Rebecca Pearl receives NIH High-Risk, High-Reward Research award

Dr. Rebecca Pearl

Rebecca Pearl, Ph.D., is one of 103 highly innovative scientists who have received 2022 High-Risk, High-Reward Research awards from the Common Fund at the National Institutes of Health. The prestigious awards program was created to support unconventional approaches to major challenges in biomedical and behavioral research.

Pearl, an assistant professor in the department of clinical and health psychology and a member of the social and behavioral sciences graduate program faculty at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, plans to test the effects of a novel group counseling and peer support intervention aimed at reducing self-stigma among patients with chronic health conditions.

According to the NIH Common Fund, the High-Risk, High-Reward Research program supports investigators at each career stage who propose innovative research that, due to their inherent risk, may struggle in the traditional NIH peer-review process despite their transformative potential. Investigators are encouraged to think beyond traditional bounds and to pursue trailblazing ideas in any area of research relevant to the NIH’s mission to advance knowledge and enhance health. This year’s recipients will receive a combined $285 million in support.

“The science advanced by these researchers is poised to blaze new paths of discovery in human health,” said Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., who is performing the duties of the director of NIH. “This unique cohort of scientists will transform what is known in the biological and behavioral world. We are privileged to support this innovative science.”

Pearl received the NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, which supports unusually innovative research from early career investigators who are within 10 years of their final degree or clinical residency and have not yet received an NIH R01 or equivalent grant.

Pearl’s project will address the internalization of health-related stigma, or self-stigma, among people with chronic health conditions. People with health-related self-stigma report avoidance of health care settings and disengagement from disease management behaviors, as well as impaired mental health and quality of life. The High-Risk, High-Reward Research award will allow Pearl to explore commonalities across different types of health-related stigma in order to develop and test a group-based counseling intervention that could benefit patients who have internalized stigma, regardless of their specific disease or health condition.

“One goal of developing a transdiagnostic intervention such as this is to enhance the potential for dissemination of psychosocial support for health-related stigma to patients who are treated across a range of medical specialties,” Pearl said. “This work will also emphasize the importance of taking stigma seriously and prioritizing efforts to combat stigma as part of comprehensive, patient-centered health care.”