NRG Oncology Health Equity New Investigator Mentor Program for Underrepresented Minority (URM) Scholars (September 2021 Newsletter)

September 14 2021

NRG Oncology recognizes the need to improve diversity and inclusion in oncology research. With an inspiration of Dr. Joan Walker and generous gifts from the NRG research community, NRG NCORP initiated a call for applications in early 2021 for early-stage URM investigators who desire to develop innovative studies that specifically address cancer equity. The purpose of this program is to intensively train selected URM early-stage investigators in the NRG Oncology system by means of a structured mentorship experience. The structured mentorship experience supported by the Early Career New Investigator and Health Disparities Committees will add invaluable knowledge and expedite the development of research protocols within NRG Oncology. The program will match early-state investigators with capable and experienced mentors.

For this inaugural call, we had outstanding candidates. As a result, the NRG leadership team found additional monies to support three mentee scholars: Dr. Tara Castellano, Dr. Oluwadamilola Oladeru, and Dr. Sonya Reid.

Dr. Tara Castellano is an assistant professor of Gynecologic Oncologist at LSU Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. Originally from the area, Dr. Castellano completed her medical degree at LSUHSC where she first fell in love with the subspecialty of gynecologic oncology. After completing her Obstetrics and Gynecology residency at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, NC, where she served as an Administrative Chief Resident, Dr. Castellano completed a fellowship in Gynecologic Oncology at the University of Oklahoma. As a Gynecologic Oncology fellow, Dr. Castellano focused on clinical trial design and was selected for the prestigious ASCO/AACR Jr Investigator clinical trial workshop in Vale, Colorado and was awarded scholarships to attend the NRG oncology meetings. Her selected ASCO/AACR clinical trial protocol was developed and opened at the Stephenson Cancer Center as an investigator-initiated trial and is currently recruiting. During fellowship she received specialized training in complex surgery, chemotherapy and novel therapies to treat gynecologic cancers. As Junior faculty at LSUHSC, Dr. Castellano is an active member of the Society of Gynecologic Oncology and of the NRG young investigator committee. She currently participates on the GOG investigators council as a Clinical Trial Equity/Patient Advocacy Committee member. Dr. Castellano's research interests include clinical trial design, quality initiative models, identification and elimination of health disparities and improvements in cancer care delivery. She has published and nationally presented dozens of scientific abstracts and articles over the past several years and is actively engaged in research.

Dr. Oladeru is an Assistant Professor with the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Florida College of Medicine and Director of the Breast Radiation Oncology service at Gainesville. She completed her residency training in the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program. As a clinician-researcher, her career is focused on improving oncologic outcomes and reducing disparities in access to quality care, particularly faced by vulnerable populations. Her prior scientific contribution includes assessing the impact of systemic therapy in vulnerable patients with early-stage breast cancer, investigating the comparative effectiveness of hypofractionation for regional nodal irradiation in breast cancer and impact on postmastectomy reconstruction, and elucidating the disparities in genomic testing for breast cancer in African American patients. Her ongoing health services research focuses on understanding the contribution of incarceration to cancer care disparities, as it is the leading cause of illness-related deaths in United States’ prisons. Dr. Oladeru is also passionate about tele-education initiatives to bridge the gap in access to modern radiotherapy techniques in low- and middle-income countries. Presently, her translational and clinical research focus is on the emerging role of quadruple negative breast cancer (QNBC), an aggressive and prevalent subtype of triple negative breast cancer among women of African descent, and developing customized clinical trials of therapies targeting QNBC to improve the current state of dismal outcomes.

Dr. Reid is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). Her research primarily focuses on health disparities in breast cancer, primarily those diagnosed with young-onset disease and with hereditary predisposition. She has been passionate about improving health care delivery to underserved communities and increasing the representation of minority patients in clinical trials. Dr. Reid received her medical degree from University of the West Indies School of Medicine in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2010, then completed a residency in internal medicine at Meharry Medical College followed by a fellowship in hematology and oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She received her MPH with a focus on global health from Vanderbilt University in 2020. She is actively involved in breast cancer research in Jamaica in addition to treating patients at Vanderbilt. While in fellowship, she received two prestigious awards: Steven Wolff, MD 2017-2018 Meharry/NGH Fellow of the Year Award due to the outstanding work in her continuity clinic, which serves a large minority and underserved patient population; and the Vanderbilt Martin Luther King, Jr. award in recognition of her commitment to diversity and inclusion. Her overall career goal is to become a successful, independently funded clinical researcher focused on health disparities in breast cancer. 

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