New Massey Research Pavilion fosters collaboration among cancer researchers

NewSOMBuilding2A new hub for cancer research known as the Massey Research Pavilion opened in April 2013 in the VCU School of Medicine’s McGlothlin Medical Education Center, a new 12-story, 200,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art building.

The Massey Research Pavilion—located on floors 11 and 12—provides 27,000-square-feet of dedicated space for VCU Massey Cancer Center’s clinical trials research, cancer prevention and control research and Division of Hematology, Oncology and Palliative Care chair, Steven Grossman, M.D., Ph.D., and his administrators. Each floor is appointed with a suite of research offices and conference rooms.

A significant portion of Massey’s clinical research enterprise is housed in the Pavilion. Along with the associate director for clinical research, Charles Geyer, Jr., M.D., F.A.C.P., and the medical director for clinical trials (currently under recruitment), Massey’s medical oncology and hematology early phase clinical investigators are located there. In addition, the Pavilion is home to many of Massey’s clinical research nurses and associates as well as clinical research regulatory staff.

The clinical research team members collaborate with other clinical investigators as well as laboratory researchers from the cancer center’s various scientific programs to develop and oversee clinical trials that reflect both the strengths of Massey’s science and the cancer burden of its patients to ultimately advance cancer treatments.

“By housing the many arms of our clinical research staff in the same building, the Pavilion allows Massey’s faculty to foster robust, collaborative research endeavors that will continue our success as Virginia’s largest provider of cancer clinical trials,” said Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Also housed in the Pavilion are the staff members supporting Massey’s Clinical Research Affiliation Network, which extends the cancer center’s promising clinical trials to its statewide clinical research affiliated-community oncology practices and hospitals. Leading the affiliation network is Khalid Matin, M.D., F.A.C.P., Massey’s newly appointed medical director of community oncology and clinical research affiliations.

Space is also available in the Pavilion for planned recruitments in cancer prevention and control research. Cancer prevention and control researchers at Massey study the behavioral, policy, organizational and environmental factors that affect cancer risk, diagnosis, treatment and survival. This research includes community- and patient-based initiatives aimed at educating, raising public awareness and informing decisions that are critical to prevent and control cancer.

Additionally, in the basement of the McGlothlin Medical Education Center is room reserved for shared resource equipment to support multiple Massey research projects.

The Pavilion was made possible by generous donors. To date, more than $4 million in philanthropic funds has been raised to support it. Recently, the Mary Morton Parsons Foundation committed a $1 million grant that challenges Massey to raise $2 million in matching funds by May 2014. Another recent gift was committed by C.T. Hill, a longtime member of the Massey Community Advisory Board and co-chair of the Research for Life Campaign, and his wife, Moria. The Hills’ $250,000 gift has been recognized with the naming of a conference room in their honor.

“Thanks to our generous donors, the Massey Research Pavilion will allow our staff to continue pushing forward Massey’s mission to alleviate the suffering and death caused by cancer,” said Ginder. “We are incredibly fortunate to have a community of donors that understands the long-term payoff for investing in this kind of resource.”

Cancer prevention and control a commitment at Massey

Preventing and controlling cancer are two key elements in eradicating it. Studies have shown that with the right approaches, a third of the most common cancers could be prevented. Prevention is also the most cost-effective and sustainable way of reducing the global cancer burden long term. Other cancers can be detected early in their development, treated and cured. Even with late-stage cancer, the pain can be reduced, the progression of the cancer slowed and patients and their families helped to cope. The Cancer Prevention and Control (CPC) research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center brings together a diverse group of health services and behavioral scientists with clinicians to study behavioral, policy, organizational and environmental factors that affect cancer risk, diagnosis, treatment and survival.

The CPC program is currently leading many community- and patient-based initiatives aimed at educating and raising awareness to prevent and control cancer. The following are a few recent examples.

