Tag Archives: cancer disparities

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.

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and eight doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.

Tennessee State University part of cutting-edge research aimed at reducing cancer disparities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – This holiday season, cancer survivor Navita Gunter has a lot to be thankful for, mainly her life.

Navita Gunter

But she’s not content with her own personal survival. Understanding her own struggle when she was stricken with cervical cancer several years ago, and finding little compassion and help, Gunter has vowed not to let that happen to another woman.

“My struggle gave me purpose and compassion for others,” she said.

Gunter, founder of the Cervical Cancer Coalition of Tennessee, has joined TSU as head of the community advisory board for a four-component cancer research project at the university.

The U54 Partnership to Eliminate Cancer Health Disparities, refunded recently by the National Cancer Institute for another five years, is a coalition involving TSU, Meharry Medical College and Vanderbilt University. Its goal is to create a model for eliminating disparities in cancer through education, prevention and treatment.

The components of the project are community outreach and engagement, smoking cessation, breast cancer awareness, and cancer research education.

Mariam Boules, a senior biology major, works in Dr. Margaret Whalen’s research lab. (Photo by Emmanuel Freeman, TSU Media Relations)

“The intent of this award is to reduce health disparities,” said Dr. Margaret Whalen, professor of chemistry, who heads the cancer research education component. “The specific disparities we are looking at is the disparity between the vast majority of people and certain groups, like African American, in terms of cancer incidence.”

Whalen’s role, she said, is educating students to get them interested in doing cancer research to try to broaden the number of individuals who engage in cancer research.

“If we have more people from different backgrounds engaging in cancer research who are able to understand and deal better with the disparities, they will be more interested in trying to address the situation.”

Although there has been substantial progress in cancer treatment, screening, diagnosis, and prevention over the past several decades, addressing cancer health disparities—such as higher cancer death rates, less frequent use of proven screening tests, and higher rates of advanced cancer diagnoses—in certain populations is an area in which progress has not kept pace, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Documented cancer health disparities include substantially higher rates of prostate cancer incidence and death among African American men than men of other racial/ethnic groups; and higher rates of kidney cancer among American Indian and Alaska Natives than other racial/ethnic groups.

Mariam Boules is Dr. Whalen’s student and a senior biology major with minors in psychology and chemistry. She said exposure to the cancer research has been enlightening.

“The research is teaching me a lot of new things,” Boules said. “Having to do hands-on in the lab for about eight hours a day and enjoying the stuff you are doing and learning about; all those compounds and how they affect our system and our cells is just amazing.”

Dr. Rebecca Selove

In the case of smoking cessation, TSU scientists are looking at tobacco use and the health disparities it presents, especially the incidence of lung cancer death rate among African-American men.

“Our role at TSU is the design of behavioral intervention,” said Dr. Rebecca Selove, a clinical psychologist and research associate professor, who heads the smoking cessation component of the project. “This entails telling people about the program, and giving them information in general about how important it is to get that support if they are tobacco users.”

Selove said the intervention would be designed along with the Cancer Outreach Corp, and would involve counseling people about cessation and motivating them to sign up and stick with the program.

Dr. Oscar Miller

Dr. Oscar Miller, chair and professor of sociology, heads the outreach component. He coordinates and maintains the activities of the community advisory board, which is comprised of experts in government and community organizations, whose mission is to help reduce cancer disparities and also to disseminate cancer research findings and information.

“One of the things we do is look at the researchers, or the research that is ongoing, and try to find community partners who have some expertise in that,” Miller said. “We meet about four times a year to discuss upcoming research projects, new areas of research, and help the researchers at the three institutions on how to include the community findings in their research.”

Gunter is excited about the cancer research, and what the future holds.

“The TSU project has expanded the research effort in this area and helped me touch more people than what I was touching before,” she said.

TSU’s involvement in cancer research, in particular, is far-reaching. Recently, renowned cancer specialist and TSU alum, Dr. Edith P. Mitchell, was part of a panel that made recommendations to help speed the development of cancer cures.

The Blue Ribbon Panel of scientific leaders and cancer patient advocates was formed to provide direction for Vice President Joe Biden’s National Moonshot Initiative, which aims to make more therapies available to more patients, while also improving efforts to prevent cancer and detect it at an early stage.

“As members of the panel, we were able to take what we know from experience and working with cancer research to come up with these recommendations, which we are certain will help the vice president in his work,” Mitchell said.

Department of Media Relations

Tennessee State University
3500 John Merritt Boulevard
Nashville, Tennessee 37209

About Tennessee State University

With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 25 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.