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VCU Center on Health Disparities Receives NIH Research Grant Renewal to Examine Preterm Birth

The Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Health Disparities has been awarded a five-year grant renewal totaling $6.2 million from the National Institute of Health’s Institute on Minority Health Disparities for research, research training and community outreach in the area of preterm birth.

The high rate of premature births in the United States remains a public health concern. Preterm or premature birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity in African Americans. The causes and mechanisms explaining preterm birth -- and especially the disparity in African Americans -- are poorly understood.

The renewal of this grant will enable the researchers at the VCU Center on Health Disparities to address this lack of knowledge by supporting interdisciplinary, fundamental and epidemiological research. Furthermore, the grant will support biomedical research training for medical students, high school and undergraduate students, postdoctoral fellows and faculty to enhance their knowledge and skills for conducting community-based participatory research. Finally, it will support initiatives to help the community to understand the risks and improve the prevention and management of preterm birth through education, awareness and research.

For the past five years, the VCU Center on Health Disparities has conducted research in this area with its community-based colleagues and will continue to partner with the Virginia Department of Health’s expertise and resources in working with at-risk populations.

“The center is very pleased to receive this grant award,” said PonJola Coney, M.D., director of the VCU Center on Health Disparities and senior associate dean for faculty affairs in the VCU School of Medicine. Coney, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, will be contributing to the study as well.

“Our investigators are at the forefront of translational research on the genetic and environmental factors, including infections, that contribute to preterm birth. We are proud that NIH acknowledged the important past contributions of the research team and the potential for new discoveries in renewing this award,” Coney said.

According to Coney, the award brings together an interdisciplinary team of social and behavioral scientists, epidemiologists, clinical investigators, basic scientists, educators and community representatives to promote research endeavors, research training and community engagement, all working toward reducing health disparities and particularly preterm birth.  

Jerome F. Strauss, III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine, serves as the principal investigator of the grant. Other key faculty include Kimberly Jefferson, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology; Timothy York, Ph.D., assistant professor of human genetics; Cathy Bradley, Ph.D., professor and chair of healthcare policy and research; and Marcie Wright, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology and community health.

The work is supported by a P60 grant from the National Institutes of Health, grant number: 2P60MD002256-06.