Safety Modifications for Classrooms and Offices

Shields and rearranged furniture are among the changes

An auditorium in Royall Hall has taped off seating to allow for six feet of physical distancing.An auditorium in Royall Hall has taped off seating to allow for 6 feet of physical distancing.

No surprise, but classrooms and offices will look slightly different this fall due to safety precautions because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We talked to Michael Graves, director of UMKC facilities operations, to find out about building modifications for in-person interactions.

“We’re following CDC guidelines to help keep our students, faculty and staff safe,” Graves said.

Classroom modifications

Following those guidelines, UMKC is using 25 percent capacity in classroom spaces.

To accomplish this, Graves’ teams are moving furniture and taping off seats in auditoriums.

“The goal is for each student to have a 6-foot perimeter,” Graves said.

Faculty instructors in lecture spaces can wear clear face shields — vs. cloth masks — to promote more accessible learning. The transparent plastic material allows others to read lips and facial expressions more easily.

Desk shields
A desk at the School of Dentistry has
A desk at the School of Dentistry will have a shield to provide a barrier between patients and employees.

For extra safeguarding on the Health Sciences and Volker campuses, front desks and counters that don’t provide enough physical distancing will have plexi shields.

If you’ve been to the grocery store recently, you’ve probably seen shields in the checkout aisle as a barrier between cashiers and customers.

Office precautions

Departments throughout UMKC are making sure staff are sufficiently distanced from others. For example, Graves’ team is building clear desk shields in between cubicles that are not 6 feet from others.

Common spaces

Floor markers are being added to areas where lines form to help remind everyone to keep a 6-foot distance from others. And seating is being separated 6 feet away from other seating.

Campus Vending Machines Sell Personal Protective Equipment

All details considered in preparing for fall

Jody Jeffries stands near a vending machine that sells face coverings.Jody Jeffries, manager of Student Union Operations and Student Auxiliary Services, stands near a new vending machine that sells personal protective equipment including masks and hand sanitizer at Royall Hall.

Under our new normal with COVID-19, no detail is too small to be considered when it comes to preparing for the safety of all on campus. Even the vending machines.

This fall, there are two vending machines dedicated to personal protective equipment, commonly known as PPE. One will be at Royall Hall, near Einstein Brothers, on the Volker Campus. The other will be inside the Health Sciences Building on the Health Sciences Campus.

“We are very fortunate to have a partnership with a local vending company that was fully prepared to address the personal safety and welfare of our students and the campus community during these unprecedented times,” said Jody Jeffries, manager of Student Union Operations and Student Auxiliary Services.

The vending machines will offer:

  • Ear-loop masks
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfecting, antimicrobial wipes
  • Disposable non-latex gloves
  • Kits with a mix of items

Most items cost between $1 and $4 to keep them more affordable than what you’d buy in most stores, Jeffries said.

Regular vending machines that sell snack items on both campuses also will be stocked with some PPE items.

Commencement Celebration and Ceremony Reimagined

A look into visualizing a virtual event to honor this year’s graduates

Graduation is a joyous affair. After years of work and investment, students and their families have the opportunity to celebrate the graduate’s new beginning. While this year’s virtual commencement event will be different, the achievement and excitement will be the same.

“Once we realized the significance of the pandemic and the likelihood of its duration, our students’ graduation experience became a priority,” said Curt Crespino, vice chancellor of external relations and constituent engagement. “It was a difficult decision, but in the interest of everyone’s health, the chancellor and the provost made the final decision that virtual graduation this spring was the best approach. Also, graduates will have the opportunity to walk in December.”

As leadership formed a committee to determine what virtual graduation would look like, they engaged student leadership in the planning process.

“We wanted students’ perspective on what would make the ceremony meaningful,” Crespino says.

Emma Weiler, who will be graduating with her Bachelor of Science in nursing, served on the planning committee for graduation. Weiler is the Student Government Association speaker of the senate, and was familiar and comfortable representing students on administrative committees.

“My biggest concern with the virtual graduation process was allowing family and friends of graduates to be able to view and feel a part of the ceremony,” Weiler says. “I really felt for first-generation college graduates, although I am not one, for not being able to celebrate their accomplishment in person with their families.”

“We made it a priority to find a balance between a traditional ceremony and a celebration.” – Jenny Lundgren

The committee sent out a survey to students to identify what was important to them. They used that feedback to plan the event.

“We realized that some people may only want an in-person ceremony, but there are others who need the opportunity for closure and to see their classmates, even virtually,” Crespino says.

