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CPRIT grant awarded to train new cancer prevention researchers

October 01, 2021
Wendi Hawthorne and Erik McKenny

UTHealth-CPRIT Innovation in Cancer Prevention Research Training Program directors.
UTHealth-CPRIT Innovation in Cancer Prevention Research Training Program directors. (L to R: Maria E. Fern√°ndez, PhD; Cui Tao, PhD; Patricia Dolan Mullen, DrPH, MLS; Natalie Sirisaengtaksin, PhD. Photo by UTHealth Houston)

An innovative program that aims to increase the number of cancer prevention scientists and boost cancer health equity across the state led by experts at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth Houston) has been awarded a nearly $4 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). 

Headed by Maria E. Fernández, PhD, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research at UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston, the UTHealth-CPRIT Innovation in Cancer Prevention Research Training Program uses a systematic method to teach career skills, problem-solving skills, team science, and transdisciplinary communication to produce more innovative scientists and research products. Trainees are encouraged to pursue cancer research that will result in dramatic advances in the field.

“Our center has an excellent track record of providing cancer prevention and control research training going back over two decades,” said Fernández, who is also a professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences and the Lorne Bain Distinguished Professor in Health and Medicine at UTHealth School of Public Health. “We’re excited to leverage our existing infrastructure to bolster the cadre of diverse and innovative cancer researchers in Texas, particularly scientists from underrepresented minority groups.”

“This an especially important vote of confidence because it is the second time the training program has been refunded after a competitive process,” said Patricia Dolan Mullen, DrPH, MLS, co-director of the UTHealth-CPRIT Innovation in Cancer Prevention Research Training Program and a professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at UTHealth School of Public Health.

The university’s cancer prevention faculty will give trainees a multifaceted mentorship experience. The program will include researchers from several schools within UTHealth Houston, including UTHealth School of Public Health, UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics, and MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, working collaboratively to aid trainees in developing a multidisciplinary approach to their research. Co-directors from each school collaborate in the program, which also provides access to the newest courses and certificate programs in modern cancer and prevention science as well as career guidance and other supportive services.

Another goal of the program is to recruit a diverse range of trainees to increase the number of cancer prevention researchers from underrepresented minority groups developing innovative studies addressing cancer control equity.

“Ensuring the research products work not only for a small subset of individuals, but for the broader community bearing the burden of cancer, is key in addressing cancer through an equity lens,” said Mullen, who is also the training director at the Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research at UTHealth School of Public Health.

Building on the existing UTHealth Cancer Research Training Program, program leadership aims to benefit not just the Texas research community, but have a worldwide impact on cancer prevention.

“Our goal is to accelerate the discovery and implementation of effective interventions,” Fernández said. “That’s why this program has always encouraged trainees to engage in research that advances cancer science by leaps, not baby steps.”

The training program will continue through May 2026.

Other program directors include Cui Tao, PhD, a professor of bioinformatics and the Dr. Doris L. Ross Professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics and director of the UTHealth Center for Biomedical Semantics and Data Intelligence, and Natalie Sirisaengtaksin, PhD, an alumna of the training program and program manager in academic affairs at MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Graduate School.

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