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A new University of Florida transdisciplinary collaboration has been awarded nearly $50,000 to help reduce colorectal cancer screening inequities affecting African-American patients, by optimizing the delivery of a mobile screening intervention.

The project, titled A Sociolinguistic-Enabled Web Application to Precision Health Intervention for African Americans, is funded through a $49,004 UF Clinical and Translational Science Institute Precision Health Initiative Pilot Project Award.

The collaboration includes the STEM Translational Communication Center (STCC) at the UF College of Journalism and Communications (UFCJC), the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, and the College of Medicine. STCC Director Janice Krieger, professor of Advertising at UFCJC and at the College of Medicine, and Kevin Tang, assistant professor in Computational Language Science, Department of Linguistics at the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will lead the effort.

African Americans experience increased morbidity and mortality from colorectal cancer (CRC) as compared to White Americans. While adverse CRC outcomes can be reduced through regular screening, many Black patients are not currently within recommended screening guidelines.

The goal of this project is to reduce CRC screening inequities among African American patients through mobile virtual health assistants (VHAs). The research will examine patient choice of a VHA and how the linguistic features of a VHA influences the perceived credibility of the CRC screening intervention. The researchers also will collect preliminary data that will be used to develop an automatic speech-recognition system to support a voice-activated version of the intervention.

The project brings together expertise from a range of disciplines, including:

More about the team:

The UF Speech, Lexicon and Modeling Lab (SLaM), led by Tang, is a team of UF faculty, graduate and undergraduate assistants who advance applied and theoretical linguistic research involving spoken speech and grammar (phonetics and phonology) and word knowledge (lexicon) with experimental and computational methods. Specifically, this project will involve graduate student, Joshua Martin, whose PhD dissertation research focuses on addressing linguistic bias against African American English in automatic speech recognition. Follow them at https://slam.lin.ufl.edu/ and Twitter @ufslamlab.

The UF Precision Message Intervention lab, led by Krieger, is a community of interdisciplinary scholars focused on developing, implementing, and evaluating culturally tailored interventions that utilize precision messaging techniques to reduce health inequities. The faculty, postdoctoral scholars, and graduate students use qualitative and quantitative approaches to identify and test novel communication approaches to improve health and science communication efforts.

The UF Virtual Experiences Research Group, led by Lok, conducts research into improving interpersonal communication skills through interacting with virtual humans. The VERG research group partners with researchers in application domains such as healthcare and education to develop and deliver virtual human interactions as to enable difficult conversations, communication skills acquisition, and training.