UA Trains Next Generation of Cancer Prevention Researchers

The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health received a $1.25 million federal grant to train a new generation of students from underserved communities in cancer prevention and control research.

The University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health has received a $1.25 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute to train students from diverse backgrounds in cancer prevention and control research.

Attracting and training a diverse student body in cancer prevention and control research is an area of critical need to help close the gap on cancer health disparities.

The Student Transformative Experiences to Progress Under-represented Professionals (STEP-UP) in Cancer Prevention Program is a 12-week, paid research program that involves direct community engaged research and experiential clinical trial opportunities designed for undergraduate and master’s-level students.

"STEP-UP is unique in its focus on cancer prevention science at the clinical trial to community-based end of the cancer research continuum," said Cynthia Thomson, PhD, RDN, professor of public health at the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health and co-lead of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the UA Cancer Center.

The program is a collaboration led by researchers from the College of Public Health and the Cancer Center. A group of 17 students completed the first STEP-UP program in August. Students receive a certificate upon completion of the program and a few earned internship credits.

“We are training the next generation of cancer prevention clinicians and researchers through the STEP-UP academic program, which builds on a substantial foundation of efforts to attract and retain a diverse student body in cancer prevention and control research, an area of critical need,” Dr. Thomson added.

The University of Arizona is committed to attracting students from the populations that carry a disproportionate cancer burden — the same ones that traditionally are underrepresented in science careers.

The students come from diverse backgrounds, including underrepresented, disadvantaged, nontraditional or first-generation college students and students who attend schools with limited research opportunities.

"The STEP-UP program allows us to introduce students from underserved communities to the opportunities that exist for careers in cancer prevention research," said UA President Robert C. Robbins, MD. "We know that cancer impacts various populations differently, and minority groups in the United States continue to bear a greater cancer burden. The University of Arizona supports research to help understand barriers to health care and create strategies for overcoming them, and I am very excited by what this grant will make possible for our students and for the communities we serve."

STEP-UP uses resources across the UA Health Sciences campus, including the UA Collaboratory for Metabolic Disease Prevention and Treatment. During the program, students acquire a broad range of research skills, including body composition assessment, biomarker evaluation, health assessment, qualitative and quantitative research methods, and training in behavior theory and intervention methodology.

Students are matched with faculty mentors who are working on cancer prevention and control research from the UA College of Medicine – Tucson, as well as the UA colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health, and Agriculture and Life Sciences.

This summer, the students participated in community-engaged research under the mentorship of public health faculty members Robin Harris, PhD, professor of epidemiology, and David Garcia, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion sciences. In addition, the students participated in systematic reviews, a type of research study that collects and looks at multiple studies to answer one or more cancer prevention questions, under the mentorship of John Ehiri, PhD, professor and chair of the UA Department of Health Promotion Sciences.

Dr. Thomson said the evaluation of the first year's program suggests STEP-UP students are expanding their knowledge, attitudes and even self-reported health behaviors in relation to cancer prevention and control research and practice.

The application process for the summer 2019 program will begin in January. For questions and information about the STEP-UP training program, please contact Karen Dickeson at kdickeson@email.arizona.edu or 520-626-2639.

Funding for the program comes from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under grant No. 1R25CA217725-01.

About the University of Arizona Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health

Established in 2000, the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health at the University of Arizona Health Sciences is the first nationally accredited college of public health in the Southwest. Today the college remains the only accredited college of public health in Arizona with campuses in Tucson and Phoenix. The college enrolls more than 1,100 students per year across degree programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. Through research, education and community engagement, the UA Zuckerman College of Public Health continues to find solutions to public health problems in Arizona, the Southwest and globally. For more information: publichealth.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter).

About the University of Arizona Health Sciences

The University of Arizona Health Sciences is the statewide leader in biomedical research and health professions training. The UA Health Sciences includes the UA Colleges of Medicine (Phoenix and Tucson), Nursing, Pharmacy and Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, with main campus locations in Tucson and the growing Phoenix Biomedical Campus in downtown Phoenix. From these vantage points, the UA Health Sciences reaches across the state of Arizona and the greater Southwest to provide cutting-edge health education, research, patient care and community outreach services. A major economic engine, the UA Health Sciences employs approximately 4,000 people, has approximately 800 faculty members and garners more than $140 million in research grants and contracts annually. For more information: uahs.arizona.edu (Follow us: Facebook | Twitter | YouTube | LinkedIn | Instagram)