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Meet Our Researchers Research Grant and Fellowship Awardees

2022 Awardees

Sarah Bernhardt, Ph.D.

Sarah Bernhardt, Ph.D.

Project Title

Vitamin D as a Preventative Agent for Young Women's Breast Cancer

Named Award

Stohlman Family Grant in memory of Richard Stohlman and Margaret Weigand

Position

Postdoctoral Fellow

Institution

Oregon Health and Science University, Portland, OR

My "Why"

While a breast cancer diagnosis can be devastating for women of any age, the prognosis is far worse for pregnant women and young mothers. Current strategies still rely on invasive procedures (e.g., surgery) and treatments that have undesirable side effects. Young women face unique challenges that arise from treatment, which can impact their fertility and young family life. I am particularly interested in cancer prevention, as I believe it has the greatest potential for reducing these cancer-associated morbidities and improving the lives of young women.

My Mission

My research aims to develop a vitamin D-based ‘post-natal pill’ that can be taken in the three-month window of breast involution that follows weaning to prevent breast cancer in young mothers. The establishment of vitamin D as a breast cancer prevention agent could significantly reduce the incidence of young women’s breast cancer and improve the lives of young women worldwide.

Research Overview

Breast cancer diagnosed within 10 years of pregnancy is defined as postpartum breast cancer and is an aggressive disease with poor survival rates. Significantly, 50% of all breast cancers in young women are diagnosed during this postpartum period, making it a major health problem for young women worldwide. Our research shows that mammary gland involution—the process through which the breast returns to its original, resting state after pregnancy and lactation—contributes to these worse outcomes.

We found that mammary gland involution can be targeted with therapies for breast cancer prevention. Anti-inflammatory drugs given to mice during involution slows breast cancer growth by promoting an anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer immune response.

This research project aims to capitalize on this discovery to develop a new approach for preventing young women’s breast cancers.

Our study will:

  • Investigate the potential of vitamin D, an agent with well-known anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer actions, for breast cancer prevention.
  • Research how vitamin D deficiency affects the immune system during mammary gland involution, and how this altered immune response contributes to breast cancer development.
  • Explore whether treatment with vitamin D during involution can promote an immune response that prevents breast cancer growth during the postpartum period. A major advantage to targeting the window of involution is the potential to increase prevention efficiency, while decreasing the negative side effects associated with long-term treatments.

Why Funding Matters

Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow me to conduct my research on the effectiveness of vitamin D for the prevention of a particularly aggressive type of young women’s breast cancer, in a laboratory that is recognized internationally in the field of breast cancer prevention.

My Hope

My long-term research goals are to establish myself as an independent researcher, with a focus on translating pre-clinical findings into clinical practice. My research investigates the effectiveness of vitamin D, or “the sunshine vitamin,” for the prevention of young women’s breast cancer. The findings from this research will form the groundwork for future clinical trials to assess vitamin D in the prevention of young women’s breast cancer.


Francesca Gany, M.D.

Francesca Gany, M.D.

Project Title

FITx3

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick

Position

Chief, Immigrant Health and Cancer Disparities Service

Institution

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

My "Why"

My interest in cancer disparities stems from witnessing enormous inequities in access to cancer and cardiovascular disease risk reduction strategies and cancer screening, treatment, palliative care and survivorship services, as well as from documenting the role of social determinants on cancer outcomes. I knew that I had to bring these disparities to the forefront and to develop, study and translate successful community, clinical and policy interventions to overcome them.

My Mission

My research is devoted to eliminating health disparities by creating bridges between immigrants and other underrepresented and underserved community members and the health care system. This involves improving health care access with culturally and linguistically responsive approaches that are developed in concert with the community. The FITx3 approach may help prevent the unnecessary pain and potential loss that are caused when someone receives a late-stage diagnosis of colorectal cancer (CRC) with poor odds of survival.

Research Overview

CRC is a leading cause of cancer-related death in the U.S. Black Americans are 20% more likely to get CRC and 40% more likely to die of it than other racial and ethnic groups, and African immigrants may be particularly vulnerable. CRC screening can lead to early detection and improve disease survival.

The FITx3 research project aims to increase access to CRC screening in Black communities with low screening rates. Fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) is a highly effective and potentially more acceptable screening method than colonoscopy. Individuals can mail a FIT sample from home, with follow-up colonoscopy if indicated by test results.

This project will:

  • Adapt empowering methods that have been successfully used to increase voter turnout in Black communities (called “Votex3”) to promote CRC screening in Black communities by leveraging social networks.
  • Educate community members about CRC screening and recruit and train three people in their social network (friends/family) for FIT. These three new people will then receive similar training to recruit an additional three people for FIT.
  • Develop and tailor training materials to the culture and languages of U.S.-born-immigrant Blacks living in Harlem, New York, where FITx3 will be piloted.

If this research is successful, we can use the findings to develop a larger-scale research program for the early detection of CRC in Black communities throughout New York City and then across the U.S.

