UK program to train Appalachian undergraduates to fight cancer

The University of Kentucky is starting a new program to help Appalachian students prepare for careers fighting cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects their home region.

The UK Markey Cancer Center Training in Oncology program will accept four students who will begin initial training in the fall. Current UK freshman, sophomores and juniors who are natives of one of Kentucky’s 54 Appalachian counties and who are majoring in life or health sciences are encouraged to apply at

Students are expected to commit two years to the program and will be paid for their work, plus some tuition money to pay for taking a cancer-related course each semester.

Students will spend part of their academic year working on research and clinical experiences at Markey and the UK College of Medicine. Students will also participate in education and outreach in Appalachian counties on cancer screening and prevention strategies.

“The program is geared toward getting undergraduate students interested in pursuing cancer-focused careers and then using their knowledge and passion to have an impact on their home communities,” said Nathan Vanderford, Markey’s assistant director for research, who will lead the program along with Markey Director Mark Evers. “The students can use their education to train others in their communities, and to provide meaningful research and clinical care innovations that can reduce cancer in Appalachian Kentucky.”

The program was funded by $200,000 from the National Cancer Institute, which UK could apply for because Markey is an NCI-designated cancer center, one of 69 in the country recognized for research and treatment. Such centers can apply for supplemental educational grants, Vanderford said.

“For us, this is unique because we’re focusing on this under-served population of Kentucky, which Markey has a main focus on anyway,” Vanderford said. “Dr. Evers and I are extraordinarily passionate about this opportunity, we both come from under-served areas, both of us have experienced opportunities without which we would not be where we are today. Hopefully can give others the opportunity to change their career paths.”

Eastern Kentucky has some of the highest cancer incidence and mortality rates in the country, including for lung, colorectal and cervical cancers.

Linda Blackford: 859-231-1359, @lbblackford