NCI awards over $14M to UH Cancer Center and University of Guam to address cancer disparities across the Pacific

October 15, 2020

The University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center and the University of Guam (UOG) were each awarded five-year grants totaling over $14 million to mitigate the impact of cancer on Pacific Islanders through cancer research, career training and community outreach. The UH Cancer Center-UOG collaboration, known as the Pacific Island Partnership for Cancer Health Equity (PIPCHE), is funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) through August 31, 2025.

Funds from the PIPCHE are used to support the research infrastructure needed to address significant cancer health disparities in the Pacific. PIPCHE is the only NCI-funded Pacific-based research partnership that addresses cancer disparities in the peoples of Hawaiʻi, Guam and the United States Affiliated Pacific Islands, which include the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau. It also provides research training for students and early-career scientists while engaging communities in outreach activities to advance knowledge, awareness, behavior change and public health policy in Guam and Hawaiʻi.

UH Cancer Center & UOG 2018 team photo

“The negotiated partnership between UOG and the UH Cancer Center uses cancer research as a platform to bring equity and resiliency to the indigenous Pacific peoples. We work towards reciprocity, transparency and accountability for each respective partner in all work with our communities. The investment has brought forward indigenous Pacific cancer researchers and scientific leaders, relevant Pacific-based interventions to address cancer disparities, and has increased the capacity for both institutions to understand and achieve cancer health equity in the Pacific. This partnership has been a fun and eye-opening voyage,” said Neal A. Palafox, MD, MPH, researcher and principal investigator at the UH Cancer Center.

The first PIPCHE grant was awarded to the UH Cancer Center and the University of Guam in 2003. Since then, the funds have supported 25 research projects, trained over 100 underrepresented students and early career scientists, contributed over 100 peer-reviewed publications and, in the last cycle alone, acquired over $34 million in additional external funds to explore research questions that are unique to the Pacific region.

“PIPCHE has been truly transformational for research here at UOG. Before PIPCHE, there was zero cancer research and very little health-related research occurring at UOG. Now we have multiple federal research grants studying cancer, child obesity, cardiometabolic health (concerning conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or stroke) and dementia,” said Rachael Leon Guerrero, PhD, RD, principal investigator and professor at the University of Guam.

Cancer prevention and control in the Pacific is a shared mission between the UH Cancer Center, the University of Guam and their collaborators. The PIPCHE provides a platform to do much more than either institution can accomplish alone. The efforts of this partnership are directed by Drs. Neal Palafox and Randall Holcombe at the UH Cancer Center, and Drs. Rachael Leon Guerrero and Margaret Hattori-Uchima at the University of Guam, together with a team of over 50 faculty investigators and staff at the partnering institutions plus scientific and community advisory members.