Washington University in St. Louis Gets Moonshot Funds to Study Disparities

The Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently announced that it has received a $17 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH)’s Cancer Moonshot program to fund research into disparities in cancer research, treatment, and outcomes in underrepresented populations.

Specifically, the funds will be used to research African American patients with colorectal cancer and multiple myeloma, as well as people of any race or ethnicity diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma.

Commenting on the grant, Graham A. Colditz, MD, DrPH, the Niess-Gain Professor of Surgery at Washington University said, “We’re interested in improving care for underserved communities and maximizing the potential of team science, bringing together a diversity of skills, to address these problems.”

The program is looking for 300 patient volunteers to participate in the research program for each of the three cancer types. Any participating patient will have their cancer genomes sequenced and compared to their health genomes to determine what led to the tumor formation. The researchers will use a web-based tool called Genomics Advisor to ask participants many questions about preference and values. Genomics Advisor also explains genomics research to participants.

“When we look at cancer genomic studies, most of the participants have been white male patients, so a lot of the treatment decisions we make are based on that data, and it may not be applicable to women and people of color,” said Ryan C. Fields, MD, the Kim and Tim Eberlein Distinguished Professor in the Department of Surgery.

Interestingly, the researchers also plan to interview people who do not want to participate in the program.

According to the university, “if investigators can understand why some people choose not to enroll in a study, perhaps future trials can be designed in ways that address some of those concerns.”