USF-Moffitt Center of Excellence targets reducing disparities in cancer care and outcomes

June 15, 2009

New program supported by $6-million grant from National Institutes of Health

Tampa, FL-- The University of South Florida and Moffitt Cancer Center have been awarded a highly competitive, $6-million federal grant to create a National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NCMHD) Center of Excellence. The five-year program grant from the NCMHD, National Institutes of Health, will focus on research, education and training, and community outreach activities to reduce cancer-related health disparities among minority and underserved communities in Florida.

The new Center of Excellence will be among 50 nationwide, and one of three in Florida. (The other Florida centers are at the University of Miami and Florida International University.)

Richard Roetzheim, MD, MSPH, professor and director of research for the USF Department of Family Medicine, and B. Lee Green, PhD, Vice President of Moffitt Diversity and Member, Health outcomes and Behavior, are co-principal investigators of the USF/Moffitt Center of Excellence on Cancer Health Disparities. Leslene Gordon, PhD, community health director for the Hillsborough County Health Department, will serve as community director for the Center.

“The underlying goal of the NCMHD Centers of Excellence is to eliminate the disparities that lead to inequities in care and poorer health outcomes for minority and disadvantaged populations. Much more research is needed to better understand why racial and ethnic disparities occur so that we can develop effective solutions” Dr. Roetzheim said. “This isn’t just a problem of minority or disadvantaged communities. We all pay the price in terms of human suffering and higher health care expenses when part of our population is in poor health.”

“A major priority of the center will be to set up the infrastructure that will allow us to investigate how socioeconomic, biological, environmental, and behavioral factors impact health outcomes,” Dr. Green said. “The fact that we have institutional support from both Moffitt and USF and individuals with tremendous expertise allows for a more dedicated and sustained effort to address this complex issue.”

The Center will leverage Moffitt’s strength in cancer research and treatment, USF’s expertise in other disciplines and its extensive educational programs, and both institutions’ links with the community. It will draw on faculty from Moffitt and across the university – the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Public Health and Arts & Sciences – to build the research infrastructure needed to support basic, clinical, behavioral, population-based and preventive studies to reduce cancer health disparities, improve minority health, or both.

The initial USF-Moffitt study funded by the NIH NCMHD grant will investigate molecular mechanisms that may contribute to the disproportionately high rates of prostate cancer among African American men. In Florida, African American men are 71 percent more likely to develop prostate cancer and nearly three times more likely to die from the disease than white men. The researchers will also examine whether isoflavones, a plant-derived estrogen found in soy products, may prevent prostate cancer or delay its progression in this population.

Through training and faculty development programs, the Center will work to boost the number of cancer researchers interested in investigating and addressing inequities in health care. The Center’s staff will seek out partners (neighborhood organizations, churches, etc) in minority and underserved communities to identify areas of cancer research important to the people who live there.

“We want to help empower minority communities to shape their own research agenda and provide opportunities for increased participation in clinical trials.” Dr. Roetzheim said. “We’re hoping this Center of Excellence will be the incubator for some innovative community-based strategies.”

Clinical trials are critical for the development of effective preventions, diagnoses and treatments for cancer and other diseases.  While participation in cancer clinical trials is generally low overall (about 3 percent nationwide for adults), minorities and underserved communities, especially African Americans and those living in rural areas, are particularly under-represented.

“We are very excited about the collaboration between Moffitt, USF and the community,” Dr. Green said. “This joint center will serve as a springboard for us to work together and expand our reach to more effectively address health disparities. Community involvement must be central to the work of the center.”

USF Health and Moffitt have a longstanding track record of working together in the area of health disparities research. The two institutions have collaborated on several studies documenting gaps in cancer care and outcomes across ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups in Florida. In addition, Dr. Roetzheim is the principal investigator for Moffitt’s successful Patient Navigation Program, a National Cancer Institute-sponsored initiative to develop interventions to reduce cancer health disparities by promoting the timely and culturally-sensitive delivery of cancer diagnosis and care.

- About USF Health -

USF Health is dedicated to creating a model of health care based on understanding the full spectrum of health. It includes the University of South Florida’s colleges of medicine, nursing, and public health; the schools of biomedical sciences as well as physical therapy & rehabilitation sciences; and the USF Physicians Group. With more than $360 million in research grants and contracts last year, USF is one of the nation’s top 63 public research universities and one of  39 community-engaged, four-year public universities designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. For more information, visit

- About H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute -

Located in Tampa, Florida, Moffitt Cancer Center  is an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center - a designation that recognizes Moffitt’s excellence in research and contributions to clinical trials, prevention and cancer control. Moffitt currently has 15 affiliates in Florida, one in Georgia and two in Puerto Rico. Additionally, Moffitt is a member of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, a prestigious alliance of the country’s leading cancer centers, and is listed in U.S. News & World Report as one of “America’s Best Hospitals” for cancer. Moffitt’s sole mission is to contribute to the prevention and cure of cancer.