The American Cancer Society has awarded Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center more than $2.1 million to support cancer research and reduce individual and systematic barriers that prevent people from accessing cancer care.
The American Cancer Society (ACS) has awarded Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC) more than $2.1 million to support cancer research and reduce individual and systematic barriers that prevent people from accessing cancer care.
Approximately 40% of people born in the United States will receive a cancer diagnosis. In the Bronx—the nation's poorest urban county where 29.7% of residents live below the poverty line—MECC sees more than 3,500 people with new cancer diagnoses each year. Bronx residents are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages of disease, compared to the national average. This disparity is consistent with other historically marginalized communities and is an area of active research at the cancer center.
The largest ACS grants—for $792,000 and $660,000—support research by Haiying Cheng, M.D., Ph.D., and Kira Gritsman, M.D., Ph.D., respectively. Dr. Cheng, a member of MECC and associate professor of oncology and of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, focuses on people with lung cancer, the majority of whom develop metastatic disease. She found that a gene called RICTOR is amplified in a group of lung cancer patients who face a high risk that their lung tumors will spread to the brain. With her ACS grant, Dr. Cheng hopes to determine if targeting RICTOR can treat lung cancer metastases or even prevent them from forming.
In studies of blood cancers called myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs), Dr. Gritsman, co-leader of MECC's stem cell and cancer biology research program and professor of oncology, of medicine, and of cell biology at Einstein, found that crizotinib—a drug approved for treating lung cancer—proved effective in a people with a type of MPN. The ACS support assists her lab in determining if crizotinib prevents out-of-control blood-cell division in mouse models of MPN, with the goal of moving the drug swiftly into clinical trials. In addition, she will investigate a protein inhibited by crizotinib, RON kinase, as a new target for MPN.
The ACS grants will also enable MECC to add navigators to streamline appointments, such as imaging studies, lab assessments and treatments, for individuals with locally advanced, non-metastatic cancer who would benefit from neoadjuvant therapy (NAT), which is intended to shrink a tumor prior to surgery. This new initiative is particularly important in the Bronx, where only 60% of MECC's patients complete all intended NAT visits and up to 40% miss at least one due to treatment toxicity or socioeconomic factors.
"We pride ourselves on delivering the most research-driven cancer care, but if we don't fully understand and address the social factors that interfere with scheduling and attending appointments, we're never going to reach our ultimate goal – healing people so they can return to living their lives," said Edward Chu, M.D., M.M.S., director of the MECC; vice president for cancer medicine at Montefiore Health System; and the Carol and Roger Einiger Professor of Cancer Medicine and professor of medicine, of oncology, and of molecular pharmacology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "By deepening our partnership with the ACS, we're advancing our ability to recognize infrastructural biases, identify new treatments relevant to our community and provide the very best support to our patients and their families."
The ACS funding is also helping MECC tackle transportation barriers, which are strongly associated with no-show visits, and is adding more free cancer screenings and continuing education courses for doctors and nurses aimed at improving racial equity.
"As a nationwide leader in cancer education and advocacy, we are proud to partner with Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center to better understand the biology of cancer and how socioeconomic factors impact care access and cancer outcomes," said Connie Bordenga, MD, MS, Cancer Support Strategic Partnerships Manager at the American Cancer Society. "Our work in tackling inequities is only the beginning of a larger shift in how we as a country will redefine the future of cancer care."
Montefiore Einstein Cancer Center (MECC) is a national leader in cancer research and care located in the ethnically diverse and economically disadvantaged borough of the Bronx, N.Y. MECC combines the exceptional science of Albert Einstein College of Medicine with the multidisciplinary and team-based approach to cancer care of Montefiore Health System. Founded in 1971 and a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated Cancer Center since 1972, MECC is redefining excellence in cancer research, clinical care, education and training, and community outreach and engagement. Its mission is to reduce the burden of cancer for all, especially people from historically marginalized communities.
The American Cancer Society is on a mission to free the world from cancer. We invest in lifesaving research, provide 24/7 information and support, and work to ensure that individuals in every community have access to cancer prevention, detection, and treatment. For more information, visit cancer.org.