Projects & Cores

Student and faculty member in a lab

Research Projects

Partnership for the Advancement of Cancer Research is dedicated to improving cancer health equity for the underserved populations in our communities.

To that end, we have established a broad portfolio of innovative cancer research projects that each address an unmet regional need among underrepresented populations. Click on the tabs below to learn more about each project. You can also learn more about our research on the Fred Hutch Website.

Project Title: A novel analytical method for the analysis and interpretation of Stable Isotope Resolved Metabolomics data

Project Leaders: Lucas Sullivan, Patrick Trainor

Project Summary: This project will focus on developing a new statistical framework that will address concerns of false conclusions and multiplicity when analyzing Stable Isotope Resolved Metabolomic experiments.

Project Title: Multilevel evaluation of CHW-Led navigation activities in New Mexico

Project Leaders: Ernesto Moralez, Wendy Barrington

Project Summary: This project will research Community Health Worker (CHW)-led cancer screening navigation across diverse populations and practice-settings. This pre-pilot will focus on expanding the current research within the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) and the Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP) to understand CHW-led cancer screening within New Mexico.

Project Title: Risk of cancer versus risk of cancer diagnosis? Accounting for diagnostic bias in predictions of breast cancer risk by race/ethnicity and breast density

Project Leaders: Charlotte Gard, Ruth Etzioni

Project Summary: Risk prediction modeling is critical for tailoring prevention and screening efforts and targeting cancer treatment. In breast cancer, both race/ethnicity and breast density are included as risk factors in a widely used risk prediction model from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC), an authoritative source of information on breast cancer screening and outcomes across the U.S. Since the BCSC is a screened population, variations in diagnostic intensity by race/ethnicity and breast density may have affected the relative risks associated with these factors.

The broad objective of this pilot project is to develop an analytic approach to de-bias risk prediction models developed in settings where screening and/or biopsy frequencies vary across key risk factors.

This pilot project will bring together New Mexico University investigators with deep expertise in risk prediction using the BCSC and Fred Hutchinson investigators who are established leaders in cancer modeling. Its focus on racial and ethnic disparities fits squarely within the mission of this U54 partnership. The proposed work has the potential to greatly clarify our understanding of how breast cancer risk is modified by race/ethnicity and breast density. Further, if results show that natural history modeling is helpful in addressing bias in risk prediction models due to variations in screening practices, this could lead to a paradigm shift in risk prediction modeling for cancer.

Project Title: Addressing Social Determinants of Health in Primary Care

Project Summary: Social determinants of health (SDH), such as low food security, personal safety, employment, housing, and access to health care, are strongly associated with poor health outcomes and cancer health disparities. Recognizing the importance of SDH to health outcomes, including cancer prevention and control, state and federal agencies have issued recommendations for clinical settings to implement collection of SDH data in electronic medical records (EMR) as part of their clinical care.

However, a major gap exists between recommendations for use of SDH screening tools and knowledge about how to implement SDH screening tools in a clinical setting. Current efforts to implement a SDH screening tool in a New Mexico primary care practice in a primary care residency program that serves a high need population, offers a unique opportunity to examine the tool's implementation process, consider methods of educating medical providers about use of the tool, and explore patients and physicians' perceptions of the tool's usefulness. Using multiple methods to ensure high scientific rigor, the project will gather the formative data needed as a step toward development of an educational intervention for medical providers.

This project will contribute critical descriptions of SDH screening tool implementation processes, gaps, and successes to the larger scientific literature and lead to development of an educational intervention that can be tested using expanded collaborations among investigators of the U54 Partnership.

Project Title: Engaging Navajo Elementary Schools in a Randomized Controlled Trial: Yéego! Healthy Eating & Gardening

Project Summary: Navajo families are at increased risk for obesity, diabetes and cancer in part due to low fruit and vegetable consumption. This study aims to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among Navajo families through a school-based intervention focused on gardening and healthy eating. The study builds on our longstanding collaboration with the Navajo Nation through which, we have shown that gardening is a culturally appropriate strategy for improving healthy eating in this population. Our previous research has highlighted the importance of family in shaping health behaviors, and a desire to protect the health of the next generation by encouraging healthy eating habits. We have developed and are currently pilot testing a healthy eating and gardening curriculum to promote both gardening and healthy eating among Navajo elementary school children. The intervention was developed based on social cognitive theory, literature on previous school-based gardening interventions, and our own formative work in Navajo communities.

