Camille Ragin Appointed NIH Study Section Chair

Camille Ragin, PhD. Her research will test the hypothesis that genetic ancestry contributes to differences in expression of the DNA damage response gene called POLB, resulting in differences in survival between African American and white patients treated with standard therapies.
Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH

PHILADELPHIA (August 13, 2021) – Fox Chase Cancer Center researcher Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH, has been appointed chair of the Cancer, Heart, and Sleep Epidemiology B Study Section, a committee that will review grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Ragin’s lab studies the molecular epidemiology of cancer in the African diaspora and participates in community projects to combat health disparities. She said the support of Fox Chase allows her and other researchers to be recognized by agencies like the NIH.

“Having the opportunity to work at Fox Chase, with the resources and the infrastructure available, that’s what allows us to be successful in our science,” Ragin said. “That’s really what puts you on the mark for the NIH.”

The study section is organized by the Center for Scientific Review, a part of the NIH that leads the evaluation of grants. NIH study sections are responsible for reviewing applications free from bias and inappropriate influences in order to identify the most impactful and promising research that the NIH can consider for funding. As chairperson, Ragin will manage the discussion at the review meeting and assist the scientific review officer in ensuring that the review team utilizes fairness, proper judgment and objectivity in the scoring of applications. Ragin’s role is to promote an active and inclusive study section culture that will encourage broad participation in the discussions of each application and to ensure that the focus of these discussions is on the review criteria.

A variety of healthcare professionals with expertise on various types of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and epidemiology make up the committee, thus allowing them to readily evaluate the wide range of research applications being submitted for funding. In addition to molecular epidemiology expertise, Ragin brings her expertise in health disparities to the review; from her perspective, it is critical to have experts well-versed in this matter.

“It adds another level of objectivity that we need to have as reviewers, especially given the current circumstances, where many of us as health disparities researchers have already known that inequities in research are a problem,” Ragin said.

“We know that there are populations or groups of persons or communities that are unequally affected by cancer, whether it’s through differences in cancer etiology, treatment, access to treatment, or treatment response, or just simply having different biology.”

Ragin added that as a health disparities researcher considering how the study is designed, if it is equally representative—meaning the grant application considers the differences that exist in communities and populations—and if the findings from the project could be generalizable to all populations is important. Studies that are negligent in these areas could widen disparities, she added.

Equity must be seen as well in the reviewers who make up the study section, Ragin said. “There is not a lot of diversity when it comes to study section makeup. … That needs to be improved because that’s another way that you can have fair and equitable review.”

According to the NIH, a recent review showed that 5 of 36 Cancer, Heart, and Sleep Epidemiology B Study Section reviewers (14%) were from groups underrepresented in biomedical sciences, and an even smaller applicant pool from underrepresented groups (8.4%).

Fox Chase Cancer Center (Fox Chase), which includes the Institute for Cancer Research and the American Oncologic Hospital and is a part of Temple Health, is one of the leading comprehensive cancer centers in the United States. Founded in 1904 in Philadelphia as one of the nation’s first cancer hospitals, Fox Chase was also among the first institutions to be designated a National Cancer Institute Comprehensive Cancer Center in 1974. Fox Chase is also one of just 10 members of the Alliance of Dedicated Cancer Centers. Fox Chase researchers have won the highest awards in their fields, including two Nobel Prizes. Fox Chase physicians are also routinely recognized in national rankings, and the Center’s nursing program has received the Magnet recognition for excellence five consecutive times. Today, Fox Chase conducts a broad array of nationally competitive basic, translational, and clinical research, with special programs in cancer prevention, detection, survivorship, and community outreach. It is the policy of Fox Chase Cancer Center that there shall be no exclusion from, or participation in, and no one denied the benefits of, the delivery of quality medical care on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity/expression, disability, age, ancestry, color, national origin, physical ability, level of education, or source of payment.

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