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Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network Funds Collaborative Project with Essentia Health and American Indian Cancer Foundation in 2022 Grant Program

The Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN) is happy to announce the funding of a cultural awareness pilot project with Essentia Health and the American Indian Cancer Foundation (AICAF) as part of the MNCCTN Grant Program. Leaders on the project include Bret Friday, MD, PhD; Carly Bye, RN, BSN, OCN; Darcie Dauer, RN, MS Ed; and Tammie Mlodozyniec, BS, CCRP from Essentia Health, and Melissa Buffalo, BA, MS; and Wyatt Pickner, BA, BS, MPH from AICAF.

Essentia Health and AICAF’s project was awarded funding in the Discovery & Planning Award, part of the MNCCTN Grant Program. This award was open to MNCCTN partners only, research or clinical. The aim of this award was to develop a community-driven research concept by partnering with an identified community to learn about their most pressing cancer-related needs, as well as working collaboratively with the community to develop potential strategies to address those needs. The completion of the project should result in a collaboratively developed research concept that could be pilot tested with the identified community. The Discovery & Planning Award was new to this year’s grant program and was developed in an effort to develop stronger community engagement and partnerships related to cancer and research. The project will receive $15,000 in funding beginning on July 1.

The collaboration between Essentia Health and AICAF has been in development for the past year. Essentia Health Community Cancer Research Program (EHCCRP) recognized a need to better serve culturally diverse communities in its service area, including American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AI/AN). AI/AN people are often diagnosed with more advanced stage cancers, experience poorer health outcomes, and are less likely to participate in clinical trials. EHCCRP connected with AICAF to gain insight on relationship building with tribal communities in an effort to create partnerships and learn about tribal communities’ needs. 

Conversations with AICAF led to plans for this grant and project. Essentia Health and AICAF’s project will involve bolstering Essentia Health’s awareness of how to incorporate culturally-centered care into facilities and practices. Essentia Health will bring in Native speakers so providers and staff can ask questions and hear firsthand perspectives. The second part of Essentia Health and AICAF’s project will involve learning directly from tribal communities by establishing relationships with AI/AN community leaders and members. Essentia will hear from communities directly about the best channels for community needs assessments and work with communities to interpret and report back on results. AICAF will support this project and facilitate relationships with tribal communities. 

“The partnership with Essentia Health is an incredible step in ensuring the health care needs of American Indians in Minnesota are seen,” said Melissa Buffalo, CEO of AICAF. “My staff and I have met with Essentia Health to highlight the unfortunate barriers to cancer care and cancer inequities that persist for American Indians. I am so thankful for the open and honest conversations that have led to funding a community based research project from the MNCCTN.”

In the short term, Essentia Health and AICAF hope to establish relationships, implement facility training to better incorporate diverse values in practices, and connect with tribal communities. In the long term, the project aims to increase AI/AN clinical trial enrollment, improve AI/AN health outcomes, continue to grow culturally inclusive strategies in practices, and sustain relationships with tribal communities.

The MNCCTN Grant Program, first launched in 2021, offers several different award options regularly. The program aims to develop research that addresses the unique cancer burden of Minnesotans, encourage community-driven research, increase capacity of MNCCTN sites, develop sustainable collaborations between community-based organizations and academic researchers, and expand the culture of research across Minnesota. To learn more about the program and previously funded projects, visit the MNCCTN Grant Program webpage.

The Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network (MNCCTN) is a cancer clinical trials network with locations across Minnesota. The network is funded by the Minnesota legislature as part of the University of Minnesota's MnDRIVE Program. Led by the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota, MNCCTN and its partner organizations aim to improve cancer outcomes for all Minnesotans through greater access to cancer clinical trials in prevention and treatment.