October 29, 1999

VUMC, Meharry to tackle racial disparity in cancer fight

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Dr. John Maupin

VUMC, Meharry to tackle racial disparity in cancer fight

The National Cancer Institute has awarded more than $1 million to support a new partnership between Meharry Medical College and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.

Through this partnership, Meharry and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center will collaborate on research and patient care initiatives that ultimately are hoped to help close the gap between blacks and whites in cancer incidence and deaths.

The work will be coordinated through an alliance, announced earlier this year, between Meharry and Vanderbilt Medical Center to enhance educational, scientific and clinical programs at and between both institutions.

"It is of great concern that, at the turn of the 21st Century, African-Americans remain more likely to develop cancer – and to die from it – than white Americans," said Dr. John E. Maupin, president of Meharry Medical College and member of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Board of Overseers.

"The key is to better understand precisely why this disparity exists. We have ideas and can make intelligent guesses, but we need to do the rigorous scientific studies to answer those questions. Through this partnership, we will be better positioned to find those answers together than either institution could be alone."

Dr. Harry R. Jacobson, vice chancellor for Health Affairs at Vanderbilt Medical Center, noted that conducting endeavors such as this new partnership is precisely why the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance was formed.

"I congratulate the hard work that has led to this collaboration and the quick results that the alliance has achieved," Jacobson said.

As a group, African-Americans face a disproportionate burden from cancer. Specifically:

•African-American men have the highest incidence rates of prostate cancer, colorectal cancer and lung cancer compared to other ethnic groups.

•African-American men are more than twice as likely to die of prostate cancer than men of other ethnic groups, and they also have the highest mortality rates from colorectal and lung cancer.

•White women have the highest incidence of breast cancer of any ethnic group, but African-American women are more likely to die from breast cancer.

•African-American women have the highest incidence on colorectal and lung cancer and the highest mortality rates from colorectal cancer.

"This award will support a number of basic science and clinical initiatives," said Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center Director Dr. Harold L. Moses, Benjamin F. Byrd Professor of Oncology.

"We are pleased to have the opportunity to collaborate with Meharry to build a strong cancer program and to work together on clinical trials involving minority and other under-served groups. We also intend to collaborate with Meharry in a broader sense in the areas of prevention and outcomes-based research."

Among the specific activities that will be supported by the award:

•Development of a post-graduate training program at Meharry to prepare minority students for careers in cancer research. Vanderbilt representatives will sit on the program's advisory committee, and the program's students will be able to take courses at both institutions;

•Development of shared research resources at Meharry to provide scientists access to expertise and technology that would be too expensive for individual researchers or departments to acquire on their own;

•Funding of pilot projects through which Meharry faculty, in collaboration with Vanderbilt researchers, will conduct novel cancer research;

•Establishment of an oncology fellowship program at Meharry;

•Training of minority research nurses and data managers;

•Recruitment of a minority medical oncologist, who will have joint faculty appointments at Meharry and Vanderbilt and will see patients at Metro-General Hospital on the Meharry campus. A half-day oncology clinic, staffed by two Vanderbilt oncology fellows, has already been established at Metro-General, with plans to expand to two half-days each week, Moses said.

Dr. Clifton Meador, director of the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance, said that the cancer partnership will address at least two of the overall goals of the alliance – to move toward an integrated health delivery system between the two institutions and to increase participation by African-Americans in clinical trials of new treatments.

"Nationally, African-Americans are under-represented in clinical trials, not only in cancer but in other diseases as well," Meador said. "There are many factors involved in this disparity, including cultural and social barriers. We hope that this partnership will help overcome some of these obstacles and help make available some of the latest, most promising cancer treatments. We also believe this will be a model for alliance initiatives in other diseases."

The award from the NCI is a supplement to the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center's "cancer center core grant," which provides administrative support funding as part of its designation as a National Cancer Institute center. This designation, awarded to only 60 cancer centers throughout the country, recognizes excellence in cancer research, treatment and prevention.

The Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center is one of a select few NCI-designated cancer centers in the southeast and the only one in Tennessee dedicated to advancing research and patient care in all types of cancer in adults and children.

Meharry Medical College is a private, historically black academic health center. Since its founding in 1876, Meharry has been a leading producer of African-American physicians and dentists, and today is one of the nation's leading providers of African-American doctorates in biomedical sciences. The College is particularly known for its emphasis on the special primary health concerns of minorities, the poor and the disadvantaged.