Project Title: Testing the Efficacy of the Culturally-Adapted Conexiones Program for Hispanic Mothers Diagnosed with Cancer

Project Leaders: Rebecca Palacios, Fran Lewis

Project Summary: The purpose of this study is to test the short-term efficacy of a cancer parenting education program for diagnosed child-rearing Hispanic mothers, called Conexiones. This program was culturally adapted from a parenting program previously tested for efficacy in a Phase III, 6-state randomized clinical trial. However, the original program was tested on primarily non-Hispanic White (NHW) mothers with breast cancer. The Conexiones program represents a culturally adapted version of the original parenting program and is now ready for testing with Hispanic mothers living in the border counties of Dona Ana, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.

Study results will be essential as a next step in testing Conexiones with other Hispanic subgroups in a larger trial and readying the program for wider testing and dissemination to provider and non-profit organizations serving Hispanic parents with cancer throughout the United States.

If you or someone you know might be interested in participating in Conexiones, or would like to read more about the program, click here .


In addition to our four research projects, PACR has five unique cores that promote the development of cancer research, education, community collaboration, in-reach and outreach.

To read more about each of the five cores, click on the tabs below.

Administrative Core

Core Leaders: Graciela Unguez, Julian Simon

Specific Aims: The Administrative Core functions as a strong link between the U54 Partnership MPIs and the project/core leaders.

The overarching goal of the Administrative Core is to maintain a seamless infrastructure that fosters the active exchange of information and support throughout the entire U54 Partnership. In addition, the Core links the U54 Partnership to external communities and stakeholders. The effective work of the core increases an understanding of cancer and cancer health disparities among our partners.

Planning and Evaluation Core

Specific Aims: The overall goal of the Planning and Evaluation Core is to monitor the progress of the U54 Partnership in meeting its goals and objectives.

This Core supports all five of the Partnership's goals. There are two committees (Internal Advisory Committee, IAC, and Program Steering Committee, PSC) and four advisory groups (three Community Advisory Boards (CABs) and a U54 Alumni Panel) within this Core which meet at least annually. These committees and groups review progress towards specific measurable outcomes of the projects and cores and provide feedback to the MPIs as well as the investigators.

Research Education About Cancer and Health (REACH) Core

Core Leaders: Graciela Unguez, Julian Simon

Specific Aims: PACR is diversifying the community of scientists in cancer, cancer health, and biomedical research by supporting joint research education programs for students, postdocs, and faculty who are members of groups underrepresented (UR) in biomedical research. This partnership is able to achieve this goal because NMSU and Fred Hutch have established a strong collaborative research and educational program over 15 years funding, which has resulted in the maturation of a cancer research infrastructure at NMSU and a heightened knowledge of health disparities research at the Fred Hutch.

This core continues the progression of diversifying the community of scientist in cancer research through: implementing integrated biomedical research education programs, with an emphasis on cancer and/or health disparities research, across a spectrum of academic levels, and providing concurrent and on-going support for academic and professional goal attainment among program participants

Outreach Core

Specific Aims: The border region of New Mexico (NM), the northwestern region of NM known as Indian Country, and the Yakima Valley of Washington State (WA) are three areas where disparities are severe among Hispanic and American Indian (AI) people. The Outreach Core leads PACR in collaborating with regional community organizations that work with the underserved in these areas. Further, this core works with the state-wide Cooperative Extension Services (CES) to engage in cancer prevention and control activities throughout New Mexico.

A major task of our Outreach Core is to increase community capacity in all three of the regions of underserved populations to participate in cancer awareness, prevention, and control, by continuing to implement evidence-based relevant cancer-related public health interventions in underserved communities.

For more information about the Outreach Core and what we offer to the community, click here.

Sustain Competitive Cancer Early Stage Scientists (SuCCESS) Core

Specific Aims: The SuCCESS core provides shared professional development resources for Early Stage Investigators (ESIs) at both of our institutions. While both partners support the career development of their faculty through institutional resources, this core provides additional and specific professional development resources designed primarily for ESIs in cancer research and/or cancer health disparities research.

The goal of this core is to ultimately increase the number of faculty who conduct cancer research on the NMSU campus; increase the discussion of health disparities issues among scientists on both campuses; and help train future faculty to be able to effectively educate students from diverse backgrounds.