/////Groundbreaking Research a Staple of College of Nursing
Groundbreaking Research a Staple of College of Nursing 2018-01-05T09:16:53+00:00

MAY 10, 2006 | Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., R.N., helped the College of Nursing at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) gain international notoriety in 2003 with her groundbreaking research on women’s early warning heart attack symptoms.


If College of Nursing Dean Linda Hodges, Ed.D., R.N., were a coach, she might describe McSweeney as a star player on a team of stars. Each member of the team is working on projects that could have significant benefits for patient care and the cost of delivering care, particularly for the nation’s growing number of elderly.


“In the larger health sciences community, nursing has gained quite a foothold in research, but unfortunately many people still say ‘what kind of research can nurses possibly do?’” Hodges said. “The truth is that many nursing interventions are essential for the improvement of health care and the prevention of disease.  Therefore, nursing research tends to focus on the behavioral aspects of health and clinical care and on health services, two areas which make tremendous differences in disease prevention and the effectiveness and cost of treatment.”


As part of her recruitment package when Hodges came to UAMS 17 years ago, then-Chancellor Harry Ward, M.D., agreed to provide the administrative support necessary to help researchers get the federal funding they needed.


“This has proven to be very successful, and we’re grateful to the administration for its support,” Hodges said.


The College of Nursing in the past year has received about $4.5 million in research funding, primarily from the National Institutes of Health. The research funding level ranked the college 37th nationally out of more than 90 colleges of nursing in 2004, the latest year for which rankings are available. Hodges said she expects the college will move up in the 2005 ranking.


“We have had wonderful faculty; you don’t build a program without great faculty,” Hodges said. “There is great potential here to continue to build our research program because we have had experience in interdisciplinary research, which is highly favored by NIH,” Hodges said.


Medicine has traditionally assumed that women will have the same heart attack symptoms as men, so McSweeney’s discovery is leading the nation toward appropriate care for women who in the past may have been turned away from an ER despite symptoms that warn of a disabling or deadly heart attack.


When her study was made public, it created a stir that took her by surprise. Interview requests came from major U.S. newspapers and television networks as well as from media outlets in other countries. 


“It was phenomenal,” McSweeney recalled. “Women wanted this information desperately.”


McSweeney, a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, noted that until Congress intervened twice in the early 1990s, medical studies were focused predominately on white males.


She is wrapping up work on a study of early warning signs of heart attack among minority women. She hopes that eventually every doctor’s office will have a check list of symptoms to help with the early diagnosis of heart disease in women. 


Kathy Richards


Helping the elderly stay out of nursing homes is the aim of sleep-related research led by Kathy Richards, Ph.D., R.N., and director of the college’s Tailored Biobehavioral Intervention Research Center.


According to Richards, one of the reasons some Alzheimer’s patients and other mentally impaired elderly are placed in nursing homes is an inability to sleep at night, which exhausts the families trying to care for them. The problem has kept Richards and a team of 10 assistants busy on some promising solutions funded by the NIH, the Veterans Administration, the National Institute of Nursing Research and the National Institute on Aging. 


Exercises like walking and weight lifting help healthy adults sleep and think more clearly, so Richards is applying exercise to mentally impaired nursing home patients as part of her study.


So far, the results are hopeful but the research won’t be completed for almost a year.


Richards’ research team also has developed 120 activities that can be tailored to varying levels of mental impairment. The activities, like chess, use of family photos and items that patients can touch, are used for about an hour a day when patients otherwise would be nodding off.


Results as to whether this helps them sleep at night are pending, but Richards said they seem promising. The 5-year study was begun in 2002.


“There are two major reasons for this kind of research,” said Richards, also a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing. “One is that there’s a huge cost in nursing home care and a lot of people are admitted because of not getting enough sleep, but we’re also interested in it because the sleep problem may be accelerating their cognitive decline.”


In another study, Richards has found that Restless Legs Syndrome is common in Alzheimer’s patients and other mentally impaired elderly and may be a big reason for what’s known as sun-downing. The syndrome causes an irritating twitch in the legs that prevents sleep and creates a need to walk.


Richards is the first in the nation to show that Restless Legs Syndrome is prevalent in Alzheimer’s patients. “We’re excited about this because the condition is easily treatable. Effective drugs are available and exercise can also reduce the symptoms,” she said. “We think we’ve found something that we can treat readily to maybe help people stay out of the nursing home.”


Ann Coleman


Helping Multiple Myeloma patients improve their stamina and ability to sleep is the goal of a new three-year study led by Ann Coleman, Ph.D.


“We’ll have the first data on overnight sleep studies on cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy,” Coleman said. “This will be the first time this is done so it’s going to be interesting to see.”


The study, which requires overnight sleep monitoring, is a challenge because the patients are so sick they’re occupied with treatments. All are undergoing intensive chemotherapy and they each received two stem cell transplants at the beginning of their treatment, Coleman said.


In the meantime, the study will include patients in a strength-building and aerobic exercise program. Pilot data has found that the exercise program added more minutes of nighttime sleep but that it did not reduce fatigue.


However, the exercise group has shown that it can walk much farther in six minutes than the other group and is able to lift more weight, Coleman said.  This difference allows the exercise group to complete more of their usual daily activities than the other group.


She also is excited about another study of Multiple Myeloma patients that involves some epidemiological sleuthing. Funded by Arkansas’ Tobacco Settlement funds, Coleman is researching family histories that go back three generations to determine how genetics, the environment, race and geography have played a role in the presence of the deadly cancer.


So far, about half the patients interviewed have had long-term exposures to pesticides and insecticides.  In many cases, they were on farms and did not wear protective gear.


Coleman, a registered nurse practitioner and an advanced oncology certified nurse, is also known for helping to determine the method of breast self examination that most doctors recommend to women today.


Louanne Lawson


Louanne Lawson, Ph.D., R.N., and a Fellow in the American Academy of Nursing, is doing research that she hopes one day will provide more effective treatments of child sex offenders.


Lawson is a former child abuse nurse at UAMS’ pediatric clinical and teaching affiliate, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, where she also was responsible for training medical residents how to examine child victims of abuse. The experience inspired her to search for a way to effectively treat offenders. Her approach has been to mine the huge amounts of information collected in the records of the Commission on Child Abuse Rape and Domestic Violence, which registers sex offenders and determines their risk level. 


Her efforts center on the social aspects of the offenders, which means she works more closely with criminologists and social justice experts more than psychiatrists. Victims of sexual abuse typically are in a close relationship with their offenders. Lawson said her research delves into those relationships. Her goal is to create an environment that is safe for children and that celebrates childhood and parenting, she said.


“The main treatment for sex offenders is cognitive behavioral therapy, which is fine, but I think it can be more effective if it’s provided with a better perception of the offender,” Lawson said.


Lawson’s work is funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research through an Academic Research Enhancement Award and by the Center for Sex Offender Management.