SAN DIEGO – October 9, 2023 – The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) recently awarded a $4 million Research Project Grant (RO1) to Paula Aristizabal, MD, MAS, pediatric oncologist at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and Associate Professor of Pediatrics in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology at the University of California San Diego and Moores Cancer Center to expand a pilot program aimed at improving diverse participation in pediatric cancer clinical trials.
The original program called COMPRENDO (ChildhOod Malignancy Peer Research NavigatiOn), established in 2018, focused on reaching Hispanic families who had historically demonstrated extremely low participation in clinical trials and inferior clinical outcomes when compared to non-Hispanic Whites. Curebound, a San Diego-based philanthropic organization that raises and invests strategic funding in translational cancer research projects, funded the program with a $125,000 medical grant.
Based on the success of that program, Dr. Aristizabal and her team were awarded the NIH/NCI grant to implement a culturally and linguistically tailored peer-navigation intervention to increase minority participation in pediatric cancer clinical trials. In this peer model, parents of children who have had cancer receive specialized training to work directly with parents of Hispanic children with cancer to help them navigate the cancer diagnosis and the option of receiving treatment as part of a clinical trial. With the new funding, Dr. Aristizabal will expand her research in San Diego and add three new sites: Boston, San Francisco, and Alabama. The long-term goal of this effort is to effectively translate discoveries and therapies for cancer equally, and, ultimately, improve clinical outcomes and survival among all ethnicities equitably.
“We are thrilled with this additional funding,” said Dr. Aristizabal, who is also the Medical Director for the International Outreach Program in Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. “Now COMPRENDO will be able to grow and expand across the country to many diverse communities, where children will have better access to excellent care, as we have here in San Diego at Rady Children’s Hospital.”
Research shows that, while Hispanic children will comprise an estimated 33 percent of the U.S. population by 2060 and have a higher incidence of certain cancers, such as leukemia and lymphoma, their participation in biomedical research is very low.
“I have always been an advocate for the vulnerable,” said Dr. Aristizabal. “My passion to improve care and survival in underserved children stems from witnessing health disparities firsthand.”
Dr. Aristizabal has also received recognition for her role in establishing a pediatric oncology unit at Hospital General-Tijuana, in collaboration with Dr. William Roberts, director of the Peckham Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Rady Children’s, through the International Outreach Program. The program has dramatically improved clinical outcomes, raising the overall 5-year cancer survival rate from 10 percent in 2008 to 62 percent in 2022 by bringing best-practice strategies to children across the US-Mexico border through mentoring, addressing infrastructure needs, and training clinicians to provide standardized patient care.
About Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego:
Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego is the largest children’s hospital on the West Coast and one of the nation’s top pediatric health care systems. Ranked as one of the 10 best children’s hospitals in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in 2023, Rady Children’s includes a 511-bed pediatric hospital that serves as the largest provider of comprehensive pediatric medical services in San Diego, southern Riverside and Imperial counties. With more than 40 locations, Rady Children’s is the only health system in the San Diego area dedicated exclusively to pediatric health care and is the region’s only designated pediatric trauma center. Rady Children’s is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations to support its mission.
Curebound is a San Diego-based 501(c)(3) philanthropic organization that raises and invests strategic funding in translational cancer research projects aimed at accelerating new discoveries to clinical application. With over $25 million raised and invested into collaborative cancer research to date, the organization has funded 96+ innovative research grants including 6 clinical trials. Curebound is founded on the deeply held belief that cures are possible and that through the power of collaboration and the spirit of community, we can create cures in our lifetime. For more information, please visit www.curebound.org.