Three at Gillings School awarded NCI funding to study cancer disparities in African-Americans

October 29, 2015

Three women scientists at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health are among North Carolina researchers awarded a five-year, $11 million grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to understand and work to eliminate cancer disparities for African-Americans in the state.

Dr. Troester

Dr. Troester

Dr. Smith

Dr. Smith

Dr. Linnan

Dr. Linnan

They are Jennifer S. Smith, PhD, research associate professor, and Melissa A. Troester, PhD, associate professor, both in the Gillings School’s epidemiology department, and Laura Linnan, ScD, professor of health behavior at the Gillings School and director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health.

The award is the latest in a series of grants supporting a 14-year partnership between North Carolina Central University (NCCU) and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center. The funding, initiated in 2001 to connect institutions serving diverse populations and minority students with NCI-funded cancer centers, will support molecular-and population-based cancer research and the research education of junior faculty members and students.

“This partnership has forged great collaborations between our faculties and students by funding projects across the spectrum of cancer research,” said Shelton Earp, MD, principal investigator for the partnership at UNC Lineberger and director of UNC Cancer Care. “In the last funding cycle, the teams made particular progress on how to deliver cancer prevention messages to the African-American community and in understanding triple negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer that has a high incidence among African-American women. In addition, numerous researchers have been trained, articles have been published in outstanding journals, and faculty  members have been recruited that have formed lasting partnerships between our two institutions.”

The grants awarded this year allow NCCU undergraduates to gain research experience at both NCCU and UNC. It also will support three research projects and two pilot studies conducted by NCCU faculty in collaboration with UNC Lineberger members.

Dr. Jennifer Smith will work with LaHoma Romocki, PhD, associate professor in NCCU’s Department of Public Health Education, and Vijay Sivaraman, assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at NCCU, to evaluate novel methods for improving primary screening, triage and follow-up adherence in cervical cancer screening. Their work will examine urine testing for HPV as a way to screen non-invasively for cervical cancer and will assess the use of a text-message intervention to improve patient adherence to follow-up screening and treatment.

Dr. Melissa Troester will pair with ClarLynda Williams-DeVane, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at NCCU to analyze genomic patterns in breast cancer samples gathered through the Carolina Breast Cancer Study.

Dr. Laura Linnan will collaborate with David Jolly, DrPH, in the Department of Public Health Education at NCCU, to study investigating factors that influence the sustainability of a model of delivering community health messages through barber shops to better reach African-Americans.

Other awards went to Jodie Fleming, PhD, UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor at NCCU, and Keith Burridge, PhD, Kenan Distinguished Professor of cell biology and physiology at UNC, to study the mechanism of causation of basal-like breast cancer in African-American women, focusing on the role of a multi-functional protein that has been linked to fat metabolism, and to Xiaoxin Chen, MD, PhD, UNC Lineberger member and professor of biological and biomedical sciences at NCCU, and Michael B. Major, PhD, assistant professor in the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, to investigate the molecular cause of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer that disproportionately affects African-Americans.


Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: David Pesci, director of communications, (919) 962-2600 or

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