Avera researcher named to federal research advisory council

July 25, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by South Dakota Biotech.

An Avera researcher has become the first South Dakotan to be named to a board that works to advise the federal government on research regulations and topics associated with the protection of human subjects.

Jyoti Angal , Avera Research Institute’s director of clinical research, was appointed to the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Human Research Protections, or SACHRP.

Her three-year appointment makes her one of 11 people on the board, which advises the Department of Health and Human Services.

We learned more about Angal, her career and this new opportunity.

What brought you to Sioux Falls and to Avera?

My husband’s job brought us to Sioux Falls in 2005. At that time, my husband and I were working in California, and he was offered an opportunity, and although it was going to be significant change, we were excited to explore new “frontiers.” As you can imagine, it was a huge change, but it turned out to be a good decision. In California, I was working in the field of health disparities, and I was hoping to continue in that area. I happened to connect with Dr. Amy Elliott, who was leading research projects in maternal and child health. During the past 14 years, we have worked together to establish and implement research programs, first at the University of South Dakota, later at Sanford and more recently at Avera.

Your team is dedicated to improving child health and development through community-based research. How unique is the work you’re doing?

The strength of our work lies in its community-based approach. That’s unique because it takes place directly within the community settings and engages community members in the research process. Including community members in the design and implementation process makes the research stronger and relevant to the participants from those communities. Many projects include community advisory boards, who provide guidance on ways to include diverse cultural and socioeconomic perspectives. We ensure our study staff is hired from the community – having them on the front lines provides familiarity and comfort to participants. We also strive to ask research questions that fulfill regional needs and make direct impacts on the health and lives of the community members.

An important part of the community-based work in our region is engagement of tribal communities, including respect for their laws and regulations. It’s been a privilege working with several tribes in North and South Dakota and learning to understand the role of tribal sovereignty and autonomy. I am very appreciative of the work we have collectively accomplished through the principles of respect and reciprocity.

What do you consider some of your team’s most key recent findings? And what sort of applications do you see for them?

Over the past decade, our team has published several findings that can inform clinical practice or highlight topics that may warrant further exploration. A very recent publication from our ECHO study focused on the general health and life satisfaction in children with chronic illness such as diabetes or asthma. What this study found is that even with a chronic illness, children are not limited in leading satisfying lives. It was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics; it’s an important message for clinicians and one they can share with parents whose children may have chronic illnesses.

Another finding was published this year in a journal by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC. This article revealed that pregnant American Indian women in the Northern Plains may not be adhering to dietary recommendations. This is concerning because American Indians have higher rates of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease than the general population. Poor diet can further aggravate these conditions during pregnancy. This finding opens up the avenue to creating interventions that support healthy diet during pregnancy through access and education. Other key findings include a publication from a large study that looked at risk factors of fetal and infant mortality, the Safe Passage Study, which developed a new way to classify the cause of stillbirths. With this system of classification, only 16 percent of stillbirths remained unclassified. What this means is that when clinicians use this system of classification, more families will have an answer to why their baby died. Being able to provide a closure to these grieving families is a great accomplishment for science.

Tribally based research requires adherence to tribal research laws. To help provide a systematic infrastructure for review of tribally based research, our team developed a tool kit for tribal ethics boards. This tool kit provides guidance on how to set up an infrastructure for reviewing and approving research. By sharing our experience of working with tribal ethics boards, we hope to increase awareness of the tribal research processes, which in the long run will be mutually beneficial to tribes and the research community.

How would you describe the environment for researchers in South Dakota? What do you tell others considering coming here to work or live?

I think there are tremendous opportunities for research in South Dakota through our local universities and hospitals. Research today is moving toward a transdisciplinary approach, and “team science” is the buzz word.  We have built our research on strong national collaborations, which has helped to bring cutting-edge research to our region and provide the benefit of scientific research to some of the most underserved populations in our country. I think there is tremendous potential for researchers who want to do community-based research and work collaboratively with other disciplines to develop their research question or program.

What unique perspective are you hoping to bring to your new role advising the Department of Health and Human Services?

In general, the role of this committee is to advise the Office of Human Research Protections on matters related to human subjects’ protections in research. In my role, I hope to highlight issues concerning participation of the marginalized and underserved populations in research. I hope to use my experience of working with tribal nations to highlight the need for consideration of the tribal perspective in research.

What potential do you see to continue to grow your work and your team at Avera? What’s next for you?

Since moving to Avera, we have had a tremendous growth in our team, both in terms of personnel and in the types of projects. Looking ahead, we hope to use our clinical research expertise to support and integrate research within the health system. We also want to continue to leverage our national collaborations to bring new and innovative research methods and technologies to our region.

I have a strong interest in research ethics and want to continue to work in this area. The field of science is rapidly changing;  sometimes it’s challenging for ethics and laws to keep pace. I also want to continue to find ways to share research results with the community; it really promotes participant engagement and trust.

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Avera researcher named to federal research advisory council

An Avera researcher has become the first South Dakotan to be named to a board that works to advise the federal government on research regulations and topics associated with the protection of human subjects.

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