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DSU to launch Health Equity Research center with NIH grant

Katie Tabeling
DSU researchers, part of the Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center team celebrate the announcement of the NIH grant award on Nov. 30. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

DSU researchers, part of the Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center team celebrate the announcement of the NIH grant award on Nov. 30. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DSU

DOVER — With the aid of one of the largest research grants in its history, Delaware State University will establish an Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center on its campus to research health disparities in the state.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded DSU with a $18.36 million research grant over the course of five years, which will aid in bringing researchers to the HBCU to study health disparities in the state, particularly on underserved populations.

Identified research projects include: how social determinants impact sleep health; integrating low-cost immunotherapeutics to treat triple negative Breast Cancer; and machine learning-based imaging biomarkers for metabolic and age-related diseases.

“We have much more work to do, but this opportunity is symbolic of two things,” DSU President Tony Allen said in a prepared statement. “An exceptional interdisciplinary faculty who can focus on the most pressing, real-world scientific inquiry of our time and a commitment to bringing our intellectual capital – faculty, staff and students – to the communities we call home.”

The NIH grant is the largest DSU has received in its 131-year-history, including the previous record set by the organization back in 2017, when it funded $10.9 million to the  Delaware Center for Neuroscience Research.

In 2016, DSU had a research portfolio of $23 million. To date, it is $45 million.

DSU Associate Vice President of Research Melissa Harrington said that the center will strive to identify ways to make a real impact in Delawareans health. 

Delaware is ranked 30th out of the 50 states in overall health outcomes, the First State is 40th for the high incidence of cancer, high cholesterol and high blood pressure; 43rd for the incidence of obesity; 45th for high risk HIV behaviors; and 49th for drug-related deaths per capita.

Key to DSU’s approach is keeping the community at the forefront, and Harrington plans on implementing a Community Engagement Core at the future center to develop more collaborations and partnerships in the community. A program of pilot awards will also be used to help launch research

“The center we will establish will develop interventions that can improve health by changing peoples’ behavior and modifying their risk factors – problems that can be best addressed through collaborative research that engages the community and partners with community-based organizations,” Harrington said in a statement. “We will particularly target Kent and Sussex Counties as lower Delaware has been relatively understudied and underserved.”

That partnership will leverage existing resources and services already in place to assess the needs of underserved and underrepresented populations. 

The Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center will include DSU faculty from the College of Agriculture, Science and Technology; College of Humanities, Education and Social Sciences; College of Business; and Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. 

The NIH grant will be also used to fund new positions in the future. The funding could also fund potential renovations to DSU spaces, as well as supporting infrastructure for the secure collection, analysis and storage of data.

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