Virginia Residents Asked to Partner in Research to Reduce Cancer

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VCU Massey Cancer Center and Virginia-Based Health Technology Company, Vibrent Health, Launch Together for Health-Virginia to Improve Cancer Prevention Efforts in the Commonwealth

“We need the help of community members and citizen collaborators to tell us about their behaviors and how they engage with health information so we can learn and discover better ways to promote health and well-being in their local communities,” says Dr. Bernard Fuemmeler.

VCU Massey Cancer Center and Fairfax, Virginia-based health technology company Vibrent Health are asking citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia to partner in cancer research to identify and address health needs in their own communities. The project, called Together for Health – Virginia, is a comprehensive health assessment program designed to better understand how social and behavioral patterns as well as financial and environmental factors impact cancer rates. Information from this research will help to improve health care practices and services within communities.

“This is an opportunity for residents to partner with their local National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center on a research program aimed at improving health in the communities that need it most,” says Bernard Fuemmeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate director for cancer prevention and control and Gordon D. Ginder, M.D., Chair in Cancer Research at Massey as well as a professor in the Department of Health Behavior and Policy at the VCU School of Medicine. “The effort really gets to the heart of Massey’s mission by conducting research that makes an impact at the local level.”

VCU Massey Cancer Center plans to enroll 2,000 or more Virginians ages 18 years and older in the program. Researchers will reach out to residents in Virginia at community events and by disseminating messages via social media platforms. The program can be accessed through a mobile app developed by Vibrent Health, the creators of the consumer-facing technology platform for the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us Research Program—a separate, nationwide research effort to accelerate medical breakthroughs across a range of health conditions. The Together for Health – Virginia app is available at the Apple App Store and Google Play (by searching Together for Health – Virginia) or online at Together for Health – Virginia. Participation in the survey is completely voluntary.

“We are honored to be working with the VCU Massey Cancer Center on this important research to benefit the future of health in Virginia,” said Vibrent Health CEO Praduman “PJ” Jain. “Through our other work with the NIH we are well equipped to rapidly ramp up this program to its full scale. Our goal is to help accelerate health research by enabling a trusted partnership between participants and researchers and providing access to data they need quickly.”

Participants will be asked to engage with researchers over the course of a year, providing researchers with access to behavioral and social data. By downloading the mobile app, participants can answer questionnaires online and have the option of sharing data from their fitness tracker. Only VCU researchers conducting the study will have access to the data, which will be stored in a secured registry.

“Security and privacy are of the utmost importance to us,” said Jain. “We keep participant-provided information secure and confidential by using cyber-safe technologies certified to the most stringent standards defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.”

Data collected through the Together for Health – Virginia research program will be used to guide Massey in targeting community outreach and education efforts addressing health behaviors such as tobacco cessation, obesity/weight management, HPV vaccination, cancer screening and early detection. It will also serve to identify causes of cancer disparities across the state, by examining the impacts of financial barriers, health literacy, access to health care services and medical mistrust. Results will be shared with state and local agencies to guide programs aimed at improving health in the Commonwealth.

“We need the help of community members and citizen collaborators to tell us about their behaviors and how they engage with health information so we can learn and discover better ways to promote health and well-being in their local communities,” says Fuemmeler, who is also collaborating with Massey Cancer Prevention and Control research members David Wheeler, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biostatistics, and Sunny Jung Kim, Ph.D., M.S., M.A., assistant professor in the VCU Department of Health Behavior and Policy. “The programs that we implement will only be effective if we have a deep grasp of all the factors that impact cancer risk, so it’s important that participants in the program represent all of the diverse populations living in Virginia.”

Massey is one of the only safety-net cancer centers in Virginia, meaning that it treats all patients regardless of their health insurance coverage or ability to pay for treatment. As such, Massey plays an important role as a cancer care provider for high-risk and underserved populations, uninsured and Medicaid patients.

Vibrent Health provides digital health technology tools for precision medicine for health organizations, researchers and research participants, and serves as the Participant Technology Systems Center for the NIH All of Us Research Program.

Together for Health – Virginia is funded by a supplement to Massey’s National Cancer Institute Cancer Support Grant of more than $225,000.

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Pearson Brown

John Wallace
VCU Massey Cancer Center
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