Nursing Research Leader Sheds Light on How Neighborhoods Influence Health
Monday, April 4, 2022
When you think about public health, city planning might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Yet where we live — the quality of the buildings, the availability of places to walk and play safely, and the types of schools and stores in the neighborhood — can profoundly affect our health. This relationship has been emphasized by the COVID-19 pandemic, as close, stuffy living conditions, the need to take public transportation to essential jobs, and inequities in access to testing and vaccination sites all contributed to the larger reduction in life expectancy for Black and Latino Americans compared to Caucasians over the last two years.
Shannon N. Zenk, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.N., F.A.A.N., Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2021 for her research into how neighborhood characteristics affect the health of residents and contribute to the health disparities seen between communities with different racial and ethnic makeups and different levels of income.
IRP’s Ph.D. and Medical Students Present Research at Virtual Event
Thursday, March 10, 2022
The IRP isn’t concerned only with discovering the secrets of how our bodies work and developing new therapies to treat disease. Senior scientists and many other employees at NIH also are actively involved in training the next generation of researchers. One place where the benefits of those efforts is strikingly clear is at NIH’s annual Graduate Student Research Symposium, where graduate students performing research in NIH labs show of the fruits of their partnerships with IRP researchers.
On February 16 and 17, more than 100 of the IRP’s graduate students presented their work virtually at the 18th edition of the event. These young scientists discussed the results of studies on a huge range of topics, from how hunger changes during pregnancy to how viruses cause cancer. Read on to learn about a small sampling of the projects they’ve been hard at work on.
Dr. Shameka Poetry Thomas Documents Black Women’s Experiences With Race and Racism
Thursday, February 3, 2022
The numbers are clear: Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women in the United States. However, the reasons why are less clear. By listening to patient’s stories, IRP postdoctoral fellow Shameka Thomas, Ph.D. hopes to pinpoint potential explanations for this racial health disparity.
“We are losing mothers and children because we are simply not listening,” Dr. Thomas says.
Trained as a medical sociologist at the University of Miami, Dr. Thomas has devoted her career to documenting the lived experiences of patients of color, particularly women, who are perceived as Black. Dr. Thomas contextualizes patient’s narratives within a framework of ‘street race,’ which refers to how a person’s racial identity is perceived by others, regardless of their self-reported racial identity. Examining the influence of street race on women’s healthcare experiences, she explains, allows researchers to determine how health disparities are influenced by “how others see you.”
Drs. Leslie Baier and Robert Hanson Identify Genetic Risk Factors in American Indians
Monday, November 29, 2021
November is both Diabetes Awareness Month and Native American Heritage Month. Unfortunately, the month of November is not the only link between Indigenous populations and diabetes. Members of minority groups have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and its many complications compared to the general population, and this is especially true of some American Indian tribes, whose members are twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes as white Americans.
At the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch in Arizona, part of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), IRP senior investigators Leslie J. Baier, Ph.D., and Robert Hanson, M.D., M.P.H., are working to understand why American Indians living in the southwestern U.S. are disproportionately affected by type 2 diabetes and obesity. Using family histories, medical records, and other data collected during a decades-long study of these communities, combined with extensive analysis of some of their participants’ DNA, their team has identified several genes that contribute to risk for those two conditions, along with some surprising findings about their prevalence.
Dr. Kelvin Choi Studies Commercial Tobacco Use in Underserved Communities
Monday, November 15, 2021
Each year, millions of smokers in the U.S. attempt to kick the habit. Many begin their journey towards a healthier life with the annual Great American Smokeout, which falls on the third Thursday of November — November 18 this year — and marks a day when all Americans who use commercial tobacco products like cigarettes are encouraged to stop.
While smoking rates in the U.S. have dropped from a hefty 42 percent of the population in 1965 to 14 percent in 2019, it remains the main cause of preventable death globally. In the U.S., 34 million adults still smoke cigarettes, and young people are being lured in by flavored e-cigarettes, which also pose health risks and can lead to smoking cigarettes. These tobacco-related behaviors are also unevenly distributed across the population, meaning some populations suffer the consequences of smoking disproportionately compared with others. IRP senior investigator Kelvin Choi, Ph.D., is working to understand why some groups are more likely to smoke, the effects of continued smoking, and the reciprocal interplay between those factors and health.
