Young Supporters Board Funds Young Researcher Studying Cancer Disparities

CarsonYoung scientists can easily be overwhelmed in the field of research without proper support. Funding from national-level sources is very competitive, and pilot funds are often the way many young researchers begin their careers.

Tiffany Carson, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Preventive Medicine, was fortunate enough to receive funding in 2013 from a pilot program sponsored by The Young Supporters Board of the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. As a result, Carson’s research program, which is focused on understanding factors that influence cancer disparities of black and white women in the South, is well underway, and she is positioned to be more competitive for future funding opportunities on both the local and national levels including agencies like the National Cancer Institute and other funding sources.

“The funding support given to me by The Young Supporters Board has been a great opportunity for me as an early-career investigator because it provides a foundation for me to build my research program,” said the 32-year-old Carson, a two-time UAB graduate and faculty member since 2012. “In order to gather the preliminary data that we need to be competitive on the national level for future funding for cancer research, we need the support of internal pilot programs like that provided by The Young Supporters Board.”

The Young Supporters Board is inviting anyone interested in funding the future of cancer research to attend the annual Fiesta Ball on May 1 from 6-9 p.m., the board’s signature event attended by more than 400 young professionals each year. The event features Mexican food, drinks, a silent auction and live music. Tickets are $35 at the door.

The Young Supporters Board awarded Carson its Young Investigator Grant, now renamed the Mary Ann Harvard Young Investigator Grant, with funds raised in part from this event in 2013. Private philanthropic support is the major source of funding for the board.

Carson’s study, “Exploring Potential Bio-Behavioral Explanations of Cancer Disparities,” is examining how behavior, environment and biology may interact to contribute to differences in cancer risk for black and white women in the Deep South.

“This study is exploring how stress and diet affect the naturally occurring bacteria in our body, or the microbiome,” Carson said. “The microbiome has recently been linked to risks for certain cancers, especially colorectal cancer. This study is exploring the hypothesis that, because black women report higher levels of perceived psychological stress, they may have a less healthy microbiome, which in turn leads to an increased risk for some cancers.”

Almost 80 participants have enrolled in the study in the Division of Preventive Medicine and have completed questionnaires and provided samples to evaluate the relationship between stress, weight, and the oral and gut bacteria.

Carson hopes to enroll a total of 100 healthy participants in this study and have data collected and entered by the end of the summer. An analysis of the data will occur shortly thereafter.

Carson believes this research is laying the groundwork for her to be competitive for national-level funding in the near future.

“I submitted a K01 application to the National Cancer Institute in February in which I proposed to build on this study by making similar comparisons among women with and without colorectal cancer,” Carson said. “After answering the questions from the pilot study in healthy populations, we really want to be able to validate our findings by comparing women with and without cancer.  Hopefully we will get this next project funded so that we can continue this important line of research.”