Northwestern teams with two Chicago universities to combat cancer in city

Mark Duanmu, Reporter

Northwestern’s Lurie Cancer Center is collaborating with the University of Illinois at Chicago and Northeastern Illinois University to create the Chicago Cancer Health Equity Collaborative, a project that aims to combat cancer in low-income and minority neighborhoods in the Chicago area.

The collaborative, which hopes to reduce healthcare inequalities in the city, was made possible by a $17.4 million grant from by the National Cancer Institute.

Feinberg Prof. Leonidas Platanias, who directs NU’s Lurie Center, said the grant will allow the University to address a problem prevalent in the Chicago area.

“The cancer mortality rate in Chicago, especially in poor African-American and Hispanic neighborhoods, is much higher than the national average,” Platanias said. “The grant will help our work aimed at reducing these disparities.”

Feinberg Prof. Melissa Simon, who directs the collaborative, said one requirement for the NCI funding is for a cancer center to pair up with a “federally designated minority-serving institution.” Such partnerships are aimed at reducing cancer health disparities throughout the country, she said.

ChicagoCHEC is one such partnership, with NU’s Lurie Cancer Center being the NCI-designated center and UIC and NEIU being the minority-serving institutions.

“What this grant does is creates infrastructure and partnership across three institutions that usually wouldn’t be partnering together,” said Simon, who oversaw the grant application process. “It creates infrastructure to not only promote this partnership but actually catalyze research, education and training.”

The collaborative can also be seen as part of NU’s larger mission to build relations with the Chicago area, said Jabbar Bennett, the associate provost for diversity and inclusion.

“Cancer disproportionately affects people that are underinsured or uninsured,” Bennett said. “Northwestern has a commitment to support the education of our students and faculty and training them to provide care to such individuals. It’s a way for us to give back to the community.”

Simon said the collaborative will draw on a diverse group of researchers that will include undergraduates, postgraduates and faculty.

Feinberg students especially, Bennett said, will benefit from the new collaborative. He said the grant will help provide training for medical students doing research on quality of care in Chicago.

Simon, who is spearheading the project, said she chose to collaborate with UIC and NEIU because of their reputations of serving minority groups and because of their previous relationships with Lurie.

“Over the past five-plus years I’ve been working with Northeastern (Illinois University) on a smaller grant that was funded by the NCI, an early partnership grant,” she said. “That ultimately led to this larger grant with UIC. I’ve been working with UIC on several projects over the past several years, so that started the partnership that continued into this collaborative.”

Platanias, the director of the Lurie Center, said despite recent research breakthroughs, the benefits are not always equally distributed.

“We have an important role in reducing cancer health disparities in Chicago communities,” he said. “We’ve had dramatic advances recently in molecular medicine, cancer genomics and molecularly driven therapies. These have been significant, but not everybody can take advantage of these advances.”

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