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V Foundation keeps Stuart Scott legacy alive
Grants developed to close disparities in health care
 
Published Wednesday, December 27, 2017
by Maria Magher, Correspondent

Former ESPN sportscaster Stuart Scott once famously said, “When you die, it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live, and in the manner in which you live.”

Scott lived in a way that inspired others, and he made the fight against cancer his legacy. Now, a fund established in his name at the V Foundation – the Stuart Scott Memorial Cancer Research Fund – is supporting research that aims to get to the bottom of why African-Americans and other minorities are diagnosed with cancer at such significantly higher rates and why they are more likely to die from cancer. The fund also supports research that identifies new treatments for these minority populations.

“We found that there are a lot of researchers out there who are interested in this kind of research, and this funding makes it possible for them,” said Susan Braun, the CEO of the V Foundation.

She said that grant applications from the fund is very competitive, and only about 20 percent are able to be funded. In total, the Stuart Scott fund has awarded $6 million through 19 grants since 2015. In addition, the V Foundation provides funding to minority researchers through its V Scholar grants.

According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black men have the highest rates of cancer of any population, and both black men and women die at higher rates than their white counterparts. The agency reports that cancer is also the leading cause of death among Hispanics.

It is not known whether the reason for those ethnic disparities have to do with cultural, lifestyle or genetic issues. “We don’t know all of the answers to those questions, and that’s what we’re seeking to find out,” Braun said.

She noted that cultural barriers like language can hinder health care, including treatment and diagnosis. In other cases, there can be barriers to early diagnosis, such as distrust of the medical profession or a lack of health insurance (or adequate health insurance). Medical professionals can also have racial biases that impair their ability to provide appropriate care.

Braun noted that lifestyle issues can play a role since different populations eat different types of food, and biological issues may be present.

“What kinds of things within the system … are either there that can promote a cancer growth or aren’t working to stop a cancer growth,” she said. “Or things within the immune system because our immune systems naturally fight off cancers.”

She noted that black men have a higher incidence of prostate cancer, which is hormonally driven, so there could be a biological difference that drives the growth of that cancer. “There’s more there, and we want to dig in and find out,” she said.

The fund allows only one application per institution, so there is some internal competition about who can apply. The result is that the foundation gets applications from the best of the best doing cancer research into these issues. “We really get top-notch applications,” Braun said. “We’ve been impressed.”

Examples of research that has been funded include developing cellphone applications aimed at helping with early diagnosis and studying different kinds of chemotherapy to treat different populations with prostate cancer. Funding has also supported research of triple-negative breast cancer, a particularly deadly form of breast cancer that disproportionately affects African-American women.

Dr. Edward Kim, the chair of the Department of Solid Tumor Oncology at the Levine Cancer Institute in Charlotte, received $200,000 from the Stuart Scott fund this fall for research aimed at identifying blood markers that influence the effectiveness of immunotherapy on lung cancer.

Immunotherapy supports the body’s own immune system to fight off cancer.

“We are taking down some of the defenses that the cancer has built up to avoid the immune system to kill it,” Kim explained. “Normally, your body would get rid of cells that didn’t come off the assembly line correctly, but these tumor cells have gotten smart. They’ve developed an immunity to your immune system.”

Kim and his team are trying to figure out if there is a way in the blood to know if people are unique in how their immune system fights cancer cells or responds to immunotherapy. Ideally, they would identify who would most benefit from the treatment.

The Scott Stuart fund is supported through fundraising efforts by ESPN and through individual donations. To donate, visit https://www.jimmyv.org/research/stuart-scott-memorial-cancer-research-fund/ and click on “Donate.”

 

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