When asked to describe her new role at UConn’s Center for Health, Intervention, and Prevention (CHIP), renowned health psychologist and new UConn faculty member Meg Gerrard replied succinctly: “To grow more cancer research at CHIP.”
Dr. Gerrard’s task, however, involves far more groundwork and outreach than her initial response indicated.
Since arriving on UConn’s campus from Dartmouth College at the beginning of the fall semester, the new CHIP affiliate and research professor in UConn’s Psychology Department has worked diligently with CHIP Boundary Spanner and Research Scientist Alicia Dugan to become more familiar with the cancer research scene in Connecticut. Dr. Gerrard has met with UConn Executive Vice President for Health Affairs and Dean of the UConn Medical School, Dr. Frank Torti, as well as many other cancer researchers at the Health Center and at Storrs.
Additionally, in an effort to foster multidisciplinary research collaborations, she launched a new Cancer Research Interest Group (RIG) at CHIP. Dr. Gerrard, who has nearly four decades of experience studying adolescent and young adult health behavior, referred to the first meeting of the CHIP Cancer RIG in early December as her “first visible step” toward facilitating more cancer research at CHIP. More than a dozen researchers from almost as many disciplines attended and shared their cancer research interests with one another, with many other UConn cancer researchers expressing an interest in joining the RIG.
This “beginning of a network” jumpstarted a process that will be continued and formalized – the sharing of information not only about the cancer research being conducted but also about the collaborators and community organizations across the state that might serve as resources for CHIP affiliates in search of research sites and participants.
“Sometimes it can be very hard to gain entry into high-risk populations,” Dr. Gerrard explained, and the Cancer RIG is one way to help to facilitate that entry.
Dr. Gerrard and others who attended the first Cancer RIG meeting at CHIP met UConn cancer researchers who are already active in Hartford’s African American community. They also were introduced to Markos Samos, with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, whose interest in increasing cancer control on Native American reservations in the region led to Dr. Gerrard recently securing one of UConn’s large faculty grants. Dr. Gerrard’s new grant will expand the National Cancer Institute-funded cancer prevention research that she has been conducting with African American populations to Native Americans residing on reservations in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. With the assistance of Mr. Samos, Dr. Gerrard has gained entry into these reservation communities where she will conduct pilot work to better understand the barriers to and predictors of HPV vaccination among Native American populations. Dr. Gerrard said that her research is intended to ultimately lead to the development of interventions for both African American and Native American populations.
To all of her efforts, Dr. Gerrard brings the perspective she gained most recently during four years as Co-Director of the Cancer Control Research Program at Dartmouth’s Norris Cotton Comprehensive Cancer Center. Comprehensive cancer centers, Dr. Gerrard explained, focus on cancer treatment, cancer prevention in the community, and research on all different types of cancers. Norris Cotton Comprehensive Cancer Center is one of approximately three dozen such centers nationwide.
At CHIP, Dr. Gerrard, her husband and research collaborator Psychology Professor Rick Gibbons, and Communication Sciences Professor Leslie Snyder focus on cancer prevention research. Other CHIP-affiliated researchers, such as Psychology Professor Crystal Park and Human Development and Family Studies Professors Tom Blank and Keith Bellizzi, focus on cancer survivorship issues.
Dr. Gerrard’s vision is to expand CHIP’s team of cancer researchers to mirror the range of expertise found at comprehensive cancer centers by recruiting highly-regarded faculty in additional areas of cancer control research, such as screening, psycho-social predictors of cancer, and treatment decision-making.
In addition, Dr. Gerrard is working with UConn School of Medicine Professor Lori Bastian, who specializes in women’s cancers and also recently joined UConn’s faculty, to foster more cancer collaborations between campuses.
“It is an advantage that we are both starting at UConn at the same time and are both looking to build new cancer research programs,” Dr. Gerrard said.
Dr. Gerrard indicated that a common goal that she and Dr. Bastian have is to encourage increased collaborations across the two campuses by securing pilot funding specifically for teams comprised of cancer researchers from both campuses. This idea is modeled after the very successful pilot funding competition that was jointly sponsored last year by CHIP and Yale University’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) to foster increased collaboration among HIV/AIDS researchers from both institutions.
CHIP Associate Director Deborah Cornman indicated how fortunate that CHIP and UConn are to have Dr. Gerrard spearheading the efforts to expand the cancer research program here at UConn.
“Dr. Gerrard is a remarkably talented and well-respected researcher with years of experience in the area of cancer prevention and control. She brings a fresh perspective and new ideas that will no doubt be beneficial to CHIP, to UConn, and to the field of cancer research,” Dr. Cornman commented.
The next meeting of the new CHIP Cancer RIG will take place in February. If you are interested in attending and/or learning more about Dr. Gerrard’s efforts to facilitate more cancer research at CHIP, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.