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Researchers Pioneer Efforts to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities

By Neil Swan

The National Cancer Institute's goal of eliminating the burden of cancer by the year 2015 through a coordinated process of discovery, development and delivery is moving forward, said NCI director Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach, speaking recently to health disparity researchers. But achieving the goal requires continued commitment to the delivery of medical advances to minorities and underserved communities, he said.

"We need your help," said von Eschenbach recently at NCI's Special Populations Networks Cancer Health Disparities Summit 2003 in Washington, D.C. "You are the pioneers."

More than 300 investigators and staffers from SPN's 18 research coalitions in 15 states reported on their outreach advances and insights during the summit. The networks are funded and managed by NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach (l) addresses the summit with Dr. Harold Freeman, director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities.

The 3-day meeting spotlighted how various SPN research projects are functioning as community-based cancer control partnerships. SPNs are now actively engaging their communities in a range of pilot research activities and moving forward to become peer-reviewed and funded cancer control and cancer prevention research and demonstration projects. NCI research grants are issued to researchers for public health projects that may focus on many communities nationwide or on projects in a single county, tribal nation or specific population subgroup.

Von Eschenbach said NCI is seeking to address the problem of cancer health disparities by partnering and leveraging with other NIH institutes and HHS agencies, as well as the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

SPNs are already achieving success, according to Dr. Kenneth Chu, center program director. He said that SPN research projects have received some $11.5 million in funding from non-NCI sources. "That represents half of the money that NCI granted to start your projects," he said.

In his report to summit participants, Chu said SPNs have, in just 3 years:

  • Conducted 480 cancer awareness activities using SPN materials written in 8 languages;
  • Formed more than 300 signed partnerships with community-based organizations, national and local groups, state and local governments, and other entities in outreach efforts to reduce cancer health disparities;
  • Created more than 20 SPN web sites and more than 20 newsletters to disseminate cancer control information in local communities;
  • Trained more than 300 junior investigators who are from minority or underserved populations;
  • Recruited more than 2,000 community-based volunteers for cancer control efforts using curricula developed by the SPN;
  • Submitted 179 grant applications for funding to conduct a range of pilot projects to reduce cancer health disparities targeting groups including Asian Americans, Indians or Native Americans, Mississippi Delta residents and Native Hawaiians; and
  • Submitted or published more than 90 research papers in peer-reviewed medical journals.

In April, SPN transitioned to the third and final phase (years 4 and 5) of their 5-year projects, said Center Project Director Frank Jackson. In Phase III, the various SPNs will use information gleaned from their pilot projects to develop investigator-initiated research grant applications, as well as to enhance the infrastructure developed in the earlier phases.

"I think that we are right on target for the next phase — applying for and obtaining major funding for the full-fledged research projects," said center director Dr. Harold P. Freeman. "I believe that we can and will be successful."

The center is examining re-competition of the Special Populations Networks to continue NCI's focus on reducing cancer disparities.

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