The statistics are riveting: Throughout the world, approximately 17 percent of the human population are individuals of African descent. Yet despite this, people of African lineage comprise only 3.8 percent of those participating in clinical trials and the study of genomic cell lines—the foundational tools for creating and evaluating new cancer therapies.
Camille Ragin, PhD, MPH, Professor, Cancer Prevention and Control Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center, Associate Director, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Temple Health, has grappled with health disparity issues for decades. "Blacks have the highest incidence and death rates and the shortest survival for most cancers compared to all other racial and ethnic groups," says Dr. Ragin. "African-American men tend to develop a more aggressive form of prostate cancer. African-American women are more likely to develop Triple negative breast cancer, a hard-to-treat disease variant. Major drivers point to biological reasons and social determinants such as access to care and socioeconomic factors. We need to unpack them all."
In 2006, Dr. Ragin founded the African-Caribbean Cancer Consortium (AC3) to tackle these issues. Since then, together with a transcontinental network of more than 150 scientists, oncologists, and health professionals, AC3 has laser-focused on understanding cancer risk and outcomes among people of African ancestry, growing it into the world's first and largest organization. The goal is to create a cancer genome registry of ethnically diverse patients, filling in the gaps in the current scientific body of knowledge concerning molecular epidemiology and behavior studies.
Members of AC3 have made significant breakthroughs in their respective institutions around the world. One discovery was that Bahamian women have one of the world's highest rates of BRCA 1 and BRCA2 mutations, adding layers of genetic complexity to existing BRCA data and critical information for patients and their families.
Simone Badal, PhD, a cell biologist at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, and an AC3 member, identified and developed the first prostate cancer cell line, ACRJ-PC28, from a Jamaican man of African ancestry. Further generated cell lines from the original will help create drugs with potential anticancer properties for both in vitro and in vivo research.
On the home front, Dr. Ragin, Fox Chase, and the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center collaborate with Pfizer's Institute Of Translational Equitable Medicine to identify Novel Genetic Drivers Of Cancer Disparities In African Ancestry Populations.
"People of African ancestry disproportionately develop aggressive, high-grade cancers, particularly in breast and prostate tissues, and the underlying driving factors are not well understood," said Sophia HL George, PhD, associate director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System, and co-leader of the African Caribbean Cancer Consortium (AC3) Women's Cancer Working Group. The collaborative study will include cancer patients from Fox Chase Cancer Center, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, the University of Alabama, and Augusta University in collaboration with Morgan State University, as well as nine international AC3 research sites in the Bahamas, Barbados, Benin, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Jamaica, Kenya, Namibia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Once the unique molecular and sociological issues of individuals of African descent are defined, examined, tested, and explored in large enough statistical numbers, new answers, insights, and paths forward in cancer care will benefit those of African heritage and all humankind.