Baltimore and Washington Medical Communities Focus On Minority Cancer Issues Via New Technologies

Arguably one of the most diverse regions in the nation in overall racial and ethnic demographics, it is confident to declare the Baltimore/Washington area -- at least -- the top three in diversity when it comes to the number of high-level professionals involved in the health industry from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

So it was fitting for the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) to hold its fourth conference this week at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C. where the medical community gathered to present their findings on the disparities amongst all racial groups.

While medical researchers seem to have noticed disparities amongst racial groups and ethnicities, the real challenge is finding suitable treatments that target the different minority groups. Having the latest technology is helping bridge the gap and many local institutions are trying to stay on the cutting edge.

Labeled The Science of Cancer Health Disparities in Racial/Ethnic Minorities and the Medically Underserved, institutions from Baltimore and Washington, D.C. came out to collaborate and illustrate why they believe those being affected should take serious notice.

A large turnout came from George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda.

Bernard Kwabi-Addo, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Medicine at Howard University and was chairperson at the Epigenome: Tools and Technologies session. Kwabi-Addo is focusing on prostate cancer disparities amongst minorities and has been provided some of the latest technology to continue his work.

Howard University purchased a state-of-the-art pyrosequencing machine that will allow Kwabi-Addo to analyze a tumor sample's true DNA sequence in real-time. Companies like Qiagen, a Netherlands based company which has a large expanding presence in Germantown, produces a similar technology.

The research conducted by Kwabi-Addo is actually funded in part by the Department of Defense. "We get funding from Department of Defense because a lot of veterans have prostate cancer," said Kwabi-Addo. The grants for research can range from $220k per year over three years and up to $700k. But most of the funding goes towards personnel. Kwabi-Addo stated the university medical research department could use a lot more help from the D.C. government.

Joseph M. Devaney, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at George Washington University also works with the Children's National Medical Center. The center is assigned with the duty of discovering innovative pediatric treatments.

Devaney is tasked with staying on the cutting edge and providing the latest tools researchers need to bring them closer to finding treatments for aggravating illnesses.

Gene expressions, genetic variations, microRNA, and muscular dystrophy are some of the focal points at the center. But Devaney says having the technology is only part of the help, complex techniques require him and his team to partner with experts who treat the actual disease.

The center finds experts in different ways, "sometimes the experts reach out to us saying 'hey we have these samples and we really want to run them using the different systems that you have'. Or at events like [AACR] where you present and you meet people that way. We also reach out to researchers," stated Devaney.

The company has received a couple of grants from the National Institute of Health, they also share their center and technology with researchers that have also received NIH grants. The center tries to break even every year, but like Kwabi-Addo department at Howard, grants only go as far as paying personnel; which amount to a ranges between $350k and $500k per annum. Devaney team includes five personnel.

"To get our equipment we usually try to get donations from people...who usually want to donate to Children's National Medical Center" said Devaney. Despite the cost, demand has increased exponentially for the new techniques the technologies provide.

Their state-of-the-art equipment includes two Affymetrix GeneChip systems, Illumina iScan next generation sequencing system, Ion Torrent Systems, Ion Personal Genome Machine (PGM), a newly received Pacific BiosciencesPacBio RSthird generation sequencing system and all the technology for the standard molecular biology techniques.

"We really try to stay ahead of the technology curve if we can but it's hard. The cost of some of the new equipment can cost $500k to a $1 million. What we don't have is access to a lot of different samples so that's why building rapport is important."

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