A Comprehensive Cancer Center Designated by the National Cancer Institute

Pathways to Discovery: Winter 2013

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UCCCC Partners with Chicago State University to Address Cancer Disparities on South Side

Cancer disparities are on the rise on the South Side of Chicago, creating an urgent need for cancer prevention efforts at the community level. For example, a disproportionately greater number of African American women die from breast cancer than any other group in the U.S., but in Chicago, the numbers are even worse. One potential approach to prevent these and other cancer-related deaths is to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities from Southside communities, which are predominantly African American, in the healthcare workforce.

“Part of filling the gap in disparities is being able to encourage researchers and scientists who are from those communities to engage in disparities research and help put the specific concerns and needs of the community in context,” said Karen E. Kim, MD, MS, professor of medicine and director of the UCCCC’s Office of Community Engagement and Cancer Disparities.

A Timely Partnership
The UCCCC has partnered with Chicago State University (CSU) to create opportunities for Master of Public Health (MPH) graduate students interested in biomedical and cancer research that addresses cancer disparities in the surrounding community. The partnership, called the Chicago Southside Cancer Disparities Initiative (CSCDI), recently received funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI)1 to develop a new cancer disparities concentration within CSU’s MPH program, with an emphasis on cancer education, training, and community engagement.

As the largest minority-serving institution in the Midwest, CSU has a long history of education, leadership, and commitment to Chicago’s South Side. Their MPH program was developed in 2010 to focus on minority health and health promotion. The partnership presents a timely opportunity to pair minority students with nationally recognized UCCCC educators and researchers.

University of Chicago faculty advisors include UCCCC members Dr. Kim and Habibul Ahsan, MBBS, MMedSc, Louis Block Professor of Health Studies, Medicine, and Human Genetics, as well as Doriane Miller, MD, associate professor of medicine and director of the Center for Community Health and Vitality; and Monica Peek, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine.

Town hall meetings will be held at the UCCCC, CSU, and in the Southside community to gain a deeper understanding of the community’s needs and research strengths. Over the next year-and-a-half, information generated from the town hall meetings will shape the development of mini-courses that will be offered to CSU students, University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine students, and community members. In the subsequent two years, content from the mini-courses will be integrated into the MPH curriculum at CSU and the Pritzker School of Medicine’s Healthcare Disparities in America course curriculum.

The UCCCC and CSU will also work closely with community-based health organizations to prepare them for collaborative projects with students, who will receive mini-grants from the CSCDI to conduct community-based participatory research, which entails working side-by-side with community members to help translate knowledge into action.

A Focus on Public Health
Although laboratory work and clinical trials focus on the biological aspects of health, leading research centers such as the UCCCC also need to look at the “bigger picture” of public health, according to Dr. Kim. These efforts involve developing community-based programs that sustain healthy lifestyles and prevention, such as the CSCDI.

“We have the wonderful ability to disseminate scientific findings out into the community to help reduce cancer disparities,” she said, commenting that the public can also inform researchers about how to approach their studies. “It’s the integration of science and health.”

1This project is being supported by grant number CA165582 from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health.

Ernst Lengyel