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Faculty & Staff Honors

Vanderbilt Researchers Receive Grant to Study Breast Cancer Genetics in African American Women

A national cancer research consortium headed by investigators at the Vanderbilt University Institute for Medicine and Public Health and two other institutions have received $12 million in federal funding to help determine why African-American women die at a higher rate and have more aggressive breast cancer than white women.


[Photo: Dr. Wei Zheng]

The grant, awarded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is based on the premise that having a better understanding of the biology and genetics of breast cancer in African-American women will lead to improved prevention and treatment.

“Health disparities are a problem of great concern for the NCI and one that we are zeroing in on as evidenced by this grant,” said Dr. Douglas Lowy, acting director of the NCI.

“This crucial federal funding support will enable a trans-institutional collaboration between VICC cancer investigators and their colleagues at other major institutions to explore the biological and genetic underpinnings of breast cancer in African-American women who have been suffering disproportionately from this disease,” said Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol, executive vice president for research at Vanderbilt and director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center (VICC).

The research team is being led by Dr. Wei Zheng, director of the Vanderbilt Epidemiology Center, Nashville; Dr. Christopher Haiman, University of Southern California, Los Angeles; and Dr. Julie Palmer, Boston University. In addition, experts from 10 other institutions will gather information and biospecimens from 20,000 breast cancer cases. The multicenter study will pool data, biospecimens, and expertise from 18 previous studies of breast cancer among women of African ancestry. The investigators will seek to identify novel genes and gene pathways to determine whether genetic variants may be associated with increased risk.

“Breast cancer exacts a particularly heavy toll on African-American women,” said Dr. Zheng, the contact principal investigator of the study. “This study will generate enormous resources and greatly expand our research capacity to illuminate the biological and genetic basis of this common cancer. I am truly privileged to work alongside so many outstanding researchers in discovering innovative answers to ease this burden.”

More information on the study can be found at the NCI website: