Research Funded by $11.8M Award Targets Underserved Communities for Community Health

UH is adding another member to its impressive roster of National Research Centers.

The HEALTH Center for Addictions Research and Cancer Prevention, which is focused on removing health disparities in Houston’s underserved communities, is launching with an $11.8 million grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities. The research center is the first of its kind in Houston.

“This is an infrastructural game-changer we will leverage to address the public health crises that health disparities inflict on our most vulnerable communities,” said Ezemenari Obasi, associate dean of research in the College of Education and professor in the Department of Psychological, Health and Learning Sciences, who also helms the HEALTH (Helping Everyone Achieve a Lifetime of Health) Research Institute, in which the new center will be housed.

“This award is the start of a new era of addressing chronic health disparities in minority communities,” said Amr Elnashai, vice president for research and technology transfer.

Metropolitan Houston, the fourth most populous city in the U.S., is also one of the most diverse. According to Obasi’s research, members of the Black and Latinx communities, disproportionally plagued by lack

of access to health insurance and health care facilities, also lead in morbidity and mortality rates associated with addictions, asthma, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

Social determinants of health – race, poverty, education, substandard housing and lack of access to healthy food, transportation and a safe place to exercise – account for up to 80% of preventable illness and death nationwide.

The Center is already refining and testing a new app to help African Americans quit smoking, a major predictor of subsequent cancer downstream.

“It targets sensitivity to bodily sensations among African American smokers and bridges the gap in access to care,” said Michael Zvolensky, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Distinguished University Professor of Psychology, who leads behavioral science research at the center.

“It’s rare for research findings to translate into affecting people’s lives in a tangible way,” said Obasi. “This grant allows us to accelerate going from bench science to translational research to disseminating and implementing it in real time in the community.”