Why Funding Matters

Funding [from the Prevent Cancer Foundation] will allow me to develop a novel intervention aimed at increasing CRC screening in at-risk Black communities in New York City by empowering community members to promote FIT testing with their friends, families, neighbors and co-workers. It is vital that the use of FIT tests is expanded, according to guidelines, and that communities are empowered to learn about and access FIT testing to reduce the disparity in CRC outcomes between Black and white residents in New York City and throughout the United States.

My Hope

[My hope with] this research is that this approach to increasing CRC screening in the Black community in Harlem is effective. To determine this, we will look at how many people, beyond the original recruits, complete FIT screening, compared to a control group. If successful, the FITx3 approach may reduce deaths from CRC in medically underserved Black communities.


Ju Youn Kim, Ph.D.

Ju Youn Kim, Ph.D.

Project Title

To Investigate the Roles of PIDDosome in NASH and HCC Development

Named Award

Congressional Families Cancer Prevention Program

Position

Staff Research Associate

Institution

The Regents of the University of California, San Diego, CA

My "Why"

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common primary liver cancer and 9th leading cause of cancer-related death. A growing body of research found that obesity and its associated metabolic complications increase the risk of HCC by aggravating diseases pathogenesis and promoting non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and cirrhosis development.

My Mission

I anticipate that this research in Casp2PIDDosome will provide a new insight into the molecular mechanism underlying liver steatosis, the earliest abnormality found in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) patients. In addition, I anticipate that blocking Casp2PIDDosome activation will prevent liver steatosis, thereby providing therapeutic advantages to the patients with obesity and NAFLD who are at great risk of developing NASH and HCC in future years.

Research Overview

NAFLD and metabolic syndrome (MS)-associated HCC threaten more than one third of the U.S. population, and MS-HCC ranks globally as the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related death. Due to the absence of symptoms, patients with NAFLD are typically diagnosed at the advanced stage, in which partial liver removal or liver transplantation lead to low cure rates due to the frequent recurrence ratio after surgical intervention.

Early detection and therapeutic approaches to prevent NASH and HCC development are considered the best option, along with the discovery of druggable molecules applicable to patients with HCC.

This research will explore the role of PIDDosome, a large molecular platform in which Casp2 is activated, in NASH and HCC development, and will address PIDDosome’s effect on S1P activation and liver fat accumulation.

Why Funding Matters

Funding from Prevent Cancer Foundation will be a great support of explaining a new role of Casp2PIDDosome in obesity-related NAFLD and NASH progression.

My Hope

The results obtained from this research will become the knowledge basis for the next project that will address how adipocytes and hepatocytes cross-talk and cooperate to regulate metabolic balance under the condition of hyper-nutrition. In addition, data from this research will be used for the National Institutes of Health R01 grant to strongly support my independent research career.


Suzanne Miller, Ph.D.

Suzanne Miller, Ph.D.

Project Title

Feasibility of Text Messaging to Reduce Urban Cervical Cancer Disparities

Named Award

Marcia and Frank Carlucci Charitable Foundation

Position

Professor

Institution

The Research Institute of Fox Chase Cancer Center

My "Why"

I have always been interested in how people deal with unexpected threats to their health and quality of life. As a clinical health psychologist, my attention was drawn to the dramatic achievements being made by my oncology colleagues in their treatment of cancer. However, it seemed to me that how people cope with these emerging technologies and make challenging decisions about preventing and controlling their personal risk for the disease was just as important as the increasing explosion of medical advances.

My Mission

My mission has been to bridge the gap between the availability of the often-confusing array of choices available to people and their ability to make informed decisions in the face of stressful and complex information. I have focused my career on improving how messages about cancer risk, diagnosis and survivorship are provided to people to enhance their understanding, improve decision making and facilitate healthy behaviors and quality of life.

Research Overview

Cervical cancer can be prevented and controlled if it is detected before it progresses. Unfortunately, underserved inner city women are less likely to get follow-up care after an abnormal Pap smear test result.

I have developed and tested a telephone counseling intervention that improves the rates of follow-up after an abnormal Pap smear result among urban, medically underserved women.  While telephone counseling improves diagnostic behaviors and outcomes, it is difficult to integrate this type of outreach to patients into the clinical setting. My research shows, however, that sending text messages should reach more patients, and not burden healthcare providers.

This project aims to adapt our evidence-based telephone counseling intervention to a new program, the Health Enhancement Resource System (HERS), a text message-based tailored counseling intervention. For those patients who receive the counseling texts but still miss their scheduled follow-up appointment, I will explore whether a health coaching call improves attendance at the clinic.

Study findings will show how feasible, acceptable, and patient-friendly the text message-based tailored counseling intervention is in increasing attendance at the initial screening follow-up appointment. It will also show us how effective additional health coaching calls are for those who still miss their initial appointments.

Why Funding Matters

This grant will fill a gap in the scientific literature by informing us about how to tailor patient follow-up after an abnormal cervical result. The study findings will also improve patient outcomes, in terms of preventing cervical cancer. The results have the potential to change clinical practice, shift research paradigms and impact policy. This research could not be done without grant funding.

