Blue KC & BioNexus KC Reveal Health Equity Research Grants Recipients

Blue KC & BioNexus KC Reveal Health Equity Research Grants Recipients

For Immediate Release: April 16, 2024 

KANSAS CITY, MO – Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC), in collaboration with BioNexus KC, is proud to announce the recipients of the 2024 Blue KC Transforming KC: Health Outcomes Research Grants.  

This grant program underscores the ongoing commitment of both organizations to advancing health equity in the Kansas City community. Blue KC will allocate funding for two $50,000 awards, each targeting specific areas of health equity, aligning with its mission to provide affordable access to healthcare. 

“Blue KC recognizes the urgent need to address health disparities in our community and is committed to advancing initiatives that drive meaningful change,” said Erin Stucky, President and CEO of Blue KC. “Everyone has the right to optimal health and well-being, and we are proud to support the grant recipients whose efforts will lead to more equitable health opportunities and positive outcomes for individuals and families in the communities we serve and beyond.” 

The first award focuses on addressing disparities in maternal and child health, an area where inequities persist despite advancements in healthcare. This award aims to support interventions that break down barriers to quality care and outcomes, particularly emphasizing marginalized communities. 

The second award takes a broader approach, seeking proposals that address health disparities across various demographics and conditions. This award encourages research initiatives that explore and implement solutions to enhance health equity and outcomes for underserved populations. 

Since 2012, Blue KC and BioNexus KC have fostered community collaboration and partnerships to advance health and wellness in Kansas City. Together, they have awarded more than $1 million in grants to research projects dedicated to improving the health and wellness of the Kansas City community. 

“These awards will leverage investigator and facility strengths, leading to highly competitive proposals for future external funding and scalable innovation,” stated Dennis Ridenour, President and CEO of BioNexus KC. “We aim to empower innovation within our research community by fostering collaboration and cultivating inventive solutions.” 

Below is a brief introduction of both recipients and their research projects: 

Maternal and Child Health Outcomes Project Tailors Vaping Initiative for Marginalized Youth 

The dramatic increase in vaping among youth in the past decade is concerning. It’s not just about addiction; it also affects mental health. These issues disproportionately impact minority communities and lack equal access to get help to quit vaping. While personalized treatment is more effective in helping adults quit nicotine use, it remains unknown how genetics and nicotine metabolism affect quitting success in young people. 

Abbey Masonbrink, MD, MPH, FAAP, a Pediatric Hospitalist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and Stephani L. Stancil, PhD, APRN, an Adolescent Medicine Clinician Scientist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City and Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City are working on a tailored vaping cessation program for marginalized youth. By considering genetic risk, nicotine metabolism, and vaping behaviors, the pair aims to improve cessation outcomes by incorporating this novel information into their vaping cessation intervention and tailoring it to marginalized youth.  

“This grant allows us to leverage our backgrounds in behavioral research and precision therapeutics to develop an inclusive intervention on the forefront of vaping cessation treatment for youth,” Stencil said. The team’s goal is to empower healthcare providers with effective tools to support vaping cessation in marginalized youth and enhance long-term health outcomes. 

“We are extremely excited to collaborate on this important work, as vaping among marginalized youth remains of great concern and proven youth-informed treatment is lacking,” Masonbrink said. “Through this study, we will better understand the genetic risk for nicotine addiction in marginalized youth, which can inform personalized treatment to ultimately improve health outcomes in this population.”  

Comprehensive Health Inequities Project Addresses Food Insecurity During Pregnancy 

Food security and dietary quality during pregnancy significantly influence maternal and infant health outcomes. Highlighting these concerns, the 2023 Maternal Mortality in Missouri report underscored stark racial disparities, with Black women facing triple the pregnancy-related maternal mortality rate compared to white women. 

In partnership with Nurture KC and University Health, Kelsey Gardiner, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and her team will assess the implementation of a 6-month FoodFARMacy intervention for food-insecure pregnant women in Kansas City. With an emphasis on positive changes in food security, diet quality, and biometric measures, this research project includes fresh produce delivery and nutrition coaching by community health workers. 

“This award will help our team build the partnerships and support needed to address food as an underlying health factor,” Gardiner said. “This a huge gap in health outcomes from moms whose basic needs aren’t being met that shouldn’t exist. We hope to use food, nutrition, and important community collaborations to lessen this gap and improve maternal outcomes for minority women in KC.” 


About BioNexus KC:

The KC region is a global leader at the nexus of human and animal health, inspiring thinkers from diverse disciplines to combine their efforts for a common purpose — healthcare innovation. For over 20 years, BioNexus KC has been advancing the region’s strengths in digital health, cancer research, health equity, informatics, and rare disease. 

BioNexus KC stimulates collaboration, accelerates emerging technology from concept to reality, and creates opportunities at the nexus of: 

  • Human and Animal Health 
  • Urban and Rural Health 
  • Healthcare and Information Technology 
  • Academia and Industry 
  • Kansas and Missouri 

About Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City:
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City, the largest not-for-profit health insurer in Missouri and the only not-for-profit commercial health insurer in Kansas City, has been part of the Kansas City community since 1938. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City provide health coverage services to more than one million residents in the greater Kansas City area, including Johnson and Wyandotte counties in Kansas and 30 counties in Northwest Missouri. Its mission is to provide affordable access to healthcare and improve its members’ health. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more information, visit 

Media Inquiries: 

Jennifer Lindholm
BioNexus KC – Director of Communications and Marketing