January 19, 2001

Retreat highlights Meharry-VICC achievements

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Retreat highlights Meharry-VICC achievements

The year-old collaboration between Meharry Medical College and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is yielding early successes – with the promise of many more to come. About 120 scientists, clinicians and students from both institutions attended a scientific retreat last weekend to discuss the accomplishments.

Among the achievements so far:

•Medical students at Meharry are being introduced to course work about clinical oncology.

•Ten members of the Meharry faculty have become members of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and are active participants in its research programs.

•A total of eight patients have been enrolled in cancer clinical trials at Nashville General Hospital – representing an impressive 10 percent of the patients screened for participation.

The group heard also about an ambitious application pending with National Cancer Institute for a multi-million-dollar “minority partnership” grant designed to foster enduring collaborations between historically black institutions like Meharry and established NCI-designated cancer centers like Vanderbilt-Ingram.

The partnership between Meharry and Vanderbilt-Ingram, launched last year with a $1 million supplement to Vanderbilt-Ingram’s cancer center “core grant” from the NCI, is a component of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance.

“This is an enormously important initiative,” said George Hill, Ph.D., Meharry’s vice president for Sponsored Research, as he listed well-known disparities between blacks and whites in cancer incidence and mortality. “Overall, blacks have a cancer rate that is 30 percent higher than whites. Blacks have a lung cancer mortality rate that is 27 percent higher. And black men are not only more likely to have prostate cancer, they are more likely to die from it.”

Samuel Adunyah, Ph.D., chair of Biochemistry at Meharry and a principal investigator in the pending NCI grant application, said the goal of the project is to narrow these disparities through a “strong and genuine partnership.” He outlined plans for pilot research projects, providing doctoral training for minority students and enhancing minority participation in cancer clinical trials.

Adunyah noted that when he began attending American Association of Cancer Research meetings in the mid-1980s, there were only a handful of minority researchers in attendance. “Today, I look around those meetings and see hundreds, but we still have a lot of work to do to bring more minorities into the field of cancer research.”

The retreat at the Renaissance Hotel featured overviews of seven research programs of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, along with highlights of work by some of the newest members of these programs.

Dr. Harold Moses, director of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, said that the retreat is intended to become an annual event to keep researchers informed about the progress of the initiative and to spark additional future collaborations. “I think this retreat has been very successful.”