In collaboration with Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, she helps members improve their health and well-being through Project CHURCH, Creating a Higher Understanding of Cancer Research and Community Health.
Project CHURCH is now entering its fourth year of study with backing from the Law Fund to support cancer prevention.
Thus far, the program has surpassed its initial focus — studying the role of behavioral, environmental and social factors on minority health and cancer disparities among African-Americans.
“The relationship of trust and care we’ve built with the church is just as important as the research being done,” says McNeill, assistant professor in the Department of Health Disparities Research at MD Anderson and lead investigator on Project CHURCH.
African-Americans to benefit from targeted research
With more than 1,500 participants and a 93% retention rate, the cohort study has made significant gains since its launch in 2008. This includes 91% participation in genetic sampling for a national study involving 30,000 African-Americans.
Project CHURCH participants also provided saliva samples for future MD Anderson research.
Senior pastor of Windsor Village, the largest Methodist church in the nation, is Kirbyjon Caldwell, a member of MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors. He acknowledges the importance of conducting research within the church walls.
“Our church family is honored to partner with the best cancer treatment, prevention and research center in the world. We applaud and appreciate MD Anderson’s commitment to making cancer history for people from all walks of life.”
Project CHURCH’s progress has paved the way for other research McNeill conducts, including an obesity prevention study targeting African-Americans and Latinos. The church also helps recruit African-American women and children to participate in a national children’s nutrition study.
McNeill, who was recently awarded MD Anderson’s Julie and Ben Rogers Award for Excellence in Prevention, understands the impact this type of research has on the community.
As co-director of MD Anderson’s Center for Community-Engaged Translational Research of the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment, McNeill believes her true calling is to help close the gap on disparities in health and help people live healthy and well-balanced lives.
“There is no doubt that disparities in health are real and should be addressed using real-world techniques and interventions,” McNeill says.