DUARTE, Calif. — City of Hope has announced that it has received a lung cancer Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to address the disproportionate effects of lung cancer in Black communities. The approximately $3 million award is shared with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Massey Cancer Center and Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) Hollings Cancer Center.
SPORE — a cornerstone of the NCI’s efforts to promote collaborative, interdisciplinary translational cancer research — involves both basic and clinical/applied scientists working together to support projects that will result in new and diverse approaches to the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of human cancers.
The SPORE funding will establish the Translational Research Center in Lung Cancer Disparities, which will be known as TRACER. TRACER will be based at VCU Massey Cancer Center in partnership with City of Hope and MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. TRACER will also engage a host of community groups across all three states, including local health departments, community health centers, marginalized populations, civic activists, educational institutions, faith-based groups and cancer survivors.
Victoria Seewaldt, M.D., Ruth Ziegler Chair in Population Sciences at City of Hope, will lead TRACER’s Developmental Research Program, which will identify and fund new lung cancer disparities research projects not explicitly outlined in this grant with a focus on early career scientists. For instance, projects funded by this program may investigate how pollution, not just smoking, contributes to lung cancer burden in Black communities.
“While smoking rates are declining, the incidence of nonsmoking-related lung cancer is on the rise. We need to better understand how disparities in exposure to air pollution contributes to lung cancer in Black men and women,” Seewaldt said. “Now is the time for change. Our goal is to generate the data to drive improvement in air quality, particularly for individuals living near highways and factories.”
Rick Kittles, Ph.D., professor and director, City of Hope’s Division of Health Equities, Department of Population Sciences, will lead efforts to perform ancestry analysis of individuals entered on TRACER clinical trials. Kittles’ pioneering work has identified the importance of ancestry analysis as a tool to understand disparities in prostate cancer.
City of Hope TRACER investigator Loretta Erhunmwunsee, M.D., assistant professor, City of Hope’s Division of Thoracic Surgery, will work to link social determinants of health to tissue specimens obtained within the biorepository. Erhunmwunsee’s pioneering work aims to investigate the link between disparities, air pollution and biologically aggressive breast cancers.
Christopher Sistrunk, Ph.D., assistant professor, City of Hope’s Department of Population Sciences, will lead the TRACER Community Engagement Core efforts. Sistrunk currently serves as the lead education and outreach investigator on multiple community-driven research projects, successfully bridging the gap between biomedical researchers and the communities they serve. Programs spearheaded by Sistrunk in Los Angeles have increased community trust, cancer and biomedical literacy, the number of underrepresented minorities participating in clinical trials and the number of underrepresented minorities entering the biomedical workforce pipeline.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., accounting for more deaths than breast, prostate and colon cancer combined.
Although the racial gap in lung cancer cases appears to be closing, likely due to the success of anti-smoking campaigns, Black men still have a higher risk of developing lung cancer compared to white men, even though they tend to smoke less — an effect referred to as the “Black smoking paradox.” Black patients are also more likely than white patients to be diagnosed at later stages and to receive no treatment at all for their cancer.
To better understand the paradox, TRACER will investigate how stress and smoking interact with gene expression to raise lung cancer risk for Black men. Preliminary data shows that Black men tend to express the PRMT6 gene — which drives lung tumor development — at higher levels than white men, and smoking further stimulates PRMT6 expression. This project will ask how stress plays in and also create early detection tools suitable for use in the Black population.
TRACER’s projects will use human tissue and fluid samples collected at all three sites to ensure genetic and geographic diversity of research participants.
After the three-year funding period of this initial award, which is considered a P20 exploratory grant, the infrastructure will be in place to apply for a larger, five-year P50 SPORE award that will establish a more permanent research program devoted to ending racial inequities in lung cancer.