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El Paso Researcher Receives Prestigious AACR Award, Spearheading Diversity in Cancer Research

Research of Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., helps address Hispanic cancer disparities and fosters inclusivity on the U.S.-Mexico border

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 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology and microbiology, has been awarded the American Association for Cancer Research Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award.  Courtesy Image. Bgd image for illustration purposes
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology and microbiology, has been awarded the American Association for Cancer Research Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award. Courtesy Image. Bgd image for illustration purposes
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EL PASO, Texas — Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Jessica Chacon, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology and microbiology, has been awarded the American Association for Cancer Research Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award. This prestigious award recognizes Dr. Chacon’s outstanding contributions to cancer research and her dedication to diversity and inclusion in the field.

“This award is an incredible honor and a validation of the endless hours we have spent advancing cancer research and promoting diversity,” expressed Dr. Chacon. “The moment I received the email notification, I was filled with a deep sense of accomplishment and gratitude. It’s truly a remarkable acknowledgment of the positive impact we can make in these crucial fields.”

Established in 2011, the AACR Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award is presented to those who earn exceptional achievements. The award recognizes Dr. Chacon’s role as co-inventor of a licensed patent involving cancer immunotherapy. Her extensive scholarly portfolio comprises 31 peer-reviewed publications, dedicated to advancing cancer research.

Hispanic cancer statistics reveal a pressing health concern within our Borderplex, with cancer being the leading cause of death among U.S. Hispanics, comprising 20.3% of all fatalities in this demographic. 

Despite these disparities, a stark underrepresentation of Hispanics, accounting for less than 4% of participants in cancer clinical trials nationally, emphasizes the urgency for increased diversity in research. Encouraging greater inclusivity in clinical trials is crucial to developing targeted interventions that consider the unique challenges faced by Hispanic communities, ultimately fostering advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis, and treatment tailored to this population’s needs.

Diversity in cancer research laboratories is essential for comprehensiveness, cultural sensitivity, and inclusivity. It not only enhances the scientific rigor of research but also facilitates research across diverse populations, leading to more equitable advancements in the fight against cancer.

A native of El Paso, Dr. Chacon graduated from the University of Texas at El Paso and completed her master’s degree and Ph.D. at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. After postdoctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania and professional experience at the biopharmaceutical firm EMD Serono in Massachusetts, Dr. Chacon chose to pursue her research agenda in her hometown.

Her commitment to community engagement and education is evident in her efforts to address health disparities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Dr. Chacon is not only a seasoned researcher but also the founder and project director of the university’s El Paso Health Education and Awareness Team (EP-HEAT®) and the director of the Promotoras de Salud program. 

The significance of this award extends beyond individual recognition as it also highlights our university’s commitment to addressing health disparities in historically underserved communities. This commitment includes establishing the future Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer Center, which will be the first comprehensive cancer center in Far West Texas. 

Dr. Chacon’s work resonates with the unique challenges faced by communities in our Borderplex region. As an advocate for health equity, she addresses these challenges, emphasizing the importance of community health workers, known as “promotores,” in improving health care outcomes.

The impact of the Minority and Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award is not just its financial support. The award plays a pivotal role in enhancing the representation of minority faculty members and those from Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), fostering a more inclusive and dynamic landscape in cancer research.

Cancer research at Texas Tech Health El Paso took a giant step forward with a transformative $25 million investment from local philanthropists Steve and Nancy Fox. The Steve and Nancy Fox Cancer center will consolidate outpatient services, such as cancer imaging, treatment, research and clinical trials under one umbrella. Access to a wide range of care at the center ensures patients never have to leave home for cancer treatment.

About Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso

Texas Tech Health El Paso is the only health sciences center on the U.S.-Mexico border and serves 108 counties in West Texas that have been historically underserved. It’s a designated Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care heroes, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation students.

Established as an independent university in 2013, Texas Tech Health El Paso is a proudly diverse and uniquely innovative destination for education and research.  

With a mission of eliminating health care barriers and creating life-changing educational opportunities for Borderplex residents, Texas Tech Health El Paso has graduated over 2,400 doctors, nurses and researchers over the past decade, and will add dentists to its alumni beginning in 2025. For more information, visit ttuhscepimpact.org.

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