My Hope

My hope is to harness behavioral science to improve the delivery of cancer care, particularly with a view to increasing the delivery of cancer prevention discoveries. The goal is to understand and improve individuals’ understanding of their options and maximize how they make use of that information to carry out prevention and detection behaviors.


Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

Gary Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Ph.D.

Project Title

Testing Radon Communication Methods: Clinical Trial of a Smartphone App

Named Award

Richard C. Devereaux Outstanding Young Investigator Award

Position

Professor and Founding Chair, Department of Population Health

Institution

University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND

My "Why"

Many cancers, like lung cancer, are difficult to treat, but can often be prevented. Similarly, other cancers, like pancreatic or ovarian cancer, respond very poorly to treatment at late stages, when they are most often detected. The principal hope in saving lives from these cancers lies in detecting them early when treatment is most effective.

My Mission

We developed a 21st century approach to radon education—a smartphone app. Our research compares information delivered via the radon app versus printed brochures. If radon education via our app proves to be superior to traditional means, we will employ our radon app in state and national programs.

Research Overview

Exposure to radon gas at home is the second largest cause of lung cancer, after smoking, and accounts for more than 21,000 deaths per year. Despite this, it has proven difficult to motivate individuals to act against threats like radon that are invisible, colorless and odorless and cause cancer only after a long latent period.

Traditional methods of radon education (brochures) have had little impact on increasing radon testing of homes. This research compares the effectiveness of radon information delivered via the radon smartphone app versus the usual method (printed brochures).

We will compare these two methods for their effectiveness based on how individuals fare on their responses to these different interventions, including measures of:

  • Radon knowledge
  • Attitudes toward radon testing
  • Ordering and using a test kit
  • Returning the kit to the lab for analysis

This research is strategically placed, as North Dakota has the highest residential radon levels in the U.S. and Grand Forks County has the highest radon levels within North Dakota.

Why Funding Matters

Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will permit us to bring the pilot work we have developed into a “real world setting.” Our current work is focused on helping motivate people to test their homes for radon. Because 1 in 15 homes in the U.S. has high radon levels, and most Americans have a smartphone, our research has large implications for lung cancer prevention in the entire U.S.

My Hope

Approximately 10% of lung cancer deaths are due to radon exposure. Sadly, many people learn about radon only after they have been diagnosed with lung cancer. We are hopeful that this research could have an important role in reducing the rates of lung cancer, which is still the most significant cause of cancer deaths among Americans.


Tomotaka Ugai, Ph.D.

Tomotaka Ugai, Ph.D.

Project Title

Immune Characteristics of Early-Onset and Later-Onset Colorectal Cancers

Named Award

The Shure Family Charitable Foundation

Position

Postdoctoral Fellow

Institution

Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA

My "Why"

My clinical experience led to my strong interest in cancer research. During my clinical practice, I treated many patients with cancers diagnosed at advanced stages. Unfortunately, some of them died of their cancers despite treatment. I realized that we needed more research.

My Mission

The proposed study will provide the scientific foundation to further explore possible influences of anti-tumor immunity on early-onset colorectal cancer and ultimately generate strategies to harness the immune system for prevention and early detection, with significant impact on clinical practice. My final goal is to reduce colorectal cancer incidence and mortality in young adults by developing immune-based cancer prevention and early detection strategies based on my studies.

Research Overview

Early-onset colorectal cancer, generally defined as colorectal cancer diagnosed in individuals younger than 50 years of age, has increased worldwide for unknown reasons. While the mortality of later-onset colorectal cancer (diagnosed at age >50) has significantly improved by colonoscopy screening and treatment advances, early-onset colorectal cancer is difficult to prevent, and little is known about whether or how it differs from later-onset colorectal cancer.

Two components of the immune system, T cells and macrophages, play critical roles in the body’s response to colorectal cancer. However, it remains uncertain how these immune cells affect the development of early-onset colorectal cancer.

I will examine differences in immune cells in colorectal cancer between early-onset and later-onset colorectal cancers. I will also look at the effects of immunomodulatory lifestyle factors, such as obesity, physical activity, and marine omega-3 fatty acid intake, on the development of early-onset and later-onset colorectal cancers.

This research will provide scientific evidence on how the immune system is involved in the development of early-onset colorectal cancer.

Why Funding Matters

Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will not only support my research, but will also help me gain more skills and knowledge in cancer epidemiology, molecular epidemiology, image analyses, and machine learning algorithms that are needed to further my research.

The results of my study will provide the scientific foundation to further explore possible influences of anti-tumor immunity on early-onset colorectal cancer and ultimately generate strategies to harness the immune system for prevention of early-onset colorectal cancer.

My Hope

[My hope] is for my project to impact cancer prevention in the following ways:

• Inform lifestyle and dietary guidelines for cancer prevention, especially among young adults.
• Serve as a model for integrative immuno-epidemiological studies to elucidate the role of lifestyle and diet in anti-tumor immunity for early-onset and later-onset colorectal cancers.
• Aid in the development of novel hypotheses and new strategies of immunomodulation for colorectal cancer prevention.


