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DF/HCC / UMB partnership awarded $11 million by NCI

Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and the University of Massachusetts Boston have been awarded $11 million over the next five years by the NCI to embolden their strong collaborative cancer research, training, and outreach program.

The two institutions initiated a partnership in 2002, and successfully competed for a U56 grant in 2005. To date, the Partnership has been directly responsible for or leveraged more than $26 million in research funds, and over $13.6 million in training grants.

Co-led by Adán Colón-Carmona, PhD (UMB) and Karen Emmons, PhD (DFCI), the priorities of the U54 are to:

  • Develop rigorous, interdisciplinary programs of collaborative research that stimulate cancer disparities research at DF/HCC, and support research activities at UMB;
  • Expand cancer-focused training opportunities for Under-represented Minority (URM) students, nursing students, and postdoctoral fellows;
  • Increase community outreach, cancer education, and dissemination of evidenced-based programs; and
  • Develop shared mechanisms for minority faculty recruitment, engagement, and career development.


Pilot Projects

Aberrant chromosome segregation without cancerous growth: Kinesin motor proteins function at the spindle-assembly checkpoint in Arabidopsis
PIs: Adán Colón-Carmona, PhD (UMB) and David Pellman, MD (DFCI)
The pilot project will test three key hypotheses in plant cell cycle control, not only to advance the plant cell cycle field but also to contribute to the general understanding of motor protein function, check point control, ploidy, and cancer development. The first hypothesis evaluates whether plant (Arabidopis thaliana) CENP-E is involved in growth control via the SAC, more specifically in regulating the timing of chromosome metaphase plate alignment. The second hypothesis is whether the loss of CENP-E function will lead to aberrant chromosome alignment, and support one of the following models: 1) CENP-E will attach chromosomes to bipolar spindle microtubule fibers and align chromosomes at the metaphase plate; 2) CENP-E will move chromosomes attached to mono-oriented spindle microtubule fibers towards the metaphase plate; 3) plant CENP-Es can do both 1 and 2; or 4) CENP-E in plants does neither 1 nor 2, but rather has a distinct function. The third hypothesis is whether cytokinesis is not affected in loss-of-function mutants, indicating that CENP-E functions primarily in prometaphase and metaphase of the cell cycle.

Depression and Mental Healthcare Utilization in African American and Non-Hispanic White Lung Cancer Patients
PIs: Elyse Park, PhD (MGH) and Sheila Cannon, APRN, PhD (UMB)
Psychosocial problems associated with cancer care are often unaddressed, particularly related to lung cancer, which has been found to elevate risk for psychological distress relative to other cancers. Phase 1 of this study will utilize a nationally representative dataset from the Cancer Care Outcomes Research & Surveillance (CanCORS) Consortium to compare prevalence of depression symptoms, factors underlying depression symptoms, and rates of mental healthcare utilization in 2,108 AA and NHW lung cancer patients. The team will also examine the effect of cancer care experiences on depression severity at 4-months post-diagnosis. Phase 2 will include in-depth qualitative assessments of beliefs about depression and mental healthcare seeking in AA and NHW lung cancer patients at Massachusetts General Hospital.


Hispanic-American End-of-Life Outcomes: Patient, Provider, and Institutional Effects
PIs: Holly Prigerson, PhD (DFCI); Paul Maciejewski, PhD; Jan Mutchler, PhD (UMB); and Lorna Rivera, PhD (UMB)
The overarching aim of this study is to identify the most promising targets for interventions designed to enable Latinos to receive: a) high quality EOL care, and b) care consistent with their values and preferences (“treatment goal attainment”). Specfics aims are to obtain multi-level data and use hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to estimate patient, provider and institutional effects on Latino-white disparities in EOL care and treatment goal attainment.

In vivo analysis of signaling dynamics in the Notch interaction network
PIs: Spyridon Artavnis-Tsakonas, PhD and Alexey Veraksa, PhD (UMB)
In this study, we propose to gain insight into the Notch signaling events by using the genetic advances in recombineering and targeted transgene insertions to replace the endogenous Notch and Delta genes with their fluorescent and affinity tagged isoforms. These transgenes will be used for studying the composition of Notch containing signaling complexes and for imaging the process of Notch activation in vivo. Completion of these experiments will establish an in vivo map of the Notch interaction network and reveal the dynamics of signaling in living cells. With the above in mind, the team will pursue the following specific aims: 1) to generate Drosophila lines containing genomically tagged Notch and Delta; 2) to analyze the Notch interaction network in vivo; and 3) to study the dynamics of Notch signaling in vivo.

Covalent Fluorescent Probes for Cancer Cell Detection
PIs: Nathanael Gray, PhD (DFCI); Priscilla Yang, PhD (HMS); and Wei Zhang, PhD (UMB)
The overall goal of this project is to create fluorescent small molecule ATP-site directed probes that can selectively label particular kinases and serve as imaging probes of normal versus pathological cell state. Protein kinases are in many ways ideal targets for the development of selective small molecule imaging probes for use in cancer biology. The specific aims of this project are to: 1) synthesize fluorescently-tagged kinase inhibitors capable of forming covalent bonds with ATP-site cysteine residues; 2) use microscopy-based screening of the compounds prepared in Aim 1 to identify compounds that are selective-probes of normal and pathological cellular states; and 3) identify the intracellular target(s) of active compounds identified in Aim 2.

Post-Doctoral Program in Nursing Cancer and Health Disparities (training project)
PIs: Patricia Reid Ponte, DNSc, FAAN, RN (DFCI) and Greer Glazer, CNP, FAAN, PhD, RN (UMB)
The Nursing Post-Doctoral Program in Cancer and Health Disparities is designed to address the urgent need for more minority and non-minority nurse researchers prepared to teach at the university level and conduct independent nursing research. The Program will have three interrelated components: (1) an educational training component in which trainees are supported in designing an individualized curriculum that addresses gaps in their nursing PhD training and supports them in acquiring skills and knowledge required to conduct independent research in nursing and cancer health disparities; (2) a research training component in which trainees will conduct a mentored research project in cancer health disparities; and (3) professional development training that will provide trainees with support and resources required to develop a research career plan and identify potential junior research positions and funding sources.

Promoting Utilization of Cancer Early Detection Methods among Latinos in Churches: A Faith- Based Approach
PIs: Jennifer Allen, DSc, MPH, RN (DFCI) and Maria Idali Torres, PhD
The focus of this project is to develop an organizational-level intervention to enable communities to adopt, adapt, implement, and sustain evidence-based interventions (EBIs) to address cancer disparities among Latinos. This three-phase study will: (1) improve understanding of the organizational infrastructure, skills and resources required by Latino churches to implement EBIs for cancer control; (2) develop a capacity-building intervention; and (3) test the intervention’s effectiveness in a randomized trial with churches as the unit of intervention and analysis, in which churches will be assigned to either a "Capacity Enhancement" intervention or a "Standard Dissemination" condition.