Three photos of ICAP-HICCC global grant awardees.

New Pilot Grant Program to Support Cancer Research in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

Winning projects address cancer challenges in sub-Saharan Africa.

July 13, 2021

ICAP and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) have announced funding for two innovative research projects that look to shed light on notable cancer challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. The grants are the first to be awarded through the recently formed ICAP-HICCC Cancer Initiative (IHCI), which seeks to support efforts that accelerate research, training, education, and other programs focused on cancer prevention, detection, therapy, cure and survivorship. 

The 2021 grant recipients are:

 Grace Hillyer, EdD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health (MSPH), to support the development of a tobacco control program delivered by community health workers in South Africa

Hui-Chen Wu, PhD, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, MSPH, and Jasmine A. McDonald, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, MSPH, to support the examination of biological age acceleration, reproductive history, and early onset breast cancer risk among women in Ghana

“Both ICAP and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center are fully committed to confronting the threat of cancer globally,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA, founder and global director of ICAP. “These inaugural grants emerging from our new partnership promise to add to the body of knowledge about cancer and the challenges it increasingly presents to low- and middle-income countries around the world.”

“Each of these projects represents an opportunity to better detect, treat, and prevent cancer in communities facing high rates of premature mortality from cancers in already challenging health care contexts,” said Anil K. Rustgi, MD, director of the HICCC and interim executive vice president and dean of the faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “With these grants we look forward to catalyzing further research that will ultimately lead to real-world solutions in communities for whom cancer is a growing public health threat.”

Low- and middle-income countries are increasingly bearing the brunt of the global burden of cancer. As much as 70% of global cancer deaths occur in these countries, despite their having a lower incidence of cancer compared to higher-income countries. With limited health resources allocated to chronic diseases like cancer, low- and middle-income countries are struggling to respond to the challenges cancer places on already stressed national health systems. To address this global health gap, ICAP and the HICCC came together to form the ICAP-HICCC Cancer Initiative in early 2021.

The winning projects:

Developing a Tobacco Control Program Delivered by Community Health Workers in South Africa

Dr. Hillyer will work in partnership with the Wits Health Consortium, a health organization within South Africa’s University of Witswatersrand, to investigate the efficacy of a behavioral tobacco cessation intervention delivered by community health workers among smokers in Soweto, one of the poorest suburbs of Johannesburg. Using a mixed methods research approach, the project will make important contributions to the treatment of tobacco use in South Africa by utilizing knowledge learned of the medical system infrastructure and attitudes toward the treatment of tobacco addiction to design and assess the feasibility of an innovative intervention tailored to South African providers and patients. 

“With the knowledge gained from working with our research partners in South Africa, their medical directors and administrators, and the community health workers in Soweto, the completion of the proposed work will provide us with the insights to design a culturally tailored intervention to reduce tobacco use in Soweto, Johannesburg,” said Dr. Hillyer. 

Identifying Risk Factors for Breast Cancer Unique to the Ghanaian Context 

Drs. Wu and McDonald will build on previous research to analyze stored biospecimens to examine accelerated biological aging as a risk factor for pre-menopausal breast cancer in African women. As rates of early onset breast cancer increases in Ghana, identifying cultural and environmental risk factors and strategies for reducing cancer incidence and improving cancer prognoses is essential to inform prevention and treatment efforts. 

“Through the IHCI grant, we hope to make it possible to better identify women at high risk for breast cancer who might benefit from additional screening or preventive measures appropriate for their risk,” said Dr. Wu.

Dr. McDonald further emphasized the importance of the funding as the collaborative efforts will enable health providers “to develop and inform breast cancer prevention efforts that are socio-culturally tailored with the knowledge that differences in incidence between countries can be attributed to changes in exposure to environmental risk factors, behavior, and lifestyle factors.”

(Feature Image, pictured left to right: Drs. Grace Hillyer, Jasmine McDonald and Hui-Chen Wu)