Karen Mason: Psychology Professor Awarded NIH Grant for Groundbreaking Research on African-Americans and HIV/AIDS
Karen Mason, associate professor of psychology at California State University, Dominguez Hills, has been awarded a three-year grant of $426,000 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund her research on ethnic disparities in the psychosocial and neurocognitive predictors of health. The grant is supported by NIH programs for minority research, including the Minority Biomedical Research Support (MBRS)/Support for Continuous Research Excellence (SCORE) programs administered by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS).
“Funding has been limited over the years because of budget cuts everywhere, so getting an NIH award is harder than it used to be. So in that respect, it is a great accomplishment,” says Mason.
It was a graduate school course that sparked Mason’s interest in the psychosocial aspects of recovery with HIV/AIDS. As she was looking at studies being done on HIV/AIDS patients, she was shocked to notice that all of the studies were done based on white males.
“I was taking a class in neuropsychology, this was in 1994, and one of the studies we were looking at was the effect of HIV on the brain,” she recalls. “I was hearing about African-Americans being disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS but they weren’t being included in the research. We know that diseases affect different ethnicities differently. And if this research is being done on only white gay males, how do we know that this research can translate [to helping] ethnic minorities?”
Mason’s master’s thesis, published in 1998, was the first study to look at neurocognitive functioning solely in African-American women with HIV/AIDS. Her new research will examine psychosocial and neurocognitive issues associated with positive health outcome in those with HIV/AIDS and the ethnic disparities in the resilience and health status of zero-positive African American and white adults.
“As HIV/AIDS is re-conceptualized as a chronic condition, there is an increased need for knowledge of the factors contributing to the long term adjustment and successful coping among HIV positive persons,” she says, “in order to develop new interventions with the potential to maximize mental and physical health and well being.”
Mason has enlisted the help of two of her graduate psychology students, Delashawn Kemp and Chaka Dodson. They will be helping her with the recruitment of individuals for the tests and study. For Dodson, it will be a continuation of previous work, as she served as a research assistant on Mason’s pilot project that spawned this new research.
The research will be split into two parts: two years of collecting data and a third and final year of analyzing the data. After the project is done, Mason hopes to have “enough data after the second year to know what are the factors contributing to positive health outcome – spirituality, social support, or cognitive functioning. Once I know this, that will tell us what kind of intervention is best to use. That will be important information for those who are developing intervention.”
Mason hopes that her bio-psycho-social approach to looking at HIV and the contributing factors to positive health outcome will pave the way for studies involving other minority groups such as Latinos. Her research has the support of Women Alive, Minority Aids Project, and AIDS Project Los Angeles. These organizations will distribute information to their members about how they can participate in Mason’s study.
Mason received her doctoral degree from Howard University in 2000 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the Neuropsychiatric Institute at UCLA. She has written and presented extensively on the effects of HIV and the brain.
For more information on Dr. Mason’s research, click here.
- Romel Edmond