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SA Tops State in Cancer Grants
January 19, 2012

By Don Finley, San Antonio Express-News

San Antonio cancer programs were awarded $7.6 million Wednesday from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, giving the city the largest share of grants approved in the latest round of funding by the state agency.

The grants will provide breast, cervical and colorectal cancer screening to the poor; provide HPV vaccine to uninsured young adults; and help people understand what their family history of cancer means for future risk. San Antonio grants made up 29 percent of the $26.3 million awarded Wednesday - the most of any Texas city.

Touted by Gov. Rick Perry, Lance Armstrong and others as a way to make Texas the Silicon Valley of cancer research, CPRIT was approved by voters in 2007. The 10-year, $3 billion fund supports research and prevention programs only within state lines. All of Wednesday's grants focused on prevention. San Antonio hadn't done as well in previous rounds. Of more than $570 million awarded by the organization in the two years before Wednesday's grants, only about $16 million came here - the vast majority going instead to Houston, Dallas and Austin.

That poor showing led to some local soul-searching. Last year, Mayor Julián Castro convened a task force with the goal of winning more CPRIT money.

"The mayor back in October decided to assemble what he called the CPRIT Response Task Force, to make sure that San Antonio positions itself to be as competitive as it can be in securing its share of CPRIT grant funding," said Brian Herman, special assistant to the president of the University of Texas Health Science Center, and chairman of the task force.

Herman said the task force is focused on developing proposals in two broad areas - cancers in the Hispanic community and commercialization of local research discoveries.

A separate group organized by Methodist Healthcare Ministries has focused on helping agencies put together strong cancer prevention grant applications. "We finally got the message that if we don't get together and work together in different areas, we're not going to make it," said Dr. Roberto Villarreal, vice president for community initiatives at the University Health System, who received $2.86 million Wednesday for a cervical cancer prevention program that will provide HPV vaccine to low-income, uninsured young adults. It was Villarreal's fourth CPRIT grant.

Two grants totaling $4.7 million were awarded to health science center faculty. One was to Dr. Gail Tomlinson, interim director of the Greehey Children's Cancer Research Institute, to train doctors and nurses in assessing patients' cancer risk and working with the community to stress the importance of family history and cancer.

"A family history can yield strong clues to understanding a person's risk for cancer," Tomlinson said in a statement.

Cynthia Mojica, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the health science center, received a grant to provide cancer screenings in partnership with local CentroMed clinics.

Both researchers have won previous CPRIT grants.
Grant proposals are vetted by panels of experts outside Texas. An appointed board votes only to approve the experts' choices as a group, rather than individually.


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