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Howard Hughes Medical Institute Awards Major Grant to Smithville Researcher


The Community Outreach and Education Program (COEP) of The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Science Park - Research Division has been awarded a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) grant, but it will be the students, teachers and citizens of Smithville who will ultimately benefit.

A five-year $750,000 grant has been awarded to Robin Fuchs-Young, Ph.D., COEP director and associate professor of carcinogenesis at the Cockrell Cancer Research Center of the Science Park - Research Division of M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, to fund a comprehensive program to enhance science and health education in Smithville schools and to promote community interest in science and biomedical research.

M. D. Anderson is one of 31 institutions selected for an award from 127 applications nationwide with more than $22 million distributed. The grant awarded to Fuchs-Young is the first HHMI grant awarded to M. D. Anderson.

The HHMI grant will fund the multi-layered CENTIPEDe (Community Education Networks to Integrate Prevention of Environmental Disease) Project that will tailor health and science educational programs to the specific needs of Smithville’s schools and residents.

The project is one of the many activities of the Community Outreach and Education Core, a component of the Center for Research on Environmental Disease (CRED). The primary objective of the CRED, which is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, is to study the mechanisms by which environmental factors may cause or influence human disease and to develop methods for early detection, prevention and control of environmentally-related diseases. CRED faculty and staff will contribute to all elements of CENTIPEDe, including demonstrations and educational activities for students and teachers, as well as programs for Smithville residents. The ultimate goal of these activities is to promote healthy lifestyle choices, increase scientific literacy and stimulate interest in research careers and discoveries.

“This grant will touch thousands of students, teachers and Smithville citizens now and for years to come,” said Fuchs-Young. “Advancing science, cancer research and education is M. D. Anderson’s mission, and our future scientists are in the classroom right now. It is vital that we expose them to the importance of science and the many opportunities for scientific and research careers.”

CENTIPEDe will provide increased access to science learning for students through on-site field experiences, hands-on classroom activities, research internships and mentoring opportunities. For elementary, junior high and high school teachers, there will be workshops and in-service professional development sessions with faculty and staff from M. D. Anderson’s Science Park - Research Division as well as assistance with lesson plans, summer fellowships and activities that provide a “real world” context. For graduate and post-doctoral trainees who have graduated from college and who have chosen science for their life’s work, there will be increased opportunities for career development including teaching and mentoring students.

CENTIPEDe also will include a variety of community programs to enhance scientific literacy and acquaint parents and other Smithville residents with new research discoveries and important health information. The project will support “Community Science Night Live” featuring speakers on important health topics like cancer prevention and the impact of environment on health, as well as presentations from Smithville students. To reach as many residents as possible, the community nights will not only be broadcast on local public access television, but will also be available through real time webcasts on the new CENTIPEDe Web site.

According to John DiGiovanni, Ph.D., head of M. D. Anderson’s Science Park - Research Division and director of the Center for Research on Environmental Disease, research by national education organizations has shown that rural communities have great challenges with science education. Students in a rural setting often have a particularly limited access to educational resources at school, home and within the community.

“It’s such a natural fit for the Smithville schools and M. D. Anderson’s Science Park - Research Division to push forward this program generously funded by the HHMI,” said DiGiovanni. “Not only are we uniquely located in the Lost Pines region of Central Texas but we have an internationally recognized team of researchers who work here and who know the value of quality science education. Overlaying these resources are a strong mission of education, a love of science and a track record for innovative community outreach and education.”

Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for M. D. Anderson, said the grant is a reminder that academic medical centers and research institutions need to reach out to the communities where they reside.

“I was educated in a rural South Texas public school and could have benefited tremendously from a program like this. I applaud Dr. Fuchs-Young for her efforts in landing this award. Many young Texans will thank her in the years to come,” said DuBois.

M. D. Anderson Science Park - Research Division is one of two basic research facilities of M. D. Anderson located in Central Texas. It is home to an internationally recognized team of more than 100 researchers who focus on carcinogenesis, or the causes of cancer, as well as the Center for Research on Environmental Disease that studies genetics, diet and environmental exposure to toxins that cause cancer, asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular and other diseases. The Center for Research on Environmental Disease recently was awarded an $8.3 million renewal grant from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences to continue the extensive research and multiple collaborations under way. The Smithville campus celebrated its 30th anniversary in May.

Since 1988, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has awarded approximately $1.5 billion in grants. It is the largest privately funded education initiative of its kind in the United States.


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