City of Hope
Investigator Biography

Dr. Mina S. Sedrak, M.D., M.S.
Assistant Professor
Department of Medical Oconology & Therapeutics Research

Grant Amount: $58,080

To conduct multidisciplinary research to understand how social media can enhance the public’s knowledge, health behaviors, and outcomes as it relates to cancer.

Our goal is to understand the use and limits of the new and rapidly evolving modes of participative communication as they apply to cancer research. We strive to bring scientific rigor and insight to study online communication and social networks, develop new tools and methods for mining the cancer ecosystem online, and understand how interpersonal connections influence personal health choices and actions.

Pilot Study: Tapping into Twitter to rethink how we recruit patients to clinical trials
Clinical trials are essential for translating scientific discoveries into new treatments, but only 3 percent to 4 percent of adult cancer patients participate annually in therapeutic clinical trials. Strategies that aim to inform and educate the public on the condition being studied have been linked to improvements in patient recruitment. How people get information is changing dramatically and it may be necessary to use new modes of online communication through social media to tap into health communication effectively. Numerous cancer care organizations and campaigns have recently used Twitter as a media platform for health promotion and education. Despite an apparent increase in use, there remains a paucity of literature examining the content of Twitter in cancer care or even the extent to which Twitter provides useful information about a subject as complex as cancer. There is a need to improve understanding of existing cancer communications on social media sites such as Twitter to better utilize these sites to deliver information about cancer. These insights, in turn, would allow the design of targeted interventions on social media to promote clinical trial participation.

Moving from an innovative idea to a proof-of-concept
The use of social media for cancer research is in its infancy. Its value and direct application remains to be seen and warrants further exploration. The proposed research our lab aims to do is highly innovative because, just like the medium itself, the tools used to conduct social media research are incompletely characterized and evolving. Analysis of Twitter data, for example, represents an important opportunity for the cancer community, but it also presents a number of very unique challenges. Because this area of research is so new, there are few standardized metrics or research approaches. We aim to learn how the public uses Twitter to get information about cancer. Our insights will lead to novel approaches for dissemination of information to improve treatment and support for cancer patients and survivors, and create improved public awareness of clinical trials. This work will provide the essential foundation for further research in this new area.