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Arnethea Sutton

VCU Massey Cancer Center

The first in her family to attend college, Arnethea Sutton has spent 20 years at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., earning a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree. Now a postdoctoral scholar at VCU’s Massey Cancer Center, she’s working to fight health disparities in this community where she was born, raised, and educated. 

In Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, racial health disparities are bleak. In one neighboring town, life expectancy for Black residents is 10 years less than for white residents. Sutton, who declared she would be a scientist in second grade, had planned on a job in a pharmacy or at a lab bench. But during her doctoral work, her interests increasingly shifted to the health disparities that surrounded her. 

“I love the bench, but I also love talking to and educating people, especially people in my own community,” she said. 

In her work with the Black community, Sutton has to work hard to overcome mistrust of the medical community and of VCU, which is working to atone for past mistreatment of Black patients. Massey Cancer Center, she said, keeps equity at the forefront of its work. “We are unapologetic about wanting to eliminate disparities,” said Sutton, who was one of the scientists tapped to speak with first lady Jill Biden about disparities when Biden toured the center this year.

In January, Sutton received a prestigious NIH K99 grant on her first attempt and is now using it to study health disparities in breast cancer in the emerging field of cardio-oncology, specifically the roles racism and social determinants of health may play in leading Black women to suffer more damage to the heart after breast cancer treatment. 

“I love the bench, but I also love talking to and educating people, especially people in my own community.”

Outside of work, Sutton is a hockey mom and active member of her church choir, and is eager to get back to singing in person once again.

 Usha Lee McFarling