Wilkie affirms commitment to cancer health equity through renewed CaRE2 funding

Thanks to a renewed partnership, the College of Nursing will champion cancer equity as part of an interdisciplinary effort for another five years.

To support innovative research addressing cancer disparities, the Florida-California Cancer Research, Education and Engagement Health Equity Center, or CaRE2, at UF recently received a $5.3 million renewal of support from the National Cancer Institute. Co-led by Prairieview Trust-Earl and Margo Powers Endowed Professor Diana Wilkie, PhD, RN, FAAN, the center serves diverse populations in both Florida and California through cancer disparity research that uses a “team science model.” CaRE2 co-leaders Dr. Renee Reams at the Florida A&M University also received a $5.1 million renewal and Dr. Mariana Stern at the University of Southern California received a $5.7 million renewal.

“Within the CaRE2 Health Equity Center, researchers from two coasts are focusing on the biological and human experience that can be altered from one’s cultural background to improve cancer outcomes, in partnership with both cancer survivors and advocates,” Wilkie said. “We are seeking to synergize our research efforts and effectively address cancer disparities nationally.”

Since its inception in 2018, the center has funded 15 translational cancer disparities research projects and has contributed to more than 630 publications. These efforts have created expanded infrastructure for translational cancer research at Florida A&M University and cancer disparities research at the UF Health Cancer Center, as well as the University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center.

At UF, researchers come from across multiple campuses, including the colleges of Dentistry, Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, and Engineering, and the UF Research and Academic Center Lake Nona, UF Health Jacksonville as well as UF Health Shands Hospital. According to Wilkie, greater involvement from other centers is expected in the future as the CaRE2 Health Equity Center continues to develop.

Aiming to decrease cancer levels among populations who are disproportionately impacted, CaRE2 has also established career-development, research training opportunities for post-degree, graduate students, and early-stage investigators belonging to underrepresented minority groups. Since 2018, 128 trainees have participated in the CaRE2 training opportunities. Two research programs focused on training underrepresented community advocates for prostate, lung and pancreas cancers to engage in outreach are also supported by the collaboration’s efforts. CaRE2 has trained 173 community advocates in Florida and California.

At UF, the faculty and staff who have collaborated to achieve the CaRE2 mission include Drs. Miriam Ezenwa, John Allen, Fern Webb, Ji-Hyun Lee, Jason Brant, Paul Okunieff, Kristianna Fredenburg, Sara Falzarano, Sherise Rogers, Mi-Ling Su, Jose Trevino, Thomas Schmittgen, Yong Huang, Cristina Gobin, Folakemi Odedina, Chris Xing and Janice Krieger, as well as Ms. Brooke Hensel, Amelia Greenlee, Iliana Guzman, Kalyanee Shirlekar and Zhongyue Zhang. CaRE2 advisors have included Drs. Thomas George, Duane Mitchell, Roger Fillingim and Richard Segal. 

For its new research phase, the center hopes to expand its focus to on the biological and environmental causes of cancer disparities, as well as global cancer studies of African American and Latino/Hispanic populations outside of the United States. In addition, CaRE2 intends to partner with entities supported through the National Institutes of Health’s Comprehensive Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (CPACHE) program, analyze cancer genetics and seek other collaborative opportunities to expand the partnership.