Laura A. Siminoff, Ph.D., Theresa A. Thomas Memorial Foundation Chair and associate director for cancer prevention and control at Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center, was recently awarded two multi-million dollar grants to study how communication affects specific cancer outcomes.
Communication between patients and caregivers
The first grant is awarded by the National Cancer Institute and offers more than $3.4 million over five years to support Siminoff’s study to assess whether communication between cancer patients and their family caregivers is an important and independent factor in specific cancer care outcomes, such as economic outcomes, quality of life and decisional outcomes.
“Our study will primarily focus on adult patients with hematological malignances (cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma that affect the blood, bone marrow and lymph nodes), because these cancers have been steadily increasing in the United States and, despite this increase, their social and psychological challenges and outcomes have not been adequately studied,” Siminoff says. “Hematological cancers are also particularly challenging due to their chronicity and are often the most costly in terms of productivity loss due to premature death.”
Her study will follow 250 pairs of employed cancer patients and their family caregivers over a two-year period to assess how they communicate about treatment and care decisions and how their way of communicating leads to specific psychosocial, economic and healthcare outcomes.
“We aim to see how the communication between patients and their caregivers is associated with short- or long-term outcomes, as well as to examine if there are certain characteristics that are associated with decreased levels of cancer communication,” adds Siminoff.
Communication with families of the deceased about donating tissue for medical research
The second grant was awarded by the National Institutes of Health and provides more than $1.6 million over three years. The grant will help support Siminoff’s work with the Genotype-Tissue Expression Project (GTEx). GTEx collects tissues from postmortem donors to study gene expression and its relationship to disease. Every donor is genotyped and the end result will be a comprehensive biobank and database available to researchers. The aim of GTEx is to increase our understanding of how changes in our genes contribute to common human diseases, including cancer, in order to improve health care for future generations.
Researchers from all over the globe are participating in the GTEx project. Siminoff’s involvement includes co-designing and co-conducting the Ethical, Legal and Social Implications (ELSI) sub-study that specifically examines the process of obtaining informed consent from the families of deceased potential donors.
“After a loved one’s death, it is a very stressful, grief-filled time. We hope to identify the optimal way for health care staff to explain to family members of the deceased the importance of donating while being sensitive to their situation,” says Siminoff.