Lisa Yee, M.D.

Lisa Yee, M.D.

Project Title

White Button Mushrooms and Breast Cancer Prevention

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick

Position

Professor, Vice Chair of Research, Department of Surgery

Institution

Beckman Research Institute of the City of Hope, Duarte, CA

My "Why"

As a breast surgical oncologist, my interest in cancer research is fueled by the ever-present need for advances and innovation in clinical cancer care, from cancer screening and diagnosis to treatment and prevention. My research focuses on how diet and nutrition affect the development of breast cancer and how changes to diet could be used to prevent cancer.

My Mission

Taking care of women with breast cancer as well as those at high risk of developing breast cancer has motivated my research efforts to understand how diet and diet quality modulate breast cancer risk. The proposed research will investigate the effects of the common white button mushroom on cellular changes that can lead to cancer.

Research Overview

White button mushrooms (WBM) are the most highly consumed mushroom in the U.S. and worldwide. Health benefits of mushrooms, such as WBM, may include decreased risk of breast cancer based on comparisons of dietary intake of mushrooms in women who have breast cancer relative to those without breast cancer.

Studies also indicate the possibility that WBM may reduce obesity and metabolic problems associated with obesity, such as fatty liver changes. The preventive effects of WBM may be due to improved responses of immune cells (white blood cells) and reduced chronic inflammation, that is, low-grade inflammation associated with obesity and obesity-related conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

We are investigating WBM as a novel, effective dietary approach to prevent breast cancer in postmenopausal women with obesity and increased risk of breast cancer. In a WBM trial with obese women at high risk of breast cancer, we will test blood and breast fat before and after WBM for effects on immune cell and inflammation biomarkers. If successful, the study will support the design of large–scale, multi-institutional clinical trials of WBM for prevention of obesity-associated breast cancer.

Why Funding Matters

Funding [from the Prevent Cancer Foundation] will support our research on WBM as a dietary strategy to decrease the risk of developing obesity-associated breast cancer. The study will evaluate treatment effects on inflammation, which is linked to precancerous changes.

My Hope

This research will contribute to our understanding of how white button mushrooms might reduce breast cancer risk in obese postmenopausal women who are at high risk of breast cancer. It is our hope that this study will lead to large-scale clinical trials evaluating WBM as a safe and effective dietary intervention for cancer prevention.


2021 Awardees

Limor Appelbaum, M.D.

Limor Appelbaum, M.D.

Project Title

Use of medical records and microbiome for predicting pancreatic cancer

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick

Position

Staff Scientist

Institution

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA

My "Why"

My interest in cancer research comes from treating pancreatic cancer patients as a Radiation Oncologist. Since most patients are diagnosed with advanced disease, when chances of cure are extremely low despite current treatments, I often felt frustration and helplessness when treating patients with this disease.

My Mission

I thought that the best approach to pancreatic cancer is early detection, when cure is most likely, as opposed to attempting to improve therapeutic options for advanced stage disease. My research proposes a model which can identify people at high-risk of pancreatic cancer for whom to recommend screening, which can potentially save lives.

Research Overview

There is a critical need for an effective pancreatic cancer screening tool.

  • Only 10% of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis.
  • Most are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread, and a cure is no longer possible.
  • There are no obvious warning signs for the disease, and no screening tool available for the general population.

Successful screening programs exist for people with a family history of the disease or inherited genetic mutations only. Screening the general population is not feasible because it is a relatively rare disease and the process is invasive and expensive.

Studies have shown that people who eventually develop pancreatic cancer experience early signs and symptoms such as stomach pain, weight loss, diabetes, depression, and many others. Individually, each of these is relatively common or vague, or just not specific enough to alarm of pancreatic cancer development.

We found that when we programmed a computer to learn the unique combination of multiple symptoms of cancer patients (“Machine Learning”), it was able to apply it to a new population and identify some of those at risk of developing cancer, a year before they eventually do.  

We aim to improve risk prediction in two ways:

  • Develop a sophisticated model based on data that considers the patient’s blood work, medications, symptoms and more
  • Use novel technology to correlate the specific microorganism composition of an individual with their risk of developing pancreatic cancer.

Why Funding Matters

Funding will improve our prediction model and allow us to use a much larger database to incorporate additional information. We can establish a study to test our model in real-time and add additional testing to decrease the number of people incorrectly identified as high-risk to avoid stress and unnecessary imaging.

My Hope

It is my goal to better understand our model’s ability to accurately identify high-risk individuals. This could lead to increased rates of early detection of pancreatic cancer, enable surgical treatment and significantly increase the cure rates from this disease.


Julie A. Barta, M.D., A.T.S.F.

Julie A. Barta, M.D., A.T.S.F.

Project Title

Improving lung cancer screening barriers for vulnerable populations

Named Award

Richard C. Devereaux Outstanding Young Investigator Award

Position

Assistant Professor of Medicine

Institution

Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA

My "Why"

As a pulmonologist, I am uniquely poised to identify patients at high risk for lung cancer and promote screening, early detection and tobacco treatment counseling for eligible individuals. My clinical experience guiding patients through lung nodule management and lung cancer diagnosis, which are often emotionally charged events, has led to my committed research focus on early detection of lung cancer. I hope that by facilitating lung cancer screening among high-risk individuals, we can save more lives from lung cancer.

