The Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center

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IHER: The Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research Center

The Interdisciplinary Health Equity Research (IHER) Center is Delaware State University’s latest research center within the Delaware Institute for Science and Technology (DIST) which specializes in and is committed to biomedical and health disparities research.

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IHER Center News & Updates

Researching Health Disparities To Advance Health Equity

The IHER Center seeks to investigate the biological, behavioral, and social determinants of health – factors which are understood as the largest contributors to differences in health and life expectancy among individuals and groups. In addition to the development of innovative interventions in addressing health disparities, strong partnerships between researchers and communities are central to ensuring the impact and sustainability of IHER initiatives.

The IHER Center was established in 2022 as part of a five-year research grant awarded from the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) program. In identifying Delaware as a socio-demographic microcosm of the U.S., DSU is ideally positioned to pursue high-impact social, behavioral, and biomedical research in the realm of health equity.

Delaware’s academic institutions, health care groups, community-based organizations, and the Division of Public Health are aligned in collaborating with the University on IHER Center initiatives that seek to improve the overall health of Delawareans. Moreover, the IHER Center builds upon a growing portfolio of NIH-funded research and recently developed clinical facilities and programs.


IHER Core Centers

As a Historically Black University with a strength in biomedical and behavioral research, DSU’s IHER Center will accelerate development of behavioral research capacity, deepen partnerships with other research centers in Delaware, and strengthen ties to the community. The Center’s Cores will fulfill these specific roles in making DSU the center of health disparities-related research in the state.

Research Capacity Core

This Core will strengthen DSU’s research infrastructure for biomedical, social and behavioral research related to health disparities and health equity.

Research Capacity Core

Dr. Derald Wentzien, Director

Community Engagement & Dissemination Core

The overall goal of the CED Core is to embed a Community First in All Research (CFiAR) approach as a norm across the IHER Center to make research more impactful and responsive to community needs and priorities.

Community Engagement & Dissemination Core

Dr. Dorothy Dillard, Director

Investigator Development Core

The main focus of the investigator development core is to implement a program of pilot project grants that will support junior faculty as they establish research programs related to health disparities and collect preliminary data that can support future grant proposals.


Dr. Hakeem Lawal, Director

Recruitment Core

The Recruitment Core seeks to hire outstanding faculty members at the Associate or Full Professor level to contribute to developing excellence in DSU’s health equity research program. New faculty members will have active research programs supported by NIH or other external funding related to minority health and health disparities.

Dr. Gwendolyn Scott-Jones, Director

Research Projects & Leads


Dr. Sokratis Makrogiannis

Metabolic disorder, cardiovascular disease and obesity cause physical dysfunction and lead to shortened life expectancy particularly among minorities. An important risk factor for accelerated decline of physical function is adiposity, especially fatty infiltration in the muscle that is macroscopically and microscopically identifiable. Changes in muscle composition are strongly linked to loss in muscle strength with increasing age which can trigger a vicious cycle, where immobility and low physical activity further aggravate adiposity, and adiposity contributes to disability. Thus, detecting and understanding body composition and changes in muscle, adipose tissue and bone over time is important for diagnosis and rehabilitation.

Contemporary imaging technologies enable non-invasive visualization and quantification of human body morphometry. Conventional diagnostic workflows are heavily dependent on manual annotations performed by highly trained clinicians, such as radiologists and pathologists, that require significant time, increase the cost of healthcare, and dependent on the level of the human reader’s expertise. This project proposes to develop advanced mathematical methods, image analysis and machine learning techniques to characterize morphological and physiological properties of tissues.


Dr. Janeese Brownlow

According to the Center for Disease Control, over one-third of adults in the U.S. are not getting the recommended amount of sleep (7 or more hours) per day, nor are they obtaining enough sleep on a regular basis. In Delaware, over 37% of adults report sleeping less than 7 hours in a 24-hour period, which increases the risk for adverse health outcomes. Health disparities among underserved populations are multifactorial, and it is now recognized that disparities in sleep health in addition to social determinants of health are important contributors. This study seeks to understand the intersection of these relationships on functional outcomes. The results of this study will further substantiate key drivers of sleep disparities for racial/ethnic minorities to reduce health disparities and advance health equities.


Dr. Shahidul Islam

Approximately 15-20% of breast cancer patients have triple negative breast cancer (TNBC), a complex disease characterized by the absence of three cell surface receptors that are specifically targeted by existing drugs. TNBC is more aggressive, more frequently seen in younger patients, and disproportionately seen in African-Americans. Delaware has the highest incidence rate for Triple Negative Breast Cancer in the nation. This project is focused on identifying small proteins (nanobodies) that are stable; easily prepared in a simple bacterial host; and selectively bind and target TNBC cells and recruit the immune system to selectively destroy those cells.

Pilot Projects


Research Project: “Phenotypic characterization of triple negative breast cancer cells derived from African-American and European-American women with differential expression of CD44 variant isoforms”


Research Project: “Association between mother’s residential environment and disparities in gestational diabetes management and outcomes for mothers and infants”


Research Project: “InVESTing in Children: Testing a Fun Activity for Enhancing Parent-Child Conversation Draft”


Research Project: “Salmonella enterica serovar diversity, distribution, and prevalence in irrigation water in Delaware”


Research Project: “Elucidating the mechanism of altered sensitivity of African-centric p53 hypomorphic variants to MEK inhibitors”

IHER Center Evaluation

IHER Evaluation Model

The overall mission of the IHER center is to support and expand biomedical, behavioral, and social research related to health conditions with a disparate impact on underserved individuals and communities. The Center identifies 4 key program aims in its evaluation focus.

A Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) model has been selected for purposes of evaluation for this project. The PDCA model, also known as the Deming Cycle, is a systematic framework used for the continuous improvement of processes, products, and services.

IHER Center Highlights

Pilot Grant Awardees
Pilot grant awardees attend the 2023 RCMI Fall Retreat & Conference
DSU researchers pose for a group photo
DSU receives NIH RCMI research grant in 2022, the largest in the University’s history
IHER researchers
IHER researchers attend the 2023 RCMI National Conference
Dr. Brian McNaughton presents
Dr. Brian McNaughton presents at the April 2023 RCMI National Conference for his IHER research project on Triple Negative Breast Cancer
DSU and CCUSA evaluation project group
DSU utilizes IHER support structure in partnering with Catholic Charities USA on the evaluation of their Healthy Housing Initiative