Health Care

UAB Partnership to Study Cancer Disparities Gets Grant Renewal

UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of three research institutes collectively awarded a five-year, $18 million grant to study and address cancer disparities in underserved communities across the South.

This year’s award extends a program that has partnered the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s cancer center with Morehouse School of Medicine’s Cancer Health Equity Institute and Tuskegee University’s Multidisciplinary Center for Biomedical Research.

The grant will focus on intervention and prevention for underserved communities across the South, particularly in Georgia and Alabama — areas with some of the highest cancer mortality rates in the United States, according to a statement issued by UAB.

The grant will allow researchers to focus on implementing precision cancer medicine, 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.

Black people often are underrepresented in clinical research, which is an obstacle to understanding the safety and efficacy of medications and treatments for this population.

“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 principal investigator and professor in the UAB Marnix E. Heersink School of Medicine Department of Pathology.

He said steps being taken include increasing cancer research and education, the number of students/investigators of minority background engaged in cancer research and the number of investigators addressing cancer health disparities.

Brian Rivers, Ph.D., director of Morehouse’s Cancer Health Equity Institute and lead principal investigator/co-director of the outreach activities, said there is a great need to involve minority groups in research. “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.”

During the 15-year partnership, Morehouse has developed a fully functional cancer center and has increased its cancer research funding from $18 million in 2006 to more than $68 million in 2021; Tuskegee has developed a cancer research program and increased its cancer research funding from approximately $2 million in 2006 to more than $20 million in 2021; and the UAB 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.

Collectively, the three 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; 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. 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, which addresses social determinants of health among medically underserved cancer survivors at all three institutions.