As part of its Polyethnic-1000 initiative to increase understanding of racial disparities in the prevalence of certain cancers, The New York Genome Center has awarded six research grants to teams at Weill Cornell, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Northwell Health, SUNY Downstate Medical Center, SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, Kings County Medical Center, Mount Sinai Hospital, and New York-Presbyterian.
The projects will investigate the role of ethnicity in bladder cancer; pancreatic, endometrial, and colorectal cancers in Black Americans; breast and prostate cancers in patients of African descent; and lung cancer in Asian Americans.
Even though approximately 73,000 Black Americans die from cancer each year – and have the highest death rate of any ethnicity for most cancers – research studies have focused disproportionally on white patients. Cancer research tends to be conducted at institutions with overwhelmingly affluent and white patient populations.
Socioeconomic factors are the root of certain racial disparities in cancer, but some cancers affect people of different races disproportionately regardless of their socioeconomic status, so genetics may be an important factor, as well.
“We think there’s more to it than just social factors,” said grant recipient Laura Martello-Rooney, PhD, who studies pancreatic and colon cancer in Black Americans. “We think there are underlying molecular and cellular differences that impact the incidence as well as its treatment.”
“When we generate results, we don’t know if they apply to underrepresented minority communities,” said Deborah Schrag, MD, MPH, an oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who reviewed grant proposals for the initiative. “If we’re not profiling people of all races and ethnicities, we’re missing opportunities to treat people strategically.”