MUSC Cancer Researcher Elected into National Academy of Medicine

Oct. 16, 2017

CHARLESTON, SC – Chanita A. Hughes-Halbert, Ph.D., has been elected into invited to join the National Academy of Medicine (NAM), the first woman and first African-American from South Carolina, to attain that distinction. 

“I just see it as a real honor because I think it places MUSC as an institution among some of the most elite academic centers in the country,” said Hughes-Halbert, who holds the AT&T distinguished endowed chair in cancer equity. “And one of the things I’m most proud of since coming here is the work that’s being done in minority health and health disparities and cancer prevention and control. Several investigators, not just me, are really bringing national attention to MUSC.” 

Membership in the NAM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievements and commitment to service. 

“Your election reflects the high esteem in which your peers and colleagues regard you,” wrote NAM President Victor Dzau, M.D., in his letter of invitation. “As an NAM member, you are now part of a group of truly distinguished individuals who have made important contributions to health, medicine, and science.” 

“Dr. Hughes-Halbert is an extraordinary scientist who has dedicated her career at MUSC and the Hollings Cancer Center to addressing health disparities and minority health issues, particularly in South Carolina," said Gustavo Leone, Ph.D., director of the Hollings Cancer Center. "This achievement will continue to elevate the standard of excellence to which our cancer center strives toward, and we look forward to her continued efforts as a pioneer in the fields of health, medicine, and science in the coming years.” 

The National Academy of Medicine, established in 1970 under the name Institute of Medicine (IOM), is an independent organization of eminent professionals from diverse fields including health and medicine; the natural, social, and behavioral sciences; and beyond. Through its domestic and global initiatives, the NAM works to address critical issues in health, medicine, and related policy and inspire positive action across sectors. 

“My first introduction to the National Academy of Medicine happened several years ago when I was on one of their committees,” she said. “This committee was charged with examining issues related to the breast cancer and the environment. It was fascinating to be part of that committee because you had an opportunity to interact with other leaders in the field to think in depth about key issues in priority areas and then develop recommendations that ultimately influence the policies that are made for health and health care.” 

“I think being part of the National Academy of Medicine provides an opportunity for an MUSC faculty member to contribute to that policy-making process and identify other priorities and initiatives.” 

Hughes-Halbert will bring to NAM the same priorities she brings to MUSC: a focus on minority health and health disparities issues, especially involving cancer prevention and control. This is an issue personal to her: She lost her mother to breast cancer in 1984 and recently lost an aunt to lung cancer. 

“Many individuals lack basic information about the resources that are available in academic medical centers for their health and well-being,” she said, “and many patients have to struggle with the challenges associated with accessing care in these settings. We still need to work on helping patients to navigate the health care system.” 

Since coming to MUSC in 2012, Hughes-Halbert has established a collaborative center in precision medicine and minority men’s health to address genetic, lifestyle, and environmental issues related to minority health and cancer health disparities. 

“I’m really excited about the work in our center, which is designed to understand the stress process and stress reactivity among minority men, and how that influences their biology with respect to prostate cancer, and how that influences their response to treatment for prostate cancer,” she said. “We want to get a better characterization of their social factors and how that links to and has implications for their long-term survivorship outcomes.”

Her interest in minority men’s health also touches Hughes-Halbert personally. “I’ll tell you the reason I’m interested in minority men is because I’m the mother of two young boys I’m raising to be men. I want them to be healthy.” 

In addition to her holding an endowed chair, Hughes-Halbert also is a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and associate dean for assessment, evaluation, and quality improvement in the College of Medicine. 

She started her academic career in 1997 after earning her doctorate in personality psychology from Howard University in Washington, D.C., and completing pre- and postdoctoral training in cancer prevention and control at the Georgetown University Medical Center. As a research assistant at Georgetown, she recognized there was very little participation in research studies or clinical trials by African–Americans.

Hughes–Halbert was appointed by President Barack Obama to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Board of Scientific Advisors. You can read more about her work in NCI’s Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for FY 2019

About MUSC

Founded in 1824 in Charleston, MUSC is the state's only comprehensive academic health system, with a unique mission to preserve and optimize human life in South Carolina through education, research and patient care. Each year, MUSC educates more than 3,200 students in six colleges – Dental Medicine, Graduate Studies, Health Professions, Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy – and trains more than 900 residents and fellows in its health system. MUSC brought in more than $300 million in research funds in fiscal year 2023, leading the state overall in research funding. MUSC also leads the state in federal and National Institutes of Health funding. Learn more about our academic programs.

As the health care system of the Medical University of South Carolina, MUSC Health is dedicated to delivering the highest-quality and safest patient care while educating and training generations of outstanding health care providers and leaders to serve the people of South Carolina and beyond. Patient care is provided at 16 hospitals (includes owned or governing interest), with approximately 2,700 beds and four additional hospital locations in development, more than 350 telehealth sites and nearly 750 care locations situated in all regions of South Carolina. In 2023, for the ninth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report named MUSC Health University Medical Center in Charleston the Number 1 hospital in South Carolina. Learn more about our patient services.

MUSC has a total enterprise annual operating budget of $5.9 billion. The nearly 26,000 MUSC family members include world-class faculty, physicians, specialty providers, scientists, students, affiliates and care team members who deliver groundbreaking education, research, and patient care.