My Mission

Despite the advent of lung screening to identify cancers at early, curable stages, many disparities exist in screening uptake and adherence. This project will identify and develop strategies to overcome financial, technological, and other barriers for vulnerable populations to ultimately increase early detection of lung cancer.

Research Overview

Lung cancer is responsible for nearly 25% of cancer deaths in the U.S. each year. Lung cancer screening with annual low-dose CT (LDCT) scan, however, has transformed the landscape of lung cancer survival by identifying cancers at an earlier, potentially curable stage. Although large clinical trials have demonstrated a reduction in lung cancer mortality with LDCT, many studies report that less than 10% of eligible individuals have been screened.

Our project aims to improve lung cancer screening adherence among Black/African American patients by identifying specific cost-and convenience-related barriers and designing approaches to overcome these hurdles.

  • In Aim 1, we will examine whether insurance status and neighborhood-level economic factors are associated with lung cancer screening adherence among all races, and we will identify additional factors that increase financial burdens among patients eligible for screening.
  • In Aim 2, we will test whether telemedicine has improved screening adherence and identify additional convenience-related factors to facilitate screening.

Why Funding Matters

Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow our group to improve equity in lung cancer screening efforts among vulnerable populations. More specifically, we can develop a research program to investigate early detection and intervention strategies for patients at high risk for developing lung cancer.

My Hope

This research will identify cost-and convenience-related barriers to lung cancer screening among vulnerable populations, develop strategies to overcome them and implement approaches to help high-risk patients return year after year for low-dose CT scans.


Neil Box, Ph.D

Neil Box, Ph.D.

Project Title

Integrating sun damage indicators in melanoma risk modeling

Position

Associate Professor

Institution

University of Colorado Denver, Anschutz Medical Campus and Denver Campus

My "Why"

I am particularly interested in cancer prevention and early detection since advances in this area can directly translate to simple yet lifesaving behavioral changes for our community. It is exciting to realize that with simple outreach to our public with information about the steps they can take to adopt good practices for cancer prevention and screening, we can help reduce cancer rates. 

My Mission

This proposal is relevant to melanoma prevention and early detection as it studies how skin damaged by UVR can predict melanoma risk in children of different genetic makeup. Our work will identify high risk groups and prove the value of our tools in personalized melanoma prediction and prevention.

Research Overview

Melanoma is a deadly cancer.

  • Studies estimated more than 100,000 new cases occurred in in the United States in 2020, with more than 6,800 deaths.
  • The main cause for the disease is exposure to excessive ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in sunlight, which often results in a sunburn.
  • Repeat sunburns during childhood are particularly dangerous, often increasing melanoma risk in later life.

Fortunately, melanoma is highly preventable and treatable if detected early. We will investigate new ways of measuring UVR damage in the skin and we will study how sunburns and UVR exposure causes this damage depending on the genetic makeup of an individual. Here, we will study how skin damage by UVR can be used in groups of people of different complexions to promote more mole formation, as moles are considered signals for melanoma risk. Our work will identify high-risk groups and inform us on how to prevent melanoma in those who are most likely to get it. 

Why Funding Matters

Funding [from the Prevent Cancer Foundation] will advance our research on the physical outcomes of sun damage. Without the award we would not be able to conduct this new aspect of our long-standing skin cancer and melanoma risk program.

My Hope

We will be able to include these sun damage measures in studies of melanoma patients to see if we can learn something about melanoma age of onset, clinical subtype or other clinical features to better monitor or manage melanoma risk.


Sigrid Carlsson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Sigrid Carlsson, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H.

Project Title

Improving prostate cancer screening using innovative technology

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick

Position

Assistant Attending Epidemiologist

Institution

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY

My "Why"

As a young medical student, I was asked to write a thesis on the subject “Evidence-Based Medicine” and was given a list of 100 related topics to choose from. When I saw the topic “Should PSA-testing become men’s mammography?” I knew immediately that this is what I wanted to learn more about. I was curious about the evidence behind PSA screening for prostate cancer, as I knew there were well-established population-based screening programs for, for example, breast cancer and cervical cancer, but none for prostate cancer at the time.

My Mission

My long-term goal is to make a difference by discovering new knowledge and disseminating the knowledge we already have into clinical practice, [in hopes] of reducing the harms of screening for our patients.

Research Overview

Despite prostate cancer being the most common male cancer, screening for prostate cancer using the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) blood test remains controversial because screening has both benefits and harms:

  • Screening can prevent men from developing metastatic prostate cancer and dying from the disease.
  • “Smart” screening strategies now exist, which focuses screening on men who have the highest risk of aggressive prostate cancer.
  • Screening remains underutilized in younger, healthy men and overused in older, less healthy men.
  • While beneficial, there is also a risk with screening of overdiagnosis and overtreatment of slow-growing tumors.

