 9 event.

Hosted by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and VCU Massey Cancer Center, the event was the second in a quarterly series that addresses pressing topics in health equity. The November event concerned lung health.

“African-American men are nearly two times more likely to get prostate cancer and have prostate cancer that forms, grows and spreads more quickly compared to white men,” said Cadet, program manager for community health education & research at Massey’s Office of Health Equity and Disparities Research. “They are nearly three times more likely to die from prostate cancer compared to white men.”

Read More

image of 2021 spelled out using pandemic masks

The Wright Center is here to help with your research resolutions

Last year did not go as planned for anyone. But 2021 will slowly, we hope, bring a return to the new normal in our professional lives.

If more or better health-related research at VCU is one of your 2021 resolutions, the Wright Center can help. Find your research resolution below and see how.

Network and Learn header

Wright Center events bring together VCU research leaders, health care providers and research professionals on timely topics.

Upcoming events include:

Bookmark the Wright Center’s calendar and make sure you’re signed up for the regular newsletter to be alerted of more upcoming events.

header that says find funding

The Wright Center’s funding opportunities include a few with upcoming deadlines:

  • The Endowment Fund for grant to individuals and small groups of investigations has a Feb. 1 deadline for its up-to-$50,000 award.
  • The Pilot Imaging Fund for grants up to $25,000 is accepting applications until Feb. 21 from investigators looking to use the Wright Center’s Collaborative Advanced Research Imaging (CARI) facility.
  • And the Clinical Research Voucher Program has a rolling deadline for investigators looking for funding to use VCU Health clinical research facilities and services.

Find more funding opportunities at the Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation’s website and in RAMS-SPOT.

header that says find a cohort

Request access to a cohort discovery program that helps investigators test feasibility and collaborate with other institutions.

header that says develop a protocol

Through the Wright Center, you can access Protocol Builder, a secure, cloud-based technology that helps investigators write interventional or observational research protocols. Find links and resources on protocol development. Read More

image of faces and text of title

Highlighting the Work of Richmond’s Community Health Workers and Advocates

The health of our community plays a key role in our personal well-being, which is why the work that community health workers and advocates do is so impactful. Public health warriors are on the front lines serving Richmond City’s vulnerable populations by advocating and educating their communities about their health and helping them navigate to services they need to improve their lives.

With funding from the Wright Center, the VCU Center on Society and Health and Initiatives of Change created an interactive story featuring Richmond’s community health workers and advocates. The story explores their work and their personal stories of overcoming adversity, as well as the importance of fostering community relationships.

Click here to explore the story.

This post originally appeared on the Center on Society and Health’s website.

photo of C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright

Wright Foundation gifts $16 million to the Wright Center

The C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research has received a $16 million gift from the foundation of its namesake benefactors.

The funds are part of a $24 million gift from the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation, announced on Friday. Four million dollars will go to the VCU College of Engineering, and another $4 million supports the VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion.

The Wright Center’s $16 million will support the mission of the center — to advance science and foster partnerships that accelerate translational research for the betterment of human health. Plans to develop specific programs and scholarship around that vision are underway.

“We’re humbled by and grateful for the generosity that the Wrights and their foundation have shown our center,” said F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., director of the Wright Center. “This year has shown us how important clinical research is for the health of our community. And this gift will help the Wright Center promote important collaborative, community engaged research.”

C. Kenneth Wright made a $16 million gift in 2015 to name the Wright Center. The gift established six Distinguished Chairs in Clinical and Translational Research and a physician-scientist scholars program. Wright’s support has enabled the university to recruit distinguished researchers from around the country and helped VCU prepare scholars for careers along the spectrum of translational science.

In 2018, Wright renewed his support with a $5 million gift to expand the Wright Center’s biomedical informatics program.

The Wright gifts have helped the center leverage the support of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and its 2010 Clinical and Translational Science Award of $20 million. The NIH renewed the award in 2018 with a $21.5 million grant — the largest NIH grant in VCU’s history.

Kenneth Wright passed away in 2019, and his wife, Dianne, died in 2013. Their foundation continues their dedicated work to fund research and education.

Read more at VCU News.

Image at top: C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright

photo of student commons at VCU campus

2020 clinical research by the numbers

The researchers and study teams that make clinical research happen at VCU have gone above and beyond this year. They worked quickly to adapt ongoing research. They started new studies hoping to contribute to knowledge of COVID-19. They joined national and international studies. And they continued their important research on all the other diseases that didn’t take a break during the pandemic.

The Wright Center crunched the numbers on VCU researchers’ work this year.

icon of bed with patient


2,108 participants enrolled in studies


icon of three people


1,403 VCU and VCU Health study team members


icon of clipboard


885 studies active during the year



icon of three medical buildlings


576 multi-site studies




183 studies opened



icon of star


43 COVID-19 studies opened



icon of microscope


36 departments represented


Thank you to all the clinicians, researchers and study teams that make clinical research at VCU possible.

Numbers current from OnCore as of Dec. 9, 2020. Special thanks to Robert Moulden, manager of clinical trials management systems at the Wright Center.



image of needle an medication

Wright Center Director contributes to public health messaging on vaccines

As the nation gets closer to authorized COVID-19 vaccines, VCU Health is gearing up to be part of the unprecedented distribution in central Virginia.

Wright Center Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., joined other researchers and health care providers to offer fact-based perspective on the safety and efficacy of vaccines for a story in VCU Health News.

