A Researcher’s Multifaceted Approach to Addressing Disparities in Cancer
Black Americans are more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer than white Americans, highlighting a major racial disparity.
As director of the Prostate Cancer Transatlantic Consortium (CaPTC) and chair of the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research (MICR) Council, Clayton Yates, PhD, hopes to understand and address disparities in prostate cancer by tackling the contributions of both genetics and societal inequities.
Some of these efforts will be showcased at the 15th AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, to be held September 16-19 in Philadelphia. The conference is hosted in association with the MICR Council.
CaPTC is a group of prostate cancer scientists, clinicians, survivors, and advocates from North America, Europe, the Caribbean Islands, and West Africa that is studying prostate cancer in men with African ancestry.
“The mission of CaPTC is to provide education and support for investigators around the world whose research focuses on understanding prostate cancer in men of African descent,” said Yates. “Our ultimate goal is to increase survival rates for prostate cancer in Black men.”
Throughout its 17 years of existence, CaPTC’s activities have evolved from primarily educating researchers on the disparities in prostate cancer to generating new research questions that are now being explored through various projects, Yates explained. One of the research questions under investigation is how African ancestry impacts prostate cancer biology.
Most studies examining disparities focus on race, which is typically self-reported and defined by skin color and social and cultural traits, Yates said. However, he argued, addressing health disparities will also require understanding the contributions of genetic ancestry to tumor biology. Insights into genetic ancestry could aid precision medicine efforts by uncovering potential therapeutic targets specific to patients with African ancestry.
To identify potential contributions of African ancestry to prostate cancer biology, Yates and several colleagues from CaPTC sequenced prostate tumors from Nigerian men collected from six sites in Nigeria, which were then compared with existing data from prostate tumors of African American and European American men.
“Our goal was to understand the genomic contributions to prostate cancer among Nigerian men, something that had never been studied before,” said Yates. “We performed sequencing to determine if there were unique mutations associated with the Nigerian population that were distinct from those in tumors from African Americans or European Americans, as well as to identify any similarities across these populations.”
The analysis revealed certain genetic variants in Nigerian and African American prostate tumors that were not present in tumors from European Americans, suggesting an association with African ancestry. Yates noted that the results could aid in the development of precision medicine approaches for men of African descent.
These research findings will be presented in detail at the upcoming conference and will be concurrently published in the AACR journal Cancer Research Communications. The meeting will feature additional studies on the role of African ancestry in cancer, including one from Yates’s research group examining how African ancestry impacts immune signaling in prostate cancer and another from the lab of Melissa Davis, PhD, investigating the influence of African ancestry on triple-negative breast cancer. Davis’s study will be concurrently published in the AACR journal Cancer Discovery.
Beyond the research carried out by CaPTC, the consortium also has initiatives in place to support researchers studying disparities in prostate cancer, efforts that go hand in hand with Yates’s role as chair of the MICR Council.
“CaPTC and the MICR Council both strive to bolster disparities research and provide underrepresented researchers with the support and resources they need to advance their careers,” he said. To that end, CaPTC hosts a biennial conference on the science of global prostate cancer disparities in Black men, facilitating networking, collaboration, and knowledge transfer between CaPTC members and promoting training and advocacy for low-resource countries.
“Every other year when CaPTC hosts its conference, we have physicians, pathologists, urologists, population scientists, and others from around the world coming together, attending educational sessions to learn about our standard-of-care practices for managing and studying prostate cancer in the United States,” Yates said. “There are a lot of things we take for granted here that are not standard practice in low-resource countries, such as PSA screening, for example.”
In a similar vein, the MICR Council helps organize the AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities each year, bringing together researchers studying various facets of cancer health disparities to engage and learn from each other.
This year’s conference will feature events hosted by MICR that aim to support career development for minority researchers. The events will include a professional advancement forum and a meet-and-greet session. Prior to the meeting, MICR members also plan to visit and engage with individuals at nearby universities who are unable to attend the meeting.
“Our mission is to provide resources to minority investigators to help them meet whatever challenges they are facing,” said Yates. “This year, we are focused on the impact of racism and prejudice as hindrances to a successful career. We are asking accomplished cancer disparities scientists to share their ‘overcoming and becoming’ stories to guide junior scientists, whether they are in academia or in industry.”
A goal of Yates’s as chair of MICR is to better highlight the council’s various initiatives and activities. “A little unknown fact is that MICR supports travel for minority investigators to any AACR-sponsored meeting, and frankly, we don’t get enough applications. We encourage more people to apply,” he said.
As the leader of both CaPTC and MICR, Yates hopes to use his dual roles to advance research on cancer health disparities. There are many scientific questions left to answer, said Yates, but he notes the most important motivation for his efforts: “It’s the right thing to do.”
Click here to register for the 15th AACR Conference on the Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved.