SC State names renowned cancer disparities researcher Dr. Marvella Ford as its first endowed chair

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Marvella Ford

ORANGEBURG, S.C. – With the naming of its first endowed chair, SC State University is poised to strengthen and expand its cancer-related research and other scholarly activities. Dr. Marvella Ford, an expert in health disparities and cancer prevention research, will lead these efforts as the newly appointed SmartState© Endowed Chair in Prostate Cancer Disparities at SC State University. She will begin her role at the university in August.

The SmartState © Endowed Chair Program was established in 2002 to invest in research areas that will advance South Carolina’s economy. Each Center of Economic Excellence acts as a resource for the recruitment of leading scientists and engineers whose work will promote and expand knowledge-based industries and increase job opportunities in South Carolina.

“It is a distinguished honor for SC State University to appoint its first endowed chair. Dr. Marvella Ford is recognized as one of the nation’s leading authorities for cancer disparities research and cancer prevention research. As a university which seeks to provide research-based solutions to address challenges that impact communities we serve, we are honored to have such expertise on this campus. This strategic, inter-institutional partnership with MUSC through the SmartState© Endowed Chair Program will advance the university’s growing cancer-related research and other activities designed to reduce the devastating effects of health disparities that have plagued the African American community, while boosting the state’s economy,” said SC State University President James E. Clark.

Ford, a tenured professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), also serves as associate director of Population Sciences and Cancer Disparities at the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. She will maintain her appointment at MUSC and will also hold a joint appointment as a professor in SC State’s Department of Biological and Physical Sciences.

“Dr. Ford is an incredible asset. Her ability to forge partnerships with individuals from various institutions with different interests and expertise is the type of forward thinking that will allow us to tackle the biggest issues surrounding cancer prevention, control and disparities. Cancer disparities, such as increased mortality in African American men with prostate cancer, are a major concern for our state and exposing the underlying reason for these disparities will allow us to better diagnose and treat those patients,” said Dr. Gustavo Leone, director of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

In her role as the SC State University SmartState© Endowed Chair, Ford will work with longtime colleague, Dr. Judith Salley, chair of the Department of Biological Sciences at SC State. In 2009, the pair submitted a proposal to create the South Carolina Cancer Disparities and Research Center (SC CADRE) which would facilitate collaboration between SC State and MUSC. Funding for the proposal was awarded in 2011, with grants awarded to both MUSC and SC State. The two have since applied for and were awarded four other collaborative grants totaling more than $3 million with focus on cancer and training for underrepresented students in the biomedical sciences.

According to Salley, the appointment of the endowed chair at SC State, is the pinnacle of a nearly eight-year partnership in which Ford and Salley have worked to develop research and education training programs in cancer.

“This is a turning point for SC State University and the Department of Biological and Physical Sciences. Dr. Marvella Ford and the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center have been collaborative partners for years with SC State in helping to strategically strengthen our focus on cancer. While I look forward to the impact the appointment of the SmartState© Endowed Chair Program will make on this campus, I am more excited for our students because they will obtain the greatest benefits from the training and expert knowledge of Dr. Ford,” said Salley.

Ford, whose life’s work stems from personal experience, is passionate about reducing health disparities. Before birth, she had lost her maternal and paternal grandparents. By the time she turned 40 years old, both of her parents had died.

According to Dr. Ford, “Those experiences drive me every day to try to uncover solutions to the health disparities that continue to plague our nation. We’ve made great strides in closing the gap in these disparities and improving health outcomes for all people in the United States, but those gaps in positive health outcomes still exist when you look across different racial and ethnic groups. Through the SmartState © Endowed Chair Program, Dr. Salley and I will continue to develop and test research strategies to close these gaps.”

Dr. Ford hopes that through her work at SC State, she will inspire the next generation of cancer disparities researchers. She has already developed the South Carolina Cancer Equity Health Consortium (SC CHEC), a 10-week program for undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina and three HBCUs - SC State, Claflin University and Voorhees College. The SC CHEC supports 20 students annually and is supported by grants from the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense.

In tandem with undergraduate training at SC State, Ford plans to teach seminar courses that may focus on social determinants related to cancer health disparities or applications of health behavior theories. The students will be exposed to world renowned research scientists, will have opportunities to develop their own research projects, and will be encouraged to participate in peer-reviewed publications with MUSC investigators.

Ford said she plans to serve as a catalyst to stimulate more shared grant applications between SC State and MUSC. She also anticipates opportunities to mentor SC State faculty, as well as translating the scientific work of both institutions into ways that add meaning and value to the community.

Since her recruitment to MUSC in 2005, Ford has been awarded more than $27.5 million in extramural grants as a principal or co-investigator, including funding from the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Department of Defense and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She has published over 80 peer-reviewed publications and mentored more than 30 individuals, ranging from undergraduate students to faculty.