Alumna paves the way for minority researchers and lifesaving care

Charles Buchanan

In the South, the fight against cancer is a fight against health disparities. African-Americans face higher cancer rates than Caucasians, and they’re more likely to die from the disease. A host of factors contribute to the stark divide—culture, environment, access to health care resources, socioeconomics, and genetic differences among them.

Narrowing the gap will take a team effort—including more minority cancer researchers who can extend the benefits of their discoveries to underserved communities.

Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., received part of her education at UAB, but her passion for serving the underserved came from her mother. When Scarinci, a native of Brazil, was stricken with polio at eight months of age, her mother joined the country’s immunization program, determined that no other family should share their experience. She took young Isabel and the vaccines door to door. “We got 100 percent vaccinations,” even in the favelas, or slum areas, Scarinci recalls. “No other people could achieve that.”

Trained as a psychologist, Scarinci came to UAB in 1989 to study chronic pain. But the field of public health, where her work could impact entire communities, was too appealing. She earned a master’s degree from the School of Public Health in 1993, along with a unique perspective: “At that time, when we talked about practicing public health in low-resource settings, we meant low- and middle-income countries, like Brazil,” Scarinci says. “But I compared statistics from here and my home state in Brazil, and Alabama often came out poorer. We have a lot of work to do in our own backyard.”

Scarinci joined UAB’s faculty in 2002. Today she is a professor in the School of Medicine’s Division of Preventive Medicine and associate director for globalization and cancer in the Comprehensive Cancer Center. Her research has created community-based, culturally relevant programs to prevent and control cancer, such as initiatives to promote breast and cervical cancer screening among Latina immigrants in Alabama and reduce tobacco use among women in Brazil. She also serves as Brazil’s honorary consul for Alabama.

Read full article from UAB Magazine.