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Northwestern University Cancer Health Equity Research SPORE (NU-CHERS)

The Northwestern University Cancer Health Equity Research SPORE (NU-CHERS) is a National Cancer Institute funded developmental Specialized Program of Research Excellence and a collaborative program between CHET and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University (P20CA233304). NU-CHERS will generate scientific findings and establish sustainable, collaborative, academic and community infrastructure that will serve as the foundation for a comprehensive translational cancer research program focused on gynecologic cancer health disparities – the first of its kind in the nation. The initial translational research focus of NU-CHERS is on endometrial and ovarian cancer disparities experienced by Black women. NU-CHERS will also spearhead the development of a centralized biobank of human gynecologic cancer tissue specimens to be used in health disparities research studies.


Melissa Simon, MD, MPH
Principal Investigator, Administrative Core Co-Director and Developmental Research Program Co-Director

Daniela Matei, MD
Co-Principal Investigator, Administrative Core Co-Director and Research Project 2 Basic Co-Leader

J. Julie Kim, PhD
Developmental Research Program Co-Director and Research Project 1 Basic Co-Leader

Dario Roque, MD
Research Project 1 Clinical Co-Leader

Emma Barber, MD
Research Project 2 Clinical Co-Leader

Jian-Jun Wei, MD
Gynecologic Biospecimen Pathology Core Co-Director

Thomas Lad, MD
Gynecologic Biospecimen Pathology Core Co-Director, John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County

 Research Projects

NU-CHERS teams of basic and clinical investigators conduct innovative translational research focused on understanding and reducing gynecologic cancer disparities. Initial research projects focus on endometrial and ovarian cancer disparities as experienced by black women.

Research Project 1

Understanding Racial Disparity in Endometrial Cancer through Tumor Genomics

Leaders: J. Julie Kim, PhD and Dario R. Roque, MD

Racial disparity is present in endometrial cancer with black women exhibiting increased aggressive disease and a higher death rate compared to white women. This project investigates the biological etiology through tumor genomics and explores racial disparity for progestin response given that young black women exhibit advanced disease with worse prognosis compared to young white women. This is the first comprehensive genomics analysis of endometrial tumors to study the molecular etiologies of racial disparities.

Research Project 2

Tumor Methylomics Analysis Link with Racial Disparities in Ovarian Cancer

Leaders: Daniela Matei, MD and Emma Barber, MD

Ovarian cancer remains the deadliest cancer with significantly reduced survival rates among black women compared to white women, despite similar stage distribution and histological types at diagnosis. This project focuses on epigenetic markers, particularly DNA methylation, which we hypothesize function as a link between socio-economic or environmental factors and genomic alterations to alter the course of the disease and response to therapy. We aim to identify key oncogenic drivers regulated epigenetically in tumors from black vs. white women and generate useful new resources (organoids and patient-derived xenografts) to continue to address biological questions related to racial differences in ovarian cancer response to treatment.


Gynecologic Biospecimen Pathology Core

Directors: Jian-Jun Wei, MD & Thomas Lad, MD

The Gynecologic Biospecimen Pathology Core is a collaborative effort between Northwestern University, the Lurie Cancer Center and John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County to collect gynecologic specimens from patients undergoing surgery to treat their cancer.  The collection of these specimens is critical to furthering research to substantiate disparities experienced by black and white women in types of cancers diagnosis to survival outcomes in Chicago.  Establishing this biobank creates sustainability for researchers focused on identifying scientific reason for disparities that can be translated into treatment initiatives directed at improving black women’s outcomes of gynecologic cancers.

 Developmental Research Program

Developmental Research Program 

Directors: Melissa Simon, MD, MPH & J. Julie Kim, PhD

The Developmental Research Program is an incubator of novel, cutting edge and competitive translational research of gynecologic cancer disparities. The program’s mission centers on the theme of Contemporary Translational Approaches to Advancing Health Equity in the Detection, Diagnoses, and Treatment of Gynecologic Cancers. Through this mission, merited projects with the highest probabilities of significant impact in disrupting the health disparities experienced by black women will be funded. It is this program’s expectation that selected projects will secure more substantial funding at the end of the project period to advance the work of eliminating disparities of BIPOC women. These funding opportunities can provide career enhancement training to scientists, clinicians and communities to support their efforts at affecting impact within gynecologic cancer disparities. It also exposes new or refocusing investigators to the rigors of NIH style review and competitive funding application process. Through educational seminars a new audience will be exposed to health inequities, translational research and its impact on patients.

  • Developmental Research Projects are collaborative 2-year translational projects meant to produce meaningful data that can be expanded upon within additional funding at the end of the project term. The projects provide an opportunity for a basic scientist and clinician to work together to translate clinical observations into scientific demonstrations. 
  • Career Enhancement Projects are 1-year opportunities intended to help create a career enhancement pipeline for early-stage and established investigators to enhance or refocus their career on translational research with a gynecologic cancer health disparities focus. This project pairs investigators with mentors to provide guidance and optimize the project for ultimate results for greatest impact in better understanding cancer disparities experienced by black women.
  • Seminars & Education planning provide an opportunity to raise awareness of cancer disparities in gynecologic cancers with basic scientists, clinicians, students, and community partners. Seminars will range in topics related to cancer disparities including but not limited to basic, translational and population health sciences. As well as scientific and community based research practices and considerations. 
  • Visit CHET calendar for upcoming events
Pilot Project Funding
  • NU-CHERS offers competitive funding opportunities to support projects that demonstrate high-impact innovation in clinical and basic science research and focus on a complex, poorly understood area of gynecologic cancer disparities research, in particular, ovarian, endometrial and cervical cancer research.
  • Download Current RFA for Pilot Awards


 Gynecologic Cancer Disparities

  • Inequities in cancer incidence, mortality, and morbidity exist for racial/ethnic minorities in many types of cancer, however research efforts are behind pace in making significant strides to identify and minimize these inequities. Notably, molecular-based disparities in gynecologic cancers among racial/ethnic minorities in the United States are not well understood. Little research in translational gynecologic cancers is performed with a true health equity lens. This initiative aims to reduce the disparities of gynecologic cancers experienced by Chicagoans by generating scientific findings and establishing sustainable, collaborative, academic and community infrastructure to serve as the foundation for focused research to identify, target and eliminate health disparities. Better insight as to the cause of a disparity leads to taking more precise action through increased screening and prevention initiatives, therapeutic development or testing via clinical trials.

 Diversity in Clinical Trials

  • Increasing diversity in clinical trials is a critical tool to eliminating gynecologic cancer disparities experienced by BIPOC women. Locally this effort is being supported by the Health for All initiative which provides resources and information to prospective clinical trial participants to support them in making an informed decision about participating in a clinical trial. This program aims to eliminate the barriers that limit access or awareness of clinical trials to diverse populations.  Funding from the National Library of Medicine has supported the development of a web-based tool that is a centralized resource to help the general public learn more about clinical trials and to specifically increase clinical trials awareness and knowledge among populations underrepresented in clinical trials. 

Visit the Health for All Website to Learn More


For more information about Northwestern’s Cancer Health Equity Research SPORE and any of its programs, please contact: 

Denisha Brown

NU-CHERS Project Manager


The Center for Health Equity Transformation is a joint center between the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University and the Institute for Public Health and Medicine.

Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center logo Institute for Public Health and Medicine

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