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Nov. 25, 2014

Triple play: Three MSU colleges join forces to push limits of research

When it comes to advancing scientific research, two, or in this case, three, heads are much better than one.

Three Michigan State University colleges – communication arts and sciences, engineering and nursing – have come together to form a “trifecta,” a trio that will bring its unique skills and talents together to collaborate on a wealth of scientific endeavors.

The group is in fact named “Trifecta,” and its interdisciplinary mission: To focus on new communication and engineering technologies to deliver nursing and health services to underserved communities.

“Trifecta brings together information and communication experts with people who design technology and study health care with the goal of research collaboration from across the three colleges," said Shelia Cotten, a professor in the Department of Media and Information and director of Trifecta.

Key areas of focus include, but are not limited to, health disparities, mobile health, big data and sensor technologies.

The Trifecta initiative was launched last year and since then has been sharing information about current research projects and developing partnerships for upcoming grant submissions. Several research projects are currently in the works including most recently, a three-year, National Institutes of Health study that weaves clinical expertise into an online health community for patients with diabetes.

Led by Jina Huh, assistant professor in the Department of Media and Information at MSU, the project incorporates automated one-on-one support from health professionals by identifying patients’ posts in online health community forums that signal medical expertise is needed. The system, called InfoMediator, infuses curated clinical expertise on the Web to peer-patient conversations when necessary.

“Health professional moderators in online health communities should not have to spend their effort reading hundreds and thousands of posts that don’t need their help,” Huh said. “This project can help minimize this problem, yet offer the continued assistance needed for patients.”

Barbara Given, University Distinguished Professor in the College of Nursing, will mentor Huh during the study by evaluating the effect InfoMediator has on patients and how it helps to better manage their diabetes. Joyce Chai, a professor in the College of Engineering, will help guide Huh to build the automated mechanism of the system. In addition, Wanda Pratt, a professor at the University of Washington Information School, will also be a primary mentor, assisting Huh from the medical informatics perspective.

Other Trifecta projects include an NIH-funded study that looks at using text messaging and Facebook as strategies to promote healthy infant feeding among adolescent women, as well as a living history project that tells the stories of Michigan’s oldest residents.

A call for new Trifecta project pilot funding will be issued in early January 2015. Faculty interested in discussing their research ideas or finding research partners in other MSU colleges can contact Shelia Cotten at To join the Trifecta listserv and learn about upcoming opportunities and events, send an email to

By: Sarina Gleason

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