Fred Hutch team receives $7.5M NCI grant to improve cancer screening

PROSPR II consortium aims to refine detection of cervical, colorectal and lung cancers
Dr. Christopher Li
"The whole goal of the network is finding ways to optimize and improve screening," said Dr. Christopher Li, a public health researcher at Fred Hutch who will serve as one of the PROSPR II consortium's principal investigators. Photo by Susie Fitzhugh

Fred Hutch’s Drs. Christopher Li, Yingye Zheng and Bill Barlow have received a $7.5 million, five-year grant to participate, for the second time, in a National Cancer Institute consortium designed to promote research to evaluate and improve the cancer screening process.

This second iteration, known as PROSPR II (for Population-based Research to Optimize the Screening Process), will once again bring together investigators from multiple research centers to address the challenges of cancer screening. This time, the focus will be on lung, cervical and colorectal cancers.

“The whole goal of the network is finding ways to optimize and improve screening,” said Li, a public health researcher who will serve as one of the principal investigators. “How do we reduce false positives and false negatives while increasing the efficiency of the system? How can we improve access? How do we improve screening? How can we develop novel, effective screening interventions?”

Fred Hutch will serve as the Coordinating Center for the PROSPR II Consortium and will utilize expertise at the Hutch, University of Washington, and Seattle Veterans Affairs in health disparities research, health services and implementation science.

“This consortium offers a unique opportunity to improve the entire screening process for three screen-detectable cancers — cervical, colorectal and lung cancer,” said Dr. Elisabeth Beaber, who will act as scientific director of PROSPR II. “With a particular focus on measuring quality of care, characteristics of health systems and addressing health disparities, this consortium will strive to improve cancer screening outcomes for patients.”

Li said a primary focus of Fred Hutch will be on “trans-organ projects” that integrate assessments of barriers to screening across the three different cancers.

”This will give us an opportunity to examine similarities and differences in the ways that cancer screening is both effective and challenged across different cancer types,” he said.

The NCI’s PROSPR program originally was launched in 2011 to promote coordinated, multidisciplinary research to evaluate and improve the cancer screening process for breast, colon and cervical cancer. Along with the Hutch, participating institutions included Kaiser Foundation Research Institute, Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Parkland-UT Southwestern, the University of New Mexico, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Vermont, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

This time, the participating research centers are Kaiser Northern California, Kaiser Southern California, Kaiser Washington, Parkland/UT-Southwestern, Partners CancerCare, Kaiser Colorado, University of Pennsylvania, Marshfield Clinic, Kaiser Hawaii and Henry Ford Cancer Institute. The Hutch will work with the 10 institutions to identify high-priority questions, pinpoint the types of data needed to answer them and then make recommendations for pilot-test interventions moving forward. Funding of the grant is pending until notice of award is issued.

“The different research sites that are participating are essentially the laboratories in which to evaluate these new interventions,” Li said. “They’ll propose their own research projects related to the cancer they’re focused on. But they’ll do it in alignment and partnership with each other and with our Coordinating Center.”

Precision screening — assessing an individual’s risk rather than using a “one-size-fits-all” approach — is very much a part of the initiative, Li said, but PROSPR II will continue to focus primarily on screening methods currently in existence rather than new technology still in development.

“There’s a lot of interest in new approaches to detect cancer early like liquid biopsies but PROSPR is focused on implementing tools that we have today,” he said. “For some cancers, we have do have very effective ways of screening them. But we know that we’re not always implementing this screening optimally, and PROSPR is focused on solutions to these challenges.”

Read more about Fred Hutch achievements and accolades.

Diane Mapes is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She has written extensively about health issues for NBC News, TODAY, CNN, MSN, Seattle Magazine and other publications. A breast cancer survivor, she blogs at and tweets @double_whammied. Email her at Just diagnosed and need information and resources? Visit our Patient Care page.

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