Announcement of 2023 ChicagoCHEC Catalyst & Incubator Grant Recipients

The ChicagoCHEC Catalyst & Incubator Grant Program is pleased to announce its 2023 grant recipients. Both investigative teams have proposed novel approaches to addressing cancer disparities and are devoted to advancing cancer health equity through cross-collaboration, high-quality research and unwavering dedication to training and education. It is anticipated that all projects supported by the ChicagoCHEC Catalyst & Incubator Grant Program expand to become larger, long-term projects.

Project 1: The role of structural racism in adult AML outcomes and disparities

Partnership Team

University of Illinois Chicago

Garth Rauscher, PhD, Associate Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, School of Public Health

Anne-Marie Murphy, PhD, School of Public Health

Northwestern University

Irum Khan, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine

Northeastern Illinois University

Hardik Marfatia, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Economics

Community Partner: Equal Hope

Sarah Lomahan, MPH


Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a hematologic cancer that mainly affects adults and has a generally poor prognosis, with death resulting either from complications of treatment or from the disease itself. Racial and ethnic disparities in survival from AML are not well understood. Aspects of where patients live and have lived historically could influence AML survival disparities. Differences in residential proximity to health care, sources of healthy food, green space, pollution, or living in impoverished neighborhoods with high levels of chronic stress, could be markers of structural racism that might influence AML survival. In order to best understand the role of structural racism on AML disparities we need to measure exposures historically so that we can account for the long latency of cancers such as AML. Therefore we will link measures of structural racism to patients’ residential histories and define cumulative, time-weighted exposure measures. By doing so, we can account for moves over time and changes in neighborhoods over time. Finally, using a mixed methods approach we will connect our findings to the burdens and barriers that patients experience. Our project includes two junior investigators with detailed career development plans that build off of the proposed study, and mentoring of an internal medicine resident. Our work will strengthen collaborations across the three academic institutions and a cancer disparities focused community-embedded non-profit organization, inform future translational studies linking specific aspects of structural racism to disease pathogenesis,

and inform resource allocation and targeted interventions to overcome the widening Black-White AML survival disparity.

Project 2: Targeting chronic stress for colorectal cancer risk reduction: a pilot feasibility study among vulnerable at-risk Black females

Partnership Team:

University of Illinois Chicago

Alana Biggers, MD, MS

Assistant Professor, Division of Academic Internal Medicine, Department of Medicine

Lisa Tussing-Humphreys, PhD, RD

Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition, College of Applied Health Sciences

Keith Naylor, MD, MS

Assistant Professor, Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Department of Medicine

Northwestern University

Betina Yanez, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Medical Social Sciences

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center

Northeastern Illinois University

Emily Booms, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Biology

Community Partner – Wellness House

Maigenete Mengesha, PhD

Director of Cancer Health Equity, Wellness House


Chronic stress can directly and indirectly promote carcinogenesis through immune, metabolic, and microbial pathways. Our overarching hypothesis is that reducing chronic stress will have important implications for CRC risk reduction among vulnerable and high-risk populations. A promising approach for reducing chronic stress is mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). MBSR is a meditation-based technique to achieve a state of mind that is used to experience higher awareness or consciousness. Existing small studies suggest MBSR may positively regulate stress response in a way that translates to anti-cancer effects including reduced inflammation. We propose here to test an 8-week MBSR intervention delivered in a hybrid format (synchronous and asynchronous sessions) among 40 Black females at elevated risk of CRC, who reside in vulnerable communities and who report moderate to high perceived stress. At baseline and post-intervention, participants will provide blood and stool and undergo body composition analysis and complete mood and lifestyle related surveys. The specific aims are to: test the feasibility and acceptability of the intervention and evaluate the preliminary effect on stress and weight, fasting glucose, inflammation markers, and the gut microbiome – risk markers and risk pathways associated with CRC. While relieving social stressors is the paramount goal, addressing

chronic stress at the individual level is achievable now, with implications for CRC risk reduction. If successful, data generated here will serve in developing a fully powered trial to test if MBSR is efficacious for CRC risk reduction among high-risk vulnerable populations in Chicago.

For more information on the ChicagoCHEC Catalyst & Incubator Grant Program, please visit