Research Projects

The P20 Cancer Health Disparities SPORE consists of two main research projects that focus on innovative translational research to reduce cancer disparities. Each project is co-led by a physician-scientist and either a basic or population scientist.

Project 1: Race-related RNA Splicing in Non-small Cell Lung Cancer: Functional Interrogation and Therapeutic Targeting

Co-Leaders: Jennifer Freedman, PhD, (Basic Scientist) and Jeffery Clarke, MD (Physician Scientist)


This project addresses the urgent need to functionally characterize and therapeutically target novel race-related RNA splicing targets in NSCLC. The proposed work focuses on understanding the biological differences between lung cancer from African American and white patients, and developing new tools to modulate these differences to treat aggressive lung cancer.



Focus of the proposed work within the context of the complex interplay of factors contributing to lung cancer disparity and how the proposed work will address lung cancer disparity.


Project 2: Racial Differences in Host Immune Response and Gastric Carcinogenesis: Translating Underlying Biology to Promote Gastric Cancer Interception

Co-Leaders: Meira Epplein, PhD (Population Scientist) and Katherine Garman, MD (Physician Scientist)


This project asks important previously unanswered questions of the underlying biology mediating racial differences in gastric carcinogenesis. The goal is to address these gaps and translate biologic  findings  into  new  screening  and surveillance strategies for clinical practice in order to address racial disparities and improve survival related to gastric cancer.



Project 2 Study Design. Aim 1: Test the hypothesis that racial differences in tissue-based immune response along the gastric carcinogenesis cascade correlate with more advanced disease. Aim 2: Prospectively compare racial differences in host response to H. pylori in fresh serum and tissue samples.














As of July 2021, two research projects were recently funded by the DRP, focusing on disparities in  breast cancer as well as head and neck cancer. Brief descriptions are provided below.

Pilot Project 1: Biomarkers of Adaptive Stress Response and Immunosuppression Underlying Race-Based Disparities in Treatment Outcomes of Aggressive Breast Cancers

Co-Leaders: Gayathri Devi, PhD, (Basic/Translational Scientist) and Michael Morse, MD (Physician Scientist)

The project will address the urgent need to interrogate the molecular mechanisms driving the disparity in advanced triple negative breast cancer biology in African American and identify biomarkers that can be used to improve early and accurate diagnosis, especially in younger patients and women of color.







Pilot Project 2: Biologic Determinants of Racial Disparities in Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Co-Leaders: Tammara Watts, MD, PhD (Physician Scientist) and Nosayaba Osazuwa-Peters, MPH, PhD (Population Scientist)

Tumor heterogeneity, a hallmark feature of head and neck cancer, is likely a major contributor to the disparate clinical outcomes observed between black and white patients with head and neck cancer. The project aims to understand how gene expression changes in discrete compartments (i.e. tumor versus tumor immune microenvironment) will significantly aid in furthering our understanding of racial disparities on a biologic level.