UTEP Receives $19.2 Million Dollars to Reduce Hispanic Cancer Disparities

BBRC scientists will focus on new approaches and therapeutic strategies to address cancers that afflict Hispanics, a population seldom included in vaccine clinical trials
Latino family walking together

The University of Texas at El Paso's Border Biomedical Research Center (BBRC) will soon accelerate its quest to identify and better understand the reasons for ‘Hispanic cancer health disparities.’

Through these efforts, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) is living up to its Carnegie R1 status as a ‘University with very high research activity.’

BBRC’s $19.2 million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced on October 14, 2019, is focused on the people living in the Paso del Norte region, which is a unique binational environment, stretching across 2 countries and 3 states. 

This region serves the 2.4 million people living in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties in far west Texas, Doña Ana, Luna, and Otero Counties in southern New Mexico, and the municipality of Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico.

This new grant will provide significant research funds for UTEP’s cancer scientists to understand better the molecular mechanisms, and possible environmental and lifestyle factors that contribute to this multifaceted disease. 

The researchers also will use those funds to expand UTEP’s cancer tissue “bank” that is used to study and identify possible new drugs that might prove useful in cancer treatment strategies in our primarily Mexican-American population.

“The absence of a comprehensive Cancer Tissue Biorepository that reflects the prominent Mexican-American and Mexican-Hispanic populations of the El Paso-Juárez borderplex is a profound barrier for understanding the complexity of Hispanic cancer health disparities and for developing targeted therapeutic interventions,” said Michael Kenney, Ph.D., associate dean for research and the BBRC’s core facilities deputy director.

“The BBRC active research faculty, staff, and students continue to perform incredible work in this area to find the cause and novel solutions to this deadly disease, which is now a leading cause of death among Hispanics,” said Robert A. Kirken, Ph.D., BBRC director and dean of the College of Science, in a college press release.

Dr. Kirken, the grant’s principal investigator, said the BBRC would utilize multiple approaches such as biomolecular research and behavioral and social science research to address this very critical issue.  

Dr. Kirken added that the plan is to focus on certain cancers that are more prevalent, less responsive to treatment, and display higher relapse rates in our population. Those include breast, cervical, prostate, liver, and pediatric leukemia. 

“We are confident our work will provide new insight into the genetic causes and new treatment strategies to effectively reduce and/or eliminate these cancers.”  

One of the program’s more specific objectives through the grant is to propose an innovative strategy that would better define Hispanic cancers. 

A separate social behavioral project will explore the potential barriers and facilitators in the use of the vaccine for the human papillomavirus (HPV) in the Paso del Norte region. 

This information could lead to tailored interventions that would increase the acceptance of the HPV vaccine. 

With the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for HPV vaccinations, adults up to age 45 now can be vaccinated to protect themselves against multiple types of cancers.

BBRC scientists hope that their work will lead to new approaches and therapeutic strategies to address questions about cancers that afflict Hispanics, a population typically not included in clinical trials and research programs. 

This huge undertaking will require the community’s participation and the collaborations of local hospitals and physicians. UTEP students who work in the BBRC will have access to next-generation sequencing that allows them to identify novel or previously unreported mutations within cancer.

This could lead to research that can identify targets for future therapies and new medications that could be more effective with fewer side effects.

Cancer news published by Precision Vaccinations