$4M to study health disparities in Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders, Asian Americans

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The PONO Health Legacy Study is a new research study awarded to a team of Hawaiʻi scientists from UH Mānoa to study diabetes, heart and lung health disparities in Native Hawaiians, Pacific Islanders and Asians. This $4 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) award will establish a new longitudinal cohort study of Native Hawaiians (NH), Pacific Islanders (PI) and Asian Americans (AA) in the US and is known locally as the the Pacific Ocean Native Observational (PONO) Study.  

This map the six sites taking part in the PONO study.
A “longitudinal cohort study” means participants are followed over decades measuring group characteristics and risk factors which are important to understand the likelihood of developing disease. A total of 10,000 participants (18-65 years old) will be enrolled from Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and Asian American (Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and South Asian Indian) communities that are historically understudied in the US. The study will focus on health resilience and risk factors aimed at disease prevention. This “once in a lifetime” study involves 5 sites located in Hawaiʻi, California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York. The Fred Hutchinson Center in Seattle will serve as the overall coordinating center. Hawaiʻi will be the primary recruitment site for Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
Drs. Marjorie Mau, Lani Park, and Alika Maunakea
Among many firsts, the Hawaiʻi-based PONO Study will be led by three “locally-grown” scientists: Dr. Marjorie Mau; Dr. Alika Maunakea and Dr. Lani Park. Drs. Mau and Maunakea are both Native Hawaiian researchers who have worked for decades with multiple NH and PI communities to co-create and co-implement NIH-funded projects. Dr. Mau, the lead Principal Investigator noted that, “We are thrilled and excited to be part of this opportunity to expand Hawaiʻiʻs biomedical and clinical epidemiology expertise at a national level. PONO promises to fill a huge gap on health inequity data while at the same time reaching out to our communities serving NH and PI to engage, share and provide research training opportunities.”

Dr. Maunakea, the only NH epigeneticist in the US, remarked "One of our major goals is to better understand how the expression of our genes are impacted by environmental, behavioral, social-cultural, and biological factors (epigenetics).” Dr. Park is particularly enthusiastic because “PONO will also examine novel socio-environmental and structural factors linked to health and well being. Thus, providing potentially novel insights into understanding how to optimize disease prevention especially in these understudied populations.”

The PONO Study Team is currently working with the Coordinating Center and the other 4 sites to set-up and train research and community staff on the study protocol and assessment tools. “It is our long term goal to stay connected with all of Hawaiʻiʻs diverse racial and ethnic populations so we can bring some of the latest research science back to Hawaiʻiʻs health providers and communities in a meaningful way. Getting the word out as quickly as possible will allow PONO to give back to our communities.” stated Dr. Mau. “So, stay tuned for more good things to come!”