A photo of a woman from the chest up standing outside
Cecelia Valrie, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Psychology, received the Award for Interdisciplinary Collaboration from the NIH’s HEAL Initiative. (Contributed photo)

VCU psychology professor wins NIH award for research into pediatric pain management

Cecelia Valrie’s latest interdisciplinary work aims to help young patients with sickle cell disease.

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Virginia Commonwealth University psychology professor Cecelia Valrie, Ph.D., was recognized this month by the National Institutes of Health’s HEAL Initiative for her work to improve pain management for pediatric patients with sickle cell disease.

HEAL – Helping to End Addiction Long-term – is an NIH-wide effort to address the national opioid public health crisis, and the initiative is funding more than 1,000 projects nationwide. Valrie is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences, and she is chair of the Culture, Race and Health Transdisciplinary Core of iCubed – the VCU Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation.

At the fifth annual NIH HEAL Initiative Scientific Meeting on Feb. 8 in Maryland, Valrie received the Award for Interdisciplinary Collaboration, which recognizes HEAL-funded researchers who bridge relationships across fields of science, resulting in transdisciplinary, cutting-edge and idea-generating research. The award honors her 20 years of interdisciplinary research at the intersection of psychology, developmental science, health care and, most recently, mathematics and engineering.

“I enjoy and appreciate being able to work with great colleagues and members of the sickle cell community who bring new perspectives to my work every day,” Valrie said. “These collaborations are central to making sure my work has an impact.”

In 2022, Valrie was awarded a two-year, $420,357 NIH HEAL grant, administered through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, for her project, “Predicting Pediatric Sickle Cell Disease Acute Pain Using Mathematical Models Based on mHealth Data.” The project aims to produce and test a mathematical modeling framework for predicting pediatric sickle cell disease pain features, with the model serving as the foundation for improving pain management.