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$9.3 million grant will create Center for Cancer Control in Persistent Poverty Areas through the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center and O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center

Birmingham skyline at sunset

The National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute has awarded the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center $9.6 million over five years to participate in its Persistent Poverty Initiative. As one of only five universities selected, UAB joins the NIH’s first major program to address how structural and institutional factors of persistent poverty relate to cancer.

Persistent poverty includes communities that have at least 20 percent of residents living in poverty for 30 years or longer.

As a result of this award, the MHERC and O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center and will establish the Center for Cancer Control in Persistent Poverty Areas. The C3P2 will study ways to improve prevention, detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and the lives of survivors in the center’s designated areas.

C3P2 is composed of four cores: Administrative, Career Enhancement, Developmental, and Research and Methods. The cores will contribute to supporting the center’s efforts in cultivating and engaging community partnerships, evaluations, methodology assistance, data collection and analysis, the development of early-career investigators through mentorship and coaching, and funding new research projects.

The new center will be guided by principal investigators Maria Pisu, Ph.D., professor of Medicine in the Division of Preventive Medicine, and Mona Fouad, M.D., director of the UAB Minority Health and Health Equity Research Center — both of whom are also senior scientists at the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“We have the opportunity to work with community members and get to the heart of what improvements lead to healthy behaviors, to better access to care, and ultimately to reduced occurrence and impact of cancer in our designated areas,” Pisu said. “Ideally, we will be able to implement the successful programs and initiatives in other areas of Alabama.”

To launch, C3P2 has selected two projects that will focus on urban persistent poverty areas in Jefferson County. The first, Cancer Prevention through Enhanced EnvironMenT, is led by Lori Bateman, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine, and Gabriela Oates, Ph.D., assistant professor in the UAB Department of Pediatrics.

PREEMpT will partner with Live HealthSmart Alabama, UAB’s Grand Challenge, to provide infrastructure and expertise in facilitating improvements in the built environment (lighting, green space, traffic calming measures, etc.), community programs, and improvements in access to care via the Mobile Wellness Van. The project will determine whether improvements to these physical and social environments can reduce community-level cancer risk in Birmingham’s Evergreen, Norwood, Druid Hills, Central City and Fountain Heights communities.

The second project, Leveraging Adaptation and Multilevel Implementation Strategies to Address Unique Health Promotion Challenges among Cancer Survivors in Persistent Poverty Areas, is led by Laura Q. Rogers, M.D., and Lisa Zubkoff, Ph.D., professor and associate professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine, respectively.

LEAP will work to adapt diet and physical activity programming into interventions that are appropriate in persistent poverty contexts. The project will conduct evaluations by implementing LEAP in persistent poverty areas where project PREEMpT modifies the built and social environments and where it does not, i.e., Bessemer, Alabama.

“We have so much to learn from Jefferson County’s communities, and I can’t wait to see the impactful interventions and insights that come out of this work,” Fouad said.

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