Research Forum: Cancer in the Black Community
Moffitt Cancer Center was host to an important update in April as the George Edgecomb Society (GES) presented its second virtual Cancer in the Black Community Forum.
The event shared progress on a wide variety of research initiatives underway at Moffitt that focus on cancers and related issues that have a disproportionate impact on Blacks/African Americans. The grants are made possible by the generosity of GES members and their philanthropic efforts. According to Valerie Goddard, GES chair, 2022 has seen the highest number of applications for research grants, nine in total from 15 investigators. She anticipates that GES will award four grants in FY22, with a total investment of $300,000.
Dr. Tiffany Carson, associate member in Health Outcomes and Behavior and the first George Edgecomb Society Scholar, presented her work in understanding how weight management and healthy eating can be an effective strategy for cancer prevention. Dr. Carson joined Moffitt after spending eight years at her Alma Mater, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, attracted primarily by the opportunities available through the George Edgecomb Society. She shared that she was honored and humbled to be the first named GES Scholar and knew that Moffitt would be the best place to continue her research endeavors.
Dr. Patrick Hwu, Moffitt’s CEO, led a panel discussion with three faculty members and GES grantees. Dr. Michael Schell, senior member in Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, and Dr. Mokenge Malafa, senior member in Gastrointestinal Oncology Surgery, discussed their project, which investigates the effects of aspirin in Black/African American patients with colorectal cancer. Dr. Lauren Peres, assistant member in Cancer Epidemiology, shared her work looking at distinct DNA methylation patterns in the genes of Black/African American women with ovarian cancer. Both projects will impact our understanding of the disparate incidence and mortality rates among Black/African American patients, bringing us one step closer to closing the gap.
A unique addition to this year’s program was the research lab tours, led by former GES grantees:
- 2019 Awardee: Dr. Dennis Adeegbe, assistant member in Immunology studying the contributions of the immune system to prostate cancer mortality in Black/African American men.
- 2020 Awardee: Dr. Alvaro Monteiro, senior member in Cancer Epidemiology, investigating the genetic risk factors associated with BRCA1 and BRCA 2 variants in Black/African American women with breast or ovarian cancer.
- 2021 Awardee: Dr. Ana Gomes, assistant member in Molecular Oncology, examining aging and metabolic changes that increase the risk of lung cancer in Black/African American individuals.
- 2021 Awardee: Dr. Rob Rounbehler, research scientist in Tumor Biology, exploring the molecular differences in prostate cancer in Black/African American men that may contribute to their extraordinarily high incidence and mortality rates.
The most powerful moment of the evening was delivered by Gary Lambert, a patient of Dr. Brandon Blue, who is currently fighting multiple myeloma. Lambert was a healthy and active 37-year-old husband, father and corrections officer in Philadelphia when hip and back pain sidelined him. Unable to find the cause, he suffered through months of debilitating pain before a bone marrow biopsy showed he had stage III multiple myeloma. The day before turning 38 years old, Lambert started the first of what would end up being four lines of treatment. Prior to his stem cell transplant, he learned the disease also had damaged his heart, which meant a cardiology team was added to his large community of doctors. The COVID-19 pandemic brought new challenges for his family. They relocated to Tampa to be closer to family and were made comfortable by knowing that Moffitt Cancer Center would be available to provide high-quality cancer care as Lambert’s journey continued.
Despite many unpleasant and painful side effects, multiple rounds of pneumonia and infections, Lambert has remained optimistic. In his words, he doesn’t get hung up on "why me and why cancer... You don’t get a good answer, and if you are focused on the past, you can’t live in the present." He also advocates for not letting cancer define who you are. As he shared, "I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend, a business owner, and a coffee snob. And I happen to have multiple myeloma."
At Moffitt, the courage of patients like Lambert inspires the courage of our physicians and researchers. Cancer effects everyone, but in the words of Lorrin Rucker, associate director of Health Equity at the Moffitt Foundation, “the mission of the George Edgecomb Society is to make sure everyone has the armor to fight in the battle. Through the generous support of society members, the revolutionary cancer disparities research continues to inform patient care so health equity can become a reality both at Moffitt and beyond.”
The evening also featured Doretha Edgecomb, who shared her thoughts on the legacy of her husband, George Edgecomb, and the ongoing impact of the society that bears his name.