What is your relationship to cancer?
My paternal grandmother is a breast cancer survivor, and my paternal grandfather passed away from colorectal cancer when I was a child. They were both cigarette smokers like many others in their poor, rural and underserved community. Growing up, I saw how my grandparents and other family members struggle to quit smoking and suffer from tobacco-related diseases. These experiences compelled me to become an epidemiologist dedicated to improving smoking cessation and combatting tobacco-related heath disparities among populations disproportionately burdened by tobacco.
What do you hope to contribute to the Cancer Institute?
I hope to support the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute goal of achieving NCI designation by conducting and publishing innovative studies, developing community-based initiatives, and obtaining research funding. Tobacco use is a leading cause of cancer and cancer mortality, and smoking rates in Arkansas are higher than the national average. Through my research I seek to prevent and reduce tobacco use among Arkansans and inform tobacco control efforts at the national and state/local levels. I am excited to join the Cancer Institute as a public health professional and collaborate on cancer-related research to improve the health of Arkansans.
Tell us about your current research
My current research focuses on the role of social-environmental and psychosocial factors as contributors to tobacco use and related disparities. My work often combines quantitative and qualitative epidemiologic methods. I aim to utilize my research to inform tobacco regulations and leverage technology-supported observational studies and interventions to increase successful smoking cessation among vulnerable and disadvantaged populations, such as African Americans and rural and low-income communities.
I also completed predoctoral and postdoctoral fellowships with two NIDA/FDA funded Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science (TCORS) and the Translational Addiction Research T32 program based in the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute. My training informed my second line of research which focuses on tobacco regulatory science, a field of research specifically designed to inform real-time FDA regulation. My tobacco regulatory science studies aim to identify how risk perceptions and tobacco product characteristics (i.e., flavors, product type) influence tobacco use behaviors among disadvantaged populations.
I was recently awarded two pilot grants as PI, including one from the Arkansas Center for Health Disparities (ARCHD) in the UAMS College of Public Health. My mixed-methods pilot study investigates how perceived harmfulness of nicotine influences use of evidence-based and non-evidence based quit aids that contain nicotine (i.e., nicotine replacement therapy, e-cigarettes) among African American and White cigarette smokers aged 18-34. We aim to use findings from this study to inform future grant proposals and develop interventions to improve early age smoking cessation.