Posts tagged Puerto Rico

Larissa Avilés Santa: From a 4th-Grade Science Lesson to a Career in Improving Latino Health

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Dr. Larissa Avilés Santa

Dr. Larissa Avilés Santa

Check out this great profile of Latina public health research Dr. Larissa Avilés Santa.

The profile, by CienciaPR, chronicles Avilés Santa’s career development, from how she got interested in anatomy and endocrinology in 4th grade in elementary school, studied medicine and translational research in Puerto Rico, worked in heart disease prevention and diabetes clinical trials at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and joined the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in 2006.

Now she is directing the largest-ever study on U.S. Latino health (the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos).

Avilés Santa said the initial results from the large study indicate high risks for diabetes and heart disease among Latinos, creating new opportunities for interventions to improve Latino health.

“The goal of both medicine and public health is to improve health,” she says. “The difference between them is big. In the clinic you have an individual relationship with the patient, an intimacy. This is especially true in endocrinology, where you have to guide patients through personal decisions, related to reproductive health, for example,” she adds. “A patient once told me ‘Doctor, you are like my priest.’ Having that kind of relationship with a patient is a privilege.”

“Public health has greater impact at the community, national levels. It’s a matter of perspective. Although I miss clinical practice, my work in public health gives me a unique opportunity to have impact at a larger scale, particularly with the Study of Latinos,” Avilés Santa points out.

Read more here.

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Aleli Ayala-Marin: An Èxito! Grad Working to Study Health Disparities

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Editor’s Note: This is the story of a graduate of the 2013 Èxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program. Apply by March 7, 2014, for the 2014 Èxito! program.

Alelí Ayala-Marín
San Juan, Puerto Rico

Alelí M. Ayala-Marín

Alelí M. Ayala-Marín

Alelí M. Ayala-Marín, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist, is proud of her Puerto Rican roots.

Ayala-Marín said her culture and heritage have made her attentive to the studying cancer health disparities in her home country, where she has earned an undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics and a master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology from the University of Puerto Rico (Medical Science Campus).

She is currently coordinating a pilot study, “Cultivando La Salud,” an evidence-based educational intervention designed to increase screening tests for breast and cervical cancer.

Ayala-Marín heard about the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program—which offers a five-day summer institute and internships to encourage master’s-level students and health professionals to pursue a doctoral degree and a cancer research career—from her mentor and former Éxito! alumni who encouraged her to apply.

She was fairly certain she wanted to pursue a doctoral degree, but she felt she needed more information about becoming a stronger candidate and the research paths available to her.

After attending the Éxito! Summer Institute, Ayala-Marín believes her goal of becoming a behavioral researcher investigating cancer prevention and control is obtainable, and has the tools to enter a doctoral program.

Éxito!, a program funded by the National Cancer Institute and directed by the Institute for Health Promotion Research (IHPR) at The UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, will select 20 master’s-level students and health professionals from across the nation to attend a five-day summer institute June 2-6, 2014, in San Antonio, offering research information, tools, tips, role models and motivation to encourage participants to pursue a doctoral degree and a career studying how cancer affects Latinos differently. Participants also are eligible to apply for one of five $3,250 internships. Apply here.

Who is Èxito!: Lizbeth Del Toro

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Editor’s Note: This is the story of a graduate of the 2012 Èxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program. Apply by April 1, 2013, for the 2013 Èxito! program.

Lizbeth Del Toro

Lizbeth Del Toro
Puerto Rico

Puerto Rican native Lizbeth Del Toro was always encouraged by her sharp-as-a-tack grandmother, who advised her to hang with the right crowd, do her chores, and stay focused on her grades and her studies.

Her grandmother passed away shortly after being diagnosed with cancer in 2010.

But Del Toro took her advice to heart as she obtained a bachelor’s degree in biology/biomedical sciences from the University of Puerto Rico, works as a graduate research assistant and earned her master’s degree from the university in 2012.

“Last week I ended my master’s degree program, I just defended my thesis, and [my grandmother] wasn’t with me, personally, but I know that she was, spiritually,” Del Toro said. “I thought that I wouldn’t make it, because I was in was a rushed time—I was traveling, presenting some other awards for my job.

“Then I started thinking about my grandma and about all that she said to me before, and I said, ‘I can do it. I’m going to do it for me and I’m going to do it for her, I’m going to do it for my family.’ And I did it.”

Del Toro, who is assisting on an epidemiological study on HPV and HIV prevalence among Puerto Rican male drug users, wants to achieve even more.

That’s why she applied for and was accepted into Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training, which aims to increase research in Latino cancer disparities by encouraging master’s-level students and health professionals to pursue a doctoral degree and a cancer research career.

Like many students at the 2012 Éxito! Summer Institute, Del Toro was feeling overwhelmed by questions regarding doctoral programs.

