Fall 2014 – Research Story
Cancer Center Launches Global Initiative
Headshot Isabel Scarinci smaller

By Sara Davies

Published with permission from the Comprehensive Cancer Center Magazine

In recent years, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other cancer agencies have begun to address the increasing burden of cancer worldwide, and the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center holds the same aspirations of expanding its global footprint.

As a long-standing NCI-designated institution, the Cancer Center has many investigators, research projects and other activities on the global front. To further these globalization efforts, the Cancer Center recently appointed Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., M.P.H., as its inaugural associate director for globalization and cancer. She joins the senior leadership team at the Cancer Center and will lead the initiative to expand UAB’s global footprint.

Dr. Scarinci has extensive research and clinical experience with underserved populations in the American South and Brazil. “Not many people have the fortune to work with two minority populations and earn credibility in both,” she says. “I try to be an advocate for them. I don’t think research is enough if you do not advocate for them.”

Dr. Scarinci has two research grants in her home state of Brazil – one on breast cancer and one on tobacco use. Dr. Scarinci has funding from the National Institutes of Health and organizations such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure to promote cancer screenings and tobacco control among African-Americans and Latino immigrants. “That has been very rewarding, coming full circle to give back to the people who didn’t have the opportunity that I had,” she says. She travels to Brazil twice a year to conduct research, which also allows her to see her family more frequently.

Dr. Scarinci was also recently appointed as Honorary Consul for Brazil. The Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta approached her about the position, and after the Brazilian government gave its clearance, the U.S. Department of State made her appointment official in 2014.

“Essentially, my role is an extension of the Brazilian Consulate in Atlanta to better serve the Brazilian citizens in Alabama,” Dr. Scarinci says. “I will also seek to foster and promote relationships between the state of Alabama and Brazil in the areas of business, economics, education, cultural arts and other areas. It’s an exciting opportunity, and one that I hope will benefit Alabama and Brazil.”

Dr. Scarinci’s appointment by the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center director, Edward Partridge, M.D., will further the proactive globalization efforts she has already accomplished.

“Isabel is a true leader in community-based participatory research, both at home and abroad, and will bring extensive experience and vision to this newly created position. I am very excited about her new role,” says Dr. Partridge.  

In 2011, NCI addressed the increasing burden of cancer by establishing the Center for Global Health (CGH). CGH develops initiatives and collaborates with other NCI divisions, NCI-designated cancer centers and countries to support cancer control planning as well as cancer research and cancer research networks in low- and middle-income countries. This team is responsible for coordinating and prioritizing NCI’s global activities to advance global cancer research, build expertise, and leverage resources across nations to address the challenges of cancer and reduce cancer deaths worldwide.

While the number of cancer survivors in the United States continues to rise, the disease is still a major concern globally, responsible for one in eight deaths – 8.2 million people – worldwide. Lung, liver, stomach, colorectal and breast cancers cause the most cancer deaths each year. About 30 percent of cancer deaths are due to the five leading behavioral and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use.

As one of the 41 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, UAB must take proactive steps in its globalization efforts with cancer. “Our longstanding work in under-resourced populations prepares us for this mission, and what we learn in other countries may well apply to our population also,” Dr. Partridge says. “It’s an exciting area for research, and we are proud to be one of the institutions leading the way.”