Fox Chase’s Camille Ragin Awarded SPORE Grant to Examine Racial Differences in Risk for Head and Neck Cancer Patients

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 18, 2021)—Fox Chase Cancer Center researcher Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH, was recently awarded a Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE) grant of $50,000 for a pilot project examining differences in risk and disease course for Black versus white head and neck cancer patients.

“We’ve been doing some work in head and neck cancer and trying to understand how African genetic ancestry might contribute to disparities in patient outcomes,” said Ragin, a professor for the Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

“We actually published some data a few years ago where we identified a specific genetic marker that is ancestry informative, which suggests that persons who are of African ancestry appear to have poor survival if they are treated with platinum-based drugs.”

Ragin’s pilot SPORE project will serve as a follow up to that work. She and her colleagues are proposing a set of experiments to understand what therapies might be more effective for Black patients given the findings of her previous work.

“A lot of it is experimental, so we are developing cell lines from patients and are going to be engineering the African genetic locus that we’re interested in studying to try to see how the cell line responds to other standard therapies in culture,” said Ragin. “That will give us some idea of what alternative treatments can be offered to patients who are African American and who don’t respond to platinum-based therapies.”

Ragin’s grant is part of a larger competitive SPORE grant awarded to Fox Chase in September 2020 to fund research for head and neck cancers, a group of cancers that start in the lining of the oral cavity, throat, voice box, or vocal cords.

The award is related to a five-year, $11.7 million grant Yale Cancer Center received to fund a SPORE collaboration among Fox Chase, Yale Cancer Center, and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center to address obstacles in treating head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. It was awarded through the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The National Cancer Institute established SPOREs to promote interdisciplinary research and to help basic research findings move quickly from the laboratory to the patient. These grants are highly competitive. In order to earn one, institutions must demonstrate a high degree of collaboration between first-rate scientists and clinicians, and show excellence in translational research projects.

“This research project really gets at the disparities we have that we all recognize, not just in head and neck cancer, but in general, especially in clinical trials. We all know that the therapies we use to treat cancer have to go through clinical trials,” said Ragin.

“In terms of representation in clinical trials, African Americans have always been underrepresented. This project is trying to address that because the reality is, while we have all these standard protocols for treating head and neck cancer, many African Americans have not been evaluated in clinical trials, so we really don’t know how well they respond to therapy. We’re trying to address that, and that in itself underlines the significance of this project,” she said.

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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