Interactive audiovisual tool developed to educate communities about cancer screenings

Despite continued advances in cancer research, detection and treatment, there are still significant disparities in patient knowledge of healthy behaviors, screening guidelines and resources available. The Community Engagement Educational Program (CEEP), led by VCU Massey CPC researcher Arpita Aggarwal, M.S., M.D., recognized those disparities in the Piedmont and Mount Rogers health districts of Virginia and identified a need for community-based resources for preventive health education.

CEEP developed an educational program, in partnership with the two districts, to test a culturally and linguistically appropriate computer-based interactive audiovisual tool for recommended preventative cancer screening that will be used by community facilitators. The tool includes tutorials on cancer risk behaviors and recommended screening guidelines for cervical, breast, colorectal, prostate and skin cancers. The audio-visual component was designed to benefit participants with limited health literacy and reading or visual problems. The interactive tool is currently being tested in over 400 participants in 20 towns of the two health districts.

“In addition to increasing health awareness in our partnering communities,” said Aggarwal, “our long-term goal is to build community capacity and sustainability by developing local leaders and training community facilitators. This community-academic partnership has been designed to serve as a model for other institutions on how to build and sustain a community that can address its own health needs and concerns, especially in the underserved and disparate populations.”

Project LIFE! puts faith in churches to influence healthy behavior

In early 2013, the American Cancer Society released a report revealing that cancer death rates are significantly higher among African Americans than Caucasians. Decreasing this disparity was one of the objectives behind Project LIFE! (Lord, Intimate relationships, Fitness, and Early detection), which utilizes the power and influence of the African-American church to become a partner in addressing this major health concern.

“Our goal is to evaluate the impact on the behaviors of congregants when their church adopts a ‘health and wholeness’ pledge to practice and promote healthy behaviors,” said project lead and VCU Massey CPC researcher Maghboeba Mosavel, M.A., Ph.D.

Project LIFE! is currently active in three churches in Danville and Pittsylvania, Virginia. Eleven congregants were trained to serve as LIFE! coaches to spread health promotion messages and host tailored activities aimed at increasing healthy behaviors and promoting early detection for cancer.

LIFE! coach, Linda Kelly, from the Shockoe Missionary Baptist Church said, “As a Project LIFE! coach, I myself have changed a lot…Because of Project LIFE!, I pushed my husband to have a repeat colonoscopy and guess what they found? A precancerous polyp was found, that if left unattended could have developed into cancer. The doctor said it was the type of polyp that can become cancerous. So, thank God for my spirituality and for Project LIFE!”

“Once Project LIFE! is complete, the expected outcome is that there will be an increased knowledge of cancer screening resources; increase in screening; and more integration of healthy practices within the church,” said Mosavel.

Instructional videos teach patients about their cancer treatments

Cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy (RT), can be overwhelming and hard to understand. With that in mind, VCU Massey CPC researcher Robin K. Matsuyama, Ph.D., and Massey Radiation Biology and Oncology researcher Drew Moghanaki, M.P.H., M.D., developed a short video explaining the process of RT in simple terms in hopes of making the patients more knowledgeable and, in turn, more comfortable.

The researchers conducted a pilot study with cancer patients who had not yet received an initial RT consultation. Patient knowledge of cancer and treatment were assessed before and after viewing the video using surveys like the Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine, a screening instrument used to assess an adult patient’s ability to read common medical words.

The researchers found that awareness of RT was very poor before viewing the video, regardless of sociodemographic factors (such as age, gender, ethnicity, income and education), with more than 78 percent of patients having little to no basic knowledge of RT.

After viewing the film “Guide to Radiation Therapy,” which combines educational material with patient narratives, knowledge of RT significantly improved.

“While patients may ultimately learn about RT during their course of treatment, we advocate for tools that can improve patient knowledge at the time of initial consultation, as this is typically the time they are asked to provide informed consent for treatment,” explained Matsuyama.

Matsuyama and her team are continuing to develop a series of cancer patient education films, including instructional videos about stem cell transplants and breast reconstruction.