Could your ZIP code play a bigger role in predicting your health outcomes than your genetic code? Could your race and ethnicity make you more likely to develop a chronic illness? These are just some of the big, persistent questions related to public health disparities that scientific leaders like Eliseo Perez-Stable, director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD), part of the National Institutes of Health, are addressing.

Perez-Stable, a member of the National Academy of Medicine, will be the second speaker in this season’s Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lecture Series hosted by the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC. His free hour-long public presentation, “The Science of Minority Health and Health Disparities: NIMHD Perspective,” will take place at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 17 at 2 Riverside Circle in Roanoke.

“Racial and ethnic disparities persist in our county as do differences in health outcomes by socioeconomic status and sexual and gender minorities,” said Perez-Stable. “In the case of cancer, we see tremendous differences in the rates of cancer by race ethnicity. In the case of diabetes, a very common chronic condition, it is more prevalent among every minority group that has been studied in this country with worse complications.”

Perez-Stable has spent a lifetime working to improve the health of minorities and underserved populations. His work focuses on advancing patient-centered care and improving cross-cultural communication in both health care practices and translational research.

For more than 30 years, Perez-Stable has been leading research on smoking cessation and tobacco control policy in ethnic populations in the United States and Latin America. With the passion that Perez-Stable has for his research, he was appointed by the National Institutes of Health to be the director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities in 2015. In this capacity, he oversees the institute’s annual $314 million budget with the goal of improving minority health, reducing health disparities, and promoting health equality.

“Dr. Perez-Stable is a national leader in health care and disparities research, including on smoking cessation and tobacco control policy in Latino populations in the U.S. and Latin America,” said Michael Friedlander, vice president for health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute. “As the United States become more diverse, addressing social inequalities in health care is increasingly important for the people who experience disparities and for the nation’s health overall. As a nation, we can do better in this regard, and it is visionary leaders such as Dr. Perez-Stable who are providing a roadmap and motivation for our progress in these areas.”

Born in Cuba, Perez-Stable, followed his father’s path into academic medicine, spending 34 years of his career at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), before joining the NIMHD. During his time at UCSF, he was a professor of medicine, chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine and the director of the Center for Aging in Diverse Communities (CADC). With his work at the CADC, he continued developing a diverse workforce in clinical and population science research through mentoring and collaboration with minority fellows and junior faculty.

During his time in San Francisco, he was also the director for the UCSF Medical Effectiveness Research Center for Diverse Populations, whose main focus was addressing issues for African Americans, Asians, and Latinos in the areas of cancer, cardiovascular disease, aging, and reproductive health. His work examined strategies for reducing smoking among minorities to studying health disparities in elderly minority populations.

Perez-Stable received his undergraduate degree from the University of Miami, and his medical degree from the University of Miami Medical School in Miami, Florida. Receiving numerous awards for his work in the medical field over the years including, UCSF’s Kaiser Award for Excellence in Teaching, the Society of General Internal Medicine’s John M. Eisenberg National Award for Career Achievement in Research, and election to the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, of the National Academy of Sciences. He was honored with the UCSF Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award in July 2015. He was also recognized by the National Hispanic Medical Association with the Health Leadership Award.

The free presentation, named for Maury Strauss, a Roanoke businessman and longtime community benefactor, begins at 5 p.m. with a free public reception followed by the hour-long lecture starting at 5:30 p.m. Maury Strauss Distinguished Public Lectures are webcast live, archived on YouTube, and streamed on Facebook Live.

-Written by Dawn Evans