Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, M.D. is Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the NIH. He oversees the Institute’s $281 million budget to conduct and support research, training, and information dissemination programs to improve minority health and reduce health disparities.
April is National Minority Health Month, an observance that is my life’s work and the foundation of our work at the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD).
The mission of NIMHD is to lead scientific research that will improve minority health, reduce health disparities, and promote health equity. We envision an America in which all populations will have an equal opportunity to live long, healthy, and productive lives.
Before I became the Director of NIMHD, my work as a primary care physician and a clinician scientist had included working with minority communities on smoking cessation and prevention, cancer screening, and minority aging research. One of the things I love about being at NIMHD is that we have the ability to focus on so many issues associated with minority health. We also have strong partnerships with other National Institutes of Health (NIH) Institutes and Centers, including the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), in this effort.
NIMHD has a long-standing interest in supporting research on musculoskeletal and autoimmune conditions such as osteoarthritis and lupus. These chronic conditions disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minorities and low-income populations. I would like to mention a few examples of some research we are currently funding on these conditions.
Lupus most often affects women, and it is more common among African American, Latina, Asian, American Indian, and Alaska Native women than among White women. One project that NIMHD funds is an online training about lupus for promotoras (lay health educators who work in the Latino community). The promotoras are being trained to do outreach to low-income Latinas about lupus, provide support to those who have the disease, help those who have lupus navigate the health system, and teach them how to advocate for themselves.
Another lupus project investigates the possible genetic variations that are unique to African Americans. Genetic variation between ethnicities could account for underlying differences in disease severity and clinical manifestations, and identifying those variants could improve the diagnosis and treatments for African Americans and other minorities who have the disease.
We know that African American and Latino patients are significantly more likely to progress to end-stage renal disease than are White patients with glomerular diseases, such as lupus nephritis. To that end, NIMHD is funding a project to investigate ancestry, genetic risk, and health disparities in immune-mediated nephritis.
Another project brings "exergaming," a fun form of exercise using an electronic game console, to African American and White women with knee osteoarthritis. This study is exploring racial differences and the effect of exergaming on physical activity, pain, and functional mobility and disability among these women.
NIMHD is also supporting research and development of mobile health and other technologies to reduce the burden of musculoskeletal disorders among socioeconomically disadvantaged and geographically underserved populations. One such project involves developing a self-applied, wearable ultrasound therapy device for osteoarthritis management in underserved populations. This project will improve the care of osteoarthritis by providing a non-drug, long-duration ultrasound device for the treatment of chronic osteoarthritis pain. The technology has been preliminarily tested with positive results and could offer a drug-free approach to osteoarthritis care.
We are working to better understand how individual behavior and biology interact with the social, cultural, and physical environments, which lead to different outcomes based on race and/or ethnicity and social class. These and other factors underlie all of health disparities research. I want to acknowledge all of the wonderful research being done at NIAMS on minority health and health disparities, and I look forward to ongoing collaborations. At NIMHD, NIAMS, and the rest of NIH, we make every month National Minority Health Month!
Eliseo Pérez-Stable, M.D.
Director, National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities
National Institutes of Health