VSU and VCU Cancer Center form Partnership to Address Cancer Disparities

$1.7M grant from National Cancer Institute to address health equity in first-of-its-kind program

Virginia State University (VSU) and Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center (Massey) are partnering together to use a prestigious “team science” grant to create a program that’s the first-of-its-kind in the state of Virginia. The $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) will be dispersed over a four-year period and will focus on reducing cancer disparities and providing hands-on research opportunities to students who are historically underrepresented in science. 

This is the first time that a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) and a Virginia-based cancer center have joined forces to win such a grant. The grant will enable cross-institutional collaboration among multiple teams of scientists, robust community engagement and in-person research training at an NCI-designated cancer center for budding scientists whose home institution is classified as an HBCU. 

The grant’s first project will investigate the genetics behind why Black Americans seem to be more susceptible to liver and gastrointestinal cancers. The second project centers on community outreach in the predominantly Black city of Petersburg, where life expectancy is 10 years less than the national average and cancer is the leading cause of premature death. 

Massey and VSU will collect in-depth data about Black men’s beliefs around screening for colorectal cancer, as well as looking for patterns in who gets screened and who doesn’t. Using this information as a guide, the team will develop interventions to increase rates of screening for colorectal cancer, which is highly preventable and disproportionately affects Black men in particular. 

"We are proud to have a seat at the table to take part in this research that so heavily affects our Black American population, and to further expand the reach of Massey Cancer Center. Through a combination of mentorship and access to resources, this grant allows us the opportunity to provide meaningful professional development experiences to VSU faculty and students who may be interested in exploring population health for more bench-oriented science in the context of cancer, said PI (principal investigator) and VSU Professor of Biology, M. Omar Faison, Ph.D. 


“This award will allow us to engage closely with both our neighboring HBCU and the community to infuse our science with new ideas,” said (PI) Robert Winn, M.D. “It will also allow both universities to give back, using the resources we’re blessed with here at Massey and the historical knowledge and connections of VSU – acting locally with the potential for global impact.”  

This grant has been nicknamed SUCCEED – which stands for VSU and Massey Cancer Center PartnErship for CancEr Disparities Research and Training. It’s intended to fund the creation of a new center uniting a team of several scientists conducting exploratory research and increasing diversity, laying foundation for additional work on the same subject in the future. 

“As an HBCU, Virginia State University has always addressed the disparities among Black people in our country,” said Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, President of Virginia State University. “Through our newly established Public Health Institute and collaborations like this one with Massey, we are proud to also address disparities in an entirely new way. We are excited to share our knowledge of and access to the Black community, while increasing our capacity to participate in health disparity research on our campus.” 

“VCU and VCU Health strive toward a future where access to excellent health care is available to everyone,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health System. “This award for VCU Massey Cancer Center demonstrates yet one more substantive way in which we are being recognized as a leader in building a more equitable society for all human beings.” 

robert-einn.jpg“It's exciting to see this mutually-beneficial partnership between VCU Massey Cancer Center and Virginia State University, which is led at Massey by its director and our two-time Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) Distinguished Scholar Dr. Robert Winn,” said Sanya Springfield, Ph.D., director of the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities. “The partnership’s overall goals align with those of the NCI Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities — eliminating cancer disparities and increasing workforce diversity — so that our workforce better reflects our nation and so that certain groups do not bear an uneven cancer burden. Importantly, the partnership intends to make a difference at a local level and to partner with the community to do so.” 

Additional investigators on the grant include Rafat Siddiqui, Ph.D., John Fife, Ph.D., Larry Keen, Ph.D., and Daniel Roberts, Ed.D. of VSU; Joseph Landry, Ph.D., Maria Thomson, Ph.D., Seung Lee, M.D., Michael Preston, Ph.D., M.P.H., Maghboeba Mosavel, Ph.D., and Dipankar Bandyopadhyay Ph.D., of VCU Massey Cancer Center; and Devanand Sarkar, Ph.D., Vanessa Sheppard, Ph.D., and Deborah Diaz Granados, Ph.D., of the VCU School of Medicine; and Arthur Kellerman, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences and CEO of VCU Health System.