Dec 14, 2015
The International Innovation Grant, funded by the Conquer Cancer Foundation (CCF) of ASCO, provides research funding in support of novel and innovative projects that can have a significant impact on cancer control in low- and middle-income countries. The grant is intended to support research that has the potential to reduce the cancer burden in local communities, while also being potentially transferable to other low- or middle-income settings. This 1-year research grant awards up to $20,000 paid directly to a nonprofit organization or governmental agency. In 2015, CCF awarded International Innovation Grants to five researchers in Nigeria, Uganda, Mexico, India, and Romania.
One of those researchers is Yanin Chávarri-Guerra, MD, MSc, a medical oncologist at Instituto Nacional de Ciencias Médicas y Nutrición Salvador Zubirán in Mexico City. Dr. Chávarri-Guerra is using the International Innovation Grant to fund a breast health educational program that uses intergenerational learning to increase breast cancer awareness among adolescents and their female relatives in low-income communities in Mexico. This program addresses an important educational need—Mexican women with breast cancer present at more advanced stages than those in high-resource countries due to delays in diagnosis and limited access to information.
AC: What led to your interest in breast cancer research?
YCG: After completing my medical studies at Universidad Anáhuac and residency (at Salvador Zubirán National Institute of Medical Sciences and Nutrition, both in Mexico City), I received the CCF International Development and Education Award (IDEA), which helped me to undertake a fellowship in breast cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital under the mentorship of Paul Goss, MD, PhD. It was during that time that I started to focus on and become interested in breast cancer and disparities research.
AC: Describe your International Innovation Grant project.
YCG: We implemented a breast health educational program for adolescents enrolled in a middle school in a rural community in Mexico. The program was aimed at increasing knowledge about breast health and promoting help-seeking behaviors, not only in adolescents but also in their female relatives, through intergenerational learning. The program consisted of culturally adapted breast health education sessions given by medical doctors, educators, and a breast cancer survivor. Women in low-income countries have very limited educational opportunities, and my project aims at transforming young girls into health promoters within their households and communities in order to raise awareness of breast cancer.
AC: What do you hope to achieve through the health education program?
YCG: Our preliminary results, which we presented at the 2015 Breast Cancer Symposium, showed that it was feasible to implement our program at a school located in a rural community, and that the students and their teachers were engaged in it and came away having learned important information. We were very pleased with the local community’s strong acceptance of a potentially delicate subject. For our final results, we are expecting that students and their relatives who participated in the educational sessions will show a 30% increase in content knowledge, based on tests given before and after the program.
AC: How will these results translate into improved care for patients?
YCG: Our project could potentially impact cancer control in Mexico by finding an innovative way to improve early detection of breast cancer through intergenerational education in rural communities with poor access to health information. The project also potentially represents a transferable educational intervention, which could be used to develop awareness of breast cancer among adolescents and their female relatives in other low- and middle-income countries outside of Mexico. In other Latin American countries, the program would need only minimal cultural and linguistic adaptations. In terms of intergenerational learning specifically, this could represent a valuable method for developing breast cancer awareness and improving the early detection of breast cancer and the downstaging of symptomatic disease in low-resource settings. Such an intergenerational intervention could also be scaled up and, after undergoing modifications, be applied to other common malignancies, cancers, and chronic diseases in low-resource countries (for example, skin, testicular, cervical, lung, or oral cancers, hypertension and diabetes).
AC: How did receiving the International Innovation Grant affect your career?
YCG: This is the first academic and large prospective research study that I have personally led. Receiving the grant has allowed me to lay the foundation for future research in breast cancer disparities, to build connections with national and international researchers, and to plan ahead for new research projects.
AC: What was the most exciting scientific finding made possible by your Conquer Cancer Foundation grant?
YCG: A simple intervention, such as increasing awareness through education, might be an effective way to prevent or improve the outcomes for patients with cancer in low-income nations.
AC: Why is the Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants Program a valuable research funding mechanism?
YCG: The Conquer Cancer Foundation Grants Program gives support to innovative, investigator-initiated cancer research, including studies carried out by international researchers. I believe supporting these type of research projects is enormously necessary to improve the care of patients with cancer worldwide.