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New Center of Economic Excellence to address chronic health problems in S.C

New Center of Economic Excellence to address

 chronic health problems in S.C.

USC, MUSC and HSSC partner on technology to promote healthful lifestyles, prevent disease


Columbia, SC—Chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer are all too common causes of disability and mortality in the United States. Unhealthful behaviors such as sedentary lifestyles and poor diets, along with the obesity that often results, are major reasons why people develop these chronic health problems.


South Carolina has more than its share of citizens with chronic illness. The state ranks 6th nationally in obesity and 7th in prevalence of diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


This week, through the state's Centers of Economic Excellence (CoEE) Program, a new university-based research center has been created that will develop technology, such as interactive, web-based coaching programs, to help people make healthier lifestyle choices and delay or prevent chronic diseases.


The Technology Center to Enhance Healthful Lifestyles is a partnership between the University of South Carolina (USC) and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). The board that oversees the state's CoEE Program approved $3 million in funds for the center. Health Sciences South Carolina (HSSC) is providing a portion of the private funds to help match the state's investment. HSSC includes three of the state's largest health care systems and its three research universities working together to improve health and economic well-being.


Two world-class scientists, known as CoEE endowed chairs, will be recruited to lead the center. USC will recruit an endowed chair to focus on technology applications for changing health behavior. MUSC will recruit a chair to focus on technology applications to prevent and manage disease and reduce risk.


Once in place, the endowed chairs will work with junior researchers and students to develop new technologies for improving health, preventing illness and successfully managing chronic health problems. In particular, they will develop interactive tools that can reach all segments of society and reduce health disparities.


Center directors believe that by developing these tools, they can improve the quality of life in South Carolina.

“We have science to back up the fact that lifestyle choices can make the difference between health and disease,” says center co-director Dr. Steven Blair, who is also a professor in USC's Arnold School of Public Health. “For example, a large national trial demonstrated that a lifestyle program was twice as effective as medication in preventing diabetes in a high-risk population. We believe that technology-based tools can help people prevent and manage
chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, senile dementia, obesity, musculoskeletal problems and loss of function with aging.” Working with Blair on the project is Dr. Carolyn Jenkins of MUSC's College of Nursing.


The center's work could help South Carolina's economy in several ways, notes USC President Dr. Harris Pastides. First, it could help the state become a national leader in an emerging high-growth field. Second, it could result in marketable products such as new communications technologies and applications for individuals, worksites, health professionals and health systems. Products could include software and information systems for cell phones, smartphones, iPod technologies and computerized kiosks. Third, it could help attract new software development, lifestyle coaching, and computer hardware companies to the state and result in start-up companies based on South Carolina discoveries. These companies could result in hundreds of new, high-paying jobs in the state in the next decade.


Along with economic benefits, the center will have indirect benefits to the state as well, says MUSC Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Dr. John Raymond.


“Once these new technologies are developed, there is potential that they can reduce health care costs in South Carolina and beyond,” he says. “The state could also see less absenteeism in the workplace and improved productivity.” Raymond also notes that scientists at the center have the capacity to attract large amounts of funding to the state from corporations or federal agencies, which will lead to the creation of additional new jobs.


"The use of information technology within the health care industry is skyrocketing, and this center will enable South Carolina to be a part of that growth," says CoEE Review Board Chair Paula Harper Bethea. "With this Center of Economic Excellence, we can encourage patients in South Carolina and around the world to improve their lives by engaging in healthier lifestyle practices, while creating high-paying jobs and expanding the state's knowledge economy.”


About the CoEE Program


The CoEE Program was created by the South Carolina legislature in 2002 and is funded through South Carolina Education Lottery proceeds. The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions, Medical University of South Carolina, Clemson University and the University of South Carolina, to use state funds to create Centers of Economic Excellence in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence is awarded from $2 million to $5 million in state funds, which must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state investment. To date, 46 Centers of Economic Excellence have been created and 22 endowed chairs have been appointed to lead the centers. The CoEE Program has resulted in more than a quarter billion dollars of non-state investment in the South Carolina economy and is responsible for the creation of more than 2,000 jobs. For more information, visit



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