Expanding Cancer Research at UConn

By: Beth Krane, CHIP

When asked to describe her new role at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), renowned health psychologist and new UConn faculty member Meg Gerrard replies succinctly: “To grow more cancer research at CHIP.”

Gerrard’s task, however, involves far more groundwork and outreach than her initial response indicates.

Gerrard has nearly four decades of experience studying adolescent and young adult health behavior. Since arriving at UConn from Dartmouth College in the fall, the new CHIP affiliate and research professor in UConn’s psychology department has worked diligently with research scientist Alicia Dugan, ‘boundary spanner’ for CHIP, to become more familiar with the cancer research scene in Connecticut. She has also met with Dr. Frank Torti, executive vice president for health affairs and dean of the medical school, as well as many other cancer researchers at the Health Center and at Storrs.

And in an effort to foster multidisciplinary research collaborations, she launched a new Cancer Research Interest Group at CHIP. More than a dozen researchers from almost as many disciplines attended the first two meetings and shared their cancer research interests with one another, with many other UConn cancer researchers expressing an interest in joining the group.

The group will hold a CHIP/UConn Health Center cancer research mini-retreat on Monday, April 22, from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Angelico’s Lake House, a restaurant in East Hampton.

“The mini-retreat will facilitate introductions and the exploration of common interests among cancer researchers on the Storrs and Health Center campuses,” Gerrard says. “The day is designed to spark new collaborations and to begin planning for the future submission of significant, external, multidisciplinary grant proposals.”

The keynote speaker for the event is Rebecca Ferrer, a health scientist and program director with the National Cancer Institute’s basic biobehavioral and psychological sciences branch of its Behavioral Research Program. A graduate of UConn’s psychology doctoral program who was mentored by CHIP researchers, Ferrer will discuss “Scientific Priorities and Upcoming FOAs at the National Cancer Institute.”

The mini-retreat also will include small group discussions around research interest areas and cross-cutting themes in cancer research.

Working with new populations

This “beginning of a network” has jumpstarted a process that will be continued and formalized in the coming months – the sharing of information not only about the cancer research currently being conducted and the possibilities for new multidisciplinary cancer research, but also about the collaborators and community organizations across the state that might serve as resources for CHIP affiliates in search of research sites and participants.

“Sometimes it can be very hard to gain entry into high-risk populations,” Gerrard says, “and the Cancer Research Interest Group is one way to help to facilitate that entry.”

Through the Cancer Research Interest Group meetings, Gerrard and others met UConn cancer researchers who are already active in Hartford’s African American community. They also were introduced to Markos Samos, with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, whose interest in increasing cancer control research on Native Americans in New England led to Gerrard recently securing one of UConn’s large faculty grants.

The new grant will expand the federally funded cancer prevention research she has been conducting with African American populations to Native Americans in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. With the assistance of Samos, she has gained entry into these communities, where she will conduct pilot work to better understand the barriers to and predictors of HPV vaccination among Native American populations. Gerrard says her research is intended to ultimately lead to the development of interventions for both African American and Native American populations.

Read more at UConn Today.

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