We developed a decision support software for PSA screening and programmed it into the physicians’ electronic health record.

The tool had 3 parts:

  1. a screening guideline (who, when and how often to screen),
  2. a conversation guide for shared decision making and
  3. a health maintenance module to schedule automated reminders for repeat screening

We found strong support for this tool from the physicians who were very satisfied with it. The current application is a continuation of this work where we now wish to do a larger study within the primary care network, to test the usefulness of this innovative technology as compared to no tool. We want to study if the tool helps physicians improve screening for men who are most likely to benefit. 

Why Funding Matters

The goal of PSA screening is to find and treat fast-growing prostate cancer before it spreads and becomes life-threatening.

My Hope

[My hope with] this research is to help doctors conduct PSA screening in accordance with the most authoritative evidence-based guidelines. This research is significant because adherence to PSA testing guidelines that are based on levels of cancer risk has the potential to fundamentally shift the balance between benefits and harms of screening, thereby substantially impacting early detection of prostate cancer.


Margie Clapper, Ph.D.

Margie Clapper, Ph.D.

Project Title

Impact of atorvastatin ± aspirin on colorectal biomarkers in patients with Lynch Syndrome: a pilot study

Position

Deputy Scientific Director/Professor/Co-Leader, Cancer Prevention and Control Program

Institution

The Research Institute of Fox Chase Cancer Center, Philadelphia, PA

My "Why"

After receiving a Ph.D. in Cell Biology, my career goal was to contribute to research in a manner that would have a direct impact on decreasing human disease…. When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, I became motivated to work even harder to prevent this devastating disease.

My Mission

Lynch Syndrome is the most common genetic cause of colon cancer in people under age 50, [and]… we do not currently have a way to stop the disease… If successful, this clinical study will also be the first to select an optimal cancer preventive agent for a patient based on their prior history of colon polyps/cancer. [Note: Lynch Syndrome is also associated with ovarian and endometrial cancers.]

Research Overview

  • It is estimated that 1 in every 279 people has inherited a mutation in a Lynch Syndrome gene from one of their parents.
  • Lynch Syndrome causes approximately 3% of colon cancers in the U.S. each year and mutation carriers have a high lifetime risk of developing colon cancer (up to 80%) and other cancers.
  • Chronic use of aspirin lowers the risk of developing Lynch Syndrome-related cancers by 30%, but high-dose aspirin can cause side effects.

Findings indicate that the cholesterol-lowering agent atorvastatin (Lipitor) dramatically decreases the formation of early colon lesions in mice when given before any evidence of polyps or cancer. Atorvastatin decreases colon tumor development in mice with existing tumors only when given in combination with low dose aspirin, as determined by colonoscopy. The goal of the present study is to determine if atorvastatin (Lipitor), like aspirin, can reduce the risk of colon cancer in humans with Lynch Syndrome.

  • Patients with Lynch Syndrome will be asked to take atorvastatin, with or without aspirin, for 6 weeks.
  • At the end of that time, cells will be obtained from the lining of the colon and examined for markers associated with early transition to cancer, such as increased cell division and resistance to cell death.

A second study goal is to determine if subjects found the study procedures (e.g., taking medication) acceptable and were able to complete all drug doses.

Why Funding Matters

Funding will allow me to finish the proposed clinical trial in subjects with Lynch Syndrome who are known to be at very high risk for cancer. I can determine if the drugs are providing protection to the colons of these high-risk subjects and examine tissues and blood samples for potential adverse effects associated with the intervention.

My Hope

This research will provide new insight into the impact of Lipitor (with/without aspirin) on the biological events that contribute to colon cancer development in patients with Lynch Syndrome and help develop new and better options for cancer prevention in high-risk patients.


William Grady, M.D.

William Grady, M.D.

Project Title

Dysbiotic esophageal microbiomes and esophageal cancer risk

Named Award

The Shure Family Charitable Foundation

Position

Professor

Institution

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, WA

My "Why"

As a practicing clinician in gastroenterology, the need to more effectively prevent and treat cancer was immediately evident and palpable to me…. I am especially interested in cancer prevention because this is the best strategy to alleviate the suffering and burden that results from cancer.

My Mission

Our studies have the potential to identify cancer-causing esophageal bacteria, which could lead to novel and improved ways to prevent cancer through more accurate cancer risk prediction. Our studies could also lead to novel antibiotic or probiotic cancer prevention treatments for esophageal cancer.

Research Overview

For our research, we will:

  • Use state-of-the-art methods to identify and characterize the bacterial communities that live in the esophagus and potential tumor-causing bacterial members of these communities.
  • Study whether they affect the risk of esophageal cancer.
  • Determine if there are abnormal esophageal microbiomes that associate with a precancerous condition called Barrett’s Esophagus (BE), or with esophageal adenocarcinoma (EAC).

We will identify potential cancer-causing bacterial species in three groups of patients:

  1. Healthy people
  2. People with stable Barrett’s esophagus
  3. People with Barrett’s esophagus who progressed to esophageal adenocarcinoma.

