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Community Networks To Emerge
Success of NCI Research-Outreach Program Celebrated

By Neil Swan

A new paradigm for health disparities research involving community-based cancer education, research and training has proven itself a success, becoming the springboard for a second generation of cancer awareness, education and prevention programs sponsored by the National Cancer Institute in racial/ethnic and underserved communities.

NCI's Special Populations Networks (SPN) celebrated a record of successes in nearing the end of their 5-year effort to build infrastructures for promoting cancer awareness. Some 18 SPN research and outreach efforts are winding down in Asian American, Hispanic, African American, American Samoan, Native Hawaiian, Appalachian, American Indian and Alaska Native communities across the country.

Dr. Mark Clanton, NCI deputy director, speaks at the CRCHD Summit.

At a recent session in Washington, D.C., the SPN Summit's grantee researchers and staffers gathered in "Celebrating the Power of Our Commitment to the Community." Sponsored and funded by NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, the SPN effort and many of its participants will soon be transitioning to an ambitious new project — the Community Networks to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities Through Education, Research and Training (Community Network Program, or CNP).

"The SPN projects have done their job," Dr. Kenneth Chu, CRCHD program director, told summit participants. "You have shown that special population researchers can publish — with more than 130 Medline papers about your work. You have shown that minority junior researchers can be found, trained and can become productive — with 200 minority investigators applying for pilot research projects. And you have shown that you leverage the NCI funds by obtaining an additional $20 million in non-NCI funding to further your efforts. Equally important, you have shown how to help your communities."

In a presentation to the NCI board of scientific advisors, CRCHD pointed to SPN's successes to request approval of $125 million for CNP's next-stage 5-year program. With an enthusiastic "thumbs up" from NCI director Dr. Andrew von Eschenbach, the board approved the CNP, which will be launched next year after announcement of the grant winners, Chu noted.

"We have developed a new paradigm for health disparities research involving cancer education, research and training," said CRCHD in its bid to the NCI board.

"When we engaged researchers to aid their own, train their own and perform research to help their own, we have uncovered the power of their commitment to their own. There is a bond of trust between the researchers and their communities," the advisors were told. "We have an investment in these leaders and their communities. It has yielded great dividends. We need to build on this investment to yield even greater gains."

At the summit podium, CRCHD director Dr. Harold Freeman addresses the audience as (from l) Dr. Mark Clanton, Dr. Nada Vydelingum, CRCHD deputy director, and Frank Jackson, program director of the Special Populations Networks, observe.

Many of the 18 SPN research-outreach efforts, most affiliated with a university, hospital or NCI-sponsored cancer center, are now applying for funding from the new CNP.

"It's wonderful now that we have researchers from these communities," said CRCHD director Dr. Harold Freeman. He traced the history of NCI's interest in cancer health disparities to a 1973 paper published by Dr. LaSalle Leffall, Jr., and Dr. U.K. Henschke that "put this issue on the map" by pointing to the striking inequalities in cancer mortality that unfairly burden African Americans.

NCI deputy director Dr. Mark Clanton told summit participants that addressing cancer disparities is a key element in the institute's strategic planning.

After the SPN winds down early next year, the CNP will begin operating. The goals of the new program are to improve access to and use of interventions in communities with cancer health disparities in order to reduce inequalities. NCI plans to commit about $24 million in 2005 and in 5 subsequent years to fund 18 to 22 grants under the CNP.

CNP will be implemented in three phases:

  • Develop and increase capacity building to support community-based participatory education, research and training to reduce cancer health disparities;
  • Develop community-based participatory research and training programs to reduce cancer health disparities; and
  • Establish CNP credibility and sustainability.

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