ICAP and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) have announced funding for two innovative research projects that look to shed new light on notable cancer challenges in sub-Saharan Africa. The grants are the first to be awarded through the recently formed ICAP-HICCC Cancer Initiative (IHCI), which seeks to support efforts that accelerate research, training, education, and other programs focused on cancer prevention, detection, therapy, cure, and survivorship.

The 2021 grant recipients include:

  • Grace Hillyer, EdD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health (MSPH), to support the development of a tobacco control program delivered by community health workers in South Africa
  • Hui-Chen Wu, PhD, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, MSPH and
  • Jasmine A. McDonald, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, MSPH to support the examination of biological age acceleration, reproductive history, and early-onset breast cancer risk among women in Ghana

“Both ICAP and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center are fully committed to confronting the threat of cancer globally,” said Wafaa El-Sadr, MD, MPH, MPA, founder and global director of ICAP. “These inaugural grants emerging from our new partnership promise to add to the body of knowledge about cancer and the challenges it increasingly presents to low- and middle-income countries around the world.”

“Each of these projects represents an opportunity to better detect, treat, and prevent cancer in communities facing high rates of premature mortality from cancers in already challenging health care contexts,” said Anil K. Rustgi, MD, director of the HICCC and interim executive vice president and dean of the faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “With these grants, we look forward to catalyzing further research that will ultimately lead to real-world solutions in communities for whom cancer is a growing public health threat.”

Low- and middle-income countries are increasingly bearing the brunt of the global burden of cancer. As much as 70% of global cancer deaths occur in these countries, despite their having a lower incidence of cancer compared to higher-income countries. With limited health resources allocated to chronic diseases like cancer, low- and middle-income countries are struggling to respond to the challenges cancer places on already stressed national health systems. To address this global health gap, ICAP and HICCC came together to form the ICAP-HICCC Cancer Initiative (IHCI) in early 2021.

About the Awardees

Developing a tobacco control program delivered by community health workers in South Africa

Grace Hillyer, EdD, MPH, Department of Epidemiology, MSPH, will work in partnership with the Wits Health Consortium, a health organization within South Africa’s University of Witswatersrand, to investigate the efficacy of a behavioral tobacco cessation intervention delivered by community health workers among smokers in Soweto, the poorest suburb of Johannesburg. Using a mixed-methods research approach, the project will make important contributions to the treatment of tobacco use in South Africa by utilizing knowledge learned of the medical system infrastructure and attitudes toward the treatment of tobacco addiction to design and assess the feasibility of an innovative intervention tailored to South African providers and patients.

“With the knowledge gained from working with our research partners in South Africa, their medical directors and administrators, and the community health workers in Soweto, the completion of the proposed work will provide us with the insights to design a culturally tailored intervention to reduce tobacco use in Soweto, Johannesburg,” said Hillyer.

 Identifying Risk Factors for Breast Cancer Unique to the Ghanaian Context

Hui-Chen Wu, PhD, Department of Environmental Health Sciences, MSPH, and Jasmine A. McDonald, PhD, Department of Epidemiology, MSPH, will build on previous research to analyze stored biospecimens to examine accelerated biological aging as a risk factor for pre-menopausal breast cancer in African women. As rates of early onset breast cancer increases in Ghana, identifying cultural and environmental risk factors and strategies for reducing cancer incidence and improving cancer prognoses is essential to inform prevention and treatment efforts.

“Through the IHCI grant, we hope to make it possible to better identify women at high risk for breast cancer who might benefit from additional screening or preventive measures appropriate for their risk,” said Wu.

McDonald further emphasized the importance of the funding as the collaborative efforts will enable health providers “to develop and inform breast cancer prevention efforts that are socio-culturally tailored with the knowledge that differences in incidence between countries can be attributed to changes in exposure to environmental risk factors, behavior, and lifestyle factors.”

About ICAP

A major global health organization that has been improving public health in countries around the world for nearly two decades, ICAP works to transform the health of populations through innovation, science, and global collaboration. Based at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, ICAP has projects in more than 30 countries, working side-by-side with ministries of health and local governmental, non-governmental, academic, and community partners to confront some of the world’s greatest health challenges. Through evidence-informed programs, meaningful research, tailored technical assistance, effective training and education programs, and rigorous surveillance to measure and evaluate the impact of public health interventions, ICAP aims to realize a global vision of healthy people, empowered communities, and thriving societies.


The Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) is the home for cancer research and patient care at Columbia University and NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. The HICCC cancer center researchers and physicians are dedicated to understanding the complex biology behind cancer, from before it begins to its evolution and spread. The HICCC applies that knowledge to the discovery and design of innovative cancer therapies and prevention strategies that reduce the disease’s incidence and progression and improve the quality of life for all those affected – in the New York region and throughout the world. The HICCC is one of only 51 National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, a designation that it has maintained since 1979. The HICCC has more than 200 members across six schools at Columbia University with more than $30 million in National Cancer Institute funding and > $100 million in cancer grants. Partnering with the top hospital and leading academic center in New York City, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, and Columbia University, the HICCC fosters a community of scientific excellence and outstanding patient care.

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