Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas announced grants that will enhance preventive cervical cancer care in our Borderplex region and support research focused on acute myeloid leukemia.
CPRIT is a state agency tasked with funding cancer research and prevention in Texas to reduce the impact of cancer on the lives of Texans.
As CPRIT strives to reduce the impact of cancer on the lives of Texans, Michelle M. Le Beau, Ph.D., CPRIT’s chief scientific officer, stresses the vital importance of our Borderplex in the fight against cancer.
“The Texas Borderplex region is particularly important because this region of the state has the highest incidence of cancer and highest incidents of cancer mortality and thus bears a disproportionate share of the cancer burden,” Dr. Le Beau said.
CPRIT recently awarded $2,499,437 to De Casa en Casa, TTUHSC El Paso’s community-based cervical cancer screening program serving West and South Texas. The grant will support the expansion of program components, extending its reach and capacity with the goal of reducing cervical cancer rates and mortality in the targeted areas. The grant will empower De Casa en Casa to provide 4,000 cervical cancer screenings over the next five years.
De Casa en Casa was launched in 2014 in El Paso County with the initial mission of serving two counties. Over the years, it has undergone significant growth and now operates 16 screening delivery sites within 61 counties in Texas. The program’s components include outreach, health education, no-cost clinical services, and navigation, primarily promoting Pap test completion and timely diagnostic testing.
Over the past decade and beyond, TTUHSC El Paso has demonstrated a commitment to cancer prevention through various impactful initiatives, including CPRIT-funded programs like the Southwest Coalition for Colorectal Cancer Screening and the Breast Cancer Education, Screening, and Navigation Program. Together these programs cover over 100 Texas counties and have provided colonoscopies, mammograms, health education and patient navigation for uninsured and underinsured individuals.
To date, De Casa en Casa has provided patient care and navigation services to more than 33,000 women. Among them, over 7,200 have successfully completed screenings, while over 550 women have undergone advanced diagnostic tests and treatments to avert the development of abnormal lesions into cancer. Notably, more than 1,300 of these women who were screened had never previously received such screenings.
“Cervical cancer incidence and mortality rates in our service area are high, compared to the national average, with an average incidence rate of 12.6 per 100,000, almost double the national rate of 7.7 per 100,000,” said Dr. Jennifer Molokwu, director of Cancer Prevention and Control in the Department of Molecular and Translational Medicine at TTUHSC El Paso. “Late-stage diagnosis and mortality rates are also significantly higher than the national and state averages.”The grant from CPRIT will enable De Casa en Casa to directly address these disparities and promote regular cervical cancer screening among women in the region, especially among Latinas who experience the highest incidence of cervical cancer in Texas.
“Through this grant, we aim to ensure more women have access to regular and timely cervical cancer screening,” Molokwu said. “Our ultimate goal is to reduce the incidence and mortality rates in our service area and improve overall health outcomes for women in West and South Texas.”
Each year, about 12,000 women are diagnosed with cervical cancer in the United States, with 60% of cervical cancers occurring in resource-poor communities. In El Paso, there are 10.8 cases of cervical cancer per 100,000 women.
Martha Hilda Garcia, an El Paso resident, has experienced the assistance provided by De Casa en Casa. In May of this year, she received the devastating news that she had cervical cancer.
“When I heard the word ‘cancer,’ the first thought that crossed my mind was ‘death,'” Garcia said.
De Casa en Casa played a crucial role in helping her come to terms with the diagnosis and focus on her treatment.
“Without the support of De Casa en Casa, it might not have been as manageable for me,” she said. “It’s never easy, but their assistance has lightened the load. I’ve learned to confront my fears and accept my condition. Previously, I couldn’t even utter the word ‘cancer.’ Now, when I’m asked, I can confidently say, ‘I have cancer, and I’m undergoing treatment.’ I’ve become more accepting of it.”
CPRIT grant for leukemia research
TTUHSC El Paso also received a $200,000 CPRIT Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer Pilot Study award to study acute myeloid leukemia, a highly aggressive form of cancer resulting in the presence of abnormal blood-forming cells in bone marrow.
Anna M. Eiring and her team of researchers are examining two proteins found in the body that break down waste. By focusing on these two proteins, they discovered a potential avenue for overcoming drug resistance in myeloid leukemia. They want to kill cancer cells without harming healthy cells, particularly in patients with certain genetic mutations who have a poorer chance of survival.
Acute myeloid leukemia accounts for about 33% of all leukemia cases in the United States. In 2020 alone, physicians diagnosed an estimated 19,940 new cases of AML, with an estimated 11,180 people dying from the disease.
“Our data suggests that patients from El Paso with AML have poor outcomes,” Eiring said. “This research will utilize specimens from AML patients in the region. CPRIT TREC awards are designated for research institutions located more than 100 miles from a comprehensive cancer center. This type of grant will improve biomedical research in the region and will allow us to explore novel scientific hypotheses that may never have come to fruition.”
Eiring’s research has the potential to improve the quality of life and survival outcomes for those affected by AML in our Borderplex region. The development of new and effective treatments for AML will bring hope to many families and offer a brighter future for those affected by this devastating disease.
To learn more about TTUHSC El Paso’s impact on cancer care in our Borderplex region, visit ttuhscepimpact.org.