The National Cancer Institute has awarded a five-year, $16 million grant to establish a cancer health equity center at the University of Florida and partner institutions. The Florida-California Cancer Research, Education and Engagement, or CaRE2, Health Equity Center will be an interdisciplinary, intercollegiate effort involving researchers from UF, Florida A&M University and the University of Southern California.
The center will bring together researchers from the two states with the highest cancer incidence and mortality to create a bicoastal minority cancer research and training center. Florida and California also have uniquely rich and heterogeneous populations of Blacks and Latinos, who are the focus of this study.
Led at UF by program directors Folakemi Odedina, Ph.D., and Diana Wilkie, Ph.D., the CaRE2 center is directed and administered by multiple principal investigators from each institution. Odedina serves a dual appointment as a professor in the colleges of Pharmacy and Medicine, part of UF Health. Wilkie is the Prairieview Trust-Earl and Margo Powers Endowed Professor in the College of Nursing and director of the Center for Palliative Care Research and Education. Both Odedina and Wilkie have extensive experience in leading multidisciplinary center grants and cancer disparities research.
“Behind every cancer statistic are the tears and agonies of cancer patients, survivors, family members and friends,” Odedina said. “I take the fight against cancer personally, because I am simply tired of seeing unnecessary cancer deaths in minority and underserved populations globally.”
Within each institution there are six CaRE2 center cores designed to be highly integrated into the research platform and to support the overall mission. These cores are led by researchers at multiple campuses, including the colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing and Education, the UF Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona, and UF Health Jacksonville, as well as UF Health Shands Hospital. The team includes researchers with expertise across the spectrum, from molecular biology and bioinformatics to community outreach and clinical interventions.
For the first phase of the center, two full research projects and one pilot project will be conducted that are focused on prostate and pancreatic cancers, two cancers with noted disparities among Blacks and little-known information among Latinos.
The first full research project will aim to understand the contribution of novel mitochondrial-derived peptides to racial differences in prostate cancer development. The second research aims to reduce disparities in efficacy of a chemotherapy treatment by using molecular profiles of patients to predict their sensitivity to this treatment, taking into account various factors related to racial and ethnic differences.
Thomas Schmittgen, Ph.D., a professor and chair of the UF College of Pharmacy’s department of pharmaceutics, will lead the pilot project that focuses on identifying the genetic basis of racial disparities in pancreatic cancer by examining early events that lead to the cancer formation, using human samples in vitro. Another goal of the center is to provide research training opportunities for underrepresented minority trainees and early-stage investigators that fosters their individual career development.