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Vol. LIX, No. 18
September 7, 2007

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NIH Hosts Cancer Health Disparities Summit

  NCI director Dr. John Niederhuber and Dr. Sanya Springfield, director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities  
  NCI director Dr. John Niederhuber and Dr. Sanya Springfield, director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities  
They came from as far away as the Samoan Islands, from reservations in Oklahoma, inner city Philadelphia and research institutions across America with the goal of strengthening cancer health disparities research.

The second annual Cancer Health Disparities Summit-jointly sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Center for Research Resources-brought together the nation's leading cancer health disparities researchers to discuss strategies and challenges for reducing cancer among minority and underserved communities. Among them were NIH staff, health professionals and community advocates.

"The Disparities Summit helps keep us all accountable," said Dr. Sanya Springfield, director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. "By coming together once a year, we are able to better assess our progress and identify and prioritize the challenges that remain. It is also a time to review and assess the strategies we are employing-a time to take stock and consider what is working and what is not."

More than 23 speakers attended, including NCI director Dr. John Niederhuber and NCRR director Dr. Barbara Alving.

Addressing the closing session, Niederhuber talked about exciting scientific research being conducted and sponsored by NCI and the need to make advances available to all.

"Cancer is a disease of staggering complexity," he said. "Soon, however, cancer medicine will emerge into a highly personalized approach" where doctors will move away from "search and destroy" to "target and control." Genome scanning will soon allow physicians to map predictors of disease based on genetic information. "Using genomics and proteomics, oncologists will soon be able to detect cancer at its earliest stage and among those born at risk for cancer, enabling physicians to provide patients with individualized cancer treatment," Niederhuber said.

"Research is now under way to address the hypothesis that stem cells are responsible for tumor genesis, and determine whether these cells may be viable therapeutic targets," he continued. Already, NCI scientists have discovered a possible marker that may be used for detecting the earliest stages of cancer transformation. Using special agents to "paint chromosomes," researchers have revealed the location of chromosomes within the nucleus.

"To ensure that the latest scientific advances reach all patients, we need to improve access and expand our outreach programs and patient navigation," Niederhuber added. "A key part of the mission of the recently launched NCI Community Cancer Centers Program is to research new and enhanced ways to assist, educate and better treat the needs of underserved populations."

Nearly 900 people attended the event. "One of the biggest strengths of a conference like this is the opportunity to network with researchers and advocates from other regions of the country, meet junior researchers and collaborate on scientific papers and grants with people you have not previously worked with," said Dr. Claudia Baquet, associate dean for policy and planning at the University of Maryland Medical School. She is one of 25 principal investigators participating in NCI's $95 million Community Networks Program.

Native Samoan Dr. Victor Tafaeono, a cancer surgeon and NCI grantee, observed, "The genomics, genetics and proteomics talks here were absolutely fantastic."

Difficulties accessing cancer care was a recurring theme. "I'm afraid it's true," said Dr. Linda Burhanasstipanov, a Cherokee Indian and public health researcher with Native American Cancer Research Corp. in Colorado. "Access to care is the most important problem facing Native American Indians today, but confusion about whether Native Americans are eligible for Medicaid/Medicare support, as well as Indian Health Service assistance, has seriously impacted the survival rates of Indians with cancer."

The summit also included a media panel-Health Disparities in the News: Getting the Word Out-moderated by George A. Strait, Jr., former ABC News correspondent who is now communications director at NCMHD. It included Hispanic, black, Asian and Native American panelists. NIH Record Icon

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