“I’ve been doing clinical trials and clinical research for over 20 years,” said Moeller. “My experience with the FDA is that they have safety and efficacy at the top of their minds. People have been working there a long time through different administrations, and while they might change slightly in their approach to things, I have never seen them change their approach to safety and efficacy.

Read more at VCU Health.

MCV Foundation’s NEXT magazine features Wright Center researchers, studies

The latest issue of MCV Foundation’s NEXT magazine is out, and the Wright Center plays a big role. The issue focuses on COVID-19 research and highlights the innovation and resourcefulness shown by VCU researchers, including many from the Wright Center and those funded by center grants.

Director F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., and the Wright Center frame the lead story, “The Great Shake Up: How COVID-19 upended and refocused research at VCU Health.”

“Our researchers and administrators really stepped up to the plate in every way,” Moeller told NEXT. “It’s not a scenario that individual researchers can really plan for, but they have really managed it well.”

Also featured in that story are:

  • John Ryan, Ph.D., a professor of biology who serves on the Wright Center’s Operations Committee
  • Somaya Albhaisi, M.D., whose COVID-19 registry is funded in part by the Wright Center
  • Translational Scholar Caitlin Martin, M.D.

Other Wright Center leaders and researchers featured in stories include:

  • Arun Sanyal’s, M.D., in “Remdesivir: Establishing a Standard of Care for COVID-19”
  • Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., and Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., in “Calming the Cytokine Storm of COVID-19”
  • VCU Massey Cancer Center Director Robert Winn, M.D., in “Access & Equity: Combating Health Disparities and COVID-19 through Community Engagement”
  • KL2 Scholar Julian Zhu, Ph.D., in “Big Things in Small Packages”
  • Stephen Kates, M.D., in “Amid Crisis, Inventing Solutions”
  • Alpha “Barry” Fowler III, M.D., in “Follow up: Applying Previous Research to the Current Crisis”

And Kathy White, who serves on the COVID-19 Clinical Trials Oversight Committee, shared her experience surviving COVID-19 and participating in a clinical trial led by Abbate.

Read NEXT here.
Or download the pdf.

“We’ve got work to do”: Health Equity series explores lung disease disparities

This year, COVID-19 has disproportionately attacked the lungs of Black and Latino people. But inequities in lung health are nothing new to researchers, patients and health care providers in minority communities.

Those lung health disparities were front and center on Tuesday for Black Lives, Black Lungs, when attendees from Virginia Commonwealth University, VCU Health and the Virginia community joined lung health experts for presentations on the latest research and a conversation about paths forward.

Hosted by the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research, the event was the first in a quarterly series that will bring people together in an effort to address pressing concerns in health equity.

Patrick Nana-Sinkam, M.D., chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine at VCU Health, presented at Tuesday’s event on current research in lung health.

Black people have the highest rates, deaths and hospitalizations for asthma. There are large disparities along racial and gender lines in the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). And at-risk Black people are less likely to be screened early for lung cancer, and Black men with lung cancer are likely to die sooner than white patients.

Virginia, Nana-Sinkam noted, still has work to do in increasing screening rates among eligible patients. Only 5% of people determined to be at risk for lung cancer had screenings – a number he called “appalling.” As a non-invasive procedure, covered by insurance, he urged that it be far more common.

“To determine screening eligibility, we need to look beyond people’s age and how much they smoke,” he said.

Rita Miller of the Virginia Department of Health presented at the event.

Rita Miller of the Virginia Department of Health highlighted the marketing tactics used by tobacco companies in Black communities. “In the U.S., 90% of African-American smokers use menthols,” she said. “Tobacco companies privately studied generations of smokers. Much of what we’re just now learning, they’ve known for a long time.”

Miller screened a short film on the topic and touted the commonwealth’s Quit Now Virginia program. Its services include a patient referral portal for doctors. And she presented on FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies and non-nicotine medications that help people quit.

Nana-Sinkam also highlighted promising treatments that individualize treatment and programs that create meaningful community partnerships. He encouraged health professionals to engage in policy on topics like environmental quality and access to health care. And he encouraged clinical trial enrollment of underrepresented populations.

Health care providers and institutions, Nana-Sinkam said, have to do more to get out in the community and serve as a credible voice in cancer prevention. The complexity of the factors involved can be daunting.

“But it’s really not about us,” said Nana-Sinkam, the associate director for career development and mentoring at Wright Center and researcher at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “The reality is we’ll have to reach out to people on a number of levels, partnering with communities to better understand the complexities of these issues.”

Robert Winn, M.D., director of the Massey Cancer Center, also gave a call to action for health care providers and community leaders, urging them to reimagine health research as integrated with the people it affects.

“The pursuit of academic excellence, while good, leaves many of our communities out in the cold,” he said. “How are we going to ‘be woke’ in our research, in order to ensure our work impacts the community in an academically relevant way?”

Treatment, in addition to considering genomics, should consider the “community-omics” of a patient, Winn said. That means taking the context of a person’s built environment and socioeconomic factors into account. Lung Health disparities, he added, are a “failure of the system.”

The event closed with a community discussion about next steps, places for growth and collaborative opportunities.

“We’ve got work to do,” said Winn, citing the partnership between Massey, the Wright Center and other VCU entities as a good start.

You can watch the Nov. 10 event online. The next Health Equity event will be February 9, 2021, and focus on prostate and colorectal cancers. Learn more and register online.