The National Institutes of Health awarded the Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina a grant worth more than $800,000 to study cancer disparities among African Americans.
The grant is among the first of its kind to support cancer disparities research including Sea Island residents.
Money will be used to establish the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center, which will research cancer disparities and train future researchers. Researchers from MUSC and S.C. State University will collaborate on both aspects of the center.
“The more we know about how genetic makeup contributes to cancer onset and progression, the better we will be able to develop drugs targeted toward each person’s genetic makeup, which will give us greater ammunition in our cancer-fighting arsenal,” said Marvella Ford, principal investigator and associate director of cancer disparities at the Hollings Cancer Center.
African Americans from Sea Island are among ideal subjects for this study because they are the most homogenous black population in the country, according to a news release. They are direct descendants of Africans from West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone.
The genetic distance between Sea Island African Americans and their counterparts in Sierra Leone is shorter than between Sea Island populations and other African Americans living in the United States, making the population an interesting genetic group to study, the release said.
African Americans without Sea Island ancestry as well as Caucasians diagnosed with cancer will also be included in the study.
Research will initially focus on breast and prostate cancers, two cancers which affect African Americans and Caucasians at markedly disproportionate rates. Researchers will look at the genetic role in the disparities.
“In addition to conducting research that could lead to improved cancer treatment, the grant will also develop the careers of the next generation of cancer disparities researchers by training undergraduate students from SCSU, graduate students from MUSC and junior faculty from both institutions,” said Judith Salley, chair of the department of biological sciences at S.C. State and co-principal investigator on the grant.