UM Researcher is Awarded GE Foundation Grant

Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., Associate Director for Disparities and Community Outreach for the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, has been awarded a grant from the GE Foundation to help improve the prevention of cervical cancer in women living in medically underserved areas.

The one-year $209,000 grant will increase access to care in two South Florida communities by providing high-quality, cost-effective, self-sampling screening techniques to reduce the incidence and mortality of the disease.

“We are so excited that the GE Foundation is supporting our efforts to make cervical cancer prevention a reality for all women, regardless of healthcare access,” said Kobetz, associate professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences and Director of the Jay Weiss Center for Social Medicine and Health Equity, which was incorporated into Sylvester in 2013, and Co-Director of the Community Engagement and Cultural Diversity Program of the Miami CTSI. “This grant is an investment in health equity, and represents real opportunity to translate new technology to underserved communities.”

The program is in keeping with the GE Foundation’s mission to improve access to primary care, increase capacity, and build clinical capabilities in underserved populations. Its National Initiatives program focuses on population health issues affecting the whole country.

“Providing access to primary care, including health screenings, is critical to improving outcomes for all patients,” said David Barash, M.D., chief medical officer for the GE Foundation. “By supporting partners such as the University of Miami and Dr. Kobetz, gaps in care for underserved communities can be addressed and solutions potentially scaled to other communities quickly.”

While the Pap smear has significantly reduced cervical cancer cases in the United States, minority, low-income, and underinsured women remain at greater risk of being diagnosed with and dying from cervical cancer.

Through a partnership with Health Choice Network (HCN), Kobetz will address the health disparity in Liberty City and rural Palm Beach County by bringing in cervical self-sampling, which allows women to test themselves for Human papillomavirus (HPV), the principal cause of cervical cancer, outside of a clinical setting.

Working with a Community Health Worker (CHW), women will have the option of self-sampling at one of several local venues or during a home visit with the CHW. Women who test positive for HPV will be directed to appropriate follow-up care with a physician at a HCN site within the community.

In addition, Kobetz is developing a paper-based, rapid HPV test in collaboration with Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., Pharm D, professor and Lucille P. Markey Chair, and Sapna Deo, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. When paired with self-sampling, a rapid HPV test could change the standard of cervical cancer prevention, particularly in resource-poor settings that lack laboratory infrastructure.

Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., Director of Sylvester, says the grant supports the cancer center’s mission to be attentive to the needs of the community through health initiatives, preventive care, and education.

“This grant underscores not only Dr. Kobetz’s very impressive credentials and equally impressive experience, but her unwavering commitment to devising and delivering the highest quality healthcare for the underserved,” said Nimer. “By forging community partnerships and conducting research to build a model for eliminating health inequities, she makes a real difference in the lives of patients every day.”

Kobetz has an established track record for successfully implementing community-based initiatives to address health disparity. She is a National Institutes of Health funded investigator and national leader in developing strategies to improve health by leveraging University resources to enhance local capacity and support sustainable health and social change.

The GE Foundation, the philanthropic organization of GE, is committed to building a world that works better. The Foundation empowers people by helping them build the skills they need to succeed in a global economy, and equips communities with the technology and capacity to improve access to better health and education. In 2009, the Foundation created Developing Health (DH US) through numerous partnerships with independent, non-profit community health centers.

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