Science Talk – #BlackinCancer: Reaching the communities most affected by prostate cancer


Image: Dr Michael Ranes is Co-Chair of the Forum Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (REACH) and Senior Scientific Officer in the Structural Biology of Cell Signaling team.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in the UK and it is not clear why some men, including black men, are at higher risk.

The PROFILE study, led by Professor Ros Eeles, Professor of Oncogenetics at ICR, aims to fill this knowledge gap by examining the genes of healthy high-risk men, including native men. African or Caribbean, to determine if genetic information can better target who needs prostate cancer screening.

But black men are an underserved group in medical research, and the recruitment of black men into the study was slow. The team knew they needed to do more to engage with black men and ensure they had the opportunity to participate.

For advice, the researchers consulted with members of the Forum Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (REACH) men’s group. Together they co-created a prostate cancer risk awareness video within their communities and promote participation in the study.

The participation project was led by Dr Emma Hainsworth and funded by a patient and public participation and engagement grant from NIHR Biomedical Research Center of Royal Marsden and ICR.

We spoke to Dr Michael Ranes who participated in the project as a member of the REACH Forum Men’s Group. He is also co-chair of the REACH Forum and Senior Scientific Officer in the Structural Biology of Cell Signaling team.

Why is it important to involve black communities in this research?

The PROFILE study did not focus exclusively on black men, but prostate cancer is indeed more common in people of African or Caribbean descent. This is why we need to make sure that these communities are involved in the studies from the start so that this research can benefit those most affected.

When Dr Emma Hainsworth contacted me and other members of the Forum Race, Ethnicity and Cultural Heritage (REACH) men’s group, we were happy to see that the need for this involvement was recognized.

Numerous clinical trials have skewed a more homogeneous white demographics and we’ve seen how this can negatively impact black communities and other ethnic groups. Reflecting the diversity of our communities is essential for developing more equitable cancer treatment and care.

What challenges have led to the under-representation of black communities in research?

It is complex and there are many systemic and long-standing issues ranging from lack of access to care to discrimination. The Covid pandemic has exposed many of these disparities and their devastating impact on racialized communities. There is a certain level of apprehension about participating in clinical trials and research, as black people have a long history of medical abuse. However, many of these issues are still relevant today, from the way systems are set up to daily racism.

Certain diseases also have cultural stigmas, in particular prostate cancer. I know, speaking with my family in the Caribbean, that some people still have a misconception about prostate cancer screenings, which can include genetic testing or rectal exams. We need to work with these communities to counter these misconceptions and build confidence in showing the benefits of participating in research.

What were some of the key messages the men in the group wanted to convey?

One of the key messages was not to talk just about the individual. Prostate cancer isn’t just about you, it affects your children, your family and your community and we wanted to tap into that bigger picture. It’s about shifting the idea of ​​doing it for yourself to doing it for others. It’s also about bringing family members together to encourage the men in their lives to get checked out and start these conversations.

What was the rationale for filming the video in a hair salon?

Afro-Caribbean hair salons are well-known community centers. The place I go is always a lively atmosphere with people talking about all kinds of things – football, politics and music.

During the discussions with the men of the PROFILE study and the REACH Forum, we wanted to recreate a familiar framework where there is a shared link and in an environment where we can talk freely about these things.

The tendency with men is that we don’t open up, especially if you come from a certain cultural background. You are more careful with your feelings and it is difficult to bring up difficult topics. This is part of the reason why we created the REACH Men group to create a space for these conversations and why we thought the barber shop was the right setting for the video.

Why did you choose to get involved in this project?

The main reason was that eight years ago my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fortunately, he was detected early thanks to screening and he was able to undergo surgery. My father is alive today thanks to prostate cancer screening. So I want to do whatever I can to help research and encourage others to get tested.

Why is diversity in cancer research important?

Diversity is essential to cancer research – it improves our science. Diversity in science gives us a wider range of ideas and approaches to problem solving.

And it’s not just about what you learned in college. There is a deeper level of understanding that comes from your culture, gender, background, and experiences. This has an impact on who you are as a researcher and how you approach your research. What we want is to bring together the best people, but also the best people from a wide range of backgrounds who offer different skills and perspectives.

There has been a lack of diversity, with a massive under-representation of black scientists in cancer research. We have seen progress in recent years, but much remains to be done, especially to reach the upper levels of faculty and management, and place diversity at the heart of scientific excellence at IC and beyond. .

We are hosting an online workshop on Thursday October 21 to provide information, advice and guidance on the ICR PhD application process.

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Can you tell us about your research?

I am a biochemist by training and I joined the ICR as a postdoctoral researcher in structural biology of cell signaling in 2014 because I was also very interested in structural biology techniques as a new way of approaching scientific questions.

One of these key questions was the Wnt / β-catenin signaling pathway, which is important for cellular processes. This pathway is also strongly mutated in cancer, 90% of colorectal cancers have mutations in it.

Although the course has been well studied, it is incredibly dynamic and difficult to disentangle. My most recent project focused on recreating part of this process in a test tube to understand a mechanism that leads to cancer development. We now have a system to test the operation of the various components.

It also means that it is possible to examine how this complex responds to different pharmacological strategies that may help us discover better ways to treat cancer.

The PROFILE study is currently recruiting men aged 40 to 69 who are at increased risk of prostate cancer, including men of African or Afro-Caribbean descent, men with genetic mutations known to increase their risk, and men with genetic mutations known to increase their risk. men of European descent with a positive family history. prostate cancer. The PROFILE study is seeking more black men to participate in the study to help us improve the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer in black men in the future.

For more information, please visit the PROFIL study page. You can contact the PROFILE study team by phone on 0208 722 4483 or by email at [email protected]

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