NCI's Commitment to Attracting More Minorities to Cancer Research Careers
The cancer research community is working to attract more minorities to work at the research bench and to be a part of important advances that make their way to cancer patients.
Schmalfeldt: Over the past three decades, the National Cancer Institute has helped make tremendous strides in cancer research. We now know more than ever about cancer and are closer than ever to making cancer a disease that people can live with — like diabetes and heart disease. While we don't have a cure for all cancers, people who receive a cancer diagnosis have a much better chance of living many years with the disease, thanks to oncology advances that have improved the way we diagnose and treat cancer. Our investment of billions of dollars in cancer research over the years is paying dividends. Cancer research has led to a proliferation of powerful new drugs and imaging devices, and an overall increase in survival rates, but a gap continues to exist between minority populations and the general population when it comes to cancer. For communities of color, cancer remains a devastating killer and we still have a lot of work to do to eliminate cancer disparities. The cancer research community is working to attract more minorities to work at the research bench and to be a part of important advances that make their way to cancer patients. Dr. Sanya Springfield is Chief of the National Cancer Institute's Comprehensive Minority Biomedical Branch.
Springfield: The future of cancer research, if we are to conquer this disease, will come down to how well we identify and recruit talented researchers, no matter what their racial or ethnic background. This means we must be more active and aggressive in providing opportunities for people from underrepresented minority communities to become part of the cancer biomedical enterprise. We cannot afford to limit ourselves in seeking out the research talent we will need to achieve our goal to eliminate the suffering and death due to cancer. We are at a critical point in the history of cancer research. We are closer than ever to solving cancer's mysteries, though we still have a long way to go. In striving to contain cancer, the biomedical research community cannot overlook a potential gold mine of research talent. We must tap into the entire talent pool. It could very well be that the next big breakthrough in cancer could come from a research scientist who happens to be a member of an underrepresented population. When you cast your net wide, you never know what discoveries and goals you will make a reality.
Schmalfeldt: Approximately 2-3 % of NCI's cancer researchers are African American. The key, says Dr. Springfield, is reaching out to minority scientists where they are, whether they are studying to enter the professional ranks or are working at the mid-career level as researchers.
Springfield: NCI's Comprehensive Minority Biomedical Branch follows two approaches to attract minority research talent to the cancer field. One approach is to work with Minority-Serving Institutions — which include our Historically Black Colleges and Universities and our Hispanic-serving institutions. Among our partners are: Meherry Medical College, Howard University Cancer Center, Drew Medical School, and the University of Puerto Rico. We are working with the schools to open more doors for minorities who might be interested in careers in biomedical research. The other approach is to identify and provide training and career development opportunities in biomedical research for minorities from underserved communities. Our program for junior and mid-career scientists is called CURE — Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences. CURE allows us to fund long-term programs for underrepresented scientists who might otherwise be "lost" to the biomedical system. We realize that today's pipeline to a competitive career in cancer research is a multi-year, multi-institutional, educational and research continuum from high school to the first professional appointment. We prepare researchers from these underserved communities to be competitive throughout this spectrum. Students or mid-career professionals interested in exploring opportunities can contact us at: http://minorityopportunities.nci.nih.gov or (301) 496-7344.
Schmalfeldt: From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Sanya Springfield