Pair Leads Public Health Efforts Focused on Underserved Communities
Monday, November 8, 2021
In the spring of 2020, as the U.S. government implemented public health measures to address the COVID-19 pandemic, it quickly became clear that people in Black, Latino, and American Indian communities were significantly more likely to be hospitalized or die from the new disease than White, non-Hispanic Americans. While the work many scientists did to understand the virus and devise vaccines, diagnostic tests, and treatments made the news regularly, efforts to study and address racial disparities in COVID-19’s impacts were equally important.
When called to lead efforts to shrink those gaps, Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., and Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D., rose to the challenge. The two IRP investigators, who respectively lead the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), helped direct two federal programs dedicated to providing underserved communities with information about, and access to, COVID-19 testing, clinical trials, and vaccines. In recognition of their life-saving work, Drs. Gibbons and Pérez-Stable have been awarded the COVID-19 Response Medal, a special honor bestowed this year as part of the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. Also known as the “Sammies,” these annual awards recognize and celebrate exceptional work by government employees
Marie A. Bernard Leads NIH Efforts to Recruit “Great Minds That Think Differently”
Monday, September 20, 2021
The summer of 2020 will likely be remembered as a turning point in America. The murder of George Floyd and the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color brought the simmering scourge of racism and race-related disparities to the center of public debate and convinced many Americans that something needs to be done.
The biomedical research enterprise has long dealt with its own inequities as well, including outright discrimination against people from certain groups. As a result, a top priority of the National Institutes of Health is to bring greater equity to the scientific and medical workforce and the patients and communities it serves. In her new role as NIH’s Chief Officer for Scientific Workforce Diversity (COSWD), Marie A. Bernard, M.D., has big plans to push the needle further towards reaching that goal.
Pioneering Genetic Epidemiologist Takes a Global Approach to Fighting Health Disparities
Wednesday, June 16, 2021
IRP distinguished investigator Charles Rotimi, Ph.D., was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences this year in recognition of his pioneering work exploring the health implications of genetic diversity in populations with African ancestry, as well as for globalizing the study of genomics, particularly in African nations. Dr. Rotimi joined NIH in 2008 as the founding director of the Intramural Center for Genomics and Health Disparities in the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which was later renamed the Center for Research on Genomics and Global Health, in part to reflect Dr. Rotimi’s globe-spanning research programs.
Artificial Intelligence Simplifies Cervical Cancer Screening
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
Even though cervical cancer is considered one of the most preventable forms of cancer, it remains a serious and deadly scourge for many across the world. A computer algorithm designed to quickly and easily identify pre-cancerous changes using a regular smartphone may change that.
“The point of everything that we do and have done in the last 40 years is to understand something deeply so that we can invent simple tools to use,” says IRP senior investigator, Mark Schiffman, M.D., M.P.H. To that end, he and collaborators in the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Library of Medicine (NLM), in collaboration with the Global Health Labs and Unitaid, developed and are now testing a machine learning-based approach to screening for cervical cancer, with promising results.
Program Gives Boost to Early Stage Investigators
Monday, December 14, 2020
If TV shows like The Voice and America’s Got Talent are any indication, there are many extremely talented people out there who could become huge successes if presented with the right opportunity. This is no less the case in science, with thousands of extremely bright individuals quietly toiling away in their mentors’ labs as they await the chance to establish research programs of their own.
Fortunately, initiatives like the NIH’s Lasker Clinical Research Scholars Program exist to boost promising young researchers on to the next stage of their careers. Every year, the Lasker program allows a small group of early stage physician-scientists to establish their own labs at the NIH and carry out independent clinical research there for at least five years.
The five talented investigators selected as 2020 Lasker Scholars are pursuing a wide range of research questions, from how the immune system influences blood clotting to the mechanisms driving a rare and devastating skeletal disorder. Read on to learn more about the latest crop of researchers ramping up IRP labs of their very own.