University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill: $1 million gift furthers study focused on reducing breast cancer disparities

Rich Preyer and Marilyn Jacobs Preyer of Hillsborough, North Carolina, have donated $1 million to support the latest phase of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Carolina Breast Cancer Study, which is investigating how the causes, treatments and long-term outcomes of breast cancer differ between Black women and white women. This gift builds on the couple’s longstanding commitment to advancing breast cancer research and breaking down barriers to high-quality health care for everyone.

Researchers from UNC Lineberger and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health launched the landmark Carolina Breast Cancer Study in 1993 to bring together their collective expertise in epidemiology and molecular biology to identify a wider range of breast cancer risk factors and to better understand how these risk factors contribute to disparities in breast cancer among Black women and white women.

As a breast cancer survivor, Jacobs Preyer said she always felt fortunate to have access to high-quality health care, and she wants to ensure everyone has the same opportunity.

“It always stayed with me how fortunate I was to have this access,” she said. “The translational aspect of this research is very powerful to me, and to see the partnership between the University and the community, town and state, is exciting; we can move the needle and have an impact on society.”

The Carolina Breast Cancer Study is internationally renowned for its innovative research exploring the biological and social determinants of health — from pathology, molecular markers and genetics on the cellular level to how people access health care, financial toxicities and quality of life following diagnosis. The next phase of the study — phase four — will utilize high-end computing to incorporate and analyze image data from histopathology and mammograms, enabling scientists to develop a more robust model of disparities and breast cancer outcomes. The researchers will also be focused on doubling the number of young women and Black women participating in the research.

“These statewide partnerships will help us recruit and contact women and collect more data,” said UNC Lineberger’s Melissa Troester, a professor of epidemiology at UNC Gillings and principal investigator for the Carolina Breast Cancer Study. “We have unique strengths at UNC in data science, and we’re going to leverage this for a more comprehensive, multidimensional understanding of breast cancer and health equity.”

The private funds will help researchers expand the study to include more participants and to lay the foundation to pursue external funding sources as the study progresses.

“Private philanthropy helps us get things going and gives us a leg up in securing additional scientific grant support. We couldn’t do this work without private partners,” Troester said.

“We are so grateful for philanthropic partners like Marilyn and Rich,” said Dr. Shelley Earp, UNC Lineberger director and Lineberger Professor of Cancer Research. “They recognize the importance of our work to explore and address the disparities in breast cancer care, treatment and survival outcomes. They are passionate about health inequities and are investing in us to analyze the problems and implement solutions.”

“I’m so grateful for the care I’ve received at UNC,” Jacobs Preyer said. “The idea that we have a comprehensive cancer center right here in our backyard, we have to take advantage of that world-class clinical and research asset.”

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