Franklin Huang, above, conceived of the new Disparities Research Seminar Series, and heads its leadership team. Photo by Sam Ogden

Upcoming Seminars

All sessions run from 5 pm to 6 pm in Yawkey 307/308

April 3: Jennifer Rider, ScD, MPH (Boston University School of Public Health); Quoc-Dien Trinh, MD (Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center)

May 1Tracy Battaglia, MD, MPH (Boston Medical Center); Corrie Painter, PhD (Broad Institute)

June 5Christopher Lathan, MD, MPH (Dana-Farber); Ted James, MD (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center)


As scientists and clinicians nationwide focus on cancer disparities and inequities, Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) has created an opportunity for Boston-area institutions studying these challenges to learn from each other in an eclectic, multidisciplinary environment.

The Disparities Research Seminar Series, which debuted earlier this month in the Yawkey Conference Center, features speakers from a broad spectrum of oncology backgrounds sharing their progress in the field. Although the series will include some formal presentations, leaders say the emphasis is on casually exchanging knowledge and best practices across disciplines. In addition to Dana-Farber and other DF/HCC members, representatives from Boston Medical Center, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and other area institutions are expected to take part in the sessions – which are scheduled for the first Tuesday of each month (see box).

“This is an opportunity for people to hear about different aspects of research, both from inside and outside their field of study, and then to unite and collaborate around it,” says Franklin Huang, MD, PhD, of Medical Oncology, who conceived of the series and heads its leadership team. “Past cancer disparities work has been largely epidemiologic in nature, examining the causes, distribution, and control of disease, but many of us are also studying it from a basic science and molecular level. We want to bridge that gap so everyone is talking to each other.”

This was the case at the first session, where the featured speakers were Huang and Tim Rebbeck, PhD, of Dana-Farber and the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard. Both are experts in prostate cancer and have studied the higher incidence of the disease in men of African descent. But while Huang centered his talk on how genomics influence prostate cancer risk and outcomes for this group, Rebbeck tackled the topic from a multi-level perspective that included genomics as well as other factors (like the neighborhood one lives in) as precursors to disparities.

“The questions we received came at the topic from all different sides, which is just what we hoped for,” says Rebbeck, who joins Huang on the series’ leadership group along with Rachel Freedman, MD, MPH; Christopher Lathan, MD, MPH; Paul Nguyen, MD; and Quoc-Dien Trinh, MD. “Some people were intrigued by the genomics and biological basis of the disparity, others were interested in the concept of ethnicity and race, and how people self-identify, and some had questions about how this kind of work can be translated back into communities. Even though we’re all coming at the topic from different disciplines and perspectives, we found a lot of commonalities.”

Freedman, for one, feels that the first session met its goals of inclusivity and collaboration.

“Despite the fact several faculty members at Dana-Farber are doing work in disparities, we often spend our day-to-day research lives without knowing what others are working on, struggling with, and having successes in,” says Freedman. “This seminar allows us to come together.”

Huang says he hopes that in addition to positive discourse, the series will eventually come to serve as a forum for the Boston cancer disparities research community and connect with other similarly-focused DF/HCC groups such as the Cancer Equity and Engagement Initiative at Dana-Farber.

“It’s an opportunity to have a broader view of the multicultural facets of disparities, may it be access to care, clinical beliefs, genetic differences, or others,” says Trinh. “The eclectic audience highlights the importance of disparities for all Dana-Farber stakeholders.”

- Saul Wisnia

This story first appeared on DFCI Online, the staff intranet site for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.