Modern cancer care is driven by clinical trials. These trials determine how research in the laboratory is translated to new drugs and other therapies to treat and prevent malignancies.

In the United States, racial minorities make up only 2 percent of subjects of clinical trials. The medical community’s lag in recruiting minority subjects has persisted, even though minorities are disproportionately affected by some of the most common cancers. African-American men have a higher incidence prostate cancer than white men and are more likely to die of the disease. African-American women are more likely to die of breast cancer than white women and are three times as likely to get the most aggressive form of the disease.

“This is a disgrace, especially since we can prevent breast and prostate cancer in many patients at risk,” says Douglas Faller, director of Boston University School of Medicine’s Cancer Center.

In the clinical trials for cancer research at Boston University School of Medicine, 48 percent of subjects for clinical trials are minorities. The medical school aggressively recruits racial and ethnic minorities. Clinical trial programs offer childcare, transportation, and language translation.

“It’s something we are very proud of,” Faller says. “And we are working to make the percentage even higher.”

Boston University School of Medicine is a leader in cancer research.

Operated jointly by BUSM and Boston Medical Center, the BU Cancer Center is a national leader in research into many aspects of cancer: its causes, its diagnosis, its treatment, its prevention—and disparities in its outcome. The center serves approximately 2,500 patients annually.

Founded in 1965, the Cancer Center is dedicated to the highest quality of care and access for all. Located in the multi-cultural urban setting of Boston’s South End, the center conducts groundbreaking research into cancer disparities from a range of perspectives and disciplines.

Three major research programs, which are awarded almost $41.2 million per year in grant funding, operate out of the Cancer Center. The Cancer Prevention and Control in Diverse Populations program studies the interaction of health behavior, access to care, and cancer outcomes. Through innovative research and practice, the program is identifying ways to reduce disparities and improve care for vulnerable populations.

Prostate cancer and breast cancer are focused areas of study in the Hormone-Responsive Cancer Research Program. This multidisciplinary program conducts basic research into how cells respond to hormones and how defects in hormonal systems can result in cancer. With a research staff of 24, the program is investigating targeted therapeutic approaches to these cancers.

The T1 Translational Cancer Research Program approaches cancer at the cellular and molecular levels, identifying the mechanisms that underlie malignant cell growth and metastases. By identifying target molecules and their structures, researchers are able to apply the latest techniques in biotechnology to treat cancers.

A generous gift and a new center

In 2008, medical school alumna and cancer-survivor Shamim Dahod and her husband, Ashraf, pledged $10.5 million to BUSM—the largest gift in the school’s history. Originally an anonymous donation, their generous gift is being used to establish the Dahod Center for Breast Cancer Research, which will bring together the medical school’s research efforts into the causes of breast cancer, as well as its diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Some researchers at the center are investigating breast cancer at the level of basic science—seeking to understand what happens to cells when breast cancer strikes—while others are studying how environmental and societal factors influence the incidence and progression of the disease. With this new center, Boston University Medical School is carrying out a coordinated and multidisciplinary approach to understanding a disease that now claims the lives of 40,000 American women each year.

A special study

The Black Women’s Health Study at Boston University School of Medicine has been following the health and histories of 59,000 subjects for more than 15 years. Supported by the National Cancer Institute, the study has yielded important findings on breast cancer, as well as diabetes, heart disease, and other conditions. The study was launched at 1995, at a time when researchers recognized that most health studies—if they used women as subjects at all— tended to work with white women.

“There has been a tremendous need to do research on African-American women and to try to determine why the rates of certain diseases are so high,” says the study’s principal investigator Lynn Rosenberg. “The Black Women’s Health Study is filling a very big knowledge gap.”

One of the more interesting findings: Black women who report having experienced racism are more likely to get breast cancer. “This is not something you can study in white women,” Rosenberg says.

A history of breakthroughs

For decades, cancer discoveries made at Boston University School of Medicine have shaped conventional approaches to the disease.

Researchers at the school demonstrated that physical activity can lower the risk of developing some cancers. They discovered that some dietary compounds can reverse the progression of cancer. One important study conducted by researchers at the school identified a link between breast cancer and groundwater pollution near a military base on Cape Cod. Another research team achieved a major diagnostic breakthrough recently when they discovered that some hard-to-access cancers, most notably lung cancer, can be identified by cellular changes in more easily accessed locations, including the nose and throat.

Boston University School of Medicine has a long history of research that points the medical field toward better treatment, diagnosis, and prevention of cancer. And today, with the help of supporters like the Dahods, the School is working harder than ever to fight this disease.

Sample giving opportunities

  • Create and name an endowed professorship for the faculty of the program: $1.25 million for an assistant professor, $2.5 million for a full professor
  • Endow a research fund: $100,000
  • Endow a scholarship for a BUSM student: $100,000
  • Endow a postdoctoral fellowship: $100,000
  • Create a current-use fellowship award: $10,000
  • Provide unrestricted support as a member of the BUSM Dean’s Club: $1,500 and above