Black History— Lovell Jones, PhD
This month, CRCHD staff will be blogging about influential black doctors, scientists, and medical innovators, as well as rising stars from our portfolio. If you would like to nominate someone to be honored, please email CUREsupplements (at) NIH (dot) gov
Dr. Lovell Jones is a molecular endocrinologist from Baton Rouge, LA. Born in 1949, Dr. Jones was among the first group of black students to integrate Robert E. Lee High School, coping with structural racism, grade deflation, bullying from other students (including attempting to burn him with sulfuric acid in Chemistry class), and teachers rumored to be in the KKK who physically separated his desk from the desks of his white classmates. Despite all of this, Jones graduated, and went on to attend Louisiana State University and then University of California, Berkeley, where he was the first black zoology student to earn a PhD.
Lovell went on to do a postdoctoral fellowship in the department of physiology and obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the University of California Medical Center at San Francisco. There he noted feeling part of a very strong research team, and his mentors nurtured his scientific abilities while also allowing his burgeoning advocacy in the field of health disparities to grow.
Jones joined the faculty at University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in 1980, as the first African American hired in the basic/behavioral sciences. He soon began researching cancer in minority populations and became a member of the Minority Access to Research Careers Review Committee at NIGMS.
It was through my appointment to this NIH Review Committee that I had a chance to rekindle my relationships with minority staff I met at NIH while in graduate school at UCB. It also led to my involvement with the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) efforts to address in cancer in black Americans. What happened in 1985 was the releasing of the NCI task force report by Dr. Claudia Baquet on cancer in black Americans and, at the same time, Secretary Margaret Heckler released a major task force report on the status of health in Black and minority Americans. It created the perfect opportunity to bring together people I had met over the years to begin the planning of a major meeting on cancer in minorities, the 1st Biennial Symposium on Minorities & Cancer.
In 1987, Jones helped the NCI and American Cancer Society to launch the first Biennial Symposium on Minorities and Cancer, entitled “The Realities of Cancer in Minority Communities,” which garnered support from the Office of Minority Health in the US Department of Health and Human Services. The proceedings from the Biennial were published in the book “Minorities and Cancer.” Still, there were setbacks. Much of the research in cancer health disparities was dismissed by review panels. Still, he persevered, focusing on the role of steroid hormones on breast and ovarian cancers, particularly in underserved populations. He became co-PI of the National Black Leadership Initiative from the NCI. In 2000 he became director of MD Anderson’s Congressionally Mandated Center for Research on Minority Health; in 2011 he directed the Dorothy I. Height Center for Health Equity and Evaluation Research (DH CHEER). He served on the Breast Cancer Integration Panel at the Department of Defense.
While for much of Jones’s career, his work and talents were not sufficiently recognized, in more recent years he has received many accolades. In 2002 he received the Humanitarian Award from the American Cancer Society. He was presented with the NIH/NICMHD Director’s Award for Health Disparities Excellence in Research, as well as the Ruth Kirschstein Diversity In Science Award from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In 2012, he was named a NAACP Unsung Hero. Jones was honored on the floor of the US House of Representatives for his work to address cancer health disparities. He has published over 150 peer-reviewed articles, and received more than $40 million dollars in research and education funding. Upon retirement in 2013, he became the first African American to be granted Professor Emeritus status at MD Anderson (and then received a second Emeritus title from University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in 2014, making him the first black man to receive two emeritus titles).
Though retired, Jones continues to act as a mentor to the next generation of scientists, and advocate for health disparities research. “This idea of not caring about one's fellow man in terms of health coverage. The whole idea that we're already paying for it in other ways that's costing us more than doing it the right way, is just mind boggling for me,” he said.