Cancer Control and Population Sciences

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Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D, M.P.H.
– Co-Leader

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Karen Meneses, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN
– Co-Leader

Overview:

The overall scientific goals of the Cancer Control and Population Sciences Program are to reduce the burden of cancer through hypothesis-driven observational and interventional research that spans the bench-to-bedside-to-community at large, and which targets all stages of neoplasia, from primary, secondary and tertiary prevention, through to end-of-life care. The CCC primarily serves the population of Alabama, but efforts are also made to serve the entire region, as demonstrated by our community-based participatory research projects in the Deep South Network (DSN), the Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center (TCC) for Health Disparities Research, the UAB-Morehouse School of Medicine-Tuskegee partnership, and distance medicine-based interventions that target high-risk populations and cancer survivors.  Because UAB is the sole NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center within the Deep South region of the United States, the research performed by CCPS investigators often expands into Mississippi, Louisiana, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle.

The most defining characteristics of the state and the region as a whole are poverty and the health (cancer) disparities tied to social class and race. Although Alabama (and the states that surround it) have cancer incidence rates that are somewhat higher than most states in the country, it is the excessive cancer mortality rate that is most noteworthy, i.e., a rate of 194.0/100,000 as compared to 173.8/100,000 for the nation as a whole. Cancer-related mortality is largely driven by the even higher death rates among African-Americans who comprise 26.3% of our general population. Other major contributing factors are lack of education, resources, and access to care.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also show that Alabama consistently is among the states with the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption and levels of physical activity, and the highest rates of obesity.  In 2014, over 70% of Alabamians were either overweight or obese. The greater incidence of many of the cancers that are elevated in the state (e.g., colorectal, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers), as well as higher mortality rates due to breast, colorectal, ovarian, pancreatic and prostate cancer are attributed at least in part to these excessive rates of obesity. Because the prevalence of obesity is much greater among African Americans, obesity has been ascribed as a factor that also contributes to the higher cancer mortality rates among African Americans.

To address these issues the CCPS program brings together 41multidisciplinary investigators who hold faculty appointments in 14 departments and 6 schools, with cancer-relevant expertise in diverse areas, including molecular and genetic epidemiology, cancer health disparities, behavioral science, health and cancer outcomes, nutrition and obesity, quality of life and end-of-life care, and cancer survivorship research. To effectively harness this expertise, the program leaders worked with the program members to identify areas of research that would have greatest impact in the catchment area. This led to the formulation of the three specific aims that provide the needed focus and have guided the development of the program since 2011.  The effectiveness of this approach in enhancing the program is demonstrated by 361 published manuscripts of which 25% were intra-programmatic, 18% inter-programmatic, and 68% inter-institutional.

The scientific goals of the CCPS Program will be accomplished through the following three specific aims. For each aim, the elimination of cancer disparities is a cross-cutting theme:

Aim 1. Study the impact of body weight status and factors that influence energy balance on cancer risk and outcomes.

Aim 2.  Identify host and environmental factors that affect cancer risk through epidemiologic, genomic and cancer research and develop approaches for risk reduction, early detection and treatment of cancer.

Aim 3. Determine factors that influence cancer-related outcomes and develop behavioral interventions to reduce cancer risk and progression, and improve quality of life in cancer survivors.

Leadership:

