The National Palliative Care Research Center

Curing suffering through palliative care research.

NPCRC and American Cancer Society Award $1.5 Million in Palliative Care Research Grants


New York, NY – The American Cancer Society and theNational Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) are awarding $1.5million in research grants to researchers at eleven institutions forstudies aimed at reducing suffering for seriously ill patients and theirfamily caregivers. The studies will be conducted over the next twoyears. The NPCRC, in collaboration with the American Cancer Society, hasdirected over $5 million towards supporting 38 palliative care researchprojects since starting this initiative three years ago. 

“The physical and emotional symptoms that accompany chronic andserious illness like cancer cause so much suffering and yet have rarelybeen the focus of medical research or research funding” noted NPCRCDirector R. Sean Morrison, M.D., who is also professor of PalliativeCare, Geriatrics and Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “It ismy belief that if we are truly going to improve the quality of life foradults and children with chronic illness, then we need to focus ourenergies equally on disease specific treatments and on the physical,psychological, and emotional symptoms that accompany chronic illness andcause so much distress and suffering. Supporting evidenced-basedresearch is a critical first step in the right direction,” he noted.

Palliative care focuses on relieving suffering and supporting the bestpossible quality of life for adults and children living with seriousillness. It is a field comprised of doctors, nurses, social workers, andother specialists who care for patients with chronic illnesses,functional impairment, and a high burden of family caregivingresponsibilities. It is provided at the same time as all otherappropriate medical treatments.

The collaborative initiative between the American Cancer Society and theNational Palliative Care Research Center is designed to supportclinician investigators conducting patient-oriented research inpalliative care in hopes of bringing more funding from federal agencies,which have supported some research in palliative care, but for whom itis not a priority area. Pilot data results are typically needed before afederal agency will consider funding a research project. “It isencouraging to see the high caliber and innovative applications beingsubmitted by professionals interested in conducting research inpalliative care,” said Ronit Elk, Ph.D., cancer control and preventionresearch program director in the extramural grants of the AmericanCancer Society. “This request for application (RFA) provides cliniciansand researchers an opportunity to answer important questions they hadlong wanted to investigate, but without this unique funding opportunityhad been unable to.”

“The American Cancer Society, in its initiative with the NPCRC, ismaking significant contributions towards reducing suffering caused bycancer and other serious illnesses,” said Otis W. Brawley, M.D., chiefmedical officer of the American Cancer Society. “We strongly encourageother disease-specific organizations to follow suit and designateresearch dollars to further support research scientists who will advancethe field of palliative care.”

The 2009 Grantees:

NPCRC Pilot Project Support Grant Recipients

Harvard Medical School - Jennifer W. Mack, M.D.,MPH, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dana-Farber CancerInstitute /Children’s Hospital Boston, will examine the interplaybetween hope, prognosis communication, and end-of-life decision-makingin the pediatric oncology setting to find ways to improve how physicianscommunicate prognosis and support parents’ hopes for their child’send-of-life period. Ultimately, this work will help parents of childrenwith advanced cancer make meaningful, value-driven decisions for theirchildren’s lives and care.

Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine –Kyle R. Allen, D.O., professor of internal medicine and familymedicine, and chief of the division of geriatric medicine and medicaldirector of the Post Acute Senior Services Service Line at Summa HealthSystem in Akron, Ohio, will conduct a randomized pilot study along withhis co-investigator, Steven Radwany, M.D., medical director of hospiceand palliative care at Summa Health System to determine the feasibilityof a fully powered study to test the effectiveness of an in-homeinterdisciplinary palliative care case management intervention inimproving a global measure of quality palliative care for consumers ofOhio’s community-based long-term care Medicaid waiver program, PASSPORT.

American Cancer Society Pilot Project Support Grant Recipients

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill - Edwin B.Fisher, Ph.D., a professor in the department of health behavior andhealth education in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at theUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Fisher’s research willdescribe how different types of support, including nondirective(cooperative) and directive (prescriptive) support may play key roles inquality of life among patients with advanced cancer or who arereceiving palliative care. This will also lead to research to developinterventions that will improve quality of life for patients withadvanced cancer and to develop guides or other resources that will helptheir friends, family, and clinical teams to be more effective inproviding them social support.

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center -Marianne Matzo, Ph.D., a professor and the Frances E. and A. EarlZiegler Chair in Palliative Care Nursing at The University of OklahomaHealth Sciences Center College of Nursing in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,will focus on developing and pilot testing a coached communicationintervention for sexual health promotion in women with recurring ovariancancer (OVCA). This is a significant research area because it is animportant concern of hospice patients which has not been well studied.This study will pave the way toward a larger, interventional study ofpalliative care patients and their sexual health.

University of California, San Francisco - MichaelRabow, M.D., an associate professor of clinical medicine in the divisionof general internal medicine at the University of California, SanFrancisco, will evaluate the clinical efficacy, family caregiveroutcomes, and health care utilization impacts of a surgicaloncologic/palliative care co-management model for patients with bladdercancer to determine an intervention able to decrease suffering andimprove well-being among bladder cancer patients and families.Elucidating the benefits of concurrent disease and symptom care mayprovide an innovative model that is broadly useful in the outpatientcare of patients with other life-threatening cancers.

