$7.6 million funds center to fight cancer disparities in Missouri, Illinois

Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control will benefit from researchers on Danforth and Medical campuses

A grant from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will fund the Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control at Washington University. The center's aim will be to reduce cancer disparities in Missouri and central and southern Illinois. (Getty Images)

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has awarded $7.6 million to Washington University in St. Louis to create a research center that will develop ways to implement proven cancer-control interventions among disadvantaged rural and urban populations in 82 counties in Missouri and central and southern Illinois.

The Washington University Implementation Science Center for Cancer Control will seek to eliminate cancer disparities with rapid-cycle studies that put findings into practice quickly. It will be led by a team of researchers affiliated with the Brown School on the Danforth Campus and with Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

“Siteman Cancer Center serves some of the most disadvantaged populations of patients in the United States,” said Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, Siteman’s director and the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Surgery at Washington University. “This grant will allow us to further engage with our communities that we serve, with the goal of implementing effective interventions to reduce cancer disparities. This is a huge opportunity, it is very exciting, and it is unique that Siteman will be able to have such a tremendous impact on our current and future patients – throughout the region.”

The aims of the center are to:

  • Advance the field of implementation science in cancer control by conducting innovative and impactful research.
  • Expand an exceptional, diverse team of implementation science investigators and stakeholders, including clinical and public health leaders.
  • Organize and integrate center components to facilitate transdisciplinary team science.
  • Develop an implementation laboratory (known as the Innovation Incubator) to engage community partners, thus serving as a conduit for rapid and impactful research.
  • Address cancer disparities by making it as easy as possible for disadvantaged populations to access, use and benefit from evidence-based interventions.

Rural Missouri and Illinois residents are a particular focus of the center because they have cancer mortality rates that are significantly higher than those in urban populations. Risk factors such as smoking and obesity are consistently higher for rural than for urban populations. Cancer mortality disparities in rural areas also extend across racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Among black and white men with 12 or fewer years of education, cancer mortality rates are almost three times higher than those of male college graduates for all cancers combined.

The region includes highly impoverished areas, all within three hours of St. Louis. In southeastern Missouri, five counties have the highest poverty rates and some of the highest cancer rates in the country. Several Illinois counties are at the bottom of the county health rankings in Illinois and nationally. Many are areas where more regular screening for breast and colon cancer, for example, could have profound impact.

The center also will mentor and advance the work of junior scholars engaged in two pilot studies focused on implementation science. One will identify the extent to which evidence-based interventions are put into practice in rural settings and the roles of local health departments and other potential partners. The second pilot project will provide financial guidance for cancer patients, helping them to understand the costs of care, select health insurance and reduce financial distress.

“This new center will strengthen collaborations between the Brown School, the School of Medicine and Siteman Cancer Center,” said Mary McKay, the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Dean of the Brown School. “It will be a model for transdisciplinary, team science. Most importantly, we think the center will make a real difference in reducing the risk of cancer and improve health equity for disadvantaged populations in an 82-county area of Missouri and Illinois.”

The center will be co-led by Ross C. Brownson and Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH. Brownson is the Steven H. and Susan U. Lipstein Professor of Public Health at the Brown School and the School of Medicine. He leads the Prevention Research Center in St. Louis and is a co-director for prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center. Colditz is the Niess-Gain Professor and director of the Division of Public Health Sciences in the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine. He is associate director for prevention and control at Siteman and has led the Program for the Elimination of Cancer Disparities at Siteman since 2006.

The grant is intended to benefit residents of St. Louis city, 39 Missouri counties and 42 Illinois counties. The Missouri counties are: Audrain, Bollinger, Boone, Butler, Callaway, Cape Girardeau, Carter, Cole, Crawford, Dent, Dunklin, Franklin, Gasconade, Iron, Jefferson, Lincoln, Madison, Maries, Marion, Mississippi, Montgomery, New Madrid, Osage, Pemiscot, Perry, Phelps, Pike, Ralls, Reynolds, Ripley, Scott, St. Charles, St. Francois, St. Louis, Ste. Genevieve, Stoddard, Warren, Washington and Wayne. The Illinois counties are: Adams, Alexander, Bond, Calhoun, Christian, Clay, Clinton, Edwards, Effingham, Fayette, Franklin, Gallatin, Greene, Hamilton, Hardin, Jackson, Jefferson, Jersey, Johnson, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Marion, Massac, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Perry, Pike, Pope, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Saline, Sangamon, Scott, Shelby, Union, Washington, Wayne, White and Williamson. (Image: Siteman Cancer Center)

The new center is aligned with Washington University’s commitment to the St. Louis region, as emphasized by Chancellor Andrew D. Martin at his inauguration Oct. 3.

The center’s scientific and administrative elements also are aligned with the NIH’s Cancer Moonshot initiative, funded with grant 1 P50 CA244431-01.


Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.
The Brown School at Washington University is one of the top-ranked schools of social work in the nation, focused on evidence-based scholarship and impact. It endeavors to create positive change through path-breaking research and educational excellence in social work and public health, with deep ties to the local and global communities it serves. Faculty and staff at the Brown School are committed to creating new knowledge to counter the effects of systemic oppression and racism, in order to build a more just and equitable world.
Siteman Cancer Center, ranked among the top cancer treatment centers by U.S. News & World Report, also is one of only a few cancer centers to receive the highest rating of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) – “exceptional.” Comprising the cancer research, prevention and treatment programs of Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Siteman treats adults at six locations and partners with St. Louis Children’s Hospital in the treatment of pediatric patients, through Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Siteman is Missouri and southern Illinois’ only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center and only member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. Through the Siteman Cancer Network, Siteman Cancer Center works with regional medical centers to improve the health and well-being of people and communities by expanding access to cancer prevention and control strategies, clinical studies and genomic and genetic testing, all aimed at reducing the burden of cancer.

Originally published by the School of Medicine 

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