A Black person's hands hold a cigarette with some of the inside tobacco spilling out onto their open palm.

Innovative global impact: Improving lives and driving change via the Institute for Global Cancer Prevention Research

Worldwide, people from under-resourced communities often experience higher exposure to cancer risks and do not have access to cancer screening and other preventive measures. The Institute for Global Cancer Prevention Research (IGCPR), a program of the Masonic Cancer Center (MCC), University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Medical School, and University of Minnesota School of Public Health is addressing this issue by establishing partnerships around the world and building capacity for translational and innovative cancer prevention research here at the University of Minnesota and globally. The Institute, led by Director Dr. Irina Stepanov, fosters multidisciplinary research and innovation to inform cancer prevention practices and policy-level change. 

The Institute’s research is organized into several key priority areas—how do those priority areas reduce the cancer burden for Minnesotans and beyond, improve quality of life for patients and survivors, and share discoveries with scientists, students, professionals, and community members around the world? 

Getting to the heart of global tobacco use

A major focus at IGCPR is to support global tobacco control efforts. Tobacco use is one of the main risk factors of cancer, claiming more than six million lives globally each year. There are striking disparities in tobacco use and its consequences around the world: Nearly 80 percent of the one billion smokers and nearly 90 percent of the 350,000 smokeless tobacco users in the world live in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). That means that research and capacity-building dedicated to decreasing tobacco harm are crucial to informing tobacco control in  these countries.  

The University of Minnesota (the University, or UMN) is known around the world for its unique depth of expertise and landmark contributions to tobacco control. IGCPR’s researchers work on sharing this expertise and establishing the capacity for product testing and biomarker research in India and other countries with high prevalence of tobacco use to support local tobacco control and tobacco use interventions. 

A key part of this effort also includes broadening and strengthening the capacity for tobacco research here at the University. IGCPR is developing a new translational exposure assessment resource which includes a new, state-of-the-art tobacco testing laboratory. This resource will support research ranging from the chemical analysis of tobacco product emissions, to studies in cells and laboratory animals, to human trials of product use, and innovative biomarkers of exposure and health outcomes. Possessing a resource like this will further foster innovative translational research by UMN tobacco researchers and will be used in training programs for global trainees.

Establishing strong global partnerships

Another way IGCPR pursues its mission is by providing seed funds to establish new partnerships in low- and middle-income countries. Currently, IGCPR is funding two seed grants that are led by University of Minnesota faculty. The first project is based in Ghana and is led by Dr. Shalini Kulasingam. The project aims to understand the barriers to and facilitators of  cervical cancer screening—what makes it difficult to access cervical cancer screening, and what makes it easier to access cervical screening. Dataa has already been collected, and researchers are currently analyzing it for publication.

The second project, led by Dr. Deanna Teoh, has just begun at the Uganda Cancer Institute in Kampala, Uganda.. Similar to Dr. Kulasingam’s project, Dr. Teoh’s  project aims to identify innovative approaches to increase cervical cancer screening for Ugandans. These approaches will not only be beneficial to everyone living in Uganda but also to many other countries and communities across the world, including immigrant communities in Minnesota.

Additionally, IGCPR is working towards establishing a research and education hub in Mumbai, India, which will serve as a resource for developing and testing new, low-cost, effective methodologies and technologies for conducting cancer prevention research. The hub will also serve as a regional resource and a training ground for researchers from other countries. 

Leading and learning with innovation is key to supporting research efforts of any kind but especially those conducted in low-resource settings. The Institute is committed to enabling deeper, systems-level change that uses systematic research, evidence-based practices, and bold policy change to prevent cancer for people across the globe. Stay tuned for updates on new research, findings, and other opportunities to connect with the Institute in the future!

UMN block M in maroon sits at the left of the words: Institute for Global Cancer Prevention Research, also in maroon

If you would like to become more involved with IGCPR, please reach out to the Operations Director, Tonya Lane at lanet@umn.edu. Information can also be found at igcpr.umn.edu.