UNM Recognized for Minority Cancer Leadership

News Release


Two UNM Cancer Center scientists receive national awards

Albuquerque, NM—March 25, 2011—The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research, has recognized two scientists affiliated with the UNM Cancer Center for their excellence within the nationwide community of minority cancer scientists and minority-serving institutions.

Kristina Flores, PhD, has won a Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award, which honors leaders in the minority cancer community. She is one of just 36 recipients nationwide. Dr. Flores is a Research Assistant Professor within the Department of Internal Medicine and a member of the UNM Cancer Center’s Cancer Population Sciences Program. A second UNM researcher, Alexandra Fajardo, a doctoral candidate in biomedical sciences, has received a Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award, which recognizes meritorious minority scientists at the early stages of their careers. She is one of just 50 recipients nationwide. Dr. Flores and Ms. Fajardo will receive their awards and present research at the AACR Annual Meeting, held April 2-6 in Orlando, Florida.

“The UNM Cancer Center is honored to be training the next generation of cancer investigators,” said Dr. Cheryl Willman, Director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. “It is part of our mission as a minority-serving institution in the nation’s only majority-minority state to educate and mentor outstanding new faculty and up-and-coming researchers from all the communities we serve. We are delighted for Dr. Flores and Ms. Fajardo, and incredibly proud of their accomplishments.”

The AACR awards underscore the UNM Cancer Center’s commitment to multiethnic and multicultural diversity in every aspect of its mission: from the delivery of compassionate, cutting-edge cancer care to all New Mexicans and the reduction of cancer health disparities in partnership with New Mexico’s communities, to the pursuit of world-class research into cancer causes and cures and the education of young scientists of diverse backgrounds and research interests.

“I am thrilled to be recognized by the AACR,” said Dr. Flores. “UNM has provided a supportive environment for pursing a range of cancer research projects, including ones that uniquely reflect the communities and health disparities found in our state. I am grateful to the mentorship of Drs. Marianne Berwick and Steve Belinsky from the UNM Cancer Center’s Population Sciences Program.” Dr. Flores is currently conducting research relevant to lung cancer, examining the relationship between aspects of folate metabolism (folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food) and a molecular process known as hypermethylation that is associated with lung cancer risk and could eventually aid in early detection of the disease. She will present findings from this research at the upcoming AACR Annual Meeting. Dr. Flores also participates in collaborative research on cancer education and prevention with Navajo communities in New Mexico, part of the UNM Cancer Center’s commitment to address, reduce and eliminate cancer health disparities in the state.

“Receiving this award is a great honor,” said Ms. Fajardo. “I am grateful to the AACR for this recognition, and to the UNM Biomedical Sciences Graduate program, especially my mentors Drs. Marco Bisoffi and Todd Thompson, for the opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge cancer research.” Ms. Fajardo is investigating novel mechanisms to target the androgen receptor (i.e., the male sex hormone receptor) for treatment of prostate cancer utilizing experimental therapeutic agents discovered at UNM. She will present her research at the upcoming AACR Annual Meeting. After her anticipated graduation this spring, Ms. Fajardo plans to pursue a career in cancer research and drug development.

About the AACR Awards

The Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award is given to scientists who are working at the level of assistant professor or above at a minority-serving institution and who are engaged in meritorious basic, clinical, translational or epidemiological cancer research. The award is intended to increase the scientific knowledge base of faculty members at minority-serving institutions, to encourage them in their research and to assist in inspiring their students to pursue careers in cancer research.

The Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award is intended to enhance the education and training of minority researchers and increase the visibility and recognition of minorities involved in cancer research. It provides funds for the participation of early-career, meritorious minority scientists at the Annual Meeting. Scholars are chosen from minority institutions and the larger bodies of universities, colleges and research institutions based on their qualifications, references from mentors and an estimation of the professional benefit to the awardees.

About the AACR

The mission of the American Association for Cancer Research is to prevent and cure cancer. Founded in 1907, the AACR is the world’s oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research. Its membership includes 33,000 basic, translational and clinical researchers; health care professionals; and cancer survivors and advocates in the United States and more than 90 other countries.

About the UNM Cancer Center

The UNM Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated cancer center in the state. One of just 66 NCI-designated cancer centers nationwide, the UNM Cancer Center is recognized for its scientific excellence, contributions to cancer research and delivery of medical advances to patients and their families. It is home to 85 board-certified oncology physicians representing every cancer specialty and more than 125 research scientists hailing from prestigious institutions such as M.D. Anderson, Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic. The UNM Cancer Center treats more than 65% of the adults and virtually all of the children in New Mexico affected by cancer, from every county in the state. In 2010, it provided care to more than 15,800 cancer patients. The Center’s research programs are supported by over $59 million annually in federal and private funding. UNM Cancer Center contact information Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, (505) 797-6673, dhornbeck@jameskorenchen.com Audrey Manring, UNM Cancer Center, (505) 925-0486, amanring@salud.unm.edu .

Contact: Luke Frank, 272-3322

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