Disparities in Cancer Research
- Early research on ovarian cancer didn’t include cell and tissue samples from minority women
- One new initiative is collecting tumor and blood samples from Black women to create more diverse ovarian cancer models
- The goal is to understand how this and other cancers act differently in Black women, and work to improve their outcomes
"One really exciting initiative that we are very passionate about is called the Human Cancer Models Initiative, or HCMI, that is led by the National Cancer Institute (NCI)," says Dr. Stefanie Avril, gynecologic pathologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. "Our laboratory is one of four centers across the U.S. that’s participating in this initiative and contributing tumor samples and specimens."
What is the HCMI?Read More
More Inclusive Research"A lot of the current cancer models and cancer cell lines that are commercially available to researchers have been derived from white or European-American women," says Dr. Avril. "And a lot of cancer patients from racial or ethnic minorities are largely underrepresented in the research models that we have to study their diseases. We know that there are differences."
Dr. Avril and her team are collecting tumor and normal tissue and blood samples from Black women with gynecologic cancers, and in particular, ovarian cancer, to improve their outcomes. "Ultimately this will lead to creating better models and more diverse models that really reflect all of the cancer patients we are seeing in our community," she adds.
Her work is part of a larger effort at the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center that's looking at cancer disparities. That includes cancers that occur in higher numbers, or that have a higher mortality rate in certain populations, specifically racial or ethnic minorities.
Ensuring that cancer patients from different backgrounds are equally and adequately represented in research studies is paramount in delivering the highest quality care. By understanding how ovarian cancer differs in women of different races, scientists can eventually develop more individualized treatment options that will hopefully work more effectively in specific populations.
Though it may take time to see the results, the work that’s being done today in labs like Dr. Avril’s could have long-term implications. "What we always explain to the women who are excited to participate in our research is that, while it will not benefit them directly in their care, this research will benefit women in the future," says Dr. Avril. "It will help us better understand how some of these cancers act differently in Black versus white women."