Penn Medicine-Led Research Team Awarded $2.9 Million to Study Heart Disease and Cancer in Black and Hispanic Communities

bonnie ky
Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE

PHILADELPHIA— The Cardio-Oncology Translational Center of Excellence at Penn Medicine has been awarded $2.9 million by the American Heart Association as part of a larger effort to reduce disparities in cardio-oncology and increase understanding of cardiovascular disease among cancer patients and survivors from minority populations. As part of this newly established research program, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions will study patients with breast or prostate cancer, the most common cancers in women and men, respectively, with a focus on Black and Hispanic communities.

Nearly half of the approximately 17 million cancer survivors today have battled either breast or prostate cancer, and Black and Hispanic patients with these cancers are at an increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Bonnie Ky, MD, MSCE, the Founders Associate Professor of Cardio-oncology, scientific director of the Thalheimer Center for Cardio-Oncology, and Director of the Penn cardio-oncology translational center of excellence in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is leading the study as primary investigator.

“This award opens up a whole new area of research in cardio-oncology, where there has been a dearth of evidence,” Ky said. “It is time to more fully address disparities in healthcare in cardio-oncology. With this research we hope to understand why Black and Hispanic patients are disproportionately impacted by cardiovascular disease—and what additional measures we can take to overcome this.”

With this funding over the next four years, the team of about 30 researchers nationwide will work to increase physical activity among high-risk breast and prostate cancer survivors and improve health. Through basic and clinical research, they will also assess how genetics, socioeconomic status and environment affect a person’s heart health, and determine whether these relationships differ according to race.

In addition, the research team plans to build a training curriculum on race and disparities with a focus on building empathy, cultural humility, and competency among trainees in cardiology and oncology. As part of this initiative, researchers will partner with Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, the nation’s largest, private, historically Black academic health sciences center, to develop a medical student summer program that will help build the next generation of diverse physician-scientists and leaders in cardio-oncology.

“Ultimately we hope to define how the sociologic construct of race and genomic ancestry are associated with and determine cardiotoxicity in breast and prostate cancer,” said Kevin Volpp, MD, PhD, director of the Penn Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics, who is co-leading the Population Science portion of the project. “Using a range of innovative approaches like gamification and digital health, we want to deliver new ways to bridge disparities in care in historically underserved Black and Hispanic cancer survivors.”

With Ky at the helm, this initiative’s leadership team also includes, Clyde Yancy, MD, MSc, aprofessor of Medicine, chief of Cardiology, and vice dean of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and associate director of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Joseph Wu, MD, PhD, director of the Stanford Cardiovascular Institute; and Saro Armenian, DO, MPH, director of the Center for Cancer Survivorship and Outcomes at City of Hope.

The initiative is uniquely positioned for success because of its connection to experts at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, which is continuously leading research and clinical trials to push boundaries in treating cancer.

“These efforts are an important part of a continued focus on racial disparities in cancer for Penn Medicine and the Abramson Cancer Center,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the Abramson Cancer Center. “More equitable care and improved health for minority communities is the goal. And with our unmatched expertise and commitment, the Penn team, along with institutional partners, are poised to give us a better understanding of cardio-oncology risks and care to help get there.”