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TODAY news for Thursday, March 9, 2006

School of Medicine news

LLU Center for Health Disparities Research established by NIH grant

Nathan Wall, PhD, Carlos Casiano, PhD, Daisy De Leon, PhD, Marino De Leon, PhD, Susanne Montgomery, PhD
LLU Center for Health Disparities Research investigators (from left) Nathan Wall, PhD, assistant professor of microbiology and pathology (pancreatic cancer), Carlos Casiano, PhD, director of research and training core (prostate cancer), Daisy De Leon, PhD, research core director (breast cancer), Marino De Leon, PhD, center director (diabetes/stroke), and Susanne Montgomery, PhD, director of community partnership and outreach core, are the driving force behind the center.
By Preston Clarke Smith

The National Center for Health Disparities and Minority Health, National Institutes of Health awarded an $8.1 million grant to Loma Linda University School of Medicine to establish a research center for health disparities.

The Loma Linda University Center for Health Disparities Research (LLUCHDR), received funding in October 2005 and got underway at the beginning of 2006.

The center will bring together researchers from different disciplines within the School of Medicine (SM) and the School of Public Health (SPH). They will focus their expertise on this important national health priority through the integration of translational biomedical research, education and training, community participation, and health related outreach activities. The center’s biomedical translational research program will use molecular and cell biology techniques to study genetic and biological factors contributing to health disparities. The LLUCHDR will be the first NIH-funded center at LLU to study the contribution of an “augmented state of cellular oxidative stress” (ASCOS) to diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and stroke that have exhibited disparities in incidence and/or mortality between different populations. 

“We have to find out what treatments work better for different ethnic groups,” said  Roger Hadley, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. He said the NIH funding will help find better treatments and congratulated the team of researchers on their successful grant proposal at a press conference held March 1 to announce the cente
Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH and H. Roger Hadley, MD
Richard H. Hart, MD, DrPH (left), chancellor, Loma Lind University, and H. Roger Hadley, MD (at podium), dean, School of Medicine, express their support for the health disparities research center.

“I’m delighted about the establishment of this center and looking forward to the further enhancement of Loma Linda University research through it,” remarked Richard Hart, MD, DrPH, chancellor of Loma Linda University.

Marino De Leon, PhD, SM associate professor and principal investigator for the grant application, is the center director. Daisy De Leon, PhD, SM associate professor, serves as the research director. She will oversee the center’s ASCOS research program, which will consist of four major research projects led by SM primary investigators Carlos Casiano, PhD, (prostate cancer), Dr. Daisy De Leon (breast cancer), Nathan Wall, PhD, (pancreatic cancer) and Dr. Marino De Leon (diabetes/ stroke).

Dr. Casiano, SM associate professor and research training and education director, will implement a program to give high school and undergraduate students an appreciation of how biomedical research may help to eliminate health disparities in their communities. Susan Gardner, PhD, La Sierra University, and Sandy Hilliker, PhD, MBA, SM, will engage the students in activities to develop their research-related skills and career-related resources. 

Susanne Montgomery, PhD, SPH professor, will be the director of community partnership and outreach. LLU faculty members participating in community health activities for Latinos and African Americans are Carlos J. Belliard, PhD, Johnny Ramirez-Johnson, EdD, David T. Dyjack, DrPH, Bertha Escobar, MD, and Zaida Cordero-MacIntyre, PhD.

“During the last decades, we have seen a positive increase in overal
Marion De Leon, PhD, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, School of Medicine, principal investigator and center director
Marion De Leon, PhD, associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, School of Medicine, principal investigator and center director, explains the focus of the health disparities research to be done with the NIH funds.
l health and a decrease in mortality in the U.S. population,” says Dr. Marino De Leon. “However, in most instances, African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders continue to exhibit alarmingly higher rates of morbidity and mortality than Caucasians. In only a few instances, do non-Caucasian groups exhibit lower morbidity or mortality rate for a particular disease. Research in health disparities will be instrumental in uncovering the factors contributing to these differences so that we can develop health care strategies to improve the health of everyone,” says Dr. Marino De Leon.

“Health disparities research will identify what factors (socioeconomic, environmental, differences in health risk factors, biological, etc.) exert a significant influence on the incidence and development of a particular disease within a population. The long term goal is to eliminate health disparities and develop better health care practices in the United States and in other countries,” adds Dr. Marino De Leon.

Loma Linda University was one of only five universities selected by the NIH for the award this year. This NIH award occurs just five months after LLU received $2.1 million to fund the competitive renewal application of the LLU-NIH Initiative for Minority Student Development for an additional four years.

“The funding of these two highly competitive initiatives is an acknowledgment by the NIH that LLU is an important player in the educational and health care needs of the Inland Empire, of California, and beyond,” adds Dr. Marino De Leon. It is anticipated that the LLUCHDR will become a major regional health disparities resource center. The NIH award is for five years beginning September 30, 2005, and ending June 30, 2010, when the award will be subject to a competitive renewal process.

During the press conference, Dr. Marino De Leon emphasized the center benefiting from a team of researchers under one roof at the center, encouraging collaboration.

“The focus is health disparities,” said Dr. Marino De Leon. “But this is a team effort. There are more than 20 investigators including graduate students and postdoctoral fellows involved.

“The NIH focuses its efforts on research and community outreach in [health disparities] and we are now set to be the center of excellence for this research in the Inland Empire,” continued Dr. Marino De Leon. The center’s ultimate goal is to discover why there is a disparity among populations and eliminate it.

Dr. Casiano, leader of the prostate cancer research, noted that prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer among men and the second most deadly behind lung cancer.

“It presents the greatest disparity in incidents and mortality of any cancer across the nation,” said Dr. Casiano. He continued to state that in the African-American population, prostate cancer is two to three times higher than in other ethnic groups. “This is a formidable health, social, and fiscal challenge for the government.”

Dr. Daisy De Leon, research director and leader of the breast cancer research, explained how breast cancer is the second most deadly disease in women behind heart disease. She stated how incidence of breast cancer is similar or higher in the Caucasian population but how mortality is greater in the African-American population. Research will focus on three specific proteins involved in the cancer.

Dr. Wall, leader of the pancreatic cancer research, described how pancreatic cancer kills the highest percentage of patients diagnosed with it than any other cancer. Of the 32,000 people estimated to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006, 500 are expected to survive. He compared the death rate to that of crashing a plane at Ontario International Airport every day for the entire year.

“We were very excited when we got funded,” said Dr. Wall. “And our excitement has continued to grow as the possibilities have for what our program could mean for our community.”

Dr. Montgomery told how the community outreach component of the  center will integrate the research findings to help touch everyday lives.

“The pain and suffering of these cancers in real lives is incredible,” stated Dr. Montgomery. “We want to engage the community in conversation to come up with solutions to these problems.” Part of her responsibilities will be to interface with the scientists and disseminate their findings to the community.

TODAY news for Thursday, March 9, 2006