Karen Meneses, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN, was appointed as CCPS Program Co-Leader in March 2009 with a clear strategy of growing cancer survivorship research within the CCPS program. Dr. Meneses is Professor and Associate Dean for Research in the School of Nursing (SON) at UAB, Director of the Office of Research and Scholarship in the School of Nursing, and Senior Scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Meneses is nationally recognized for her research on cancer survivorship and interventions to improve quality of life in cancer survivors and their families. Over the past 30 years, Dr. Meneses has served on several editorial boards, foundations, and external research review panels (e.g., NCI, NINR, ACS, ONS, DOD, Komen, etc.) related to cancer survivorship research. She has received numerous awards and recognition for her service in oncology nursing and cancer research, and notably was an appointed member of the National Cancer Advisory Board (2006-2012). She was the 2013 recipient of the Ada Sue Hinshaw Award, recognizing sustained contributions to nursing science, from the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research.  Dr. Meneses served as PI or Co-PI on several NIH-funded survivorship research studies, including Rural Breast Cancer Survivor Intervention (RBCS) (R01 CA120638) that examines the effectiveness of a telephone-delivered psycho-educational support intervention for rural breast cancer survivors; Cost Effectiveness of the Rural Breast Cancer Survivor Intervention Package (R01 NR011885-01) that examines cost effectiveness of a quality of life intervention program; and Quality of Life Intervention in Breast Cancer Survivors (R01 NR05332) that tested the effectiveness of a personalized QoL intervention among breast cancer survivors in the first year of post-treatment survivorship. Drs. Meneses and Demark-Wahnefried were recently notified of funding from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to support minority predoctoral scholars in the Graduate Training in Disparities Research Program.  Drs. Meneses and Wendy Demark-Wahnefried are the Principal Investigators for the R25 Cancer Prevention and Control Training Program.  Dr. Meneses has extensive mentorship experience serving as research mentor for UAB faculty from the School of Nursing, School of Public Health, School of Medicine and the UAB Health Disparities and Research Training Program.  Dr. Meneses’ expertise in the burgeoning field of cancer survivorship, and her survivorship research in rural populations (an important and underserved population within UAB’s catchment area) make her an ideal Program Leader for the CCPS Program.  In addition, she brings a wealth of administrative experience as the Associate Dean for Research and the Director of the Office for Research and Scholarship at UAB School of Nursing.

Elizabeth E. Brown, Ph.D., M.P.H., was appointed as CCPS Program Co-Leader in January 2015. Dr. Brown, a molecular and genetic epidemiologist, was recruited to UAB in 2006 from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the NCI and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health to establish teaching programs in molecular epidemiology in the School of Public Health. She is Professor of Molecular and Cellular Pathology in the School of Medicine and in this capacity, provides a critical interface between the School of Medicine and School of Public Health and, in addition, between HudsonAlpha to foster continued growth in molecular epidemiology and facilitate translational research in collaboration with the UAB-CCC. Dr. Brown is an internationally recognized leader in the genetic and molecular epidemiology of immune-mediated phenotypes, including multiple myeloma (MM), with specific expertise in “omics.” As former Chair of the International Multiple Myeloma Consortium (IMMC) and Co-Chair of the IMMC Genetics of Multiple Myeloma Working Group, Dr. Brown continues to facilitate large collaborative genomics, as well as non-genomics, initiatives at the international level and sets research priorities to identify novel biomarkers of disease susceptibility and progression. Work originating from the IMMC, is largely supported by the NCI and represents collaborations with several investigators from intramural NCI, NCI-designated Cancer Centers and international cancer agencies. Dr. Brown served on several editorial boards and NIH study sections (e.g., NCI, NIAMS, NIMHD) and received numerous awards and recognition for her research related to MM and immuno-epidemiology. Dr. Brown is PI of several NIH-funded grants whose aim is to characterize the molecular signature of MM and its related asymptomatic precursor conditions, as well as the shared etiology of autoimmune disease and immune-mediated hematologic malignancies and differences by ancestry (R01CA186646, R21CA182861, R21CA155951, R01AR064820). In addition, Dr. Brown provides considerable administrative expertise. She was instrumental in obtaining NCI-designation of the Oregon Cancer Center by establishing Center infrastructure to support the clinical research enterprise. She created the Office of Clinical Research and increased the number of clinical studies from 20 to over 400 in two years. In this capacity, she co-led clinical research aspects of the Center including, strategic planning, space allocation and recruitment, and led all aspects of the Shared Facility for Clinical Research Management, including administrative, fiscal and research oversight for a multi-million dollar operation. Dr. Brown’s experience and leadership, centered on effective communication across a wide range of epidemiologists, clinicians, basic scientists and administrators, as well as funding agencies, make her uniquely well-poised to co-lead the CCPS Program.