Harvard Medical School - Jennifer Temel, M.D., anassistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and anattending physician in thoracic oncology at Massachusetts GeneralHospital, will conduct a study to encourage oncology clinicians todiscuss and document their patient's goals of care and end-of-life carewishes.  The intervention will involve an electronic reminder, sent viaemail, which contains pertinent information about the patients’ diseaseand prognosis and resources to assist the clinician with theconversation. 

Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine– Jamie H. Von Roenn, M.D., a professor of medicine at NorthwesternUniversity, Feinberg School of Medicine, is a medical oncologist andexpert in palliative medicine.  She is Medical Director of thePalliative Care and Home Hospice Program at Northwestern MemorialHospital and a full member of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive CancerCenter of Northwestern University, will conduct a randomized study toexamine the effects of a tailored physical therapy program on patientswith advanced cancer newly hospitalized on the inpatient oncology unitfor acute care.  Such rehabilitation might maintain or improve thesepatients’ physical function, compared to patients who receive the usualcare.

NPCRC Junior Faculty Career Development Award Recipients

Harvard Medical School – Jane L. Givens, M.D., MCSE,an instructor of medicine within the division of gerontology at BethIsrael Deaconess Medical Center and Hebrew SeniorLife Institute forAging Research will conduct one of the first detailed studies of familymembers of nursing home residents with advanced dementia to promoteunderstanding of the mental health burdens facing over 4 million USfamilies whose loved ones are experiencing the end-stage of dementia innursing homes, and set the foundation for future research aimed atdeveloping strategies to lessen that burden.

Brown University – Ramona Rhodes, M.D., MPH, anassistant professor of medicine within the division of geriatrics atLifespan/Rhode Island Hospital, Alpert Medical School, Brown Universitywill conduct a study to improve hospice care for minorities.Specifically, she will describe and examine hospice-level variabilityassociated with African Americans’ perceptions of the quality of hospiceservices as well as identify processes of care and interventions thathave resulted in improved quality of care for African Americans, througha nationwide survey of hospice providers.

Institute for Palliative Medicine at San Diego Hospice  –Scott A. Irwin, M.D., Ph.D., is an assistant clinical professor ofpsychiatry at University of California, San Diego, a diplomate of theAmerican Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is the Director ofPsychiatry Programs at the Institute for Palliative Medicine at SanDiego Hospice.  Dr. Irwin will assess the feasibility of conducting arandomized, controlled, safety and efficacy trial of rapidly treatingmajor depressive episodes with methylphenidate monotherapy in patientsreceiving hospice care. This trial will lay the groundwork for futuremulti-site randomized controlled trials in patients receiving hospicecare and their caregivers, which are lacking for many psychiatricinterventions used in this population.

University of California, San Francisco – AlexanderK. Smith, M.D., MPH, is an assistant professor of medicine. Dr. Smithwill conduct a study using a nationally representative survey linkedwith Medicare Data to describe the characteristics of elderly patientsseen in the emergency department in the last 6 months of life and willuse direct observation and survey methodology to examine communicationabout goals of care among a diverse group of seriously ill elders, theirfamily caregivers, and emergency department providers.

“We are truly enthusiastic over the large number of qualified andpromising investigators that have applied for the pilot project supportgrants and junior faculty career development awards over the past threeyears,” said Dr. Diane E. Meier, Chair of the NPCRC’s ScientificAdvisory Board, Director of the Center to Advance Palliative Care, andthe Hertzberg Palliative Care Institute at Mount Sinai School ofMedicine. “Based on the progress and achievements of the current NPCRCand American Cancer Society grantees, we now look forward to openingmore doors for additional investigators to advance the scientific fieldof palliative care.”

Further details about the NPCRC and ACS 2009 Grantees and their research projects are available at


The American Cancer Society combines an unyielding passion withnearly a century of experience to save lives and end suffering fromcancer. As a global grassroots force of more than three millionvolunteers, we fight for every birthday threatened by every cancer inevery community. We save lives by helping people stay well by preventingcancer or detecting it early; helping people get well by being therefor them during and after a cancer diagnosis; by finding cures throughinvestment in groundbreaking discovery; and by fighting back by rallyinglawmakers to pass laws to defeat cancer and by rallying communitiesworldwide to join the fight. As the nation’s largest non-governmentalinvestor in cancer research, contributing more about $3.4 billion, weturn what we know about cancer into what we do. As a result, more than11 million people in America who have had cancer and countless more whohave avoided it will be celebrating birthdays this year. To learn moreabout us or to get help, call us any time, day or night, at1-800-227-2345 or visit

The National Palliative Care Research Center (NPCRC) promotesevidence-based palliative care research in order to improve the care ofpatients with serious illness, and their families. The NPCRC wasestablished in July 2005 with a grant from the Emily Davie and Joseph S.Kornfeld Foundation and has received subsequent funding from the OliveBranch Foundation, Brookdale Foundation, American Cancer Society,American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Betty and Norman F.Levy Foundation, Y.C. Ho/Helen and Michael Chiang Foundation, NationalInstitute on Aging, U.S. Cancer Pain Relief Committee, American ExpressFoundation, and Atlantic Philanthropies. Located in New York City atMount Sinai School of Medicine, NPCRC works in partnership with theCenter to Advance Palliative Care. For more information call1.212.242.7447 or visit

NPCRC and ACS 2009 Press Release