UArizona researcher awarded $1.3 million to study lifestyle interventions in American Indian cancer patients

A University of Arizona Cancer Center researcher was awarded a $1.3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the effectiveness of lifestyle interventions in American Indian patients with obesity-related solid tumor cancers who are preparing for surgery.

According to principal investigator Jennifer Erdrich, MD, MPH, there are 13 cancer subtypes linked to obesity that account for 40% of all cancers diagnosed annually in the United States.

American Indian and Alaska Native populations are more than 1.5 times more likely to be obese than the general population and have some of the lowest cancer survival rates in the nation. Many factors influence this elevated risk including poverty, nontraditional foods, related adverse social determinants of health and physical inactivity.

Dr. Erdrich, UArizona Cancer Center member, assistant professor in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson's Department of Surgery and surgical oncologist in the Division of General Surgery said, "There has recently been a paradigm shift where we are interested in how we can improve the health of patients prior to surgery so the shock of recovery is not as great."

Earlier studies have shown that using preoperative time to improve patients' health has shown significant results in cancer patients with obesity-related inflammation. This will be the first study to focus on American Indian populations.

"There is a short window of opportunity, about three weeks, when these preoperative measures could improve inflammatory biomarkers in American Indian cancer patients and potentially improve patient outcomes," said Dr. Erdrich, who provides general surgical oncology care to tribal populations throughout southern Arizona and specializes in melanoma, sarcoma and breast cancers.

Her project, "Nutrition and Exercise Prehabilitation Intervention on Inflammatory Biomarkers in American Indian Cancer Patients," will finalize, adapt and implement a prehabilitation translational clinical trial for American Indian patients with obesity-related solid tumor cancers who are preparing for surgery. She said that most importantly, the study does not delay care for patients.

Dr. Erdrich, a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, developed a clinical and research interest in serving tribal populations after witnessing disparities in Native American health care, especially in the areas of surgical care and cancer treatment.

The research being done at the Cancer Center has the potential to help Indigenous people living not only in southern Arizona, but all over the United States. We're fortunate to have such a talented scientist as Dr. Erdrich on our team; it's important to invest in researchers like her. They're the innovators that will lead the next generation."

Joann Sweasy, PhD, UArizona Cancer Center Director

The NCI Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08) given to Dr. Erdrich provides support and protected time to postdoctoral and non-tenured junior clinician-scientists who are practicing clinicians in the United States for intensive mentored research and career development activities in basic, translational and patient-oriented cancer-focused research.

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