DETROIT, MI (May 28, 2022) – Eighteen joint pilot grants focused on cancer research and care were awarded recently through the Henry Ford Health+Michigan State University Health Sciences partnership. The pilot grants of up to $25,000 each represent the first wave of $1 million in funding awarded by the health sciences partnership. A second wave of $50,000 to $100,000 integration grants will follow in mid-2022.
Monies awarded through the pilot grants will support up to one year of research in areas that involve joint collaboration between investigators at both Henry Ford Health and MSU. Projects funded to-date relate to cancer immunology, cancer imaging, population health in cancer, cancer control, gene therapy and cancer, and experimental therapeutics. Importantly, almost half of these joint projects specifically address health disparities and diversity as it applies to cancer research.
Benjamin Movsas, M.D., chairs the Cancer Committee—a group of dedicated researchers, clinicians, and scientists from the Henry Ford Health and MSU Health Sciences partnership who drive priorities for the partnership’s strategic focus on cancer. He also serves as Interim Medical Director and chair of radiation oncology for Henry Ford Cancer.
Movsas said the pilot and integration grants will advance collaboration and discovery between the two institutions. The grants will also encourage exploratory and developmental research for the early stages of project development in areas of basic, clinical, translational, behavioral or population research.
“Our broader goal is to address disparities in cancer outcomes and improving the lives of people we serve in Michigan,” said Movsas. “We cannot be more excited about the level of engagement and cooperation we have seen between our two institutions. We hoped that we would get 20 or 25 joint applications, but we received over 66.”
Addressing cancer disparities
Kelly Hirko is an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatics in the College of Human Medicine on MSU’s Traverse City campus, where she works as a community-based researcher in a clinical setting in rural northwest Michigan. She is among the scores of researchers and clinicians who applied for and received funding for pilot grants through the health sciences partnership. While each funded initiative focuses on a particular type of cancer, therapy, or delivery method, Hirko and her co-investigators will approach their research through the lens of how barriers or equity issues impact cancer care and outcomes in rural or urban health systems.
One of Hirko’s projects, for instance, focuses on implementation of a technology-based tobacco cessation referral intervention. A related project seeks to improve equity in the access of a patient-reported outcome measure platform. Another examines geographic, racial and ethnic disparities in the access and use of targeted drug therapies and genetic testing in breast cancer, using existing data from Henry Ford Health and Munson Healthcare.
“By investigating challenges in cancer care delivery in rural and urban clinical settings, these collaborative research efforts will facilitate the development of appropriate, sustainable and scalable interventions to improve cancer care and reduce cancer disparities,” Hirko said. “Findings from these studies will improve our understanding of the translation of evidence-based cancer care in real-world clinical settings, and will inform future research efforts to develop broad and equitable strategies to reduce cancer disparities.”
Realizing a vision
Pilot grants like Hirko’s represent the start of a long-term vision to fund, support and encourage collaborative research through the health sciences partnership. With more research and collaboration on the horizon, Henry Ford Health and MSU have their sights set on creating a premier cancer care and research center that serves local, state and national populations.
“We’re off to an amazing start,” said Movsas. “Part of our overarching goal is to bring people together to work on these novel and high-impact cancer research projects that can lead to further grants from the National Cancer Institute that will help close the gap in health care disparities and outcomes for cancer patients in Michigan and beyond.”
Cancer Committee member and Assistant Dean for Research of the MSU College of Medicine Jeff MacKeigan concurred that the health sciences partnership reimagines the delivery of health and wellness by fighting health disparities that plague both urban and rural communities.
“Our tools are joint research between Henry Ford Health and MSU, a focus on academic and health education, and a robust cancer center,” said MacKeigan. “There is so much talent within our two institutions. It’s exciting to envision what can be achieved when we work together.”