With 37 federally recognized tribes, Oklahoma has the largest American Indian population in the U.S. Rheumatic diseases are an important public health concern for American Indian populations because these diseases are highly prevalent and are often more aggressive in American Indian populations.
We have partnered with the Cherokee and Chickasaw Nations to better understand and treat these diseases in American Indians. Through these partnerships, the Center for Native American Health was established in 2012. The Center for Native American Health is focused on three goals:
- Improving clinical care for rheumatic disease patients at tribal-based clinics. We have established rheumatic disease clinics at the Three Rivers Cherokee Clinic and the Carl Albert Chickasaw Indian Health Facility. Two hundred patients per month have received care at these clinics. We have also educated providers within the Indian Health Service to provide outstanding clinical care for rheumatic disease patients.
- Making discoveries to improve rheumatic disease diagnosis and prognosis in American Indian populations. Our collaborative studies with the Cherokee Nation, Chickasaw Nation and OMRF were among the first to describe the unique serological and clinical features of rheumatic diseases in American Indians in Oklahoma and surrounding communities. We are now defining these differences in greater detail, with a focus on antigenic specificities and soluble mediators of inflammation. These data are being incorporated into diagnostic and prognostic algorithms that may facilitate earlier diagnosis and treatment in American Indian patients.
- Supporting the careers of tribal members focused on rheumatic disease treatment and research. We have trained and mentored multiple tribal citizens in clinical and research careers. Our Center has mentored four tribal citizens as undergraduate students, through medical school and to their medical residencies, as well as a fifth as a physician associate. We have also trained a tribal physician in rheumatology, leading to her new position as an IHS rheumatologist who cares for many Western tribe patients.
This center was funded by the Native American Research Centers for Health (NARCH) program of the Indian Health Service and the NIH (U26IHS0049, U26IHS0088). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health, the Indian Health Service, or the US government.