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Fox Chase Cancer Center researcher Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH, was recently awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence grant of $50,000 for a pilot project examining differences in risk and disease course for Black versus white head and neck cancer patients.
Fox Chase Cancer Center researcher Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH, was recently awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant of $50,000 for a pilot project examining differences in risk and disease course for Black versus white head and neck cancer patients.
“We’ve been doing some work in head and neck cancer and trying to understand how African genetic ancestry might contribute to disparities in patient outcomes,” said Ragin, a professor for the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.
“We actually published some data a few years ago where we identified a specific genetic marker that is ancestry informative, which suggests that persons who are of African ancestry appear to have poor survival if they are treated with platinum-based drugs.”
Ragin’s pilot SPORE project will serve as a follow up to that work. She and her colleagues are proposing a set of experiments to understand what therapies might be more effective for Black patients given the findings of her previous work.
“A lot of it is experimental, so we are developing cell lines from patients and are going to be engineering the African genetic locus that we’re interested in studying to try to see how the cell line responds to other standard therapies in culture,” said Ragin. “That will give us some idea of what alternative treatments can be offered to patients who are African American and who don’t respond to platinum-based therapies.”
Ragin’s grant is part of a larger competitive SPORE grant awarded to Fox Chase in September 2020 to fund research for head and neck cancers, a group of cancers that start in the lining of the oral cavity, throat, voice box, or vocal cords.
The award is related to a five-year, $11.7 million grant Yale Cancer Center received to fund a SPORE collaboration among Fox Chase, Yale Cancer Center, and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to address obstacles in treating head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. It was awarded through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
The National Cancer Institute established SPOREs to promote interdisciplinary research and to help basic research findings move quickly from the laboratory to the patient. These grants are highly competitive. In order to earn one, institutions must demonstrate a high degree of collaboration between first-rate scientists and clinicians, and show excellence in translational research projects.
“This research project really gets at the disparities we have that we all recognize, not just in head and neck cancer, but in general, especially in clinical trials. We all know that the therapies we use to treat cancer have to go through clinical trials,” said Ragin.
“In terms of representation in clinical trials, African Americans have always been underrepresented. This project is trying to address that because the reality is, while we have all these standard protocols for treating head and neck cancer, many African Americans have not been evaluated in clinical trials, so we really don’t know how well they respond to therapy. We’re trying to address that, and that in itself underlines the significance of this project,” she said.