We will characterize the esophageal microbiomes and potential cancer-causing bacteria… [and] then use these results in a second set of studies in the group of Barrett’s esophagus patients who progressed or did not progress to esophageal adenocarcinoma to validate and further extend our initial results.

We will then use the only known prospective natural history cohort study of Barrett’s esophagus– a tremendous strength of our proposal – to determine what types of bacterial communities and specific bacterial species in the esophagus are associated with BE and indicate a high risk for esophageal adenocarcinoma.

This research could lead to low-risk therapies that would prevent many of the 20,000 deaths that occur each year from esophageal cancer. 

Why Funding Matters

This research helps to uncover novel ways to prevent esophageal, stomach and colon cancers and facilitates our understanding of how the microbiome of the gut affects cancer risk in the esophagus.

My Hope

I am hopeful that the results from our studies will lead to the following: 1) novel risk markers for esophageal cancer that can be used to personalize esophageal cancer prevention programs, and 2) potential novel therapeutic strategies aimed at the microbiome, such as antibiotics or probiotics, for preventing esophageal cancer.


Natalia Heredia, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Natalia Heredia, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Project Title

Culturally tailored lifestyle intervention for Hispanic patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Named Award

Marcia and Frank Carlucci Charitable Foundation

Position

Assistant Professor

Institution

The University of Texas Health Science Center, School of Public Health, Houston, TX 

My "Why"

I am a behavioral scientist and I am interested in how lifestyle behaviors such as diet and physical activity impact health outcomes. Cancer is one of these health outcomes that is at least partially impacted by the daily behaviors of individuals throughout the course of their lives. I’m focused on helping people acquire the tools they need to make the healthy choice an easier choice.

My Mission

New cases of liver cancer continue to increase in Hispanics, partially due to a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Treatment for NAFLD includes weight loss, so by helping Hispanic NAFLD patients lose weight, we can prevent future cases of NAFLD-related liver cancer.

Research Overview

Treatment for NAFLD involves lifestyle behavior change. However, changing these behaviors and losing weight is difficult and typically requires additional help from health care or other professionals. The goal of this project is to develop an engaging and culturally-appropriate intervention for Hispanic NAFLD patients that will help them lose weight. This process begins by having discussions with Hispanic NAFLD patients to identify an appropriate intervention format and delivery, and address Hispanic culture and concerns about NAFLD specifically.

Upon finalizing the behavioral lifestyle intervention, I will:

  • Test it with 15 Hispanic NAFLD patients to see if they were satisfied with it or recommend any additional changes.
  • Compare the results with 15 Hispanic NAFLD patients who did not receive the intervention to see if the adapted intervention was successful in changing physical activity, diet, alcohol use, weight and liver function.
  • Have an adapted intervention that will be available to test in a larger sample of Hispanic NAFLD patients to determine if it helps them lose weight and improve their liver function more than the usual care from their health professionals.

Why Funding Matters

I am looking to expand my current research on lifestyle behavior change in Hispanics to develop a better understanding of NAFLD-specific interventions in this community. Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow me to have in-depth conversations with Hispanic adults with NAFLD to better understand their experiences living with the condition and how they can be best supported.

My Hope

My research will develop a targeted, culturally-sensitive lifestyle intervention that is acceptable to and helpful for Hispanic adults with NAFLD. I want to show how managing NAFLD early and effectively can help prevent negative liver-related outcomes and liver cancer.


Maro Ohanian, D.O. 

Project Title

Detoxification of environmental metals to prevent acute myeloid leukemia 

Named Award

Triad Foundation, LLC 

Position

Assistant Professor

Institution

University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 

My "Why"

When I think about my patients, knowing that there might be a way to prevent them from having to undergo treatments drives my desire to find out how. Identifying and acting upon modifiable risk factors to reduce the incidence of cancer would keep medical costs down and allow people to enjoy their lives without having to go through cancer treatment.

My Mission

We aim to reverse carcinogenic effects of environmental/occupational metal exposures that can lead to acute myeloid leukemia (AML) by detoxifying metals in patients with myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), or “pre-leukemia,” as a novel cancer prevention method. 

Research Overview

Toxic metal contamination of our food and water causes multiple cancers and is worsening around the globe, yet it receives very little attention from the medical community. For example, children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, a metal-polluted region, had a 56% higher rate of acute leukemia than those living ten miles away.  

  • Toxic metals are associated with increased risk of MDS, AML, and other cancers. 
  • MDS can progress to AML and represents an important pre-cancerous state for studying cancer prevention. 

Toxic metals can be removed from the blood and bone marrow by a process called “chelation,” using FDA-approved medications that are inexpensive and have a long history of safety.  

We will optimize metal detoxification during standard MDS therapy. We will establish optimal dosing and determine whether removing toxic metals from patients with the pre-leukemia MDS can prevent progression to AML.  

Why Funding Matters

This funding will allow me to continue to expand our ongoing clinical trial to reverse and inhibit the cancer-causing effects of metal exposures that can lead to AML.

This research may have significant implications for the prevention of AML. 

