Health & Fit Scientists aim to address racial and ethnic disparities in cancer research

01:35  12 october  2017
01:35  12 october  2017 Source:   The Boston Globe

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Huang’s work looks specifically at disparities in prostate cancer deaths. He pointed to the NIH’s “All of Us” program, which aims to gather data on more than 1 million Americans to improve research and health outcomes.

2003 Institute of Medicine issued Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare. • Coordinates and strengthens the NCI cancer research portfolio in basic, clinical, translational and population-based research to address cancer health disparities .

Panelist Timothy Rebbeck, left, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, talks with Franklin Huang of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute talk prior to the © Globe staff photo/Craig F. Walker Panelist Timothy Rebbeck, left, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, talks with Franklin Huang of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute talk prior to the "Cancer disparities and diversity in the Life Sciences" panel discussion at the UMass Club in Boston, Oct. 11, 2017. It is a medical puzzle: why are death rates for black men with prostate cancer almost 2.5 times the rate of white men in the United States?

Part of the reason is unequal access to health care.

But even that doesn’t fully explain the disparity, said Timothy Rebbek, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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The eld of cancer health disparities has evolved into a complex science and an established multidisciplinary eld of cancer research . How do integrated health care systems address racial and ethnic disparities in colon cancer ?

Project 4: Mediators and Ethnic Disparity in Breast Cancer Prognosis (Garth Rauscher, PI). The specific aims of the Center for Interdisciplinary Health Disparities Research area to: Aim 1: bring together scientists from inside and outside the University and members of the community who are

“It’s very clear you can minimize that difference or that disparity if you can get black and white men to have equal access to care, early intervention, and screening, but the effects don’t seem to entirely go away,” Rebbek said Wednesday at a discussion of cancer disparities held at the UMass Club in Boston. Therefore, “there are probably biological differences that lead to more aggressive cancers in men of African descent in general.”

Understanding those biological differences is difficult, however, because many ethnic and racial groups are underrepresented in genomic studies and in the cell lines and clinical trials used to test new drugs, said Franklin Huang, an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

“It’s a major challenge,” Huang said.

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Ethnic and racial disparities in health have been well documented in recent decades across a Focuses on addressing health disparities in cancer , hypertension, and HIV disease among African Also aims to develop effective strategies for disseminating information and building research capacity.

Reducing Racial and Ethnic Disparities . in the Juvenile Justice System. Mark Soler, Executive Director, Center for decades of efforts to study and address disparities , few juris-dictions have implemented reforms with measurable impacts on youth of color (National Research Council, 2013).

To address the gap, cancer researchers must first confront the lack of trust in the medical establishment that is felt in minority communities that have been historically mistreated by medical researchers, said Jill Macoska, director of the Center for Personalized Cancer Therapy at UMass Boston.

Such historical injustices include the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a research project that ran from 1932 to 1972 and involved hundreds of poor African-American men in Macon County, Alabama who were never treated for the disease, even after penicillin became the drug of choice for syphilis in 1947.

In another notorious case from the 1950s, researchers took cancer cells from Henrietta Lacks, a poor African-American woman, and cultured them without her knowledge or permission to develop a cell line, called HeLa, that became a vital tool of medical research. Lacks’ story was recently the subject of a major book and movie.

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research , thereby ultimately eliminating identied disparities in cancer incidence, quality of care, and outcomes. 26. Rhoads KF, Patel MI, Ma Y, et al: How do integrated health care systems address racial and ethnic disparities in colon cancer ?

Cancer control research aims to generate basic knowledge about how to monitor and change individual and collective behavior, and to ensure that knowledge is Studies focused on racial or ethnic disparities in functional, physiologic, or metabolic outcomes across the life span and in old age.

Macoska said some researchers are now working with churches and other groups to inform diverse communities about what happens to specimens donated for research and what the advantage are of participating in clinical trials.

Huang’s work looks specifically at disparities in prostate cancer deaths. He is taking tumors from Caribbean men with the disease, isolating the DNA, and then sequencing it to pinpoint the genes that are mutating and giving rise to the cancer.

He said he hopes to identify genes that are more commonly mutated in men of African ancestry than in men of European ancestry – a difference that could help explain the sharp disparity in death rates.

Others are trying to diversify the life sciences workforce.

People of color make up 30 percent of the US population, but just 12 percent of the nation’s science and engineering labor force, said Karen Burns White, deputy associate director of the Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities at Dana-Farber.

White said she is seeking to recruit promising college students, expose them to research opportunities, and find them mentors who can guide them into medical and scientific careers.

Rebbek said the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute are also trying to diversify cancer research.

He pointed to the NIH’s “All of Us” program, which aims to gather data on more than 1 million Americans to improve research and health outcomes.

“We should have been doing this 20 years ago,” Rebbek said, “but at least there are large efforts trying to find out how to make this happen now, so we should be optimistic about what can happen in the future.”

The event, called “Cancer Disparities + Diversity in Life Sciences,” was presented as part of HUBweek, an innovation-themed festival sponsored by Harvard, MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, and The Boston Globe.

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