A partnership for a cure

A partnership for a cure

Cancer Collaborative project brings together faculty, students from nearby institutions

Graduate student Janine Gilkes works alongside Professor Edith 

Graduate student Janine Gilkes ’08 works alongside Professor Edith Porter in the lab, where they are studying whether antimicrobial lipids exhibit anticancer activity. Gilkes and Porter, and nearly 40 other faculty and students from Cal State L.A. and the City of Hope, were partnered through the Cancer Collaborative project.

In nearly 40 years of working in health care, Assistant Professor Ming Fang Wang ’96 MSN, had done most everything. She had practiced nursing, worked in hospital administration and taught future health providers.

Her one area of least experience, she says, was research.

That changed, though, when Wang took advantage of a unique opportunity to participate in the Cancer Collaborative Project. Over the last two years, she has participated in a pilot project examining cultural health behaviors and their related effects on the treatment of Chinese, Korean and Hispanic breast cancer survivors.

“I am kind of proud of myself,” Wang said, emphasizing that she had never intended on becoming involved with research, but was intrigued by this project.

“I learned a lot, and in a different respect,” she added. “There were many aspects—collaboration, working with students, interacting with the community and the research.”

Wang was among more than 30 faculty members at Cal State L.A. and City of Hope who came together in the multifaceted, four-year Cancer Collaborative partnership. With the focus on cancer research and training, experienced faculty researchers, junior faculty and students were matched to explore disparities in research and treatment, and gain laboratory expertise.

“I am ecstatic about the progress that has been made,” said Cal State L.A. Professor and co-principal investigator Jamil Momand. “This project is an example of what can be done through collaboration—how being flexible can expand our horizon and lead to interesting new findings and results.”

Momand points to significant discoveries and insights at the molecular and data collection level developed from the project. Not to mention the dozens of individuals—faculty and students—who, never previously involved in cancer research, are now committed to working toward better treatment.

Wang and her research partners, for instance, discovered through their interviews with survivors that support after treatment was something many breast cancer survivors, especially in the Chinese community, felt was lacking. They hope to address that issue by developing a pilot support group system for breast cancer survivors in that community.

“They are looking for a community support system for knowledge, skills and to answer questions,” Wang said.

Co-principal investigator, City of Hope Professor Susan Kane said that she could not have expected more from the faculty pilot projects, and is thrilled to see that faculty want to continue their research and the collaboration.

“I think from our perspective, we have opened a new avenue,” Kane said. “My hope now is that our folks who are actually doing disparities research and epidemiology…have a new partner in Cal State L.A.”

It was not just faculty who were emboldened to explore a new path, however. Many students who had no prior interest in the area of cancer research, have now discovered a love for the field, they said.

“I really enjoy the work that I am doing,” said graduate student Janine Gilkes ’08. ”I like that there is a potential for the work to impact so many lives.” Gilkes’ part in the project was to study whether antimicrobial lipids also exhibit anticancer activity in the labs of Kane and Cal State L.A. Professor Edith Porter. After this research is complete, she hopes to pursue other research opportunities in this area.

“I think if you fully enjoy something and it has the impact to affect a lot of people, then it would be wrong for you not to pursue it,” Gilkes explained.