Cancer is the second leading cause of death in New York State after heart disease in adults and the second leading cause of death in children after injuries. And the number of people with the disease is increasing every year.
If we look at the Brooklyn neighborhood, the death rates are increasing. This is mainly due to health disparities caused by economic status and the fact that people of different ethnicities and countries of origin, including undocumented migrants, are less likely to have information and access to prevention, diagnosis and possibly free treatment.
As one of Brooklyn’s largest anchor institutions in one of the most diverse places in the nation, Brooklyn College of The City University of New York (CUNY) is proud to announce the official launch of Brooklyn College Cancer Center-BCCC-CURE (CommUnity Outreach, research and education). BCCC-CURE’s mission is to improve the lives of patients affected by cancer, with a special focus on underserved Brooklyn residents, focusing on three main areas: research, education, and community service.
Located on the university’s main campus in the Midwood neighborhood, the center was founded last year at Brooklyn College. Funding to date for BCCC-CURE is approximately $9 million, representing seed funding from the Brooklyn College Foundation and individual donors, as well as funds that researchers associated with BCCC-CURE have received since 2018 for cancer and cancer-related research from government and foundation sources .
Driven by diversity to address health inequalities
The driving force behind BCCC-CURE’s success is the diverse people and partnerships that will serve and empower underserved communities in and around Brooklyn, as well as the diversity of Brooklyn College itself. For the past three years, Brooklyn College has been named the most ethnically diverse campus in the country by US News and World Report.
A cancer survivor herself, Michelle J. Anderson is proud that the center will focus on serving underrepresented communities and educating the next generation of cancer experts.
No one should be looking for these resources outside of Brooklyn, especially those in underserved communities. Combining the expertise already existing at Brooklyn College in cancer research with New York’s leading healthcare institutions, BCCC-CURE will connect these anchor institutions and build relationships to make Brooklyn a leader in cancer research and care. .”
Michelle J. Anderson, President of Brooklyn College
The center’s leadership group includes the following Brooklyn College faculty members: Professor Dr. Maria Contel, director, research field leader and professor of chemistry; dr. Jennifer Basil, associate director of community outreach and professor of biology; and dr. Brian Gibney, associate director of education and professor of chemistry.
Since its inception, Brooklyn College scientists have reached out to other cancer research centers in the NYC area, including the National Cancer Institute’s “Designated Cancer Centers,” recognized for their leadership in laboratory and clinical research, such as the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. in Manhattan.
“We wanted a diverse group for the BCCC-CURE advisory board, ideally scientists and physicians from Brooklyn-based centers such as SUNY Downstate Medical School, Maimonides Cancer Center, and the NCI Designated Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who had experience working in the health inequalities or a particular interest in the health of women and people of color,” Contel said. This includes Dr. Carol Brown, the senior vice president, Chief Health Equity Officer, and Nicholls-Biondi Chair for Health Equity at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and Dr. Moro Salifu, chairman of the SUNY Downstate Department of Medicine and director of the NIH-funded Brooklyn Health Disparities Center. dr. Jason Lewis, the Emily Tow Jackson Chair in Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and now a member of the BCCC-CURE Advisory Board, helped introduce the BCCC-CURE leadership team to like-minded people in the field.
Lewis believes BCCC-CURE is revolutionary because it will bring together a diverse team of experts to serve underrepresented communities on so many different levels.
“There’s nothing like this in Brooklyn,” Lewis said. “The wealth of research, knowledge and experience, along with the capacity for community outreach and educational opportunities, will enable BCCC-CURE to address health disparities in the fight against cancer. I am excited to be a part of it and the effort to help move forward.”
Empowering the next generation of cancer fighters in Brooklyn
As the assistant director of education, Brian Gibney’s eye is always on finding opportunities for Brooklyn College students, especially college students. The chemistry professor says this may be in the classroom, but more likely opportunities for enrichment beyond the campus walls. A medical translation course for bilingual students in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering is a huge success.
“This spring we had 19 students learning how to interpret and bridge the communication between the doctor and the patient in the clinic,” Gibney said. “So if someone comes in who speaks Creole as their first language, then a person who speaks the language fluently, who is also trained to interpret and translate medical terms, can explain symptoms and pass other vital information between doctor and patient.”
Students who receive training in medical translation — and Brooklyn College has a student body that speaks more than 90 languages — receive a certificate that allows them to land a job in a city of many cultures and ethnicities.
Jennifer Basil, community outreach director, was diagnosed with HER2-positive breast cancer in her thirties. After finding treatment in Brooklyn, she is now healthy and promoting BCCC-CURE is a personal labor of love. She began organizing outreach events, in conjunction with BCCC-CURE partners, starting this spring. Two recent events included a screening by Jody Steinhardt, coordinator of lung cancer screening in Maimonides, and a seminar for students on cervical cancer, which, Basil noted, is increasing in younger people.
The center also held a half-day symposium with Maimonides on colon cancer. The broader vision for BCCC-CURE is to expand its reach by educating communities about access to clinical trials and by partnering with hospitals seeking diversity in their populations for those trials. Collaborating with trusted healthcare professionals and community leaders is critical. A series of seminars, lectures and outreach events have also been held online for the community, students and the extended Brooklyn College family.
World-class research in Brooklyn
Twenty-five faculty members are focused on cancer and cancer-related research at BCCC-CURE in one of three main areas: the biology and biochemistry of cancer, the underlying mechanisms of disease, and drug development and delivery systems. Contel said the center is already developing potential drugs for various cancers or delivery systems for FDA-approved drugs.
Researchers are using some compounds developed at Brooklyn College as potential probes and biomarkers to identify biological targets and develop improved cancer treatments.
Contel, an organometallic chemist, has already successfully used metal-based compounds to fight various cancers and holds a patent on gold and titanium compounds used to fight kidney cancer. She has a second patent on a ruthenium-based compound that will help fight triple-negative breast cancer, a difficult one that doesn’t respond to traditional treatments. Contel was also part of a multi-institutional research team that has designed nanoparticles that can interact with and slow the development of cancer cells. Work -; detailed in a newly published article in the scientific journal “Advanced Materials” -; has uncovered a new framework for the potential development of drug-free cancer therapies. Fellow CUNY professor Dr. Rein V. Ulijn was the principal investigator on the paper, and PhD student Richard Huang and PhD student Nazia Nayeem were among others who contributed to the work.
Several other Brooklyn College-based researchers at the center also hold patents for potential treatments for cancer or related diseases: Ph.D. chemistry professors Alec Greer has patented a singlet oxygen device for destroying pathogens; Peter Lipke has one about preventing biofilms (including cancer-related fungal infections); and Professor Ryan Murelli has a patent on compounds to treat hepatitis B.
Some of the work of these and other BCCC-CURE researchers is conducted in collaboration with many prestigious institutions in the United States and abroad.
“In the Chemistry Department, we are developing potential drugs for various cancers or delivery systems for FDA-approved drugs,” said Contel, explaining that they’ve done a lot of research on nanocarriers, microscopic materials used to more safely transport a substance. like medicine throughout the body. This work has the potential to revolutionize chemotherapy and was also used to develop the COVID-19 vaccine. The third research area of BCCC-CURE is more outward-looking and patient-oriented.
“We have a computer scientist who is interested in doing an analysis of large amounts of data related to cancer patients, and we have three faculty members in the psychology department who have projects that they are working on for patients with other diseases that can be easily translated into research that benefits cancer patients,” Contel said.
“We also plan to support researchers in other diseases. Many are connected, there are many co-morbidities. Lately, the outcomes for cancer patients with COVID-19 have been dire because they have had to delay care.”