(McALLEN) Representatives from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) joined area legislators and leaders from The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) in McAllen for a press conference today to spotlight a major new grant awarded to the university.

The $6 million CPRIT grant (RP230419) will help launch the UTRGV School of Medicine’s South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research, the first CPRIT-supported cancer research center in the region. The Center’s focus is reducing cancer health disparities in the area, which has the nation’s highest cancer incidence and mortality rate and, consequently, bears a disproportionate share of the cancer burden.

“This award is transformational for cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley,” said CPRIT CEO Wayne Roberts. “It is not only a recognition of the impressive commitment to cancer research here at UTRGV, but it will have a long-lasting downstream impact for cancer patients in this community. CPRIT is proud to help launch this effort here in McAllen.”

Roberts was joined by CPRIT Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Michelle Le Beau, UTRGV President Guy Bailey and Dr. Michael B. Hocker, Dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Dr. Mahendra Patel, presiding officer of CPRIT’s governing body, could not attend but provided a statement.  “On behalf of the CPRIT Oversight Committee, I am pleased to congratulate The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on the outstanding accomplishment represented by the Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer award. It is truly a testament to the dedication of your team and your institution to advancing cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley and improving the lives of your neighbors,” Dr. Patel said. “This award is a signature achievement in CPRIT’s decade-long commitment and presence in the Rio Grande Valley.”

“Ultimately, that is the most important benefit of the grants CPRIT awards,” said Dr. Patel, “lives will be saved from the seeds planted with this important research.”

Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, mayor of Pharr and also a member of the CPRIT Oversight Committee, joined Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and Rep. Bobby Guerra in highlighting the significance of the CPRIT grant and the development of the UTRGV School of Medicine.

Created by the Texas Legislature and authorized by two statewide votes in 2007 and 2019, CPRIT leads the Lone Star State’s fight against cancer. For over a decade, the agency has increased cancer research and prevention efforts along the Texas border, from El Paso to McAllen to Brownsville. Cumulatively, CPRIT has awarded 44 awards to Cameron, Duval, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties totaling over $67 million.

At its meeting last week, the Oversight Committee awarded a $1 million CPRIT prevention grant to the Brownsville campus of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (PP230018) for the “Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!” project that will focus on physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and increased alcohol use linked to multiple cancers.

At the same meeting, CPRIT approved a $2.5 million grant to continue and expanded the “Salud en Mis Manos” prevention project (PP230038) to Starr County. This project, led by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, has provided breast and cervical screenings and HPV vaccinations for underserved Latinas in Hidalgo and Willacy Counties since 2019.

The UTRGV award is one of the first five Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer (TREC) grants awarded by the state agency. CPRIT TREC awards encourage research in areas of the state historically underfunded by national or other cancer research grants.

“By supporting the regional expansion of research efforts like those underway here at UTRGV through our TREC awards,” said Roberts, “CPRIT is making a strong statement that whether the institution is located in Houston or El Paso, Dallas or McAllen, all areas of Texas contribute to making the Lone Star State a national leader in the fight against cancer.”

“CPRIT and the UTRGV School of Medicine’s South Texas Center for Excellence in Cancer Research,” Roberts said, “illustrate how when we work together, Texans Conquer Cancer.”