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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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New Mexico State receives HRSA grant to expand cancer research

New Mexico State University in partnership with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) of Seattle has received $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to expand the capacity for cancer research at the university and increase the number of underrepresented minorities involved in cancer research.

lly hope this five-year planning grant will help improve the number of minority scientists in cancer-related research," said James Strickland, co-principal investigator on the project and an associate professor of animal and range sciences at New Mexico State.

The partnership between New Mexico State and FHCRC, initiated by FHCRC in 1999, will give the university access to resources and expertise in cancer research and help FHCRC increase its minority presence in training and research programs.

"We want the programs that are planned with this grant to really address minority health disparity issues," Strickland said. "Minorities are more likely to suffer the ill effects of cancer and few enter the field of cancer research."

Investigators will establish a long-lasting infrastructure to conduct cancer research at New Mexico State by developing a plan to recruit new and existing faculty into cancer research, developing an exchange program for faculty and students between the two institutions and establishing a research curriculum at the university to increase knowledge of and skills to address cancer disparities among minority populations.

The grant also will allow the institutions to develop a structure to recruit, train and mentor undergraduate and graduate minority students for careers in cancer research, while building on existing programs at New Mexico State. New research experiences will benefit scientists at both institutions initially through five pilot projects during the first three years of the grant. Other projects may follow in the fourth and fifth years.

The five pilot projects, which will partner New Mexico State professors with researchers from FHCRC, will look at new targets for antiviral therapies needed for newly developed viruses that cause serious diseases in humans; the anticancer potential of native plants of the Southwest; stimulation for possible regeneration of healthy tissues to replace tissues and organs damaged by disease; the metabolism's response to varying degrees of oxygen reaching body tissues and how that can effect chemical and radiation therapy; and enhancing screenings of minorities for colorectal cancer, which is the second leading cause of cancer deaths.

New Mexico State departments participating include agronomy and horticulture, family and consumer sciences, chemistry, biology and nursing.

"This gives New Mexico State the chance to build a true partnership with an institution on the cutting edge of cancer research," Strickland said.

Strickland, a nutritional toxicologist whose research focuses on poison plants, spent time this summer working at the center in Seattle with researcher Julian Simon, who focuses on identifying new anticancer drugs using a wide range of experimental techniques ranging from organic synthesis to genetic screens. Strickland said he learned research techniques, protocols and technologies for cancer drug discovery. He said some poison plants are known to have antitumor or anticancer activity, which gives them huge potential for use in cancer treatments.

"Toxins of poison plants have been used in pharmaceuticals for years," he said.

The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is an independent world leader in studying ways to understand, treat and prevent cancer and related diseases. Although the doors to the center opened in 1975, the history of the center actually began in 1956 with the vision of Seattle surgeon Dr. William Hutchinson, brother of baseball hero Fred Hutchinson. In 1960, with the help of the U.S. Department of Public Health, he founded the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation.

Initial study focused on heart surgery, cancer and endocrine diseases. By 1962, Hutchinson and the foundation envisioned a center devoted specifically to the study of cancer. After Hutchinson's brother died of cancer in 1964, the idea took shape, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center was established in 1965 as the cancer division of the foundation. The mission of the center is the elimination of cancer as a cause of human suffering and death.