Keck RESPOND initiative to research prostate cancer in African Americans

The Keck School of Medicine of USC has announced the launch of an initiative called RESPOND, a new research study on prostate cancer among men of African descent.

RESPOND will examine the underlying factors, including genetics and social stressors, that contribute to higher risk of prostate cancer development among African American men. The National Institute of Health will fund 96 percent of the study, with the Prostate Cancer Foundation funding the other 4 percent. The grant for the study totals $26.5 million altogether.

African American men are twice as likely to develop lethal forms of prostate cancer, but medical experts aren’t quite sure why, according to Christopher Haiman, RESPOND’s principal investigator and professor of preventive medicine at Keck.

Haiman is one of six researchers from USC on the RESPOND team, alongside Ann Hamilton, David Conti, David Craig, John Carpten and William Gauderman. Twelve other institutions are also participating in the study, including Emory University, Johns Hopkins University, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of California, San Francisco.

“It’s a health disparity that needs to be addressed,” Haiman said, according to a press release. “Considerable money, time and effort has gone into studies in men of European ancestry; it is time for a large-scale effort devoted to men of African ancestry.”

Starting in September, researchers hope to recruit 10,000 African American men with prostate cancer over the next five years. Participants will be asked to complete a survey, provide a saliva sample and allow researchers to access to tumor tissue. The survey will largely consist of questions regarding social stressors in the participants’ daily lives such as education level, socioeconomic status and discrimination.

According to the press release, researchers hope to determine whether stress plays a role in the development and severity of this type of cancer. The findings of this study will also support more effective methods of preventing and treating the disease in African American men.

“We plan to look at variations in DNA that are associated with prostate cancer overall and, more importantly, for aggressive forms of prostate cancer that are lethal,” Haiman said in the press release. “These genetic markers will ultimately help us to identify men in future generations who are at high and low risk for prostate cancer.”