November 12, 2014

UAB Cancer Center and ASU receive grant to address cancer health disparities

Written by
upenderUpender Manne, UAB's lead principal investigator for the UAB Cancer Center/Alabama State University partnership, discusses cancer disparities with a researcher at a poster presentation.The University of Alabama at Birmingham Comprehensive Cancer Center and Alabama State University have received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Cancer Institute that establishes a partnership to create a critical mass of research and researchers to reduce cancer health disparities in minorities.

The grant will allow both institutions to conduct cancer-related research and training in terms of career development and education to aid underserved communities. The four-year project will be guided by two distinguished scientists at each institution.

The grant, divided between the two institutions, is the culmination of a yearlong collaborative effort on the part of Upender Manne, Ph.D., M.S., professor in the UAB Department of Pathology, and Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH, professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine, and Manoj Mishra, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, and Karyn Scissum-Gunn, Ph.D., professor of Microbiology and associate provost of Academic Affairs at ASU.

The specific aims of the partnership are to enhance, by development and mentorship of junior faculty members, the research and administrative infrastructure necessary to conduct competitive basic and community-based cancer research at ASU; to develop investigators committed to research in cancer disparities at both partnering institutions; and to establish a pipeline of minority cancer disparity researchers and health professionals between ASU and UAB.

In the South, cancer health disparities are attributed to a variety of factors, including lifestyle, culture, environment, health care access, socioeconomics and population-specific genetic differences. Although community-based participatory research has gained national attention, the number of minority investigators to do this type of research is low. It has become increasingly important to build up the skilled manpower to conduct cancer disparities research that will aid in creating personalized cancer therapies for this segment of the population.

“The idea is that, in view of the unequal burden of cancer borne by African-Americans, the locations of ASU and the UAB Cancer Center place this partnership in an ideal geographic region to address cancer health disparities within the state of Alabama by developing a pipeline of students, scientists and health care professionals from minority and medically underserved populations,” said Manne, lead principal investigator on the grant and a senior scientist at the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Both institutions possess unique strengths that supplement each other.”

At ASU, which is classified as a historically black college or university, more than 90 percent of the students and more than 60 percent of the faculty belong to a minority community in which health disparities are a significant issue in various areas, including cancer.

“ASU is the ideal place for students and faculty to be invested in cancer disparities research,” Manne said.

“This NIH/NCI grant will address relevant issues with a persistent, multifaceted strategy by combining multidisciplinary cancer research projects to unravel the basis for cancer disparities,” said Mishra, the lead principal investigator at ASU. “This grant will allow us to jump-start our cancer research and education programs for our faculty and students at ASU.”

Basic research efforts will focus on prostate and colorectal cancers, which affect a disproportionate number of minority individuals.

The UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center has a long history of addressing cancer health disparities and has an extensive infrastructure in place that is needed for a sustained research program.

Manne is also the UAB lead principal investigator of another NIH/NCI-funded partnership that was established among the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Morehouse School of Medicine and Tuskegee University, which has provided an ideal infrastructure to build the current UAB Cancer Center/ASU partnership. The UAB–Morehouse–Tuskegee partnership has contributed substantially to reducing the gaps in cancer incidence and morbidity and mortality between Caucasians and African-Americans, and it has enhanced the capabilities of the three institutions to conduct cancer research that is directly applicable to minority populations. Investigators in that partnership have published more than 100 manuscripts relating to health disparities.

In addition,the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Deep South Network for Cancer Control is nationally recognized as a leader in community outreach for its work in increasing education and awareness of cancer in minority and underserved populations.

“This grant builds upon and extends the goals and commitment of UAB and the Cancer Center to reduce cancer and health disparities,” said Edward Partridge, M.D., director of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Furthermore, it strengthens efforts to advance cancer research, training and education for researchers at both UAB and ASU.”

Students and others interested in cancer health disparities research may visit the Morehouse/Tuskegee/UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center Partnership or the UAB Minority Health and Health Disparities Research Center websites.