Two HOP Faculty Members Selected as NCI Cancer Fellows at Washington University in St. Louis

Stephanie Staras, Ph.D., and Ramzi Salloum, Ph.D., were two of fourteen named Cancer Fellows in the 2016-2018 cohort of the Mentored Training for Dissemination and Implementation Research program at Washington University in St. Louis. The national program trains researchers in methodologies for conducting dissemination and implementation (D&I) research, which aims to shorten the time it takes for research findings to be incorporated into cancer treatments and cancer prevention interventions.

This two-year-long fellowship, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), provides fellows with expert mentoring and a summer training program that addresses the skills necessary to develop high-quality D&I research and to accelerate the translation of cancer prevention and control knowledge into practice and policy. According to the NCI, this process can take between 10 and 20 years using traditional research methods.

Staras and Salloum are both assistant professors in the Department of Health Outcomes & Policy and faculty in the Institute for Child Health Policy. Staras’ research focuses on methods for increasing rates of human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination among adolescents in Florida, which can prevent certain types of cancer. She recently received an R21 award from the NCI to refine a health information technology (HIT) system designed to identify patients due for vaccinations and help prepare HPV vaccine-hesitant parents to discuss the HPV vaccine with their doctor.

“I’m looking forward to applying the research methodologies and mentoring to my research on HPV prevention,” Staras said. Staras hopes her research on the HPV vaccine will help close the existing gap between the availability of an effective vaccine that has been proven to prevent cervical and other cancers and the low numbers of Florida teens that are actually vaccinated.

Salloum, a health economist who specializes in cancer prevention and tobacco control, said he plans through the fellowship to expand a tobacco cessation project for youth ages 11 through 17 years that is already underway in pediatric clinics across Florida. The project involves increasing the number of pediatricians who screen and counsel their adolescent patients on tobacco use with evidence-based approaches.

“Research has shown that primary care providers play a crucial role in tobacco-related disease screening, counseling and early intervention among youth,” Salloum said. Studies have demonstrated that even brief interventions by primary care providers can make a difference in the number of youth who quit smoking or at least cut down. Yet despite national recommendations, physicians’ use of evidence-based tobacco screening and counseling tools is low. The majority of pediatricians – 81 percent— advise patients who smoke to quit, but only one-third discuss cessation strategies, and fewer than 20 percent make referrals to smoking cessation programs, Salloum said.

Staras and Salloum will begin their two-year fellowships in June.

Betsy Shenkman, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Health Outcomes and Policy in the Department of Medicine and director of the Institute for Child Health Policy, said the department is thrilled about having two faculty members accepted into this pioneering program.

“These NCI fellowships are extremely competitive and speak to the breadth and depth of the cancer prevention research among our junior faculty,” Shenkman said. “We are eager for both Dr. Staras and Dr. Salloum to disseminate the best practices and methods they learn during their fellowship training throughout our department and institute, and to our colleagues at the UF Health Cancer Center and the wider university community.”