When it comes to Hispanic health care, cancer is not just a disease; it’s an epidemic.
Coming to the aid of this underserved population, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso has received a landmark $6 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The grant will fund the Impacting Cancer Outcomes in Hispanics (ICOHN) project, which examines cancer and cancer-related health disparities in Hispanic populations along the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The award for Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso is transformational for cancer research in this region,” said CPRIT CEO Wayne Roberts. “This grant, along with other cancer research grants for the university, are not only a recognition of the significant development of cancer research here at TTUHSC El Paso, but an endorsement of the long-lasting impact this research will have in Texas. It is only the beginning, and CPRIT is proud to help support this vital effort here in El Paso.”
Rajkumar Lakshmanaswamy, Ph.D., dean of the Francis Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at TTUHSC El Paso, is principal investigator for the ICOHN project. Dr. Lakshmanaswamy said the CPRIT grant provides an opportunity to build on the university’s research strengths and investments in cancer research.
“We’re situated in a unique position to address the growing cancer burden among the Hispanic community,” said Dr. Lakshmanaswamy, a biomedical science professor who directs the university’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer. “Our goal is to improve access to health care for our Hispanic community members by developing novel biomarkers and therapeutics, grounded in an improved understanding of the biological, cultural and behavioral determinants of cancer.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports cancer as the leading cause of death in U.S. Hispanics, accounting for 20.3% of all deaths among this group. One in three Hispanic men and women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime, and distinct disparities are evident, such as high rates of leukemia and liver cancer compared to other populations. Breast cancer, a common occurrence in all communities, is a notable concern among Hispanics, who make up 83% of the population of our Borderplex.
Benefitting the university’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer, the grant is part of CPRIT’s Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer (TREC) initiative, of which TTUHSC El Paso is one of the first 5 grant recipients. The TREC initiative aims to decrease the impact of cancer in communities by developing new diagnostic markers and treatments. In addition to the biological aspect of cancer, the TREC initiative will also consider cultural and behavioral aspects of the disease, which are often overlooked but crucial in understanding the overall cancer burden.
The Hispanic population carries a heavy cancer burden, but according to a 2020 study, Hispanics made up less than 4% of patients participating in cancer clinical trials nationwide.
“Hispanic communities are largely underrepresented in cancer research and clinical trials,” said Dr. Lakshmanaswamy. “This grant allows us to bridge this gap and ensures the benefits of our research reach those who need it most. As researchers, we aim to bring hope to our community, and to continue building the path toward improving cancer outcomes and eliminating health disparities.”
The ICOHN project will establish three comprehensive research areas, with an initial focus on leukemia, breast and liver cancer. The researchers will be supported by a mentoring and professional development program in collaboration with seasoned researchers from six other medical schools and specialists from five National Cancer Institute (NCI) designated comprehensive cancer centers. This collective effort aims to form a concentration of successful researchers devoted to improving cancer outcomes in the Hispanic population.
Since 2011, CPRIT has invested over $34 million in our Borderplex region through TTUHSC El Paso, funding a range of cancer-related initiatives. From facilitating essential diagnostic testing, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, to promoting early cancer detection, CPRIT’s investment has proven instrumental in the community’s fight against cancer. Moreover, through their support of education and free vaccination programs targeting human papillomavirus (HPV), CPRIT has significantly contributed to reducing HPV-related cancers in West Texas, leaving a lasting impact on the community.
The announcement of the grant follows the recent awarding of $65 million by the Texas Legislature to build a comprehensive cancer center at TTUHSC El Paso. Together, both projects will ensure TTUHSC El Paso and our Borderplex region become a leading cancer education, research, and patient care hub for the Southwest, and further solidifies the university’s standing as a health care change agent.
To learn more about TTUHSC El Paso’s impact on cancer care in our Borderplex region, visit