NCI Grant for New Cancer Telehealth Research Center of Excellence

The Perelman School of Medicine is one of four institutions nationally to receive a five-year, $5.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, for a new research center to develop and test advanced methods of telehealth delivery for cancer care with a focus on promoting health equity.

The University of Pennsylvania (Penn) Telehealth Research Center in Cancer Care (Penn TRACE), based at the Penn Center for Cancer Care Innovation (PC3I) at the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), will become one of four NCI Telehealth Research Centers of Excellence.

Being supported under the Cancer Moonshot, the grant to Penn will fund the design and testing of new telehealth strategies across the lung cancer care continuum with an emphasis on lung cancer morbidity and mortality, health disparities, and the digital divides. It will also incentivize more research on telehealth’s impact on patient outcomes, patient-provider communication, and healthcare use.

Three investigators from Penn Medicine will lead the center: Katharine Rendle, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of family medicine and community health and deputy director of PC3I; Anil Vachani, MD, MS, an associate professor of pulmonary, allergy, and critical care, co-director of lung cancer screening at Penn Medicine, and a faculty member at PC3I; and Justin Bekelman, MD, a professor of radiation oncology, medicine, and medical ethics & health policy, and the director of PC3I.

The core mission of Penn TRACE is to create, test and scale telehealth approaches to improve outcomes and equity in lung cancer care. Lung cancer is an urgent public health challenge which is potentially preventable through smoking cessation, yet it is the single largest type of cancer death in the United States.

Lung cancer is most treatable when caught early, and studies have shown that annual screening in higher-risk individuals, using a radiology scan called low-dose computed tomography (LDCT), can detect it early and decrease mortality. However, LDCT screening requires a consultation to review risks and benefits before completion, which have been challenging to implement. Thus, LDCT currently is performed for only a small fraction of the roughly 15 million Americans eligible for it.

The researchers will perform rapid tests of innovative telehealth approaches linked with clinical trials across Penn’s primary care and cancer network. The goal is to determine if telehealth strategies improve the process of lung cancer screening for those eligible and timely treatment recommendations for patients with advanced lung cancer.

“Our commitment continues to help reduce the cancer death rate with the discovery of novel and innovative science, research, and resources, while improving the experience of patients living with and surviving cancer,” said Robert H. Vonderheide, director of the Abramson Cancer Center at Penn. “We are proud of what we are accomplishing at the Abramson Cancer Center and our mission endures to serve the community providing quality cancer care for all.”

To learn more about this NCI-funded research, read here.

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