Once the committee had responses from students, they could envision an engaging plan. One thing seemed certain: Honoring the original date and times of the ceremonies was important, as well as recognizing the students’ affinity to the schools with which they are affiliated.

“Our students tend to be strongly aligned with their academic units, so we knew there would need to be a strong unit flavor to the event,” said Jenny Lundgren, provost and executive vice chancellor.  “We made it a priority to find a balance between a traditional ceremony and a celebration.”

Weiler felt the administration was responsive to student feedback.

“I think it is very important to allow those who graduate in May the opportunity to walk in December if they want too, and they were very responsive to that,” she said.

“The virtual commencement will still be a great way for me and my family to celebrate my accomplishments.”– Emma Weiler, senior

In addition, the committee felt it was critical to touch each student personally. The team developed celebratory packets that will include honors cords and a traditional Roo lapel pin along with a few other surprises.

“We understand this is a very significant moment for our graduates and their families,” Lundgren says. “We’ve also created a commencement book that will be a commemoration of the unique experience of the class of 2020. We wanted it to reflect that.”

While Weiler is disappointed about waiting until December to walk, she is determined to make the best of the situation.

“The virtual commencement will still be a great way for me and my family to celebrate my accomplishments,” she says. “I think it is great that the university is doing what they can to make this a special experience for students. You are never going to make everyone happy, but they are really trying hard to make this special for all the graduating seniors.”

Criminal Justice Professor Uses Sticky Notes to Humanize Crime Statistics

Seven questions with Ken Novak

Ken Novak photographed standing by door covered in multi-color sticky notes

In January 2019, criminology and criminal justice professor Ken Novak noticed an unusual pattern of homicide cases in Kansas City and casually decided to track them using color-coded sticky notes and posting them on his office door. He intended to spark a conversation.

On each note he recorded the date, victim name, victim demographic and the location. Orange for gun violence, blue for other, yellow for unknown and purple for officer-involved. He wanted students and colleagues to stop and ask questions, to take in what was happening and be led to help find a solution. He detailed his findings on Twitter at the start of 2020.

photo of colored sticky notes with homicide victim names and addresses

What stuck out to you the most about the homicide rate last year?

The thing that stuck out to me in general was the number of gun-related homicides – it’s clear that guns are involved in nine out of every 10 homicides.

“I hope this humanizes crime statistics. Behind every homicide is a victim and grieving families experiencing unimaginable trauma.”

151 homicides in one year? That’s a lot. Is that the highest it’s ever been?

There were several years in the 1990s when the raw number of homicides was higher. In fact, there were more homicides in 2017 than in 2019. But I believe it’s better to examine the population-adjusted homicide rates and compare Kansas City’s rates to national trends.

In the 1990s, the national homicide rate was almost twice as high as it is today. Since then, the national rate trended downward, where Kansas City’s homicide rate is stable. In 2019, Kansas City’s homicide rate was roughly six times higher than the national rate, and this disparity between Kansas City and the U.S. is the highest it has ever been.

What can we attribute to the heightened rate of gun violence in our city?

Several different factors contribute to the heightened rate of gun violence in Kansas City.

First: Research demonstrates that cities and counties in states with lenient gun laws have more gun homicides, even after considering other factors.

Second: There is a culture of gun violence in Kansas City, as well as in other urban areas in Missouri, perhaps due to the availability of guns. Using guns to settle disputes and arguments is normative in Kansas City, so we run the risk of viewing this violence as normal because it is what we have become accustomed to expect. Additionally, many homicides are a result of retaliatory violence. “Settling the score” with guns rather than the criminal justice system has become normalized behavior.

Third: Many affected by gun violence do not view the criminal justice system as effective, fair, impartial or transparent. Only about half of homicides are cleared by the police, and only about 20% of non-fatal shootings result in an arrest. When witnesses and victims don’t see people being held accountable for their actions, they are less likely to cooperate with detectives and prosecutors. Add in the fact that witnesses and victims may also fear retaliation if they cooperate, their motivation to collaborate with the police goes down even further. It’s a vicious cycle.

“There is no single solution to this problem, and there is no single strategy we can implement…”

Your goal when you started posting these notes on your door was to start a conversation and you’ve done just that, especially with the recent wave of media coverage after your Twitter thread. What do you hope the community will take away from your findings?

