CURE: Ten Years and Going Strong
NCI's Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) program will mark 10 years of achievements in providing training and funding opportunities for underrepresented minority investigators in cancer research at their May 7-8 professional development workshop.
"The greatest test to what we do is seeing individuals come through the CURE pipeline and find that it works," said Dr. Sanya Springfield, director of NCI's Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) and creator of CURE. "The NCI program stands out as one that other programs are trying to copy."
CURE, sponsored by NCI's Comprehensive Minority Biomedical Branch (CMBB), allocated $28.8 million in fiscal year 2006 to fund 183 research supplements, 84 F31 individual predoctoral fellowships, and 77 career development awards. Additionally, 14 P30S cancer grant supplements provide opportunities for socioeconomically disadvantaged, minority high school and undergraduate students to work with senior researchers at cancer centers.
The program has grown significantly since it began. Applications for F31 fellowships, for example, have increased from 3 to 4 in 1997 to between 90 and 100 applications in 2007. Additionally, Dr. Springfield noted, "Ten years ago, we knew of few minority investigators with R01 grants. Over the past 10 years, almost 50 minority investigators - from our career development portfolio alone - have been awarded R01 or R01-equivalent grants."
Dr. Elva Arredondo, a scientist at San Diego State University and a 2001 recipient of CURE's F31 fellowship, can attest to the program's contribution to her career. "During graduate school, the F31 fellowship was instrumental because it helped guide my graduate training and map out a career plan," she said. "The fellowship opened up many professional opportunities as it was some evidence to people that I had sought and attained funding." Dr. Arredondo's current research on cancer prevention is funded by an R21 grant. She recently applied for a minority supplement grant to use the skills she obtained from the CURE program to mentor other junior minority investigators.
For many participants, CURE's benefits go beyond funding. "I probably could have received other funding, but the CURE workshops enabled me to understand how to start my own lab and kick-start my career," said Dr. Sarki Abba Abdulkadir, associate professor of pathology and cancer biology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The workshops provided Dr. Abdulkadir with insight into what reviewers look for in a grant proposal, helping him earn his first R01 grant for prostate cancer research.
CURE addresses these issues in their workshops and senior minority investigators present their stories and struggles. According to Dr. Maria Elena Martinez, professor and co-director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the University of Arizona and a 1998 K grant recipient, "The specific topics on publishing, writing proposals and grants, and mentoring were extremely beneficial because they took the perspective of a minority investigator."
As more minority investigators go through the program, CURE will continue to expand its reach. This will include a move into CRCHD, as well as new training programs on emerging technologies and on cancer health disparities research.