Grant Unites Roswell Park, Community Partners on Work to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities

BUFFALO, NY —A five-year, $4.29 million umbrella grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) will enable Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center researchers and five community health partners to launch a multi-pronged effort to reduce cancer health disparities in three counties of Western New York. Deborah Erwin, PhD, Director of Community Outreach and Engagement  at Roswell Park, and Willie Underwood III, MD, MPH, DSci, of the Department of Urology are principal co-investigators on the U54 (cooperative agreement) grant. A total of 23 Community Network Programs across the country received U54 funding.

The grant will create the Western New York Cancer Coalition to Reduce Disparities, uniting the efforts of Roswell Park, the Community Health Center of Buffalo and Niagara Falls, the P2 Collaborative, the Health Network in Chautauqua County, the University at Buffalo (UB) and the Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. The project will encompass:

  • Programs to reduce cancer disparities through improved access to screening, early detection, and treatment;
  • Efforts to recruit more Latino volunteers to contribute biological samples and lifestyle information for the Data Bank and BioRepository (DBBR), a large database maintained at Roswell Park that supports research at Roswell Park and other institutions;
  • Innovative tobacco-cessation techniques using voice-recognition technology; and
  • Training and career development.

“The CRCHD is very interested in the participation of minorities in biobanking,” notes Dr. Erwin, so a major goal of the program will be “to discover better ways to recruit Latinos to the DBBR.” Latinos account for less than 2% of the samples in the DBBR — far less than their representation as 9% of the U.S. population — which leaves a significant gap for researchers who want to launch case-control studies comparing samples from people of different ethnicities. “Traditionally, controls in minority groups are harder to recruit,” says Dr. Erwin. “There are a lot of social, economic, psychological and cognitive reasons for folks not to [participate], so we have to make it easier.”

Martin Mahoney, MD, PhD, of the Departments of Health Behavior and Medicine at Roswell Park will help direct another component of the program, to “promote the delivery of smoking-cessation services within both community-based and primary-care medical settings.” The project will create a registry of smokers and utilize automated voice recognition (AVR) so primary care physicians in the community can record automated-delivery phone messages to their patients who smoke, to reinforce the importance of quitting and to provide advice and encouragement; AVR technology is already used by some physicians to help patients manage such chronic diseases as diabetes. The smoking-cessation application will roll out in some parts of Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and underserved, rural areas of Chautauqua County, New York.

The training and career development portion of the grant is aimed in part at enhancing cultural sensitivity among Roswell Park employees. Among other goals, “the program will promote employee involvement in Roswell Park-sponsored programs held in the community to break down barriers,” says Dr. Underwood. “Usually when patients interact with people who work in a healthcare system, it’s within the healthcare environment.”

The grant will also provide funding for pilot research in cancer health disparities. “We have a list of junior investigators at UB and Roswell Park who will be participating; we anticipate that they will have access to funding for some pilot studies,” says Dr. Erwin.

She adds that the U54 grant reflects the CHCRD’s efforts to reduce cancer health disparities by combining the work of cancer centers and community network programs into a national outreach network.

The mission of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is to understand, prevent and cure cancer. Roswell Park, founded in 1898, was one of the first cancer centers in the country to be named a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center and remains the only facility with this designation in Upstate New York. The Institute is a member of the prestigious National Comprehensive Cancer Network, an alliance of the nation’s leading cancer centers; maintains affiliate sites; and is a partner in national and international collaborative programs. For more information, visit Roswell Park’s website at, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email

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Annie Deck-Miller, Senior Media Relations Manager