I hope this humanizes crime statistics. Behind every homicide is a victim and grieving families experiencing unimaginable trauma. It’s easy to lose sight of this fact. I also wanted to draw attention to how homicide victimization clusters by demographics. Young black males experience a disproportionate amount of victimization – about 95 times higher than the general U.S. population. The burden and trauma of homicide is not shared equally across everyone in KC.

You were previously on the board for KC NOVA (the Kansas City No Violence Alliance). What community initiatives are you currently involved in to help solve criminal justice issues in Kansas City?

I am currently working with the Kansas City Police Department on a hot-spot policing initiative in the most violent areas in eastern Kansas City — where many of these shooting occur. I am also working with the police and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on an initiative to link shootings by examining ballistic evidence left behind at crime scenes. Both of these are sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice.

“In 2019, Kansas City’s homicide rate was roughly six times higher than the national rate, and this disparity between Kansas City and the U.S. is the highest it has ever been.”

Interesting! We’re looking forward to hearing more about those initiatives as they progress. What about those of us in the community? What can we do to help solve the gun violence issue?

There is no single solution to this problem, and there is no single strategy we can implement. Kansas City needs a violence-reduction portfolio of strategies. We have learned some crime prevention strategies work better than others do and, over time, science has developed evidence-based solutions to reduce crime. Citizens should demand evidence-strategies be given priority within this portfolio.

You mentioned that you started this as a casual effort. Are you planning to do it all again this year?

I don’t think I’m going to do this in 2020. I never intended this to be an annual exercise.

UMKC Offers Test-Optional Admissions

Standardized test scores no longer required in applications

student is lifted onto the shoulders of congratulating friends and family after graduation

Responding to strong evidence that high school grades are a more reliable predictor of college performance than standardized test scores, UMKC is joining the growing movement to make such test scores an optional component of the admissions process.

With this move, the university is providing more opportunities for qualified people to pursue a college degree.

Under the test-optional admissions process, if applicants have performed well in high school, they do not need to take a standardized test, such as the ACT or SAT, to be considered for admission. If an applicant does decide to take such a test, reporting the scores to UMKC is optional.

“This is a better way. Now it’s the UMKC way.”— Alice Arrendondo, director of admissions

Alice Arredondo at the podium at the test-optional event

“We made this decision as part of our ongoing commitment to create opportunity. It is in the best interest of the people who live in our community, the workforce needs of our employers and the overall economic development of Greater Kansas City and the state of Missouri,” said C. Mauli Agrawal, chancellor of UMKC. “We are proud to be the first university in the UM System to adopt this approach, as we join a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities—more than 1,000 so far—who have established similar practices.”

Applicants remain free to take standardized tests and have the scores reported to UMKC. These scores also will continue to play a role in admission to certain specialized programs and some scholarship opportunities.

“This is a better way,” said Alice Arredondo, director of admissions at an announcement event. “Now it’s the UMKC way.”

A portrait of student Sadie Billings

“For UMKC to become test-optional will be a game changer for students like me. I get test anxiety … and I worried whether I’d get accepted into UMKC.”
— Sadie Billings, senior 

The move to test-optional admissions, however, is an evidence-based, educationally sound approach. There is substantial evidence that these tests are less-reliable predictors of the academic potential of traditionally underserved applicants. According to “Defining Access: How Test-Optional Works,” a 2018 study commissioned by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, applicants who chose not to submit standardized test scores with their college applications ultimately graduated at rates equivalent to—or marginally higher than—those who did submit scores.

“For UMKC to become test-optional will be a game changer for students like me,” said Sadie Billings, a communications major who will graduate in May. “I took the ACT six times – six times! — only to score the same each time, one point short at 21. I get test anxiety anyway, and I worried whether I’d get accepted into UMKC.”

Billings, who made a 4.0 in high school, eventually was accepted at UMKC with a strong recommendation to take mentoring and academic-coaching classes. Now a senior peer academic leader, she’s applying to graduate schools because she wants to work in higher education in programs that help students like her who have what it takes to succeed — no matter the test score on a standardized test.

Chancellor Agrawal at test-optional event at Student Union

“This is a change in admissions practices, not a change in the academic standards we enforce. The value of a UMKC degree, and the educational attainment it represents, are unchanged,” Agrawal said. “We are committed to providing every qualified individual an opportunity to leverage their talent and effort to contribute to our economic development and find life and career success.”

UMKC Seeks Partner to Restore Historic Epperson House

University wants to reopen century-old mansion to campus and community

exterior shot of Epperson House

The University of Missouri-Kansas City is seeking a developer to engage in a public-private partnership to restore and reopen the historic Epperson House on Volker Campus.

