NIH and Prostate Cancer Foundation Launch Large Study on Aggressive Prostate Cancer in African American Men


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The largest coordinated research effort to study biologic and nonbiologic factors associated with aggressive prostate cancer in African American men has begun. The $26.5 million study is called RESPOND, or Research on Prostate Cancer in Men of African Ancestry: Defining the Roles of Genetics, Tumor Markers, and Social Stress. It will investigate environmental and genetic factors related to the aggressiveness of prostate cancer in African American men to better understand why they disproportionally experience aggressive disease compared with men of other racial and ethnic groups.

RESPOND is supported by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities as well as the Prostate Cancer Foundation. The NCI funding will be provided from the 21st Century Cures Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

Increased Risk, Aggressiveness in African American Men

“Understanding why African American men are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer than men of other racial and ethnic groups is a critical, unanswered question in cancer disparities research,” said NCI Director Ned Sharpless, MD. “This large, collaborative study can help the cancer research community better understand and address these disparities.”

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African American men have about a 15% chance of developing prostate cancer in their lifetimes, compared with about a 10% chance for white men, and African American men are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive disease. In addition, the risk of dying of prostate cancer for African American men is about 4%, compared with about 2% for white men.

“This study, which is combining state-of-the-art molecular approaches with social and environmental science, will help unravel the complex interactions of biological, behavioral, and environmental factors that contribute to excess prostate cancer burden and poorer outcomes in African American men, allowing development of tailored approaches for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in this population,” said Eliseo Pérez-Stable, MD, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

Study Methods

The investigators aim to enroll 10,000 African American men with prostate cancer into the RESPOND study. The participants will be identified primarily via the NCI’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Program of Cancer Registries. In addition, this study builds on years of research collaboration involving investigators who are part of the African Ancestry Prostate Cancer consortium. These investigators will contribute additional information and samples from 10,000 African American men with prostate cancer. In accordance with NIH data-sharing policies, and with appropriate informed consent, the de-identified data and samples collected as part of this research will be made available as a resource to the scientific community, aiding future research.

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Investigators in the study will examine the possible associations between aggressive disease and exposures to neighborhood/environmental stressors such as discrimination, early-life adversity, and segregation. They will also study DNA and tumor samples to identify gene variants associated with aggressive prostate cancer. Once researchers have identified genetic changes associated with aggressive prostate cancer, they will investigate how the social environment interacts with those genetic changes.

“Previous research on prostate cancer disparities has investigated social and genetic factors separately, but we know these components interact with each other to contribute to disparities,” said Damali Martin, PhD, Program Director for the study in NCI’s Epidemiology and Genomics Research Program. “The ability to integrate genetic and environmental factors, including individual, neighborhood, and societal factors, into one large study will enable us to have a better understanding of how all of these factors contribute to the aggressiveness of prostate cancer.”

Cooperative Agreement

RESPOND, a cooperative agreement, will be led by Christopher Haiman, ScD, of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in collaboration with John Carpten, PhD; Ann Hamilton, PhD; and David Conti, PhD, of the University of Southern California. In addition, researchers from other institutions will participate in the study, including Scarlett Gomez, PhD, of the University of California, San Francisco; Tamara Lotan, MD, of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore; and Franklin Huang, MD, PhD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.

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“No group in the world is hit harder by prostate cancer than men of African descent, and, to date, little is known about the biological reasons for these disparities, or the full impact of environmental factors,” said Jonathan W. Simons, MD, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Prostate Cancer Foundation. “We celebrate our partnership and applaud NIH for spearheading this study, which we believe will help pave the way for groundbreaking discoveries that will improve health equity for African American men and their families.” ■


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