New Winship Center to Promote Cancer Health Equity Research

Monday, July 31st, 2023

A new center at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University will focus research efforts on eliminating cancer disparities in Georgia and nationwide. Gifts from the Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation and Southern Company are launching the Winship Center for Cancer Health Equity Research.

Winship Cancer Institute and other leading scientific institutions are making major advancements in understanding cancers, but research findings do not benefit everyone equally. While differences in access to care are known to contribute to cancer disparities, targeted research is needed to define other factors that drive inferior outcomes for certain groups of patients.

Cancer disparities include increased risk and incidence, a dearth of preventive screenings and health care services, and lower survival rates. Such differences have been reported in groups defined by race/ethnicity, disability, gender identity, geographic location, income, education, age, sexual orientation and national origin, among other characteristics. Social determinants of health also play a role. These include poverty, food insecurity and lack of safe housing, transportation and health insurance.

The Winship Center for Cancer Health Equity Research will address these gaps by examining biological, behavioral and social factors affecting cancer development, risk and response to therapy; funding new studies; strengthening collaborations; and improving representation in clinical trial participation.

Theresa Gillespie, PhD, Winship’s associate director for community outreach and engagement


“Our vision and charge are to reduce the burden of cancer throughout all of Georgia. We have a golden opportunity. The time is right to have a center like this, so that we can make a real impact in terms of the lack of equity in cancer health outcomes,” says Theresa Gillespie, PhD. As Winship’s associate director for community outreach and engagement, Gillespie is the architect of the new center.

In Georgia, about one-third of counties — 51 of 159 — experience “persistent poverty,” according to a 2022 report by the Congressional Research Service. This term means that the poverty rate has been at least 20 percent for the past 30 years as measured by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“Persistent poverty creates problems with access across the board, and, as a consequence, Georgia has a high cancer burden,” Gillespie says. “We have high rates of cancer and poorer survival in many instances. We also have huge rates for cancer risks and a compelling need to promote greater cancer screening. Obesity rates and smoking rates are quite high in Georgia, and the rate of HPV vaccination is low.” Because infection with human papillomavirus has been linked to several types of cancer, the HPV vaccine is used as a preventive measure.

The Winship Center for Cancer Health Equity Research will initially prioritize the six cancers that represent the greatest cancer burden and contribute to significant disparities in Georgia: multiple myeloma and lung, breast, prostate, colorectal and pancreatic cancers. The center’s research will target vulnerable populations in Georgia with the most serious cancer disparities: Black patients, Hispanic patients of any race, women, rural residents and Georgians living with HIV. Later, the center will add more areas of focus, including Asian Americans, LGBTQ+ people and other vulnerable groups and expand beyond the state to facilitate national impact.

The center will differ from most other national initiatives focused on cancer disparities. By intentionally incorporating varied perspectives — from the community, patients, providers and disciplines across the continuum of cancer research — teams will focus on the intersection of factors that influence cancer disparities. The purpose is to study underlying causes of cancer disparities, including basic science mechanisms, and design creative approaches to reduce them. The center also will promote cancer screenings, encourage clinical trial enrollment of underrepresented minorities and underserved patients, and collaborate with Emory Healthcare and rural health systems to disseminate evidence-based interventions that improve patient outcomes.

Rather than addressing different aspects of cancer disparities in isolation by subspecialty, collaborative teams will combine the knowledge of basic, translational, clinical and population scientists with that of policy experts, health economists and community stakeholders. All research questions and potential interventions will include the viewpoints of patients and providers.

Winship Executive Director Suresh S. Ramalingam, MD, has designated research addressing equity in cancer care and outcomes among Winship’s priorities for support during Emory’s 2O36 fundraising campaign.

“Winship has a long history of working toward more equitable cancer health outcomes, and this strategic focus will accelerate our efforts in significant ways,” he says. “As the centerpiece, the Winship Center for Cancer Health Equity Research will work to identify and develop strategies to overcome disparities in cancer prevention, detection, treatment and survivorship so all Georgians have an equal opportunity to lead healthy lives.”

Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is the only NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the state of Georgia, providing care for nearly 17,000 new patients each year. To support the work of the Winship Center for Cancer Health Equity Research, contact Vicki Riedel, assistant vice president for advancement, at [email protected].