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Cancer centers combine

Cancer researchers at USF are extending their studies to Puerto Rico with a $750,000 grant that will be shared with the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and the Puerto Rico Cancer Center. The National Institutes of Health awarded the three-year grant in May for a partnership between the centers. Each center received a $375,000 grant, which will be dispersed at $125,000 a year for cancer research.

The partnership is an international outreach program for representatives from each institute to share research and give researchers in San Juan a better opportunity to participate in clinical research.

Scott Antonia, a Moffitt investigator who is participating in the study, said the program is intended to improve the quality of cancer care in a populated country whose researchers are under-represented.

“Traditionally, under-represented minorities aren’t given the opportunity in clinical research,” Antonia said. “Their doctors are just as good as our doctors.”

Antonia said some researchers from the Moffitt Center will be sent to the Puerto Rico Center to provide training opportunities in bone marrow transplants and surgical technologies.

Antonia said the Puerto Rico Center has a good training program for cancer and it will develop joint projects to study breast cancer as well.

“It’s a cultural literacy and outreach education program to see if we learn about studies (but) more to inform people in Puerto Rico,” Antonia said. “The nature of doing cancer research is all geared toward a better understanding of cancer.”

John C. Ruckdeschel, director for the grant, said the mission of the partnership is for each center to learn about diseases and cancer by sharing information through projects.

Ruckdeschel said one of the projects will be a study of lung diseases, since it is a main concern in the United States but lower on the list of Puerto Rico’s leading diseases.

Ruckdeschel said researchers will ask questions such as “why is this so?” and “do they really smoke less than (Americans).”The Moffitt Center also holds partnerships with countries in South America, such as Peru, Brazil and Argentina. Ruckdeschel said Moffitt Center is fortunate to receive funding for resources, whereas these countries lack funding from the government.”The ability of an institute to support large resource bases is difficult when you don’t have the resources,” Ruckdeschel said. “Things we are funded for here have extra lack of government support there. We have been blessed.”

In addition, Ruckdeschel said these countries have concerns that have to be looked at before studying cancer.

Ruckdeschel said since others receive limited funds, they need to prioritize their spending when they have concerns such as child malnutrition.

“The quality of health care (for those) who don’t have resources, their biggest concern is not cancer. The doctors are well trained, but they don’t get all the government support.”

Ruckdeschel said some researchers were sent to the Puerto Rico Center about four months ago to begin studies and some of their physicians and trainees have started studying at the Moffitt Center. Ruckdeschel said the Moffitt Center plans to renew the grant after the three years to continue the partnership with the Puerto Rico Center.

“There is a 99.9 percent chance we will resubmit,” Ruckdeschel said. “There is excitement between both institutions.”