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CPRIT awards $2.7 million to UT Health San Antonio
August 24, 2018

Projects include tobacco control in primary care and oncology patients, and increasing HPV vaccination in childhood cancer survivors.

Shared by Will Sansom

The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) on Aug. 24 awarded more than $2.7 million to fund four projects at UT Health San Antonio.

A $1.3 million grant will enhance tobacco screening and treatment for two groups of patients—those who receive their primary care through the UT Health Physicians medical practice and those who receive their oncology care through the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“In addition to providing tobacco cessation services to thousands of patients in these two settings, we will establish a model for innovation in tobacco control delivery that can be readily adopted by other provider systems across Texas,” said Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and director of the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio.

During patient visits, provider teams will prompt and guide patients who use tobacco to enroll via their smartphones in SMS text messaging or social media messaging (Facebook Messenger) services designed specifically for the patient populations of these practices.

“These cessation services, based on the research team’s successful Quitxt text messaging service to quit smoking, will provide messaging designed to increase readiness for patients who are not ready qui promptly, and to assist cessation for those who are ready to quit,” Dr. Ramirez said.

Preventing HPV-related cancers in pediatric survivors

Human papillomavirus (HPV) contributes to more than 30,000 new cancers in the U.S. every year, yet only 43 percent of young females and 32 percent of young males are being vaccinated. A $1 million, three-year CPRIT grant awarded to UT Health San Antonio pediatric oncologist Allison Grimes, M.D., will remedy this in a fragile group of children.

“Childhood cancer survivors represent a particularly high-risk population,” Dr. Grimes said. “Compared to the U.S. general population, pediatric cancer survivors experience significantly higher rates of HPV-related malignancies—40 percent more in females and 150 percent more in males. Despite these increased risks, young survivors have very low HPV vaccination rates. Our project will address this issue across a wide area of the state.”

In South Texas, the majority of children with cancer receive their treatment as part of the South Texas Pediatric Minority Underserved NCI (National Cancer Institute) Community Oncology Research Program. This network operates as a consortium of five regional pediatric institutions: UT Health San Antonio (with clinical partner University Hospital), Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio, Dell Children’s Hospital in Austin, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi and the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in El Paso.

The catchment area for this network encompasses 113 counties and has a population approaching 10 million. “Our overall project goal is to increase HPV vaccination rates among childhood cancer survivors in this network,” Dr. Grimes said.

Innovative bench research awards

A $200,000 CPRIT award will support research by Edward P. Hasty, D.V.M., professor of molecular medicine at UT Health San Antonio. The BCR-ABL protein, which is generated from the improper fusion of two genes, has unregulated activity that can increase genomic mutations and the risk of cancers including leukemia.

Dr. Hasty will use a new class of drugs developed in his laboratory to fight resistance that arises to drugs that treat cancers expressing BCR-ABL.

CPRIT also awarded $200,000 to a separate UT Health San Antonio research project that targets this protein. Hai Rao, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular medicine, seeks to develop small molecules that would rapidly destroy BCR-ABL.

“The study would lead to new anti-BCR-ABL drugs for patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML) and acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) patients,” Dr. Rao said.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio®, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. With missions of teaching, research, healing and community engagement, its schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced 35,850 alumni who are leading change, advancing their fields and renewing hope for patients and their families throughout South Texas and the world. To learn about the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit

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