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Leadership

Dr. Ezemenari M. Obasi

Founder & Director of the HEALTH Research Institute

Dr. Obasi’s current program of research focuses on addictions, health disparities that disproportionately affect the African American community, stress physiology, and cultural predictors of health behaviors. As the director of the Hwemudua Addictions and Health Disparities Laboratory (HAHDL) at the University of Houston (UH) – a Biosafety Level II laboratory – he takes an interdisciplinary approach (incl., biomarkers, biofeedback, implicit cognitions, genetics, fMRI, experimental manipulations, etc.) and uses a diverse range of settings (incl., community, bar lounge, experimental rooms, medical facilities, etc.) to investigate biological, psychological, social, and cultural determinants of health.

Dr. Obasi was an Early Career Mentee in the NIDA funded Transdisciplinary Center Focused on Rural African American Families (P30DA027827, PI: Brody) and recently completed a NIDA funded study entitled, Stress and Drug Use Vulnerability in Rural African Americans (R03DA027481, PI: Obasi). This study established a successful interdisciplinary research team that is committed to addressing health disparities and creating prevention programs that can have a positive impact on marginalized communities. Moreover, it provided strong preliminary data that supported Dr. Obasi’s current NIDA funded study entitled, Stress and Drug Use in the African American Community (R01DA034739, PI: Obasi). This project is one of the core qualifying R01s for the recently funded center of excellence: Vulnerability to Drug Use and HIV: Advancing Prevention for Rural African Americans (P30DA027827, PI: Brody) – where he serves on the Advisory Board, Pilot Core, and Inflammation / Neuroendocrine Core. Dr. Obasi is the creator of two cultural assessment tools (i.e., Worldview Analysis Scale; Measurement of Acculturation Strategies for People of African Descent). He also has unique expertise in studying African / African American culture and mental health. This includes human laboratory studies, field data collections in African and African American communities, and large-scale longitudinal research designs.

Dr. Lorraine R. Reitzel

Co-Founder & Co-Director of the HEALTH Research Institute

Dr. Reitzel directs the Social Determinants and Health Disparities Lab at the University of Houston. Her research program focuses on better understanding the social determinants of health and health risk behaviors - and the specific biopsychosocial mechanisms that account for disparities in health risk behaviors and health outcomes - with an emphasis on generating highly translational results that can be used to inform policy and intervention. Much of her work is focused on addressing health disparities related to tobacco use, alone or comorbid with other substance dependence and health risk behaviors, among low socioeconomic status (SES) groups.

She has over 100 empirical publications and her work has been supported by funding from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas, The National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the FDA Center for Tobacco Products. Dr. Reitzel’s research includes specific attention to racial and ethnic minority groups, with a focus on understanding the role of neighborhood influences like social cohesion and the built environment on health risk behaviors. Her work was among the first to link these contextual characteristics to tobacco dependence and smoking abstinence in the context of a specific quit attempt. Dr. Reitzel’s recent work has targeted low SES individuals more broadly, and has included a focus on adults experiencing homelessness and on individuals with mental health illnesses: the intersection of low SES and affective symptoms among these populations contributes to their high smoking rates and difficulty quitting smoking, despite endorsing a desire to quit. Moreover, individuals of low SES also tend to engage in multiple health risk behaviors that put them at risk for early morbidity and mortality. Therefore, a focus on the "whole person" is important, which is why she is interested in better understanding influences on - and developing interventions to address - multiple risk behaviors among low SES groups.