The Gothic Revival style mansion, designed by architect Horace LaPierre and constructed from 1919 to 1923, was originally built as a large single family home of approximately 24,000 gross square feet on five primary levels. The home originally had 54 rooms, six bathrooms, multiple elevators, a swimming pool, a billiard room, a barber shop, an organ loft and a tunnel linking the east and west basement levels.

A Request for Interest document, issued Jan. 9, seeks proposals to develop building uses and programming that support the goals of UMKC and the community and provide financial resources for the restoration and operation of the facility, plus design and construction services. Responses will be accepted through Feb. 13.

The house was acquired by UMKC (then called the University of Kansas City) in the 1940s and originally served as a dormitory for Navy pilots in World War II, then as housing for university students, then as home to a number of university schools and programs. The building has been closed since 2011.

The Request for Interest calls for proposals “to complete the historic restoration of the Epperson House exterior, interior public spaces and grounds; along with a strategic renovation and repurposing of the private spaces for compatible market-rate revenue-generating office or hospitality uses that support the urban engagement mission of UMKC, the desire of the community to see the house restored and the interests of the developer while covering the operating costs of the facility.”

Interested parties should contact Robert A. Simmons, associate vice chancellor for administration, at or 816-235-1354.

“One of our responsibilities as a public university is to be proper stewards of our legacy. Epperson House is a treasure for not just our campus, but for the Kansas City community,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “With this invitation, we are seeking a team of partners to work with us to bring that prominent and grand building back into the daily life of our campus and our community.”

Top Stories of 2019

Growth and accolades abound

Chancellor Agrawal investitureChancellor Agrawal announces signature initiatives.

The year 2019 was one of monumental growth as UMKC and its community partners expanded opportunities for students. We’re also proud of the many significant accomplishments of our Roos. These are just a few of our top stories for this year.


Agrawal celebrates investiture with new initiatives

Mauli Agrawal, Ph.D., announced his dedication to establishing a Community of Excellence through five signature initiatives: Roo Strong, a student success initiative; the UMKC Institute for Data Education, Analytics and Science (IDEAS); TalentLink, a skill development initiative; Health Equity Institute, a new initiative to ensure equal opportunity for improved health; and Building Pride, a mentorship program.


Significant gifts support capital improvements and student success

The Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation committed $21 million to support programming and capital improvements for the Henry W. Bloch School of Management and RooStrong, a new student success initiative.

The Sunderland Foundation committed $15 million for capital improvements to the Bloch School of Management, School of Dentistry, University Libraries, the School of Law and the School of Computing and Engineering.


Bloch Family promotes student success by generating $20 million in scholarship funding

About 800 students will benefit from scholarship programs established by the Marion and Henry Bloch Family Foundation, the H & R Block Foundation and matching funds from the University of Missouri system.


University bids farewell to champion and supporter Henry Bloch

Entrepreneur, philanthropist and tireless UMKC supporter Henry Bloch died in April. His legacy will live on through the people he loved and the organizations to which he was committed.


Former First Lady Laura Bush visits campus

First Lady Laura Bush and First Daughter Barbara Pierce Bush were in conversation about their experiences in the White House and their family connection at the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame luncheon, which honors the legacy of women leaders in Kansas City.


UMKC composer named to American Academy of Arts and Letters

Chen Yi, Lorena Searcy Cravens/Millsap/Missouri Distinguished Professor of Composition, was inducted in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, an honor society of the country’s leading architects, artists, composers and writers.

School of Dentistry unveils state-of-the-art training lab

multimillion-dollar makeover provides students with fully-equipped, ergonomically-correct work stations that is among the newest and largest in the U.S.

UMKC researcher helps discover new strain of HIV

Carole McArthur, M.D. ‘91, Ph.D., of the School of Dentistry, made news around the globe as part of a team of scientists who discovered a new subtype of HIV, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

UMKC business students represent the U.S. in global competition

Three Bloch School of Management students represented the U.S. in the Unilever Future Leaders’ League, a global business-case competition in London. Students from 26 countries participated.


Elevating Athletics

Kansas City Athletics had a banner year under the leadership of Athletics Director Brandon Martin, Ph.D.  The Roos returned to the Summit League, launched a new fighting Roo logo and a bold basketball court redesign.

Dental student delivers patient’s baby at clinic

A fourth-year student in the School of Dentistry started her first day of her new externship eager to treat as many patients as she could. Aliah Haghighat was prepping the tooth of her second patient when the woman’s water broke.


