Dillard University has been awarded a $25 million federal grant — the biggest in its history — to expand its research of health-care disparities among minorities and to underwrite attempts to correct them. The five-year grant, which is to be announced today on the Gentilly campus, will let the university hire scientists and improve health programs. It will also let Dillard recruit promising students from minority groups and fund their research.

“This is a giant step for Dillard because it puts the university in a position of leadership in helping to address health inequities,” said Marvalene Hughes, who started working to land the grant a year before she stepped down in June from the university’s presidency.

She will be at the announcement ceremony in Dillard’s Professional Schools and Sciences Building, as will Interim President James Lyons and Dr. John Ruffin, a Dillard graduate who is the director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which made the award.

Dillard was one of three schools to be awarded $25 million from this arm of the National Institutes of Health. The other recipients are Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles.

The departments at Dillard that will most directly be affected are nursing, public health, social sciences, science, technology, engineering and mathematics, said Phyllis Worthy Dawkins, the university’s provost and senior vice president for academic affairs.

The award will go into Dillard’s research endowment. Earnings from that fund will underwrite work on health disparities, university spokesman Brendan Twist said.

Twist said the university expects to hire as many as seven tenure-track faculty members who specialize in tracking diseases and noting disease patterns, performing research in clinics and using computers to collect, classify, store and analyze biochemical and biological information.

Dillard also hopes to use the grant to recruit a renowned scholar and set up an endowed chair to underwrite that researcher’s work, Twist said.

John Pope can be reached at jpope@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3317.