Street Talk: Spectrum, MSU fight back

Far-reaching message.
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Spectrum Health will collaborate with Michigan State University researchers on their portion of an $18.5 million grant to collect and analyze genomic data to address emerging infectious disease threats and enhance the state of Michigan’s ability to respond to them.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) announced in January that $18.5 million in federal funds had been awarded over the next two years to four state universities.

Michigan Tech University, Michigan State University, University of Michigan and Wayne State University were awarded the funding to increase sequencing capacity in the state starting with SARS-CoV-2 and then other infectious disease threats with the potential for broad community spread.

Funding for the Michigan Sequencing Academic Partnership for Public Health Innovation and Response (MI-SAPPHIRE) is through a CDC Epidemiology and Laboratory Capacity grant MDHHS received. 

“Spectrum Health is proud to partner with Michigan State University in this statewide initiative to address not only the current challenge of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but other emerging public health threats as well,” said Adam J. Caulfield, Ph.D., director of microbiology, Spectrum Health Regional Laboratory. “Participating in the MI-SAPPHIRE program to further characterize future variants of the virus and map its transmission is an important contribution to further protect the health of the communities we serve across the state.”

MI-SAPPHIRE activities will include sequence generation and analysis, such as sample collection and sequencing; data processing, storage and sharing; and data interpretation and analytics.

Spectrum Health laboratories have performed more than 1.2 million COVID-19 tests since the start of the pandemic. This testing represents patients from 82 of the 83 counties and 859 of 979 ZIP codes in Michigan. Additionally, access to COVID-19 testing through Spectrum Health’s urgent care centers extends impact to 1,461 ZIP codes outside of Michigan and 39 outside of the United States.

Bioinformatics is a core component of the grant, which has Spectrum Health working with MSU. Part of this investment will bring Spectrum Health West Michigan’s array of sequencing tools to bear in the fight against COVID-19.

“This project is essential as we focus on developing new computational tools for this pandemic and future viruses,” said Jeremy Prokop, Ph.D., assistant professor in the MSU College of Human Medicine, who is leading the bioinformatics initiative. “Through this collaboration with Spectrum Health, we will launch new tools that could one day be used by others to quickly take the sequence of a viral genome and not only correlate it to known strains of the virus, like omicron, but also detect new variants that could have major public health impact.”

Divine intervention

What’s being billed as the largest ever national Christian ad campaign has its roots in West Michigan.

“He Gets Us,” an ad campaign that presents an unexpected and fresh take on Jesus’ life and experiences, launched nationally on March 14 and is believed to be the largest of its kind ever coordinated across TV, digital, radio, outdoor and experiential platforms, according to Bill McKendry, founder and chief creative officer of Grand Haven-based marketing and branding firm HAVEN | a creative hub.

The exhaustively researched, carefully crafted and market-tested campaign was made under the direction of HAVEN.

After completing a 10-market, multimillion-dollar test over the last few months, which included placement amid top primetime shows and NFL games, the test effort far exceeded expectations, he said.

The first round of ads garnered 32 million views on YouTube in 10 weeks and nearly half a million people visited HeGetsUs.com, a website where people can learn and interact if they so choose.

A spot called “Anxiety,” for example, shows suffering and anxiety across various walks of life, and culminates with a message that reads, “Jesus suffered anxiety too.” Another ad, “Wrongfully Judged,” follows a group of heavily tattooed youth as they roam the streets and, unexpectedly, bring food to the homeless. The spot is designed to address the tendency to judge others. Jesus, too, was wrongly judged, the spot points out.

The nationwide effort, backed by a coalition of Christian donors, is seeking to present Jesus’ story that is not institutional, political or self-serving. It came about after three phases of nationwide research conducted last year revealed that a vast swath of the U.S. adults aren’t sure what they believe, and that many associate Christianity with judgmentalism, discrimination and hypocrisy. Many feel Christians are against them, they witness politicians weaponizing the Bible and see gaps between followers of the faith and the words and teachings of Jesus. As a result, they’re skeptical about Christianity and the church, McKendry said.

“‘He Gets Us’ is disrupting misconceptions by pointing out how Jesus identified with the marginalized, how he didn’t favor the powerful, how he often offended the religious by associating with social outcasts, how he was wholly disinterested in political power as a means of furthering his movement, and how he actively challenged systems of oppression even though he knew it would cost him his life,” said McKendry, one of the leading architects for this initiative and the convener of multiple specialty agencies working on the campaign, including research, creative, media, interactive and public relations firms.

The campaign has 17 video ads, plus a slew of radio, outdoor and digital ads.

“Maybe the most surprising aspect of this campaign is that it makes no attempt to recruit or convert anyone to a particular denomination or belief,” said Jason Vanderground, president of HAVEN the chief strategist for the effort. “This initiative is designed simply to remind Americans that, no matter what they believe, no matter what religious beliefs they hold — or don’t — Jesus’ life and experiences can serve as inspiration as they navigate their own situations.”

Funds for the campaign are governed by Servant Foundation, a 501(c)3 with a 100/100 Charity Navigator rating.

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