The 3 most important things you need to know about our new data sciences institute — plus its coordinator

Brent Never stands in front of a mural on Troost Avenue.Brent Never is the coordinator of UMKC IDEAS, the Institute for Data Education, Analytics and Science. Photo by Brandon Parigo, Strategic Marketing and Communications

Data scientist is the “sexiest job of the 21st century,” and now the University of Missouri-Kansas City is boosting that excitement and appeal for people in Greater Kansas City. Introducing the UMKC Institute for Data Education, Analytics and Science (IDEAS).

“Shortly after I arrived in Kansas City, I realized UMKC had enormous capabilities and opportunities in data science,” said Chancellor Mauli Agrawal, who created the institute. “There are exciting possibilities here for us, and for potential science and technology partner organizations throughout our community.”

The vision of the institute is positioning UMKC as the top option for data science training in the region, building on the university’s strengths in biomedical informatics, big data analytics, image analysis, digital humanities and geospatial analysis.

The coordinator of the new institute is Brent Never, associate professor at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management. There are no other specific faculty members attached to IDEAS. It is a space for all, with a focus on fostering connections to generate new ideas — pun intended — and move quickly on promising opportunities.

Never is a public-policy expert who uses city data to analyze abandoned housing, and was interviewed about his work by Lester Holt on NBC Nightly News.

“Scholars looking at real estate are often looking at how to finance new development, but I think about how we can empower communities to tackle distressed housing and vacant lots,” said Never, who last year with research partner and Bloch colleague, Jim DeLisle, won the national Alteryx Excellence Award.

Focus areas for UMKC IDEAS:

1. Workforce development

The institute will have vibrant educational opportunities for UMKC students and area professionals, positioning UMKC as the premiere source for data science in the region. This will mean evening and weekend opportunities, for both technicians as well as executive education. Pilot workshops have been held with more on the way. For UMKC students, it means they can earn data-science bonafides no matter their major.

“A philosophy major could apply her knowledge of ethics to the real concerns around privacy. A music composition student could use patterning in music to understanding trends in data,” Never said. “All students enrich our learning.”

2. Accelerating research

UMKC features strong research areas across the board. Examples include the Center for Health Insights at the School of Medicine, the Center for Big Learning at the School of Computing and Engineering and the Center for Economic Information at the College of Arts and Sciences.

“The goal is to foster more collaboration and get more faculty in the mix,” Never said. This will help spur more grant and contract development. “Data science is inherently complex and needs a full range of participation from all disciplines.”

3. Industry partnerships

IDEAS will be professional problem solvers for regional businesses for companies such as H & R Block, Cerner and engineering firms. “We’re partnering with industry and government to help provide new insight, something they might not be able to do in house.”

For more information, contact Never at

Research Study Can Help People Get Healthier

Enhanced Lifestyles for Metabolic Syndrome trial will test group vs. self-directed approaches

Man and woman who present as black standing in the kitchen

Many who set goals for the new year place top priority on becoming healthier. Now a national study can help take the guesswork and expense out of accomplishing a more active lifestyle. University of Missouri-Kansas City is one of five research sites in the U.S. for this study, which focuses on helping those at risk for metabolic syndrome.

UMKC is looking for participants.

Metabolic syndrome is a bundle of risk factors caused by common lifestyle choices that can lead to serious conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart disease and cancer. Currently, one-third of Americans have metabolic syndrome, up from one-fourth a decade ago.

Over the next two years, with funding from the William G. McGowan Charitable Fund, the Enhanced Lifestyles for Metabolic Syndrome (ELM) Trial, developed at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, aims to enroll 600 people who are at high-risk chronic disease and are interested in managing this risk by optimizing their lifestyle. In addition to UMKC at Truman Medical Centers in Kansas City, the other sites are Rush in Chicago; University of Colorado Denver; Geisinger Health System in Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, Pennsylvania; and Rochester Institute of Technology in New York.

The Kansas City study site is overseen by a prestigious UMKC School of Medicine team of principal investigators: endocrinologist Betty Drees, M.D., dean emeritus of the school and Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., director of the Health Equity Institute; and Matthew Lindquist, D.O.

“Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition because it is so common, and it can silently increase risk of heart disease and stroke without early warning symptoms,” Drees said. “Research into how to stop it early and keep it controlled is very important in preventing heart disease in individuals and in the population as a whole.”

Starting in January, participants will engage in the program for six months, and then will be followed for an additional 18 months, to allow for an assessment of how well they have been able to sustain the good habits they developed and the health benefits they received.

