SC State partner in state-funded center for prostate cancer research

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

South Carolina State University has poised itself to become a partner with two of the state's premier research institutions as part of the development of a state-funded research center in the fight against prostate cancer.

SC State is partnering with the Medical University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina on a new Center of Economic Excellence that's been provided through $3.6 million in matching funds from the S.C. Education Lottery. This is the first CoEE in which SC State has been a partner.

The South Carolina General Assembly established the S.C. Centers of Economic Excellence Program in 2002. The program is funded through state lottery proceeds.

The legislation authorizes the state's three public research institutions -- MUSC, USC and Clemson University -- to use state funds to create the centers in research areas that will advance South Carolina's economy. Each CoEE is awarded between $2 million and $5 million in state funds that must be matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis with non-state funds.

The CoEE in which SC State is a partner will work to improve screening and treatment for prostate cancer in the black community.

"Those funds will also be used to recruit three endowed chairs to have faculty positions at each of the three universities. These are nationally recognized scientists who have a lot of previous clinical trial experience and a long history of extramurally funded research," said Dr. Marvella Ford, associate director of cancer disparities at the MUSC's Hollings Cancer Center.

Ford, who is also an associate professor at MUSC, serves as co-director of the CoEE along with Dr. Sandra H. Glover, associate dean for health disparities and social justice at USC's Arnold School of Public Health, and Dr. Judith Salley, chairperson of the biological sciences department at SC State.

Ford said the center's three goals include conducting clinical trials with participants throughout the state to test methods to increase black participation in clinical trials, developing tools and techniques to increase black participation in prostate cancer screenings and early detection, and training students and junior faculty to conduct prostate cancer research in South Carolina.

"The idea is the endowed chairs would come in with their research grant, which would create jobs for people who would be hired to work on those grants. They would continue to write new grants and hire investigators and research staff to work on those grants," Ford said. "The problem is that South Carolina ranks third in the nation in prostate cancer deaths. That's on top of the fact that the prostate cancer death rate in the U.S. is higher than almost anywhere else in the world, other than Bangladesh."

Salley said the incidence of prostate cancer among black men is three times greater than that of white men.

"We need to do some research to find out what's going on there," she said. "Part of it is we don't get screened, and when we do get screened and it's detected, it's usually in an advanced stage. The other piece to that is it seems to be an aggressive kind of cancer when it's detected among African-American men."

Salley said clinical trials could help to raise awareness of the disease and help expose black men to more cutting-edge research.

"Because of a lack of knowledge, most of our men choose a less aggressive type of treatment plan," she said. "It is resulting in a high mortality rate. We very desperately need this CoEE project to develop and address a model to recruit more of these men into screening and educate them about prevention."

She said that Ford, MUSC Provost Dr. John Raymond and Hollings Cancer Center Director Dr. Andrew Kraft were all instrumental in inviting S.C. State, a historically black university, to be part of research that directly impacts the black community. It was an invitation she said the university was excited about.

"We felt that South Carolina State could offer much to this project," Salley said. "We're looking at and addressing how to develop a model for recruiting African-American men into health screenings and from there into clinical trials. We also hope to impact the number of students who pursue graduate school degrees."

The three partner institutions are now collaborating and putting together a strategy to generate the matching funds needed for the project, she said.