Studying heart disease, cancer and diabetes in eastern Caribbean

Yale School of Medicine professor Dr. Marcella Nunez Smith has been awarded a multi-million dollar federal grant to study the risk factors and prevalence of heart disease, cancer and diabetes in the eastern Caribbean.

The grant, from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (part of the National Institutes of Health), is for $5.3 million over five years. The grant will establish the Eastern Caribbean Health Outcomes Research Network (ECHORN). The ECHORN Coordinating Center will be based at Yale.

Nunez Smith, an assistant professor of general internal medicine and assistant director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program, will lead the study. The project aims to form a research collaborative across the eastern Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Barbados and Trinidad & Tobago. Nunez Smith's goal is to help improve health outcomes across the region by establishing a cross-island surveillance partnership. ECHORN will also work to increase research capacity and infrastructure within the region.

"We plan to expand clinical research with racial/ethnic minority populations in a part of the world that is now threatened by an epidemic of noncommunicable chronic diseases," Nunez Smith says. "We are fortunate to partner with leading institutions in the region including the University of the Virgin Islands, the University of Puerto Rico, and two campuses of the University of the West Indies to achieve ECHORN's stated objectives."

Nunez Smith is also a researcher at Yale's Global Health Leadership Institute. She says the research findings will have direct implications for health policy in the region and for health inequities research and policy in the mainland United States.