Vickers and Pisu receive $3 million National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant

Drs. Vickers and Pisu will use a $3 million, five-year National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant to study barriers that may exist for GI cancer patients to access quality cancer surgery in Alabama and Mississippi.
Written by: Emma Harchanko
Media Contact: Adam Pope


Vickers2Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, and Maria Pisu, Ph.D.The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Maria Pisu, Ph.D., professor in the Division of Preventive Medicine, and School of Medicine Dean Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., FACS, have been awarded a $3 million, five-year National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities grant. They will serve as principal investigators on the grant project.

Their project, “Advancing Surgical Cancer Care and Equity in the Deep South (ASCENDS),” aims to examine any barriers that may exist for gastrointestinal cancer patients to access quality cancer surgery in Alabama and Mississippi. Research shows there are vulnerable groups of patients who do not receive cancer surgery when they should, or do not receive quality cancer surgery.

Specifically, Vickers and Pisu will gather perspectives of cancer patients and cancer care providers of what makes — or does not make — quality surgery available, accessible, affordable, acceptable and accommodating to patient needs. Using an integrated mixed-methods approach, they will first conduct in-depth interviews to better understand barriers, then survey 1,000 patients to better understand the extent of those barriers.

Researchers will use patients’ medical records, with permission, to assess whether their surgery process followed protocols to ensure good outcomes. In final project years, Vickers and Pisu will use the integrated results to develop a program that will help patients overcome barriers, from when a patient is diagnosed with cancer to the period of recovery after surgery.

Vickers and Pisu will identify gaps in cancer surgical care that may need to be addressed through better education and training, or revised systems and protocols. Their goal is to have a full picture of the state of surgical care for cancer patients in Alabama and Mississippi and develop a plan with clear intervention targets — such as populations and surgical processes — and decode mechanisms that need to be addressed.

Researchers will use patients’ medical records, with permission, to assess whether their surgery process followed protocols to ensure good outcomes.

“Our work is fundamental for advancing our understanding of how to ensure appropriate access to cancer surgery and other care by all Americans who need it,” Pisu said. “It is exciting to spearhead research that might identify and correct gaps in surgical treatment for underrepresented and/or low-income populations in our region.”

Vickers is proud of his colleagues’ work to support a mission pillar of UAB.

“We’re delighted to address ways in which underserved populations in our region are disproportionately affected by affordability, availability and other characteristics of quality cancer surgical care,” Vickers said. “At UAB, we strive to champion exceptional patient care and experience that advances good outcomes and fast recovery, and we look forward to identifying ways in which improvements can be made across the region.”