CPRIT awards nearly $2.3 million to HSC researchers


By Jan Jarvis

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Two UNT Health Science Center programs – one aimed at expanding cancer prevention services for refugees and the other focused on supporting oncology research training for medical students – have received grants from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

A nearly $1.5 million CPRIT award to Amy Raines-Milenkov, DrPH, will be used to expand the outreach, education and navigation of cancer screenings for refugees through the Building Bridges Initiative.

A 5-year $800,000 CPRIT award to the Center for Diversity and International Programs will fund cancer research training of students in the dual DO/PhD program, said Jamboor K. Vishwanatha, PhD, Regents Professor and Vice President in the Center for Diversity and International Programs.

The award supporting the Building Bridges Initiative will make it possible to focus on groups that were not reached in the first program, said Dr. Raines-Milenkov, a researcher and Assistant Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“Through this generous funding from CPRIT, we will continue to seek and serve individuals in our community through a culturally and linguistically appropriate intervention to prevent cancers and save costs,” she said.

“More importantly, as we provide this intervention and research on its effectiveness, we’ll gain insight that will help refugees resettle into our community with the information and resources needed for a long a healthy life in their new home.”

The expanded program will offer screenings for more types of cancer and serve additional age groups. The program will also increase services to various groups, such as the Chin, from Burma, and Arabic-speaking populations. Its geographic reach will also widen to serve Denton County, home to many Chin refugees.

The model has been effective in reaching underserved and never screened refugee women, Dr. Raines-Milenkov said. This three-year phase will focus on sustainability and maintenance of screening behaviors beyond grant funding.

The $800,000 grant to assist TCOM students will provide two new scholars with support each year for a three-year duration, Dr. Vishwanatha said.

“This is the first such extramural funding for the DO/PhD program at UNTHSC,” he said.

Nationwide, there is a profound lack of diversity among physicians and scientists, highlighting a critical need to train more doctors with a commitment to reduce health disparities.

“The Osteopathic Scholars in Cancer Research program will focus on recruiting and training underrepresented minorities and disadvantaged students for the combined dual degrees of DO and PhD,” he said. “The research focus will be specific to cancer.”

Other investigators on the project are Michael Smith, PhD, Professor, Institute for Cardiovascular and Metabolic Disease and Riyaz Basha, PhD,  Associate Professor, Pediatrics.

CPRIT was established in 2007 after Texas voters approved a constitutional amendment that authorized the state to issue $3 billion in awards to fund groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs. Since the agency began making awards in 2009, it has awarded more than $1.78 billion in awards.

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