“Before the Institute, I had a lot of concerns about research and starting a doctoral degree after finishing my master’s [degree]. However, hearing all the speakers’ stories, I understand that I can work one step at a time and, at the end, the only thing that matters is all the experience I have gained,” Del Toro said. “I think the institute was crucial because I could see that there’s time for everything.”

Èxito! Grad Testimonial: Mary V. Diaz-Santana

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Editor’s Note: This is the testimonial of a graduate of the 2011 Summer Institute of Èxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training. Read more testimonials here or apply by March 1 for the 2012 Èxito! program.

Mary Vanellys Diaz Santana
Puerto Rico

Mary V. Diaz-Santana

Mary Vanellys Diaz Santana values the richness of culture and faith in her native Puerto Rico, but also understands how different cultural aspects can be barriers and enablers to public health.

Santana’s strong passion for investigating the distribution, frequency and determinants of health led her to the University of Puerto Rico’s medical sciences campus, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in epidemiology.

Her capable mentors have shaped her desire to start a career in cancer and chronic disease research.

One of her mentors encouraged Santana to learn more at Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training, which aims to increase diversity in Latino health disparities and cancer research by encouraging Latino master’s-level students and master’s trained health professionals to pursue a doctoral degree and a career in research.

By the end of the five-day Éxito! Summer Institute in June 2011, Santana acquired the knowledge, skill, and networking necessary for successfully applying to a PhD program.

“I believe that Éxito! validated my decision to pursue a career in cancer research, it enhanced my vision about cancer disparities among Hispanics, and increased my awareness of how this population suffers disproportionately from cancer,” Santana said. “Cancer research is an opportunity for lessening the burden of cancer, and Éxito! helped me to realize that I want to work towards that.”

Èxito! Grad Testimonial: Christina Munoz-Masso

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Editor’s Note: This is the testimonial of a graduate of the 2011 Summer Institute of Èxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training. Read more testimonials here or apply by March 1 for the 2012 Èxito! program.

Christina Munoz-Masso
Puerto Rico

Christina Munoz Masso

Christina Munoz-Masso works hard to improve the health of boricuas—Puerto Ricans—and Latinos in general.

She is an epidemiologist at the University of Puerto Rico Comprehensive Cancer Center. She coordinates a study investigating DNA methylation in leukemia patients and collaborates on a population-based study on cervical cancer.

After Munoz-Masso graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in biology, she applied for a master’s degree in epidemiology because it allowed her to combine science with helping people. To add an additional component to her schooling, she also pursued medical technology. She combined her knowledge in epidemiology with her new knowledge in laboratory methods and began her work in cancer-related research.

She joined Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training—which aims to increase diversity in Latino health disparities and cancer research by encouraging Latino master’s-level students and master’s trained health professionals to pursue a doctoral degree and a career in research—to expand her cancer research knowledge and further her career.

Munoz-Masso was inspired to continue developing her cancer research career after hearing the personal stories and career paths of current cancer and health disparity researchers.

“As an epidemiologist, there are many areas within cancer research that interest me, but there is one more step I must take to be able to execute my own ideas—a doctoral degree,” she said. “Éxito! gave me the essential tools to take this next step in the near future.”

Growing Number of Hispanics Affected By Diabetes

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Diabetes, a disease that is expected to affect 9.9% of the world’s adult by 2030, takes an especially heavy toll on U.S. Hispanics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Huffington Post reports.

Hispanics have double the risk of developing diabetes compared with non-Hispanic whites, according to a CDC a study on diabetes prevalence among Hispanics in California, Florida, Illinois, New York/New Jersey, Texas, and Puerto Rico from 1998 to 2002.

The CDC study also found that:

  • Hispanics tend to develop diabetes at a younger age
  • The prevalence of diabetes decreased with higher education levels; among Hispanics with less than a high school education, 11.8% had diabetes, compared to 7% of college graduates

Read the full news report.

Watch an interesting video on one Latino teen’s experience with diabetes here or below:

Story: Latino Researcher Strives to Improve Latino Health in Chicago

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Giachello_Aida_007_1
Aida Giachello

Aida Giachello, a Puerto Rican native who overcame a poverty-stricken upbringing to become a noted health activist for Chicago’s Hispanic community, is the subject of a great feature story in the Chicago Tribune.

Check out this excerpt from Giachello’s story:

Her mission is easing health disparities among Hispanics, who are disproportionately affected by disease, injury, death, and disability, compared with non-Hispanic whites, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Research is not just to collect research, publish and move on,” she said. “Research is used to develop action plans that communities are implementing. Most of my work at the center has been that.”

Giachello’s approach is grass-roots: Her training as a social worker has helped her get into the community and win support.

Today Giachello heads up the Midwest Latino Health, Research, Training and Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago. To read more about her story, read the Tribune’s story or visit her faculty page.

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