UT MD Anderson's Lorna McNeill Recognized for Excellence in Prevention

Rogers Award Honors Efforts to Eliminate Health Disparities in Minority Communities

MD Anderson News Release 09/21/11

Lorna McNeill, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, is the recipient of the 2011 Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in Prevention.

The $10,000 award, which rotates annually among the areas of patient care, research, education, prevention and administration, recognizes employees who consistently demonstrate excellence in their work and dedication to MD Anderson's mission to eliminate cancer. McNeill will formally receive the award at a 2 p.m. presentation ceremony Sept. 29 at MD Anderson's Dan L. Duncan Building, 1155 Pressler St., eighth floor, Rooms 3, 4, 5 and 6.

McNeill co-directs the Center for Community-Engaged Translational Research at MD Anderson. Her research seeks to eliminate cancer-related health disparities by increasing rates of physical activity in racial, ethnic and underserved communities. Those efforts include her work as lead investigator on a cohort study, Project CHURCH, designed to research and learn about cancer risk in African-Americans to improve cancer-related outcomes in this population. This collaborative effort between MD Anderson and the local community involves the largest United Methodist church in the nation.

"The significant gains in cancer outcomes are not equally seen in all communities and subgroups," says McNeill. "In particular, African-Americans continue to have the highest incidence and death rates, and the shortest survival rate of any racial group for most cancers."

McNeill, an African-American, says her research comes full circle as she notices the effects of health disparities on minority communities.

"When you look at the high rates of late-stage breast cancer, the high number of black men with prostate cancer, the high rates of diabetes and heart disease, and the list goes on, you realize that there's work to do," she says.

McNeill considers her work both her career and her calling.

"I firmly believe that I'm here, working on cancer-related research, as my ministry or calling in life," she says. "I'm motivated every day by God to work harder, do more, experience more and feel more so that I can be of help to others."

McNeill received a bachelor of arts in Afro-American Studies and Industrial Relations, as well as a masters of public health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned her Ph.D. in Public Health Studies from Saint Louis University and went on to do her postdoctoral training at Harvard University. She belongs to the American Public Health Association, the Society of Behavioral Medicine and the American Society of Preventive Oncology.

Her commitment to prevention and health disparities is inspired in part by the encouragement and guidance of her parents, as well as a grandmother who died of breast cancer before she was born. Her goal is to ensure that generations to come have opportunities not previously available.

"They found out very late that my Jamaican grandmother had cancer, and during those days you were sent home to die. How often I wish she were here, and if she had to be diagnosed with cancer that it could be during these exciting times of new cancer treatments and discoveries," she says. "I'm a researcher because I want to learn what I can do to keep more grandchildren with their grandmothers."

McNeill credits her team for much of her own success. She considers her work place one where hard work is an outward manifestation of commitment to eliminating health disparities.

"Some say that community-based research is messy or unscientific. I say that it's neither of those," says McNeill. "Rather, it's the pathway toward truly eliminating health disparities in cancer risk and outcomes."

Regina Rogers, a senior member of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Board of Visitors, established the Rogers Award in 1987 in honor of her parents, the late Julie and Ben Rogers, and in appreciation of the treatment her brother and her mother received at the institution for thyroid cancer and breast cancer, respectively. Ben Rogers served on the Board of Visitors from 1978 until his death in 1994, when his daughter and wife established the Julie & Ben Rogers Breast Diagnostic Clinic in his memory. Julie Rogers died in 1998.

"I'm thrilled to be celebrating the 25th year of presenting this award at an institution that I hold so dear to my heart," says Rogers. "MD Anderson continues to make such amazing strides in the area of prevention, education and research."