Four Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) faculty members have received a total of $147,000 in grant funding from the Coldwell Foundation and the TMF Health Quality Institute.
The grant money will fund a handful of unique research projects in the El Paso community. Below are the details about each grant recipient and their project.
Navkiran Shokar, M.D., M.P.H. – $50,000 – Coldwell Foundation
Professor Navkiran Shokar, M.D., M.P.H., will better understand how cancer affects Hispanics. The grant will allow Dr. Shokar to collect data — such as risk factors for cancer, cancer screening behaviors, and outcomes of cancer — from 200 El Paso residents. The database, which will include DNA samples and fruit and vegetable intake measurements, will serve as a valuable resource to better understand the patterns behind cancer that affects Hispanics. Cancer is the leading cause of death among Hispanics, but the demographic remains severely understudied.
The information Dr. Shokar collects will ultimately help identify novel markers, or risk factors, for cancer and lead to the development of interventions to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer early in this diverse population. The findings will be shared with El Paso residents to provide education and feedback about how to improve health and cancer outcomes.
Ruth G. Perez, Ph.D. – $50,000 – Coldwell Foundation
Associate Professor Ruth Perez, Ph.D., recently collaborated with New Mexico State University’s Jeffrey Arterburn, Ph.D., to create two drugs that are closely related to the FDA-approved drug fingolimod. Research by Perez has shown that fingolimod can ease constipation and reverse the damage to neurons associated with Parkinson’s disease in mice.
Perez’s two new drugs and fingolimod, when used at low dosage, are non-toxic and beneficial to neurons, but Perez will specifically investigate if her two new compounds are superior to fingolimod in easing Parkinson’s disease symptoms. At the same time, Perez will study how the compounds affect heart health.
Gilbert Handal, M.D. – $25,000 – TMF Health Quality Institute
Professor of Pediatric Infectious Diseases Gibert Handal, M.D., will launch Adopt a School. This program, in collaboration with Ysleta Independent School District (YISD) and the El Paso Pediatric Society, will identify four local schools with the highest number of uninsured children. Access to health care is extremely limited to uninsured children. Though born in the U.S., many lack access to government programs because their parents are undocumented and fear deportation.
To combat this issue, Adopt a School will help 900 students receive basic medical services, such as sports physicals, immunizations, and dental services, as well as screenings and health education. Families of the uninsured students will also have access to mental health counselors and a financial advisor. A long-term goal of the program is to demonstrate that healthy children have better academic outcomes.
Jun Zhang, Ph.D. – $22,000 – Coldwell Foundation
Associate Professor Jun Zhang, Ph.D., will use the funding to study angiogenesis, or the development of new blood vessels. Blood vessel development is critical for normal growth and maintenance of the human body. When blood vessels grow abnormally, however, it can cause serious complications.
Cerebral cavernous malformations (CCM), vessels in the brain that are enlarged and irregular, are prevalent and heritable among Hispanics, causing stroke and seizures. Zhang will use zebrafish to study the genetics and molecular mechanisms behind CCM. By understanding what causes the malformations, Zhang hopes to identify new technologies and compounds to cure vasculature related diseases.