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Cherokee Nation and Stephenson Cancer Center collaborative addresses impact of tobacco use

January 21, 2016

Cancer disparities continue to impact Oklahoma disproportionately as a direct result of continued tobacco use. With two, four-year grants totaling $1.5 million from the National Institutes of Health, a University of Oklahoma-led collaborative with the Cherokee Nation is addressing tobacco-related cancer disparities through a program of research, training and education for American Indian students and investigators.

Paul Spicer, professor in the Department of Anthropology, OU College of Arts and Sciences, and Sohail-Khan, director of health research at the Cherokee Nation, are developing research, training and education programs with Dr. Mark Doescher, OU Health Sciences Center, and program leader of the Cancer Health Disparities Program at the Stephenson Cancer Center. The OU and Cherokee Nation team are building on an established relationship to address persistent cancer disparities that result from tobacco use.

"The collaboration is especially exciting because it links undergraduate and graduate students from the Norman campus to an emerging tribal research program. OU leads the nation in the number of American Indian students at a Carnegie I research institution. There is real opportunity here in Oklahoma to grow tribal research as a key component of economic development," said Spicer.

The collaborative builds upon tobacco as a shared priority for both the Cherokee Nation and the Stephenson Cancer Center creating a durable affiliation with authentic tribal capacity for cancer disparities research through a broad-based program of community engagement, pilot research and training for American Indian students and new investigators who can begin to address the persistent cancer disparities that result from tobacco use.

"American Indians are diagnosed with higher rates of cancer, many associated with tobacco use, and it's a significant concern for the Cherokee Nation and tribal leadership, Khan said. "This collaboration is capable of shaping the future of health disparities research in our Native population by offering research, training and educational opportunities for Cherokee researchers involved in the project. We believe our efforts will lead to very valuable tribally-initiated, community-engaged and self-sustaining cancer research that will benefit not only our tribe, but others in the field working to understand cancer and its impacts."

The purpose of this collaboration is developing cancer disparities research capacity in Indian Country. The Cherokee Nation is the first tribe to develop a surveillance, epidemiology and end results registry and has strong anti-tobacco programs. New pilot research will provide a richer training ground for American Indian undergraduate and graduate students and new investigators committed to the Cherokee Nation training and education program developed with the Stephenson Cancer Center to collect the research.

"Our current research project provides an excellent example of how our affiliation is building collaboration between the Cherokee Nation and the Stephenson Cancer Center," said Doescher. "This study will characterize how the dual use of cigarettes and electronic cigarettes affect patterns of smoking, markers of nicotine addiction and toxicant exposure in a sample of patients receiving health care at Cherokee Nation Health Services locations. The study is led by Dr. Ashley Comiford, a Cherokee tribal member and epidemiologist; and Dr. Dorothy Rhoades, a Kiowa tribal member and Stephenson Cancer Center faculty member.

The collaborative is developing an infrastructure capable of shaping multiple research, training and education efforts between the Cherokee Nation and the Stephenson Cancer Center; conducting pilot research in tobacco use and cancer risk capable of seeding large-scale research projects at the Cherokee Nation; training the next generation of cancer researchers for the Cherokee Nation in the context of this research; and building upon these efforts to achieve sustainability for the collaboration and its efforts to address tobacco-related cancer disparities.
For more information about the "Cherokee Nation and Stephenson Cancer Center Collaborative on Cancer Disparities," contact or At the OU Health Sciences Center, contact Dr. Doescher at

University of Oklahoma

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