Cancer Center Investigators in Spotlight at AACR Meet

April 24, 2009

By Dagny Stuart

Debra Wujcik, Ph.D., R.N.Investigators from Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and Meharry Medical College have completed a multi-year recruitment trial in which 68 percent of those minority patients eligible for a cancer clinical trial agreed to participate.

The results were reported during the annual American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference in Denver.

The study is significant because African-Americans are more likely to be diagnosed with certain forms of cancer and are far more likely to die of the disease. However, they also are less likely to enroll in cancer clinical trials, with African-Americans accounting for just 2.5 percent of participants nationwide.

In 2000, VICC and Meharry investigators established a clinical trial shared resource at Nashville General Hospital at Meharry.

Most of the patients at this facility are uninsured or underinsured, and 55 percent are African-Americans.

“We discovered that these minority patients were just as interested in clinical trials, but they were more likely to have logistical barriers that made enrollment difficult,” said Debra Wujcik, Ph.D., R.N., lead author and director of Clinical Trials at Meharry.

Barriers included missed appointments, lack of transportation, inadequate insurance, miscommunication and lack of patient understanding.

Those barriers were identified during the first year of the study and program procedures were adjusted during succeeding years to address them.

Investigators developed a model of care that screened newly diagnosed patients and identified those eligible for a clinical trial.

Physicians were advised if a clinical trial was available and a plan was developed to address obstacles such as transportation or medications.

Since 2001, 1,125 patients have been screened, 343 (30 percent) had a study available, and 233 (21 percent) have enrolled.

Overall, 68 percent of those eligible for a study agreed to participate. Some of those willing to enroll were unable to participate because of co-morbidities like diabetes or hypertension.

“Clinical trials are discussed with the patient during the first conversation about treatment,” said Wujcik.

“The trial is not offered as an afterthought and patients do not have to go to another center. They can participate in a trial in their own cancer center and be cared for by the staff and doctor they know.”

The VICC Meharry clinical trials study was just one of the Vanderbilt research papers highlighted during the AACR conference.

Over the course of the five-day meeting, Vanderbilt researchers presented nearly 60 posters and participated in various symposia, workshops and “Meet the expert” sessions.

VICC Director Jennifer Pietenpol, Ph.D., was elected to serve on the board of directors of AACR. Her term began during the meeting and will run until 2012.

Harold “Hal” Moses, M.D., director emeritus of VICC and director of the Frances Williams Preston Laboratories, was elected to serve on the nominating committee for the 2009 to 2011 term.

Also, Vanderbilt University student Ralph J. Passarella won first prize in the Undergraduate Student Caucus and Poster Competition. Passarella was lead author on a study of radiation-guided delivery of nanoparticle-chemotherapy complex using recombinant peptides.

He is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, majoring in Molecular and Cellular Biology and he intends to pursue Honors Research through the Biological Sciences Department in the Radiation Biology laboratory of Dennis Hallahan, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. Passarella’s $1,500 cash award from

AACR can be used for future AACR meetings or to purchase books.
The annual AACR meeting brings together nearly 17,000 scientists and hundreds of reporters.

AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research.

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