ROCHESTER, Minn. — Six Mayo Clinic researchers are recipients of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Award, an award established by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. The six Winn scholars are among 64 physicians selected from healthcare institutions in 22 states across the U.S. Mayo Clinic received the most awards than any other institution to join the pioneering program.
The two-year program aims to train, develop and mentor diverse and community-oriented researchers and physicians to help increase the diversity of patients enrolled in clinical trials, and ultimately to enhance the development of therapeutics for all populations.
The six investigators are the second group to be trained in the program and will join 52 physicians, one from Mayo Clinic, who were selected to Cohort I in November 2021. The participants represent a diverse cross section of races and ethnicities, and will bring a widely varied perspective to the program with the same goal to increase diversity in clinical trials.
The awardees in Cohort II:
LaPrincess Brewer, M.D., is a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her research aims to develop strategies to reduce and ultimately eliminate cardiovascular disease health disparities in racial and ethnic minority populations and in underserved communities through health promotion and community-based participatory research. In her current field of work as a cardiologist, she directly witnesses the disparities among patient populations affected by cardiovascular disease (e.g., racial/ethnic minority groups and women). Cardiac rehabilitation (CR) is one of these disparities with barriers, such as inflexible CR hours, transportation and considerable distance to CR center. During the program, Dr. Brewer will investigate the effectiveness of using patient-centric telehealth models harnessing virtual world technology to provide patients eligible for CR with an alternative to center-based CR. If effective, this innovative program could ensure that diverse patient populations have the opportunity to get the care they need.
Arushi Khurana, M.B.B.S., is a hematologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her research focuses on improving outcomes in lymphoma patients, specifically those underrepresented in clinical trials and who are more vulnerable to the side effects of treatment. Dr. Khurana will be studying the impact of clinical trial eligibility criteria based on laboratory parameters on the exclusion of patients and its disproportionate effects on underrepresented minorities. Additionally, with the help of the research team at Mayo, an online clinical application is under development to estimate this effect, which will help clinical investigators better design trials. During the program, Dr. Khurana will work on designing a phase 2 clinical trial aimed specifically at patients excluded solely determined on lab-based eligibility criteria to optimize their labs, with the goal to bring them back into clinical trials.
Trevanne Matthews Hew, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Matthews Hew has special interest in disparity in health care amongst all patient groups, particularly breast, gynecologic and prostate cancers. She is active in her community, speaking at events to help educate the community about cancer. Her goals are to one day aid in bridging the gap in health care. Dr. Matthews Hew's research focuses on disparity, genetics and environmental factors affecting disease. Education is a large part of her interest, as well as providing mentorship to residents and fellows. During the program, Dr. Matthews Hew will study the feasibility of patient-centered home care to reduce disparities in Black men with advanced prostate cancer. In the U.S., Black people have the highest overall cancer death rate of any other racial or ethnic groups. A recent report from the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) has found that Black men have prostate cancer death rates that are more than two times those for men of any other race or ethnicity. During the study, Dr. Matthews Hew will evaluate a better design for patient-centered care delivery system that will provide personalized, equitable health care and foster individual and population health.
Yewande Odeyemi, M.B.B.S., is a critical care specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Her research is focused on improving the care and outcomes of patients hospitalized with acute pulmonary inflammation, including those with community-acquired pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. During the program, Dr. Odeyemi will study how patients with pneumonia in the hospital recover after they receive a combination of inhaled steroids and bronchodilator in addition to antibiotics, compared to patients that receive antibiotics only.
Ricardo Parrondo, M.D., is a hematologist-oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville. Dr. Parrondo specializes in multiple myeloma, a disease that predominantly affects African Americans in a 2:1 ratio compared to white people in the U.S. His research efforts have focused on improving the outcomes of racial health disparities affecting African Americans with multiple myeloma. Dr. Parrondo plays an active role in his community to help improve the enrollment of African Americans into multiple myeloma clinical trials. His interest during the program will focus on evaluating alternate doses and schedules of therapeutic agents for patients with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of plasma cells.
Pravesh Sharma, M.D., is a psychiatrist at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. His area of research is substance use disorder and co-occurring medical and psychiatric disorders. Dr. Sharma engages in community-based participatory research to meet the needs of underserved populations. He hopes to break down barriers of mistrust among people of color for clinical trials. Dr. Sharma's research during the cohort will focus on health disparities in chronic disease, especially tobacco-related cardiovascular disease. His project will target studying the improved process of tobacco screening, treatment and increased engagement of diverse populations who smoke with evidence-based cessation treatment to improve cardiovascular outcomes.
Mayo Clinic awardee in Cohort I:
Lionel Kankeu Fonkoua, M.D., is a medical oncologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He was among the first group of awardees in Cohort I of the Robert A. Winn Diversity in Clinical Trials Career Development Award Program. Dr. Kankeu Fonkoua specializes in the treatment of gastrointestinal cancers with a special interest in the development of novel combinatorial immunotherapeutic strategies for hepatobiliary cancers. His study evaluates the safety and efficacy of a novel dendritic cell vaccine in combination with radiotherapy in patients with unresectable primary liver cancer. Given the strong immune/inflammatory pathogenesis of hepatocellular carcinoma arising in the background of chronic viral hepatitis, he intends to leverage the training and resources of this program to extend the reach of his investigations to the immigrant African and Asian communities of Minnesota with high prevalence of hepatitis B- and C-induced hepatocellular carcinoma, a special at-risk population that is underrepresented in immunotherapy trials, yet could derive immense benefit.
The program scholars will collaborate with communities to facilitate an approach to clinical and translational research that is community-informed, designed and conducted. The awardees will receive training, sponsorship, mentoring and the resources needed to conduct clinical trials that will yield new treatments effective in all populations.
The Robert A. Winn Career Development Award Program was created in 2020 with a pledge by the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation (BMSF) as part of its commitment to health equity, inclusion and diversity. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is a curriculum partner to develop the BMSF-AACR Design and Implementation of Clinical Trials Workshop, which is the first training that Winn Career Development Award scholars receive. Virginia Commonwealth University serves as the program implementation partner under the direction of Winn. Gilead Sciences is a program supporter, sponsoring a total of 40 Winn Career Development Awards and 40 Robert A. Winn Clinical Investigator Pathway Program awards through 2027.
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