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Tuskegee University, UAB and Morehouse School of Medicine receive $18 million grant to reduce cancer disparities

December 07, 2021

Contact: Kawana McGough, Office of Communications, Public Relations and Marketing
 

Image of a scientist in a lab
National Cancer Institute awarded Tuskegee University, UAB
O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, and Morehouse School
School of Medicine $18 million collectively to study and reduce
cancer disparities in communities in the South.

The National Cancer Institute has collectively awarded Tuskegee University's Multidisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research, Morehouse School of Medicine's Cancer Health Equity Institute, and the University of Alabama at Birmingham's O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center a five-year, $18 million grant renewal to study and address cancer disparities in Black and rural communities. 

The grant will focus on intervention and prevention for underserved communities across the South, particularly since Georgia and Alabama have some of the highest cancer mortality rates in the U.S. The grant will allow researchers from the institutions to focus on implementing precision cancer medicine, conducting cancer research, education, and training programs to try to understand the cause of cancer disparities. Researchers will also engage the community to identify other research and education areas and assure evidence-based cancer prevention and control strategies.

"This award will provide a catalyst to bring a number of nationally recognized standard of care services to cancer patients in rural areas while conducting research to improve cancer patient outcomes continually," said Clayton Yates, Ph.D., lead principal investigator and director of the university's multidisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research.

The lead principal investigator at Tuskegee University is Yates, Ph.D., and the co-principal investigators are Vivian Carter, Ph.D., and Windy Dean-Colomb, M.D. Other lead principal investigators include UAB O'Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center Upender Manne, Ph.D., and the co-principal investigator is Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., MPH. The lead principal investigator at Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) is Brian Rivers, Ph.D., MPH, and co-principal investigator James Lillard, Ph.D., MBA.

“Culture, environment, health care access, socioeconomics and population-specific genetic differences play a large role in cancer health disparities,” said Upender Manne, Ph.D., lead investigator and professor in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine Department of Pathology. “Our efforts are focused on addressing this problem by increasing cancer research and cancer education, the number of students/investigators of minority background engaged in cancer research and the number of investigators addressing cancer health disparities. We are also developing and implementing cancer-related activities that benefit these underserved communities.”

Dr. Clayton Yates
Dr. Clayton Yates, lead principal investigator

This tripartite research effort, initially funded by NCI as a collaborative grant in 2006, will allow the three universities to understand better how patient navigation and bioethical concerns impact enrollment of minority cancer patients in clinical trials.  

"Tuskegee University is proud to partner with UAB and Morehouse School of Medicine and collaborate in this significant research affecting so many in the blackbelt region and country," said Tuskegee President Charlotte P. Morris. "This grant will provide our faculty the resources needed to continue their groundbreaking research in the fight to combat cancer disparities that disproportionately affect minority communities."  

“Our ultimate goal through this grant is to eliminate cancer disparities in the Deep South through integrated efforts in research, education, and outreach,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., senior adviser for globalization and cancer at UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Although research is important, it is not enough to eliminate cancer disparities alone. We need to get these evidence-based approaches to the ones experiencing the highest burden of disease and train the next generation to continue this mission.”

African Americans are often underrepresented in clinical research. This lack of diversity in clinical trials is an obstacle to understanding the safety and efficacy of medications and treatments for this population, contributing significantly to cancer health disparities. Furthermore, this partnership strives to work toward equal representation of African Americans in clinical trials through targeted outreach activities.  

“There is an urgent need to develop and advance evidence-based, participant-centric engagement strategies to increase representation of these groups in genomic research studies and clinical trials,” said Brian Rivers, Ph.D., director of the Morehouse School of Medicine Cancer Health Equity Institute and lead principal investigator/co-director of the outreach activities. “We are excited to implement the first targeted genomic education program in the Deep South where multigenerational effects of the clinical and research injustices remain prevalent and are a substantial issue.”

The innovative outreach program will address salient barriers such as trust in the medical care system and of researchers, foster understanding of the clinical research process, and increase knowledge and awareness of genomics in the context of cancer prevention and treatment.

In partnership and through funding provided by this grant, Tuskegee has been able to develop a cancer research program and increase its cancer research funding from approximately $2 million in 2006 to more than $20 million in 2021; Morehouse School of Medicine has developed a fully-functional cancer center and have increased its cancer research funding from $18 million in 2006 to more than $68 million in 2021; and the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center has almost doubled its investigators conducting cancer health disparities research with an increase in funding from $12 million in 2006 to more than $63 million in 2020.

With this funding, the three partnering institutions have trained more than 376 early-stage investigators, post-doctoral fellows and graduate students and exposed more than 100 middle and high school students in these communities to cancer research. They have implemented more than 35 population-based cancer research projects and encouraged more than 600 racial/ethnic minorities to receive colon cancer screening and provided personalized cancer care screening to nearly 1,700 participants at Morehouse School of Medicine. They have recruited more than 400 participants for Tuskegee’s Healthy Lifestyle Program, more than 550 patients into cancer clinical trials at UAB and more than 111 patients into the Cancer Care Connect program, a program that addresses social determinants of health among medically underserved cancer survivors, at all three institutions.

With this funding, the three partnering institutions have trained more than 376 early-stage investigators, post-doctoral fellows, and graduate students and exposed more than 100 middle and high school students in these communities to cancer research. They have also implemented more than 35 population-based cancer research projects, encouraged more than 600 racial/ethnic minorities to receive colon cancer screening, and provided personalized cancer care screening to nearly 1,700 participants at Morehouse School of Medicine. They have recruited more than 400 participants for T.U.'s Healthy Lifestyle Program, more than 550 patients into cancer clinical trials at UAB, and more than 111 patients into the Cancer Care Connect program, a program that addresses social determinants of health among medically underserved cancer survivors, at all three institutions.

The lead principal investigator at Tuskegee University is Yates, and the co-principal investigators are Vivian Carter, Ph.D., and Windy Dean-Colomb, M.D. The lead principal at UAB O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is Manne, and the co-principal investigator is Scarinci. The lead principal investigator at Morehouse School of Medicine is Rivers, who works with co-principal investigator James Lillard, Ph.D.


About Tuskegee University Multidisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research

The National Institutes of Health established the Center for Biomedical Research (CBR) through the Research Centers in Minority Institutions (RCMI) Program in 1985 after Congress noted stark health disparities between minority and white Americans. The CBR program develops and strengthens the research infrastructure of minority institutions by expanding human and physical resources for conducting basic, clinical, and translational research. The program supports these awards must have a significant enrollment of students from racial and ethnic minority groups underrepresented in biomedical sciences that are focused on pursuing doctoral degrees in the health professions or health-related sciences.

About UAB 

Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a part of the University of Alabama System, is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center with over $600 million in research awards annually, as well as Alabama's largest employer, with some 23,000 employees, and has an annual economic impact exceeding $7 billion on the state. The pillars of UAB's mission include education, research, innovation, and economic development, community engagement, and patient care. Learn more at www.uab.edu.

About Morehouse School of Medicine 

Founded in 1975, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) is among the nation's leading educators of primary care physicians, biomedical scientists, and public health professionals. An independent and private historically-Black medical school, MSM was recognized by the Annals of Internal Medicine as the nation's number one medical school in fulfilling a social mission—the creation and advancement of health equity. MSM faculty and alumni are noted for excellence in teaching, research, and public policy, as well as exceptional patient care. MSM is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to award doctoral and master's degrees. To learn more about programs, please visit www.msm.edu.

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