North­eastern Uni­ver­sity has received a $10 mil­lion grant from the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH) for a five-​​year study that aims to explain the sur­pris­ingly high inci­dence of heart dis­ease and other chronic con­di­tions among Puerto Rican adults living in the United States.

The funding is part of a new NIH ini­tia­tive to create Cen­ters for Pop­u­la­tion Health and Health Dis­par­i­ties to better to under­stand and address inequities asso­ci­ated with the two leading causes of death in the United States—cancer and heart dis­ease. North­eastern is one of 10 insti­tu­tions nation­wide selected for this initiative.

Katherine Tucker, pro­fessor and chair of the health sci­ences depart­ment at Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences, is the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator on the grant. The study will attempt to uncover the com­plex factors—including genetics, social net­works, diet and pollution—that con­tribute to the ele­vated threat of car­dio­vas­cular dis­ease among the Puerto Rican community.

This is an incred­ible achieve­ment for Katy and her team,” says Stephen Zoloth, dean of Bouvé Col­lege of Health Sci­ences. “We are very excited that Bouvé and North­eastern have been selected as the home of one of 10 NIH Cen­ters for Pop­u­la­tion Health and Health Dis­par­i­ties. The center is an excel­lent example of Bouvé’s strength—multidisciplinary trans­la­tional research focused on crit­ical urban-​​health issues.”

The study is a con­tin­u­a­tion of Tucker’s research, which has already revealed a high preva­lence of chronic illness—including dia­betes, depres­sion and hypertension—in Boston’s Puerto Rican community.

We want to gain a better under­standing of what fac­tors lead to these health dis­par­i­ties so we can find new ways to address them,” Tucker says.

Researchers hope the study’s insights will lead to effec­tive pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures, and also prove ben­e­fi­cial to other dis­ad­van­taged groups who are sim­i­larly vul­ner­able to heart disease.

Katherine Tucker’s work embodies Northeastern’s mis­sion to create knowl­edge that addresses pressing soci­etal needs,” says Joseph E. Aoun, pres­i­dent of North­eastern. “The research done under her lead­er­ship will not only deepen our under­standing of dis­par­i­ties in health and health care, but also create solu­tions that will improve lives on a global scale.”

One of the projects that make up the study will be led by Luis Falcon, vice provost for grad­uate edu­ca­tion and asso­ciate pro­fessor of soci­ology, who will examine the effect of the Puerto Rican community’s social net­works and local envi­ron­ments. Carmen Sceppa, asso­ciate pro­fessor of health pro­fes­sions, will serve as the prin­cipal inves­ti­gator on an inter­ven­tion pro­gram involving heart-​​healthy activity.

The grant is the latest of sev­eral awards North­eastern has received to expand crit­ical health research—including a $9.9 mil­lion NIH grant to study how expo­sure to envi­ron­mental con­t­a­m­i­na­tion affects preterm birth rates in Puerto Rico and what sus­tain­able solu­tions might be devel­oped. That study involves a col­lab­o­ra­tion between researchers at Bouvé and the Col­lege of Engineering.

The Cen­ters for Pop­u­la­tion Health and Health Dis­par­i­ties grant is also sup­ported by the National Cancer Insti­tute; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Insti­tute; and the Office of Behav­ioral and Social Sci­ences Research.