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UNLV professor to lead national study on gunshot wounds

Updated August 4, 2020 - 1:39 pm

A UNLV School of Medicine professor is helping lead a team in a new study of firearm injuries.

The National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research announced last a $711,218 grant to the American College of Surgeons Committee on Trauma to conduct the two-year study. UNLV professor of surgery Dr. Deborah Kuhls and Dr. Avery Nathens, a professor of surgery at the University of Toronto, are the principal investigators.

They will use the funding to investigate individual and community-level risk factors for nonlethal firearm injuries in the United States. Researchers say it’s a timely topic as firearm sales have risen sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study will look at firearm injuries as a medical and public health issue, not a political one, Kuhls said Monday.

The purpose is to better understand the people who survive gunshot wounds, said Kuhls, a trauma surgeon and medical director of University Medical Center’s trauma intensive care unit. “The whole goal is to better understand predisposing factors and circumstances for shootings for those who survive.”

She said she hopes the data will inform people on the best ways to prevent firearm injuries.

Each year in the United States, there are more than 38,000 deaths and 115,000 injuries as a result of gunshot wounds, according to the gun research center.

All types of injuries

The study will look at all types of gunshot wounds — intentional and unintentional, self-inflicted or inflicted by someone else.

The first meeting to map out study details is slated for this week. Kuhls said the research team plans to involve local talent, including UNLV students, medical residents and fellows. And “by all means, I think this would be a wonderful opportunity to involve other trauma surgeons,” she added.

The study, titled “Bridging the Gaps: Individual and Community-Level Risk Factors for Non-Lethal Firearm Injuries in the United States,” will utilize infrastructure from the American College of Surgeons’ Trauma Quality Improvement Program.

In addition to referencing the data collected through the program, researchers aim to collect new data from trauma centers across the country.

Kuhls said there may be correlations to examine with regard to nonlethal firearm injuries, with factors such as intoxication, mental health issues and socioeconomic status.

The study will also examine community-level risk factors, such as whether certain ZIP codes appear to be more dangerous than others and what the socioeconomic situation is like in those areas.

‘Hope to truly fill in the gaps’

“We hope to truly fill in the gaps and to really look at the data on an individual area basis,” Kuhls said.

Kuhls has been actively involved in injury prevention efforts at a national level for years. She was previously chairwoman of the American College of Surgeons’ Subcommittee on Injury Prevention and Control, serving from 2012 until March.

The gun violence research group is awarding a total of $7.5 million in new funding for gun policy research through nine research projects, five dissertation awards and one white paper award.

“We selected these research projects based first and foremost on their scientific rigor,” the group’s Research Advisory Committee Chairman Frank Clark said in a news release. “That is the only way to generate the evidence necessary for informing policy that both protects the public and preserves the rights of responsible gun owners.”

Projects focus on topics such as “officer-involved shootings, intimate partner gun violence, and the risks and benefits of gun ownership and use,” according to the news release.

It’s the collaborative’s second major investment in gun policy research. It previously awarded $9.8 million to 17 research projects in July 2019.

Contact Julie Wootton-Greener at jgreener@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2921. Follow @julieswootton on Twitter.

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