University awarded grant for prostate cancer research
Robert Sikes
David Usher

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10:18 a.m., Nov. 16, 2009----Two faculty members in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Delaware, associate professor Robert Sikes and professor David Usher, have been awarded $200,000 from the Department of Defense to support minority undergraduate research in prostate cancer. The award was made through the agency's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP).

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The Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP), one of many programs managed by the CDMRP, was established in 1997 to promote innovative research focused on eradicating prostate cancer. In 2004, an additional aspect was added to the PCRP to fund summer training programs for undergraduates from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) at institutions with ongoing prostate cancer research.

According to Sikes, who is also director of UD's Center for Translational Cancer Research, the program is a continuing partnership with two nearby HBCUs -- Delaware State University and Lincoln University.

“We plan to build on our past success in collaborating with Delaware State and Lincoln universities by offering an exciting program to interest students in pursuing advanced degrees in biomedical sciences,” Sikes says. “The grant will enable us to provide students from these two schools with an educational enrichment program and hands-on bench research experience.”

The centerpiece of the program will be a ten-week summer experience that will involve cutting-edge, hands-on research in the laboratories of UD faculty mentors with projects focused on prostate cancer.

Participants will also attend an established enrichment program funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute designed to instill a sense of community among students doing research during the summer. Weekly sessions include interactive presentations on scientific publishing, research funding, ethical issues in research, postgraduate education opportunities, and career options in science and medicine.

At the end of the summer program, the students will present the results of their research at a comprehensive undergraduate symposium attended by most of the faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows in the sciences at UD.

In addition, select aspects of the research started at UD will continue at Delaware State and Lincoln under the joint direction of HBCU advisors and UD research mentors during the following academic year.

“As members of the academic biomedical community, we need to make a concerted effort to foster the entry of underrepresented minorities into the educational pipeline,” Sikes says, “so that with proper preparation and support, they will be competitive for future biomedical positions.”

The impact of such programs is expected to extend beyond the training of specific individuals and into the community as a whole.

“Racial disparities exist in the incidence, treatment, and mortality of many diseases,” Sikes says, “and this is true particularly for prostate and breast cancer. A significant part of the problem is the lack of minority role models in science and medicine to develop a sense of understanding within minority communities.”

Article by Diane Kukich

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