Research Briefs

Racial diversity lacking in cancer drug clinical trials

Baylor biology major Anirudh Gothwal co-authored a study that shows a lack of racial and ethnic diversity in clinical trials for cancer drugs. Disparity of Race and Representation in Clinical Trials Leading to Cancer Drug Approvals from 2008 to 2018 was published in JAMA Oncology (August 15, 2019).

Gothwal, a junior from Gurugram, India, was joined by researchers from the University of British Columbia, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, and Baylor. Their findings raise concerns about the effectiveness of cancer drugs in some patients, especially since genetic differences may affect how well a patient responds to a drug.

Researchers found that fewer than 8 percent of cancer drug trials reported participation from the four major races in the United States — white, Asian, black and Hispanic — between 2008 and 2018. Black and Hispanic patients were particularly underrepresented at 22 percent and 44 percent, respectively, considering their populations’ incidence of cancer.

“Ethics and equality in medicine are things you don’t see too many people talking about,” Gothwal said. “Discovering that minority groups were being vastly underrepresented, even in U.S. trials, was disheartening to say the least.”

Research illuminates DNA damage recognition

A team led by a Baylor researcher published a breakthrough article that provides better understanding of the dynamic process by which sunlight-induced DNA damage is recognized by the molecular repair machinery in cells as needing repair. 

Dr. Jung-Hyun Min, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry in Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences, was lead author.

The study was supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Min was assisted in the research by Dr. Debamita Paul, Baylor chemistry and biochemistry professor, along with professors from New York University and Princeton University and researchers from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

The study — Structure and mechanism of pyrimidine-pyrimidone (6-4) photo product recognition by the Rad4/XPC nucleotide excision repair complex — was published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research (July 9, 2019). It was deemed a “breakthrough article,” meaning it presents a high-impact study answering longstanding questions in the field of nucleic acids research and/or opening new areas and mechanistic hypotheses for investigation.

Ultraviolet light from the sun is a ubiquitous carcinogen that can inflict structural damage to the cellular DNA. Failure in removing and restoring damaged parts of DNA in a timely fashion can have detrimental outcomes and lead to skin cancers in humans, Min said in the study.

Min and her team showed how the repair protein Rad4/XPC would bind to one such UV-induced DNA damage — 6-4 photoproduct — to mark the damaged site along the DNA in preparation for the rest of the nucleotide excision repair in process cells.

“We hope the knowledge we uncover can be helpful in solving major problems in human health,” Min said. “This is how we imagine we can help — by understanding how things work with full 3-D structural detail.”

Baylor professor presents findings to United Nations

Dr. Rene Laufer presented an international team of experts’ study results on post-mission disposal of small satellites at the 62nd United Nations-Committee on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS) Session in June 2019. 

Laufer, associate professor for Baylor’s Center for Astrophysics, Space Physics and Engineering Research (CASPER), presented on behalf of UNISEC-Global and the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).

“It’s an honor to be invited to present the results of our space debris mitigation study at the world’s highest forum of space-faring nations,” Laufer said.

The study — A Handbook for Post-Mission Disposal of Satellites Less than 100kg — was initiated two years ago within the IAA in collaboration with UNISEC-Global and space debris and small satellite experts from five continents.

“It provides guidance to the designers, developers and operators of these microsatellites and smaller satellites deployed to low-Earth orbit,” Laufer said.

Scales, Barr co-directors for Baptist Scholars International Roundtable in Oxford

Scholars from around the world gathered at Oxford University for the 2019 Baptist Scholars International Roundtable (BSIR). The July event, co-directed by two Baylor faculty members, centered Baptists and the Kingdom of God as its theme.

BSIR is co-directed by Dr. Laine Scales, professor and Master Teacher in the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, and Dr. Beth Allison Barr, BA ’96, associate dean for student and faculty development in the Graduate School and associate professor of history.

Formerly known as Young Scholars in the Baptist Academy, BSIR promotes scholarship from Baptist perspectives across the ages and around the globe by facilitating this annual scholarly forum. BSIR leadership transferred the program’s administrative home from Georgetown College in Kentucky to Baylor last year.

Formation for academic stewardship in which a newer generation is welcomed into an international Baptist Academy is at the heart of the Roundtable. Scales said the aim is to “preserve and sustain both academic and faith communities.”

This year, Barr led participants on a tour of historical Baptist sites throughout London, including Spitalfields, believed to be the location of the first Baptist church established in England (1611).

“We wanted to help Baptists from outside England connect to our historic roots as a way of seeing ourselves in a long line of Baptists,” Barr said.