Dr. Alicia Best awarded two grants to study effects of HPV

| CFH, COPH Office of Research, Departments, Featured News, Monday Letter, Our Accolades, Our People

“There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach in public health. Accordingly, the more we learn about unique subpopulations of cancer survivors, the better prepared we will be to improve the quality of life of all cancer survivors,” Dr. Alicia Best said.

Best, an USF College of Public Health assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH), was awarded the “American Cancer Society-Institutional Research Grant (ACS-IRG)” through Moffitt Cancer Center, as well as a seed grant from “USF’s Women’s Health Collaborative Grant”. These grants will fund two pilot studies on cancers linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Alicia Best, PhD, MPH (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

Alicia Best, PhD, MPH (Photo by Caitlin Keough)

The ACS-IRG is a unique source of funding entrusted to Moffitt that provides seed money for young investigators interested in cancer-related research. While the grant is administered at Moffitt, eligible applicants at Moffitt, the University of South Florida and the Ponce School of Medicine may apply.

Best’s project at Moffitt will explore the psychosocial impact of cancers linked to HPV, as well as the role of religion in coping with these cancers. In her previous work, religion and spirituality were positively associated with cancer outcomes through increased social support and better coping. However, this relationship has not been explored among individuals diagnosed with HPV-related cancers.

There is often potential stigma and self-blame associated with HPV, so Best hypothesized that the relationship between religiosity and psychosocial outcomes among those diagnosed with these cancer types may be more complex.

“Dr. Ellen Daley has done a lot of work on the psychosocial impact of HPV. What she has found is that people blame themselves, they feel embarrassed, and they feel stigmatized for their HPV diagnoses so we’re expecting some of those same types of feelings to emerge in our studies,” Best said.

Best said that she was fortunate to have been able to assemble an incredible team of content and methodological experts to ensure successful execution of the study.  In addition to Daley, a fellow professor in CFH, Best’s team includes two other Moffitt experts in psychosocial and behavioral oncology: Dr. Lora Thompson and COPH alumnus Dr. Clement Gwede.

Her study also comprises of a clinical team from Moffitt including: Dr. Julian Sanchez, gastrointestinal oncology; Dr. Robert Wenham, gynecologic oncology; and Dr. Jeffery Russell, head and neck oncology.

Best is simultaneously working on a smaller “Women’s Health Collaborative Seed Grant” with Tampa General Hospital.

The methodology that she’ll be using at TGH is similar to what is being used at Moffitt but the population will be different. At TGH, they are studying only African American women diagnosed with cervical cancer compared to Moffitt’s study that includes a variety of patients, both male and female, diagnosed with a variety of different cancer types.

Best hopes to use the pilot data as a springboard to external NIH funding for 2017. In particular, she intends to apply for the National Cancer Institutes’ Mentored Research Scientist Development Award to Promote Diversity (K01).

“As cancer survival rates increase, there is a growing need for research related to improving quality of life among survivors. The ultimate goal of this line of work is to develop more targeted cancer survivorship interventions that take into consideration the unique experiences of individuals diagnosed with HPV-associated cancers,” Best said.

Story by Caitlin Keough, USF College of Public Health