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VeloSano funding new research at Cleveland Clinic into cancer disparities

'Cancer is one of the leading causes of death -- especially in some of our racially dominated, ethnic dominated and sexual minority communities.'

CLEVELAND — Dr. Heather McKee Hurwitz’s work examines racialized health disparities -- from the prevention and screening phase to more advanced cancer treatment and clinical trials.

"There's a lot of history of disparities in medical research and racism in medical research that's really turned off [some in the minority] community," Hurwitz explained in a recent interview with 3News anchor Maureen Kyle.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this type of distrust in medicine, and also limited access to healthcare -- especially for racial minorities. Research shows it also amplified worse health outcomes among minorities.  

Compounding the issue is another problem. Due to lack of preventative screenings in medically underserved areas, minority groups may need these clinical trials even more than the general population.

RELATED: Guide to VeloSano 2022 in Cleveland: See maps of each bike ride and ways you can help raise money for cancer research

In her role as Community Outreach Director here at Taussig, Kimberly Sanders sees firsthand the roadblocks that impact the ability to receive care. 

"A lot of people just don't have the transportation to get there. Or you think of a woman that has three kids, I can't get to that mammogram. No one can babysit my children," she said.

There are also more personal reasons people avoid screenings.

"Unfortunately, we have found a lot of people that are afraid," Sanders explained. "We just met a woman at an event a couple of weeks ago in Lorain, and she was afraid because her mother died of breast cancer. And she literally didn't want to get a mammogram because she didn't want to know."

Sanders and Hurwitz are part of a dedicated team here at Taussig studying how to combat these issues by working to bridge the gap between medicine and faith-based organizations. Working with CNP Pam Combs and Program Manager Mark Ribbins, their cancer disparities project builds on established work of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute Community Outreach Team and the Stop Cancer In Its Tracks (SCIIT) faith-based coalition.

Credit: VeloSano
Pam Combs, CNP, Heather Hurwitz, PhD, Kim Sanders and Mark Ribbins are part of a team at Taussig Cancer Institute researching cancer disparities.

"We know that still patients trust their churches, their faith in faith-based institutions, and especially in medically underserved and African-American dominated places, churches are still the trusted institution," Hurwitz said.

Sanders explained that their team is going out to meet directly with local faith-based organizations and members of those organizations.

"And so we get to ask questions why," she explained. "Why do you think you're not participating in research? And what can we do to get more people in the community, specifically African-Americans, to participate in research?"

Seed money for this project comes directly from VeloSano. The Cleveland Clinic’s annual fundraising initiative generated $5 million in 2021 alone, supporting 35 new research projects right here in Northeast Ohio.  

Hurwitz says they have met about half of their research goals already.

"Thousands of people can be helped right now," she said. "Cancer is one of the leading causes of death -- especially in some of our racially dominated, ethnic dominated and sexual minority communities."

Sanders hopes the work they are doing now will pay dividends in the future.

"It would be so exciting, specifically, to see African-Americans that have participated in research, participated in clinical, clinical trials. And they can tell others. They can tell others how it worked. They can talk about how it saved their lives. They can talk about participating and how it will save lives to come."

The annual VeloSano bike ride takes place in Cleveland this weekend. WKYC has a team participating in the fundraising event. Here's how you can donate to the cause.

RELATED: 'What if I had waited?' University Hospitals nurse shares how early breast cancer detection saved her life

Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in a previous story on June 2, 2022.

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