Las Cruces, NM (NMSU) — New Mexico State University and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Wash., received a $9 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to support cancer research, internships and outreach activities in the span of five years.
"NMSU needs to do more of what you are doing," said NMSU President Garrey Carruthers at Friday's Research Rally honoring Regents Professor Mary O'Connell. "This is what helps everyone on campus understand and promote research at NMSU."
O'Connell, principal investigator for the grant and professor in NMSU's College of Agricultural, Environmental and Consumer Sciences, said this grant would boost NMSU's ability to conduct competitive cancer research, training and education.
"This is a team effort. This grant is the product of this partnership, which we've had since 2002," she said.
Cancer research has been conducted at NMSU for at least 10 years, O'Connell said, but until now, it had not been organized into a program "with multiple facets on the scale that this partnership entails."
"We are expected to have an impact beyond New Mexico," O'Connell said. "New Mexico State is a land-grant institution, and when I develop research, I need to make sure it is responsive to the needs of New Mexico, which this grant certainly is. But then, I also need to make sure that spend federal dollars effectively so that our information moves out to other scientists and communities in the country and even the world."
This particular funding mechanism awards budgeted amounts to the Hutchinson Center, which received $5 million, and to NMSU, which received the remaining $4 million. Even though the money is allocated separately, they must work together in all aspects of cancer research.
The main goal of working together is to develop approaches that target underserved populations in the country primarily Hispanic and Native American groups.
NMSU, one of the top Hispanic-serving institutions, was considered for its expertise on health disparity topics and working with diverse and underrepresented populations.
"The main reason we wanted to work with NMSU is that it is a majority minority institution, located in a part of the country with a concentrated population of underserved people," said Beti Thompson, scientist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Public Health Division.
At NMSU, research efforts encompass the colleges of Health and Social Services, Engineering, Agricultural, Environmental and Consumer Sciences, and the College of Arts and Sciences, each working on unique projects that target different aspects of research that span from technology to nutrition and lifestyle.
The five projects are managed by different investigators in different colleges, among them, there is research on hormone replacement therapy, chemotherapy resistance for breast cancer and projects that deal with community outreach.
"This is a very important part of this grant," said Rebecca Palacios, assistant professor in the College of Health and Social Services and director of the Outreach Core program. "The previous funding cycles did not include an Outreach Core, so there were fewer opportunities to conduct outreach to the community, educate and increase awareness."
As part of the outreach activities, NMSU will partner with local agencies to educate the public and encourage those agencies to seek grants for additional funding. The Hutchinson Center will contribute by sending experts to speak at medical conferences.
Student-led research and professional development are crucial components of the program as well.
"There is a biology course that was developed to address cancer-related topics, and students who take the course usually intern at the Fred Hutchinson Center, then continue into graduate programs," O'Connell said. "We started to build and leverage numerous activities on campus, in collaboration with the Hutchinson Center, that improve professional development for the students and faculty."
One of the objectives of the partnership is to continue exchange programs, where students and faculty can expand their academic and professional expertise.
"Basically, we (the Hutchinson Center) offer them the opportunity to work with an investigator, very intensely for nine weeks," Thompson said. "We have many students that as a result of their experiences here go on to pursue degrees in graduate school or medical school. Without a doubt, they all say that their experience here was important in making the decision to further pursue their academic careers."
In 2018, NMSU and the Fred Hutchinson Center will be eligible to renew their grant.
"This type of grant is difficult to maintain in this climate of competition," O'Connell said. "But, it reflects well on the caliber of research, outreach and training being conducted here at NMSU."