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Developing a Unique Resource to Overcome Cancer Disparities in African Americans

With support from NCI, Dr. Clayton Yates developed a cell line now used to study prostate cancer in African-American men.

Credit: Photo courtesy of Clayton Yates, Ph.D.

When Clayton Yates, Ph.D., was 15 years old, he lost his grandfather to prostate cancer. “He was my baseball buddy. I played, and he came to my games,” Clayton recalled. “After his death, I was determined to figure something out about prostate cancer. I had to stop it.” 

While getting his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Tuskegee University, Clayton worked in a laboratory studying prostate cancer, where the principal investigator encouraged him to become a scientist. Clayton left his home state of Alabama to earn his Ph.D. and complete his postdoctoral training. Yet, the experiences of his formative years drew him back to Alabama. He returned to Tuskegee as an assistant professor, where he has been supported through NCI’s Partnerships to Advance Cancer Health Equity (PACHE) program.

PACHE supports partnerships between institutions serving underserved health disparity–populations and students underrepresented in biomedical research and NCI-Designated Cancer Centers. Tuskegee’s PACHE partnership award is jointly shared with the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta. 

Clayton’s research efforts focused on developing cell lines from African-American men with prostate cancer to determine if there are molecular or genetic differences that contribute to aggressive prostate cancer in African Americans. These cell lines are now among the most widely used to study prostate cancer in this population. To further advance cancer disparities research, Clayton has also developed cell lines for breast, pancreatic, and colorectal cancers in African Americans.  

Clayton and his colleagues are continuing their research on prostate cancer. One activity involves a clinical trial to test therapies based on Clayton’s discovery of a biomarker called Kaiso, which has been found to predict cancer aggressiveness in African Americans. In addition, using supplemental funding to the PACHE award, Clayton is working with Nigerian scientists to dissect the role of ancestry and the impact of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on the disparities seen in African-American men with prostate cancer.  

“I can’t imagine where my career would be without NCI support,” Clayton said. “For each milestone I achieved, NCI funded it in whole or with other funders. NCI has been there every step along the way, supporting the vision to address and solve cancer disparities and achieve health equity.”

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