South Carolina's Sea Island black population may hold answers to why African-Americans in the United States develop and die from certain cancers at a higher rate than Caucasians.
A landmark grant awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the NIH's National Cancer Institute to the Hollings Cancer Center (HCC) and South Carolina State University (SCSU) is among the first of its kind in the country to support cancer disparities research that includes Sea Island residents.
The grant, exceeding $800,000, establishes the South Carolina Cancer Disparities Research Center which will have as its mission investigating cancer disparities and training future researchers in the field.
Researchers from both institutions will collaborate on both aspects.
"The more we know about how genetic makeup contributes to cancer onset and progression, the better we will be able to develop drugs targeted toward each person's genetic makeup, which will give us greater ammunition in our cancer-fighting arsenal," said principal investigator Marvella Ford, Ph.D., associate director of cancer disparities at HCC.
Judith Salley, Ph.D., co-principal investigator on the grant said, "In addition to conducting research that could lead to improved cancer treatment, the grant will also develop the careers of the next generation of cancer disparities researchers by training undergraduate students from SCSU, graduate students from MUSC, and junior faculty from both institutions."
Salley is also chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at SCSU.
Grant, research highlights
- African-Americans from the Sea Islands are the most homogeneous black population in the US. They are direct descendants of Africans removed by force from West Africa, primarily from Sierra Leone.
- The genetic distance between the Sea Island populations and those in Sierra Leone is shorter than between Sea Island populations and African-American populations in the US.
- Other ethnic groups included in the research will be African-Americans who do not have Sea Island ancestry and Caucasians who have been diagnosed with cancer. Another unique element of the grant is the formation of an advisory group, including Sea Island community advocates, which will help select future research projects.
- Research will initially focus on breast and prostate cancers, two types of cancer that affect African-Americans and Caucasians at markedly disproportionate rates. Studies will explore whether genetic differences play a role in disparities.