Leadership Activities:

The CCPS Program benefits from having two Program Leaders, one a clinician-scientist who has devoted her career to cancer survivorship and the other, a molecular and genetic epidemiologist, who has devoted her career to biomarker and gene discovery. Together their expertise is complementary as they share the governance of the CCPS Program and are responsible for providing intellectual stimulation, cohesion, focus, and direction to the program. This is achieved jointly through the following leadership activities:

  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown participate in monthly meetings of UAB Cancer Center Program Leaders to ensure coordination of goals and agendas between programs, as well as interaction between programs and program members. In addition, both are actively involved in strategic planning with other Cancer Center Program Leaders through the Annual Cancer Center Leadership Retreats.
  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown share in directing the monthly CCPS Program Seminar Series featuring national speakers, as well as UAB Cancer Center faculty. The purpose of the presentations is to stimulate and develop intra- and inter-programmatic Cancer Center research opportunities. Each seminar has an attendance of approximately 30-40 scientists, and the speakers are provided the opportunity to meet individually with selected faculty to increase idea exchange and collaboration.
  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown keep continually vigilant regarding the potential for program members to collaborate with other members of the program or other members of the UAB-CCC, and apprise the membership of these opportunities, as well as opportunities for funding.
  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown contribute to the annual Cancer Center research symposium by providing resources to CCPS members to submit papers/posters for presentation, participating in the symposium planning and the judging of scientific presentations, and providing feedback for future Cancer Center scientific seminars and symposia.
  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown are actively engaged in mentoring pre- and post-doctoral fellows and junior faculty. In pursuing these responsibilities, the Program Leaders share responsibility for providing guidance and mentoring; they also alert CCPS faculty of funding opportunities and opportunities for collaboration.
  • Both Drs. Meneses and Brown are actively engaged in the recruitment of new Cancer Center faculty and in the retention of existing faculty members.

In addition to these shared activities, each Program Leader pursues discrete tasks that complement each other and strengthen the overall program (see below).

  • Dr. Meneses contributes a unique skill set and expertise to the CCPS program specifically in cancer survivorship disparities research. Dr. Meneses has a senior leadership role as the Associate Dean for Research in the School of Nursing. She is actively engaged in the recruitment of new faculty, with special emphasis on faculty with cancer-related research interests. She engages her predoctoral, postdoctoral, and junior faculty to participate in CCPS collaborative activities. In addition, Dr. Meneses leverages resources to provide training and career development to CCPS junior faculty in cancer survivorship research. On a national level, Dr. Meneses provides leadership in cancer control the CDC Advisory Committee for Breast Cancer in Young Women. She continues to provide service at the NCI through grant reviews. Her international prominence in the area of cancer survivorship, as well as her experience on study sections, makes her an ideal Program Leader for the growing number of CCPS faculty who are pursuing research careers in cancer survivorship disparities research.
  • Dr. Brown brings new energy and a different, yet complementary, skill set to the CCPS program. Her appointment was strategic because she brings experience in molecular and genetic epidemiology. Dr. Brown was actively engaged in establishing teaching programs in molecular epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health. In addition, she directed the UAB Faculty Development Grant Program, which promotes pilot research from across the entire UAB campus (both medical and undergraduate) and supports, in part, pilot work of UAB-CCC junior investigators. Playing a leadership role in several faculty search and programmatic committees and theme-based graduate programs, Dr. Brown is in a position to promote cancer-related research interests, as well as to engage new and existing faculty and research fellows. Her prominence as a molecular and genetic epidemiologist and her service in the International Multiple Myeloma Consortium and NIH study sections, make her an ideal Program Leader for the growing number of CCPS faculty who are pursuing research careers in molecular epidemiology.

Contact Information:

Co-Leader: Elizabeth Brown, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Email: elbrown@uab.edu
Phone: (205) 934-6105

Co-Leader: Karen Meneses, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN
Email: menesesk@uab.edu
Phone: (205) 996-7038

 

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