NCCU Research Center Receives $5.7 million NIH Grant for Health Disparities Projects

North Carolina Central University’s Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute (BBRI) has received a National Institute of Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD) Exploratory Center of Excellence grant for $5.7 million. Originally funded in 2002 as Project EXPORT, this is a five-year competitive renewal of the longest-funded National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant at BBRI.

Research involving health disparities — the gaps between the health status of racial and ethnic minorities compared with the population as a whole — is explicitly part of BBRI’s mission, and the projects funded by the NIH grant all focus on cardio-metabolic diseases that disproportionately affect African-Americans.
The projects will be administered by the newly named Center for Translational Health Equality Research (CTHER), led by K. Sean Kimbro, Ph.D., director of BBRI, and Mildred A. Pointer, Ph.D., FAHA, associate professor. CTHER consists of four key projects:

Adiponectin in Cardio-metabolic Health Disparities: Sujoy Ghosh, Ph.D., senior scientist, will lead an investigation of the role of adiponectin, a substance that helps the body regulate insulin, in health disparities. Low levels of adiponectin are associated with diabetes and obesity.

Calcium in Metabolic Syndrome: Emmanuel Awumey, Ph.D., assistant professor and research scientist, and Mildred Pointer, Ph.D., FAHA, both in the Cardio-Metabolic Research Program at BBRI, will lead an investigation of the role of calcium in diabetes, hypertension and obesity. This project will combine laboratory and community approaches, conducted by the Community Engagement group, to gain a better understanding of the role of calcium in these diseases.

Training and Education: Saundra Delauder, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, will direct a project to support minority students in health disparities research. The aims are to recruit and increase the number of future health disparities researchers from the fields of biomedical sciences, nursing, psychology, and public health education.

Community Engagement: Natasha Greene Leathers, Ph.D., RN, FNP, BC, assistant professor of nursing, will oversee community-based culturally sensitive interventions aimed at helping African-American communities in Halifax County, N.C., and surrounding counties to adopt healthy behaviors. This project will develop a partnership between a rural population and academic researchers to evaluate and refine a family-focused intervention for African-Americans with Type 2 Diabetes.

“For the renewal of this grant, we targeted diseases that profoundly impact minority communities,” BBRI director Kimbro said. “With an investment of approximately $5 million over five years, the National Institutes of Health and the scientific community have given a strong statement of support and confidence in our research.”

Pointer emphasized the translational aspect of the projects — finding ways to use the research to directly improve health outcomes. “We really wanted to combine expertise from the various disciplines to make sure that our research conclusions can be directly applied in North Carolina communities,” she said. “This ‘bench-to-curbside’ philosophy is at the heart of CTHER.”

CTHER will partner with organizations and communities to conduct these four projects, working toward an ultimate goal of eliminating cardio-metabolic health disparities. BBRI is part of NCCU’s Division of Research and Economic Development.