Program to reach out to medically underserved children in South Texas

SAN ANTONIO (Dec. 15, 2008) — A new program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio seeks to bring more Hispanic children from the Lower Rio Grande Valley into clinical trials for leukemia, helping this underserved population get cutting-edge therapies.

Funded by a $100,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute, the program will place a “patient navigator” at the Health Science Center’s Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in Harlingen starting in 2009.

The navigator will make patients’ families and physicians aware of clinical trials and help overcome barriers to participating in them.

Amelie G. Ramirez, Dr.P.H., the study’s principal investigator and director of the Health Science Center’s Institute for Health Promotion Research, anticipates the effort could increase recruitment rates by 20 percent.

The importance of having children from this medically underserved population represented in clinical trials is twofold. First, clinical trials often use cutting-edge therapies, and it’s important that all children have access to them. Also, researchers need to evaluate how these treatments affect different populations.

Hispanic children are at slightly higher risk of developing leukemia than non-Hispanics, and previous research by Dr. Ramirez indicates that children in South Texas are at greater risk of developing leukemia than their peers statewide or nationally.

“There is little knowledge about the risk factors for childhood and adolescent leukemia, and participation in clinical trials by disadvantaged populations and groups with higher incidence is critical,” Dr. Ramirez said. “The Latino population is being underrepresented in a number of research studies.”

Dr. Ramirez was approached about the grant due to her leadership role in a larger National Cancer Institute-funded project called “Redes En Acción: The National Latino Cancer Research Network.” Redes En Acción, which translates to “Networks in Action,” takes a multifaceted approach to combating cancer in the Hispanic population.

The new grant, a one-year project administered through Redes, could be extended if results appear promising. Luis Velez, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor at the Institute for Health Promotion Research, and Anne-Marie Langevin, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center, also are heavily involved in the project.

Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean of the RAHC, was pleased by the new collaboration between Dr. Ramirez and the 6-year-old campus in Harlingen and hopes it will be just one of many such partnerships in years to come.

“Why not work with researchers from San Antonio and, through their expertise, be able to apply for grants that will have a specific focus in South Texas that we can position here at the RAHC?” Dr. Vela said. “The idea is to have this collaboration where we’re able to provide support to researchers from San Antonio. And in return, they serve as mentors who train the next generation of researchers for the RAHC.”

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 24,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit

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