My Hope

This study will help us understand the impact of reducing toxic metals on the development of AML and possibly on cancer prevention in general.

By monitoring toxic metals, general practitioners may be able detect increased cancer risk and possibly reduce that risk before a patient ever develops cancer. 


Brian Rood, M.D.

Brian Rood, M.D.

Project Title

Germline and somatic microsatellite genotypes in pediatric brain tumors

Named Award

2021 Special Award: Sarah Howard Childhood Cancer Fund for Our Children's Health Grant

Position

Medical Director of Neuro-Oncology Program (Children’s Hospital) and Associate Professor of Pediatrics (GWU School of Medicine)

Institution

Children's National Medical Center and The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.

My "Why"

My interest in cancer research sprung directly from working in the clinic with children with brain tumors. Unfortunately, current survival rates and therapy-induced long-term side effects cause significant suffering for these children and their families. I am striving to improve these realities in the future.

My Mission

While it is important to try to discover new, more effective and less toxic therapies, the ultimate achievement of that goal would be to prevent the need for treatment in the first place. Thus, cancer prevention, while a difficult ambition, represents the ultimate accomplishment in cancer research.

Research Overview

Brain cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death in children. We hypothesize that brain cancer formation is correlated with microsatellite variations at specific regions in the DNA close to genes.

A previous analysis of medulloblastoma patient germline DNA (from the body, not from the tumor), identified variations in 139 microsatellites regions that are significantly associated with the presence of the tumor, compared to DNA from healthy individuals. Therefore, these cancer-associated microsatellites existed before the tumor was formed and suggest a role in cancer predisposition. A signature group of 43 of these microsatellites was capable of distinguishing children with medulloblastoma from healthy controls with a high degree of accuracy. 

Our study aims to:

  • Expand this work to other brain cancer types.
  • Investigate the mechanisms of the predisposition to improve our understanding of how and why these tumors form in certain individuals and point the way toward preventive strategies.

Why Funding Matters

For children whose cancer develops too quickly for environmental factors to play a role, it’s important to study genetics. Funding from the Prevent Cancer Foundation will allow us to genotype children with brain tumors to further understand this landscape.

My Hope

This research will identify a signature set of DNA elements whose sequences determine those at risk for developing the most common malignant brain tumors. We will also explore the cellular effect of those DNA elements that underpin the mechanisms of tumor formation. In that way, we will be able to identify those children at risk and begin to gain an understanding of how we might prevent their tumors from forming. If successful, this proposal will the provide the means to determine which children are at increased risk and would thus be eligible for screening.


Aayushi Uberoi

Aayushi Uberoi, Ph.D.

Project Title

Modulating skin microbiota-host interactions to prevent UV-induced skin cancer

Named Award

Awesome Games Done Quick

Position

Postdoctoral Scholar

Institution

The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

My "Why"

I won an undergraduate fellowship to conduct research at the Advanced Center for Treatment and Research in Cancer (ACTREC) in Mumbai. I was exposed to cancer biology for the first time and was able to see how researchers working with clinicians could truly make an impact on human lives. Subsequently, I joined McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at University of Wisconsin-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in tumor virology.

My Mission

While the skin microbiome encounters the same UVB exposure as the skin, the effects of UVB on skin microbiome is unexplored. By exploring host-microbiome interactions during UVB-associated skin cancers, we can uncover a novel class of biomarkers and therapeutics for prevention of skin cancer.

Research Overview

Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs), specifically squamous cell carcinomas (SCC), represent the most commonly diagnosed skin cancers. The UVB spectra of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from sun exposure is a well-established skin stressor and causative agent of skin SCCs. The skin is colonized by a lot of microbes that help maintain epithelial homeostasis and encounter the same UVB exposure as the skin. However, skin microbiome remains an untapped resource to develop new preventive strategies.

My research will:

  • Define host and microbial biomarkers using next-generation approaches that provide prevention and diagnostic targets for UVB-associated SCCs that can potentially be for other forms of skin cancer.
  • Develop cancer prevention therapeutics that leverage host-microbiota interactions to alter host responses to prevent UVB-induced SCCs.
  • Use cross-disciplinary approaches to investigate effects of UVB on host-microbiota interactions.
  • Identify microbial biomarkers to screen patients susceptible to UVB-induced skin carcinomas.
  • Provide a low-cost, noninvasive strategy to manage skin cancers.

Why Funding Matters

This work allows me to develop an independent area of research where I can study the impact of microbiome in the context of UVB-associated cancers and create a framework guided by transcriptomic approaches that can help prevent skin cancer by modulating host-microbiota interactions.

My Hope

The cancer burden continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional and financial strain on individuals, families, communities and health systems. Many health systems in low- and middle-income countries are unprepared to manage this burden... As I grew [up] in India, which is a developing economy, I was continuously motivated to develop strategies to prevent cancer.

This research will use innovative approaches to identify host and microbial biomarkers to provide prevention and diagnostic targets for UVB-associated skin cancers and develop low-cost cancer prevention therapeutics that leverage host-microbiota interactions.


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