Funding renewed for TSU, Meharry, Vanderbilt-Ingram partnership on cancer disparities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The Meharry Medical College/Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center/Tennessee State University Partnership (MVTCP) has received renewed funding for the next five years to continue long-standing collaborations to eliminate cancer health disparities. The news comes during the annual campaign to raise awareness about the impact of breast cancer.  

Dr. Margaret Whalen, professor of Chemistry at TSU

The National Cancer Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health, awarded the grant through the U54 Comprehensive Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (CPACHE) program. The MVTCP is the longest-standing partnership in the United States through this program, entering into its 22nd consecutive year of funding in September of 2021. The partnership was formed in 1999 between Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC) and Meharry Medical College, and a year later, successfully competed for one of only two funded CPACHE grants. Tennessee State University (TSU) joined the partnership in 2011.

The MVTCP’s goals include strengthening the infrastructure and capabilities of Meharry and TSU to engage in cancer research and expanding cancer health disparities research at VICC. Six principal investigators lead the MVTCP from the three partner institutions: Samuel Evans Adunyah, PhD, and Duane Smoot, MD, of Meharry, Tuya Pal, MD, and Ann Richmond, PhD, of VICC; and Margaret Whalen, PhD, and Venkataswarup Tiriveedhi, MD, PhD, of TSU.

“This partnership is also crucial in providing opportunities for our undergraduate and graduate students to participate in cancer research and in increasing the ability of our faculty to garner support for their cancer research projects,” said Whalen, professor of Chemistry at TSU.

“At Meharry, this new award will support one full project in prostate cancer, one pilot project on cancer immunology and several cores, including the PRACTICE CORE, which includes Oncology Clinical Trials to enhance recruitment of minorities to cancer clinical trials, Translational Pathology Core and Research Education Core.  Moreover, it will provide support for at least three PhD trainees and 15 first year medical students in Meharry,” said Adunyah, chair and professor of Biochemistry and Cancer Biology at Meharry.

VICC will continue to engage with Meharry and TSU researchers and students by sharing its state-of-the-art resources, focusing on probing the reasons for cancer health disparities and investigating interventions to address these inequities.

“While we are proud of what our partnership has accomplished over the past 20 years, we still have much to do. We will continue to build capacity for cancer disparities research while engaging the community that we are so honored to serve,” said Pal, associate director for Cancer Health Disparities at VICC, Ingram Professor of Cancer Research and professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt.

“This grant will further ongoing opportunities to continue to grow funding for cancer research at Meharry Medical College and Tennessee State University and to further cancer disparities research with the VICC. The impact and outcomes of the MVTCP cancer research education activities result in the building of a more diverse population of cancer researchers,” said Ann Richmond, PhD, Ingram Professor of Cancer Biology and director of the Graduate Program in Cancer Biology at Vanderbilt.

TSU offers experience and expertise in reaching minority populations in a culturally appropriate manner. It can extend the impact of the MVTCP’s shared goals and serve as a pipeline for future cancer researchers. The university enrolls over 8,000 students each year and offers both graduate and undergraduate health science degrees.

“Through the MVTCP, TSU will continue to engage in critically important community outreach efforts regarding cancer. The partnership has been and will continue to be vital to the development of cancer research and outreach capacity at TSU,” said Whalen.

While the grant will support overarching research goals, it will also fund three special projects to address cancers that disproportionately affect African Americans either by incidence or mortality.

· The BRAVE Strategy (Breast Cancer Risk Assessment, achieving Equity) project will conduct a clinical trial focused on developing and testing strategies to reduce racial disparities in breast cancer mortality. According to the latest statistics, African American women have a 31 percent breast cancer mortality rate – the highest of any U.S. racial or ethnic group. Lucy Spalluto, MD, of VICC, Maureen Sanderson, PhD, of Meharry, and Rebecca Selove, PhD, MPH, of TSU, lead the initiative.

· The “Role of Fetuin-A in Prostate Cancer Progression and Prevention” project will address the significant need to identify biomarkers that can differentiate between prostate cancers that stop responding to hormone therapy and prostate cancers that are more indolent and don’t require aggressive treatment. Josiah Ochieng, PhD, of Meharry, Zhenbang Chen, PhD, of Meharry and Robert Matusik, PhD, of VICC lead the initiative.

· The “Developing Immune Checkpoint Controlled-release Biomaterials for Cancer” project will test whether immunotherapy response can be improved in ovarian cancer patients by optimizing controlled and sustained local release of checkpoint ligands. Anil Shanker, PhD, of Meharry, Todd Giorgio, PhD, of VICC, and Richard Mu, PhD, of TSU, lead the initiative.

The MVTCP has achieved numerous goals throughout its history. During the five years of its prior funding cycle, the partnership increased its research productivity, invested in collaborative infrastructure, advanced cancer research education, recruited new investigators and engaged with community partners to better inform research.

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