Navuluri receives NCCN Foundation 2021 Young Investigator Award

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) announced today that Neelima Navuluri, MD, MPH, has been selected to receive a 2021 NCCN Foundation Young Investigator Award — an award that “fosters emerging talent and explores promising areas for study.”

A medical instructor in the Duke Department of Medicine and in Global Health and practicing pulmonologist and intensivist at Duke University Hospital and Duke Raleigh Hospital, Navuluri is one of only six early-career investigators from NCCN’s 31 Member Institutions to have been selected to receive this prestigious award.

Honorees, per NCCN, will receive up to $150,000 in funding, over two years, “to advance important research on important issues in oncology." "They represent tomorrow’s leaders for advancing cancer care."

“The NCCN Foundation Young Investigator Award recipients over the years have contributed an impactful body of work to improve quality, effectiveness and efficiency in cancer care and we’re happy to continue that this year,” said Patrick Delaney, Executive Director, NCCN Foundation, in a press release announcing the six award winners. “We’re eager to see how these leading young researchers improve outcomes for future cancer patients.”

Navuluri’s winning project — “Intervention Mapping to Improve Lung Cancer Screening Among Black Veterans” — is an implementation science study.

“We hope to utilize DCI’s qualitative research expertise and work with the VA Health Services Research & Development (HSR&D) group to design, at the end of the two-year period, an intervention informed by patients and providers that will reduce disparities in lung cancer screening among Black patients,” said Navuluri, who, with the other awardees, will present their research during the NCCN 2023 Annual Conference.

Dr. Navuluri’s primary mentor on the project is Scott Shofer, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the Duke Department of Medicine, Duke Cancer Institute member, and pulmonologist who sees patients at the Thoracic Oncology Clinic at Duke Cancer Center, the Duke Pulmonary and Specialty Services Clinic, and the Durham VA Health Care System.

Navuluri’s co-mentors are: Christopher Cox, MD, MHA, MPH, a professor in the Duke Department of Medicine and practicing critical care specialist, palliative medicine specialist and pulmonologist; Isaretta Riley, MD, an assistant professor in the Duke Department of Medicine and practicing pulmonologist at the Durham VA Health Care System; and Leah Zullig, PhD, MPH, co-leader of DCI’s Cancer Prevention, Outcomes and Survivorship Research Program, an associate professor in the Duke Department of Population Health Sciences, and an investigator with the Center of Innovation to Accelerate Discovery and Practice Transformation (ADAPT) at the Durham VA Health Care System.

Born and raised in Hobbs, New Mexico, Navuluri first came to Duke University in 2006 as an undergraduate. During that time, she was selected for the Alice M. Baldwin Scholars Program, which inspires and supports female-identified undergraduate students to become engaged, confident and connected leaders in the Duke community and beyond.  

Navuluri graduated from Duke in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Comparative Studies and went on to earn her MD at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio and her Master’s in Public Health (MPH) through UT Houston School of Public Health. 

She did her Internal Medicine residency training at New York Presbyterian Hospital — Columbia University and in 2017 returned to Duke as a fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care and Global Health. Navuluri was selected for the NIH T32 Interdisciplinary Training Program in Lung Disease at Duke (Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care in the Department of Medicine) and spent most of her final fellowship year (2019-20) in western Kenya conducting a study assessing the prevalence of chronic hypoxemia and its risk factors — a project jointly funded by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the Fogarty International Center, and CHEST Foundation. Her time in Kenya was cut short in March 2020 due to the pandemic and she returned to the U.S., but data collection for her study remains ongoing.

Navuluri completed her fellowship in June 2020 and joined the Duke University School of Medicine faculty in July 2020 as a medical instructor.

“I’m really pleased to have the opportunity to work with Neelima on this project. From the time I met her during her fellowship interview until now, she has been clear in her passion for working with underserved communities. Throughout her fellowship she has been incredibly resourceful in organizing the people around her to develop ideas and implement studies and interventions to improve the lives of those she is working with,” said Shofer. “Her work looking at chronic hypoxia in western Kenya is unique and what she has accomplished there is a testament to her dedication to understanding the causes of respiratory failure in that population. I’m looking forward to having her energy and determination focused on helping our Veterans at risk for developing lung cancer.”

Read more about Dr. Navuluri.

This story was written by Julie Harbin, senior writer, Duke Cancer Institute.