“We know that making these small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on people who have health issues that indicate they may have metabolic syndrome. Plus, everyone who participates will receive a free Fitbit. Other lifestyle-change programs can cost upwards of $500, but ELM will be free to our participants, which is awesome.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

photo of vegetables and free weights

The ELM program provides tools, methods and support for healthier eating, increased physical activity and stress management. Guidelines include making vegetables half of every lunch and dinner, exercising for at least 30 minutes on most days, and learning to be less reactive to stressors.

The Rush team has been studying a group-based version of ELM for nearly a decade. The group approach, which has been shown to be effective, requires participants to attend meetings. While those can be helpful, they’re time-consuming and may be inconvenient; from a public-health standpoint, groups are expensive and labor-intensive. So researchers want to know: Can we simplify this treatment? Can participants get the same or better health results under their own direction, with only minimal contact with the program?

“Metabolic syndrome is a serious condition because it is so common, and it can silently increase risk of heart disease and stroke without early warning symptoms. Research into how to stop it early and keep it controlled is very important in preventing heart disease in individuals and in the population as a whole.” – Betty Drees

For this study, a “self-directed” program will be compared to a group-based program, with the best lifestyle information available in clinical practice today provided in both..

Everyone in the self-directed arm will be assigned to a coordinator, and will receive a Fitbit activity tracker, access to the program’s website and monthly tip sheets for six months.

In the group-based program, participants will get most of those things, too. But instead of the tip sheet, group members will meet for an hour and a half weekly for three months, biweekly for an additional three months, and monthly for 18 months after that. They will also have access to the ELM website. They will learn, for example, to distinguish when they are eating because they are hungry from when they turn to food because it is available or they are bored or sad.

Participants in both arms of the program will report for three follow-up visits so their progress can be assessed. They will receive lab results and physical measures after each visit.

“We are hoping we can learn how self-guided and group support programs can help people eat healthier and move more,” Berkley-Patton said. “We know that making these small lifestyle changes can have a big impact on people who have health issues that indicate they may have metabolic syndrome. Plus, everyone who participates will receive a free Fitbit. Other lifestyle-change programs can cost upwards of $500, but ELM will be free to our participants, which is awesome.”

How to participate

Participants in the study must be ages 18 years or older, not have diabetes, speak English, be willing to commit to a healthy lifestyle and have at least three of metabolic syndrome’s five risk factors:

  • Central fat (waist circumference of 40 inches or more for men, 35 inches or more for women)
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar
  • Low HDL cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides

A condition of enrollment is a willingness to participate in either arm of the trial. Participants will not get to choose. To participate in the Kansas City area, email or call Alex Lyon at (816) 404-4418.

A woman in an exercise class

UMKC Researcher Helps Discover New Strain of HIV

First time a new subtype of HIV-1 has been discovered since 2000

Carole McArthur with the research team in the Democratic Republic of CongoCarole McArthur (pictured front row, far right) with the research team in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Carole McArthur, M.D., Ph.D., of the UMKC School of Dentistry, was part of a team of scientists who discovered a new strain of HIV.

The new subtype is referred to as HIV-1 Group M, subtype L—and is part of the Group M viruses that are responsible for the global pandemic, which can be traced back to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“In an increasingly connected world, we can no longer think of viruses being contained to one location,” said McArthur, one of the study authors. “This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.”

In order to determine whether an unusual virus is a new HIV subtype, three cases have to be discovered independently. The first two for this subtype was discovered in 1980s and 1990s and this third was collected in 2001 but difficult to sequence until now.

Today, technology allows researchers to build entire genomes at higher speeds and partnering scientists at Abbott had to develop new techniques in order to confirm the discovery.

“This discovery reminds us that to end the HIV pandemic, we must continue to outthink this continuously changing virus and use the latest advancements in technology and resources to monitor its evolution.” – Carole McArthur, M.D., Ph.D.

Mary Rodgers, Ph.D., one of the Abbott scientists who co-authored the study with McArthur, said identifying viruses like this one are like searching for a needle in a haystack; however, with new technologies it feels as though they are now “pulling the needle out with a magnet.”

“This scientific discovery can help us ensure we are stopping new pandemics in their tracks,” she said.

Abbott’s Global Viral Surveillance Program monitors HIV and hepatitis viruses, specifically, to ensure the company’s diagnostic tests remain up to date. And now that this new strain has been identified, they are able to detect it.

You can read the full release here.

The study was published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (JAIDS).