ResearcHERS campaign aims to uplift women in cancer research
While identifying barriers that prevent women from continuously advancing in their careers has been widely studied, efforts to eliminate those barriers have not been as readily identified.
The American Cancer Society is looking to change that by launching a campaign that will specifically fund the work of women in cancer research — an effort named the “ResearcHERS™: Women Fighting Cancer” campaign.
ResearcHERS seeks contributions from donors that will exclusively support women’s cancer research — ensuring women will continue to make significant scientific contributions to help save lives from all types of cancer.
The ACS launched the Michigan portion of its campaign with a kick-off event at the Kensington Hotel in Ann Arbor earlier this month.
The event featured three Michigan Medicine experts who have received funding from the ACS that they say helped them advance in their careers.
First, remarks were delivered by Beth Lawlor, M.D., Ph.D., who specializes in pediatric cancer and is the Russell G. Adderley Professor of Pediatric Oncology. Lawlor is serving as co-chair of the campaign in the State of Michigan.
There was also a panel discussion featuring Lawlor, Grace Chen, M.D., Ph.D., and Sarah Hawley, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Chen has been with Michigan Medicine since her residency in 2003 and specializes in colorectal and gastrointestinal cancer, while Hawley is the founder of CanSORT, the Cancer Surveillance and Outcomes Research Team. She is specifically interested in evaluating the role of patients’ preferences in cancer-related decision making.
Minorities in medical research
According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics data, less than 30 percent of the world’s researchers are women. While men are typically able to pursue new opportunities early in their careers, women often have to decline those same opportunities or leave their work completely to have and raise children or support other family members.
“Women often can’t catch up to male colleagues after taking time to have children,” said Lawlor during the panel discussion.
Even when returning to the workforce, women face a steep climb to reach their male peers.
“My time is split three ways: I take the kids to school, manage patients and run the lab, then chauffeur kids to activities after school,” said Chen during the discussion.
Indeed, it is such time constraints that often keep women from having the chance to apply for research grants or find other funding options.
“In addition, women lack representation at senior levels, which leads to diminished opportunities for sponsorship and mentorship throughout their careers,” Lawlor said. “Even women who do not take time away still face barriers due to lack of recognition. It is critical that women and all minority groups be represented at all career stages and across all cancer research disciplines.”
That’s where ResearcHERS will step in. The campaign will be used to fund grants, create protected time programs and launch new careers for women pursuing cancer research.
“Cancer is a complex problem. The only way we’re going to solve it is with diverse perspectives. Women have different ways of approaching problems and asking questions. Anything that expands the diversity perspective benefits research,” said Lawlor.
Jagsi also honored by ACS
In addition to the fundraising campaign, the ACS put the spotlight on Michigan Medicine’s Reshma Jagsi, M.D., D.Phil., and her patient, Tess Downie, at the Kensington event. The two helped to highlight the importance of cancer research funding and how those funds specifically aid women during their careers.
Downie was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013 and enrolled in a clinical trial administered by Jagsi — who had been awarded a mentored research scholar grant from the ACS early on in her career. She attributes funding from the ACS to her overall success in cancer research.
Check out a video telling the story of Downie and Jagsi below:
To learn more about ResearcHERS — and how you can support the endeavor — click here.