Rutgers School of Public Health faculty member, Dr. Jesse Plascak, has been awarded a National Cancer Institute (NCI) Career Development Grant (K07CA222158) titled “Social Environmental Factors, DNA methylation of inflammation genes and Breast Cancer Survivorship among African American Women.” The 5-year, $760,661 grant seeks to improve public health by identifying novel social and biologic factors that can be targeted to prevent breast cancer mortality or improve survival.
Despite being diagnosed at similar rates, African American women are less likely to survive following a breast cancer diagnosis compared to White women. It is also well-established that African American populations experience worse social characteristics – lower income, less access to health-promoting resources, more discrimination, and higher unemployment – compared to white populations. These adverse social factors might ultimately harm health through inflammatory pathways. No studies, however, have formally tested pathways between social environmental characteristics occurring outside of our bodies, biologic switches that control inflammation inside our bodies, and survival following breast cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Plascak will gain additional training in causal inference methodology, innovative neighborhood assessment techniques, and cancer biology and genetics to assess the social environment characteristics and epigenetic alterations of breast cancer genes of African American breast cancer survivors living in New Jersey.
The social, epigenetic, and breast cancer-related data will be integrated to investigate whether breast cancer survival might be influenced by women’s social environment and whether epigenetic alteration of inflammation genes could be a potential mechanism.
Social environmental factors such as residential segregation and neighborhood disorder can be prevented through public health-relevant policy. Epigenetic alteration of inflammation genes can be therapeutically targeted to potentially lengthen survival times following diagnosis with breast cancer.
“This project will provide the necessary resources for additional training and form the scientific basis for larger studies that will address how specific social environment factors might get under the skin and influence breast cancer outcomes,” says Dr. Plascak.
Rutgers School of Public Health faculty, Drs. Kitaw Demissie, Helmut Zarbl, Elisa Bandera, Mingzhu Fang, and Zhiqiang Tan (Statistics) along with Drs. Mario Schootman (Epidemiology, St. Louis University) and Andrew Rundle (Epidemiology, Columbia) will serve as co-investigators.