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Shelton "Shelley" Earp, MD
Shelton “Shelley” Earp, MD
M. Ricardo Richardson, Ph.D., is a GlaxoSmithKline Endowed Professor of Biology at North Carolina Central University.
M. Ricardo Richardson, PhD
North Carolina Central University was awarded more than $6 million and the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center received more than $5 million to support an ongoing effort between the institutions to understand and address disparities in cancer incidence and death for African-Americans in North Carolina.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) funding covers a five-year time period and is the latest in a series of awards supporting a 14-year partnership between the two institutions. The funding will support molecular-and population-based cancer research and the research education of junior faculty and students.

“North Carolina Central University is grateful to the National Cancer Institute for continuing its support of critical work being undertaken by our researchers to address health disparity,” said Undi N. Hoffler, Ph.D., NCCU’s interim vice chancellor in the university’s Division of Research and Economic Development.

M. Ricardo Richardson, Ph.D., a GlaxoSmithKline Endowed Professor of Biology and NCCU’s principal investigator on the project, said the funding will help to strengthen the research pipeline at NCCU so that scientists may research cancer-related health disparities for African-Americans by increasing the number of NCCU students focused on cancer research.

At UNC Lineberger, the number of faculty members working on minority health disparities will increase, as well.

“This partnership has forged great collaborations between our faculties and students by funding projects across the spectrum of cancer research,” said Shelton Earp, MD, principal investigator for the partnership at UNC Lineberger and director of UNC Cancer Care. “In the last funding cycle, the teams made particular progress on how to deliver cancer prevention messages to the African American community and in understanding of triple negative breast cancer, a subtype of breast cancer that has a high incidence among African-American women. In addition, numerous researchers have been trained, articles have been published in outstanding journals, and faculty have been recruited that have formed lasting partnerships between our two institutions.”

The grants were awarded through an NCI program that launched in 2001 to connect institutions serving health disparity populations and minority students with NCI-funded cancer centers.

The grants awarded this year allow NCCU undergraduates to gain research experience at both NCCU and at UNC. It will also support three research projects and two pilot studies conducted by NCCU faculty in collaboration with UNC Lineberger members:

  • Jodie Fleming, Ph.D., a UNC Lineberger member and assistant professor at NCCU, and Keith Burridge, Ph.D., a Kenan Distinguished Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology at UNC, will study the mechanism of causation of basal-like breast cancer in African-American women, focusing on the role of a multi-functional protein that has been linked to fat metabolism.
  • LaHoma Romocki, Ph.D., associate professor in NCCU’s Department of Public Health Education, and Vijay Sivaraman, assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at NCCU, will work with Jennifer S. Smith, Ph.D., associate professor in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health to evaluate novel methods for improving primary screening, triage, and follow up adherence in cervical cancer screening. Their work will examine urine testing for HPV as a way to non-invasively screen for cervical cancer, and will assess the use of a text message intervention to improve patient adherence to follow-up screening and treatment.
  • ClarLynda Williams-DeVane, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at NCCU and Melissa A. Troester, Ph.D., M.P.H., an associate professor of epidemiology in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, will lead researchers in analyzing genomic patterns in breast cancer samples gathered through the Carolina Breast Cancer Study.
  • David Jolly, Dr.P.H., in the Department of Public Health Education at NCCU, and Laura Linnan, Sc.D., director of the Carolina Collaborative for Research on Work and Health and a professor of health behavior at UNC, will lead a study investigating factors that influence the sustainability of a model of delivering community health messages through barber shops to better reach African-Americans.
  • Xiaoxin Chen, M.D., Ph.D., a UNC Lineberger member and professor of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at NCCU, and Michael B. Major, Ph.D., an assistant professor at the UNC Department of Cell Biology and Physiology, will investigate the molecular cause of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, a type of cancer that disproportionately affects African-Americans.

The partnership supports undergraduate cancer research:

  • The undergraduate training program is led by a team of researchers including Sandra White, Ph.D., a professor at NCCU, and David Jolly, Ph.D. an associate professor at NCCU, NCCU, and Gwen Sancar, Ph.D., a professor at UNC, Tope Keku, Ph.D., a professor at UNC, Anna-Maria Siega-Ruiz, Ph.D., a professor at UNC, and Trinnette Cooper, M.P.H., of UNC. They lead the PARTNERS Program, a two-year research training and education program that provides research training in cancer biology and public health for NCCU students at both NCCU and UNC.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U54CA156733. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.

About NCCU

North Carolina Central University is a master’s comprehensive institution that offers bachelors and master’s degrees, a Juris Doctor, and a Ph.D. in Integrated Biosciences to a diverse student population. The Cancer Research Program of the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical Biotechnology Research Institute at NCCU explores the causes of cancer and its prevention, using molecular and genetic strategies to define the critical steps in carcinogenesis and to understand the interplay between genes and the environment. Studies of breast, ovarian, lung, esophageal, pancreatic and prostate cancers are currently underway. Areas of expertise include biomarkers of disease, genetic polymorphisms, cause and prevention, contributions of innate immunity to transformation and susceptibility to cancer.

About UNC Lineberger

One of only 45 NCI-designated comprehensive cancer centers, the University of North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center brings together some of the most exceptional physicians and scientists in the country to investigate and improve the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer. With research that spans the spectrum from the laboratory to the bedside to the community, UNC Lineberger faculty work to understand the causes of cancer at the genetic and environmental levels, to conduct groundbreaking laboratory research, and to translate findings into pioneering and innovative clinical trials. For more information, please visit