Cancer Research at Meharry

According to the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute, combined cancer deaths exceed cardiovascular diseases-related deaths in the United States. In both men and women, lung cancer still remains the leading cause of cancer death. Prostate cancer and breast cancer account for the second highest cause of cancer deaths in men and women respectively. Millions of Americans are diagnosed with cancer every year and several thousand die from cancer. The costs associated with cancer diagnosis, cancer patient care, and loss of income due to cancer, have increased astronomically and have had an overwhelming economic, social and psychological impact on families.

Unfortunately, African Americans suffer disproportionately from the burden of cancer incidence and cancer deaths in the United States. African Americans have the lowest five-year survival rates for lung, prostate, breast, colorectal, and ovarian cancers. The prostate cancer death rate in African-American men is 2.5 times that of Caucasian men. Also, the breast cancer death rate in African-American women is about 1.4 times that of Caucasian women. The trend is nearly identical in colon, lung, and ovarian cancers. While we don’t fully understand the causes for the alarming cancer health disparities, multiple factors including biological, genetics, environment, nutrition, education status, socio-economics factors, and lack of access may play vital roles.

Advancement of Cancer Research at Meharry

During the last 14 years, Meharry Medical College has partnered with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, and most recently with Tennessee State University in an effort to address some of the causes of the high incidence of cancer among minorities, as well as develop strategies to reduce cancer health disparities in Tennessee. Using cancer partnership research funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), we have successfully developed strong infrastructure for cancer patient care and cancer research in areas of basic sciences, population, clinical, and translational research. We have also expanded education and training in cancer research at Meharry. Our successes in these endeavors have enabled us to enhance our ability to provide oncology patient care while significantly enhancing recruitment of African Americans and other minorities into nationally approved oncology clinical trials. Also, we have established a tissue acquisition core to enhance collection, banking, and usage of critically needed tissues from cancer patients for research. Thus, we will be able to identify new biomarkers for cancer diagnosis as well as contribute to our understanding of the biological basis for cancer and cancer disparities.

Our overreaching cancer research goal is to understand the sciences that contribute to cancer health disparities and ultimately contribute to reduction of the disparities.

Examples of current ongoing cancer research projects by investigators are listed below:

  1. Investigation into the link between obesity, inflammation, and triple negative breast cancer  aggression and spreading/metastasis
  2. Impact of inflammation on ovarian cancer growth and progression
  3. Role of excessive intracellular calcium in promoting breast cancer aggression and progression
  4. Impact of environmental toxic chemicals including aryl hydrocarbons on promotion and spreading of breast cancer
  5. Role of ZAR 2 gene expression in promoting breast cancer
  6. A multi-Center Epidemiologic Study of Breast Cancer in African-American women in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee
  7. Effects of fetuins (liver produced protein) on breast, colon, head and neck cancer spreading
  8. Increasing Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine utilization among  African-American girls
  9. Impact of western diet on colon cancer development and progression
  10. Roles of benzo(a)pyrenes on colon cancer and protective effects of resveratrol against colon cancer
  11. Relationship between inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer
  12. Molecular mechanisms/processes of Pten and SKP2 gene targeting in prostate cancer
  13. Effects of some diabetes drugs on prostate cancer cell growth and progression
  14. Impact of cytokines and pro-Inflammatory on leukemia cell growth and differentiation
  15. Relationship between cancer and the immune system
  16. Recruitment of African Americans for oncology clinical trials