While American Indian (AI) Tribes and communities are highly diverse in ethnicity, language, and culture, there is one unfortunate characteristic that they share: profound cancer health disparities. Compounded by disproportionately low rates of cancer screening and more limited access to healthcare, AI are more often diagnosed at later stages of disease and have the poorest outcomes in all types of cancer when compared to any other racial and ethnic group in the United States. The cause of these significant cancer health disparities is undoubtedly multifactorial. However, an unexplored factor is the molecular characterization of tumors arising in AI. American Indians and Alaska Natives (AN) have been strikingly understudied in The Cancer Genome Atlas Project (TCGA) and account for only < 0.5% of the cancer patients studied. Of the nearly 11,000 patients sequenced in TCGA to date, only 27 (0.25%) were identified as AI/AN. It is our hypothesis that through appropriate participant and community engagement and comprehensive genomic sequencing, we will discover novel somatic and germline mutations, differences in the spectrum and/or frequency of cancer-promoting mutations, and genome-wide mutational signatures reflective of behaviors and exposures, that can ultimately be translated to improved cancer screening, precision prevention, and therapeutic intervention in American Indian participants and communities. In this application, we will focus on the molecular characterization of cancers which show significant disparities in AI of the Southwest, including gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary cancers (stomach, colorectal, pancreatic, liver, gallbladder and biliary tree); genitourinary cancers (kidney, prostate cancer); and other hormone-dependent cancers (breast, ovarian cancers).
Our Specific Aims are to develop culturally-appropriate, respectful, and trusted means to: 1) Engage American Indian participants (cancer patients and survivors) and their Tribal communities in participatory research studies of the molecular characterization of cancer, particularly focusing on cancers that display striking disparities in incidence and outcome in Southwest Tribal Nations; 2) Discover novel somatic and germline mutations and/or differences in the spectrum and frequency of cancer-promoting mutations, and genome-wide mutational signatures reflective of specific behaviors and exposures, in American Indian participants, relative to other racial and ethnic populations in the U.S. and the world; 3) Disseminate knowledge gained through these studies to Tribal participants and Tribal Councils, leaders, stakeholders, and communities using unique means of participant engagement and novel means of communication, such as visual arts and media, that are sensitive to cultural and religious beliefs and practices and that acknowledge the indigenous languages and dialects, many of which lack many scientific and medical terms for words and concepts such as cancer, gene, genomics, mutation, and DNA, and 4) (Share knowledge with the broader scientific community through the NCI Genome Data Commons and publication of scientific results in accordance with NIH Data Sharing Policies and Tribal Agreements.
There is a critical underrepresentation of cancers from American Indian patients in national cancer genome databases. Additionally, American Indians have the poorest cancer survival rates of all ethnicities in the United States. The goal of this proposal is to engage with American Indian communities and individuals in order to increase their understanding and participation in precision medicine, molecular characterization of tumors and cancer research with the long-term goal of reducing their cancer burden.