Elsa U. Pardee Foundation Funds Leukemia Research at TTUHSC El Paso

EL PASO, Texas — A Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso researcher will continue addressing the challenges Hispanic patients face with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a form of cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

The Elsa U. Pardee Foundation awarded Anna Eiring, Ph.D., assistant professor in TTUHSC El Paso’s Center of Emphasis in Cancer, $169,802 for research on new drug targets in AML.

Dr. Eiring previously studied the proteins that contribute to disease progression and drug resistance in AML and identified that Hispanic patients from El Paso had higher incidence rates and worse overall survival compared to AML patients elsewhere in Texas. While many AML patients initially respond to therapy, the five-year survival rate is bleak. Less than 25% survive due to drug resistance and relapse.

“We don’t fully understand why there are these disparities,” Dr. Eiring said. “It could be biological, cultural or socioeconomic status, but we know that Hispanic AML patients in our area have higher incidence rates and worse overall survival compared with other areas of the state.”

Along with the higher incidence rate, Dr. Eiring said AML typically has higher rates in males, but in El Paso, this disease affects females more.

“That could be because females in our area are more likely to go to the doctor,” she said. “That’s the type of analysis we focus on when researching new ways to treat AML patients, particularly in our local Hispanic populations.”

During Blood Cancer Awareness Month in September, research like Dr. Eiring’s will raise awareness locally and nationally showcasing efforts to fight blood cancer, which affects more than 1.3 million Americans living with or in remission from blood cancer, according to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Between 2014 and 2018, El Paso County had an average of 93 leukemia cases each year, 67 of which were Hispanic patients, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Texas averaged 3,819, of which, 929 were Hispanic patients. 

Dr. Eiring arrived at TTUHSC El Paso with a Transition Career Development Award from the NCI for her research, and in 2021 received $143,000 from the Elsa U. Pardee Foundation for her research on new drug targets in AML. Her goal is to take the data from her study and apply for larger grants, like a National Institute of Health Research Project (R01) grant.

Working with Dr. Eiring on the project are Mayra Gonzalez, a medical research technician and expert in molecular biology and animal models, and Idaly Olivas, M.S., a medical research technician and expert in tissue culture, flow cytometry and gene expression control. Former tech, Andres Rubio, a Foster School of Medicine student, will return to Dr. Eiring’s lab as a Scholarly Activity and Research Program student. Another Foster School of Medicine student, Joshua Lara, received a Minority Medical Student Award from the American Society of Hematology for his contribution to Dr. Eiring’s lab.

Dr. Eiring said the impact isn’t just with the outcomes of the research, but the advanced educational opportunities provided within the lab and the impact on the Hispanic community.

“It’s critical for medical students to be involved in research. They’re the ones in the lab doing the laborious wet lab work, and they’re conveying what we’re doing in Spanish to those community members we’re studying,” Dr. Eiring said. “As they prepare for the future, they are able to effectively work in cross-cultural situations and provide a higher level of care.” 

TTUHSC 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 is designated as a Title V Hispanic-Serving Institution, preparing the next generation of health care heroes, 48% of whom identify as Hispanic and are often first-generation college students.

Research conducted in TTUHSC El Paso’s four Centers of Emphasis focuses on conditions directly impacting Hispanic populations, including diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases and neurological disorders. University researchers also study health disparities, helping to meet health care challenges in our Borderplex.

In 2023, TTUHSC El Paso will celebrate its 10th anniversary as an autonomous university within the Texas Tech University System. In those 10 years, the university has graduated nearly 2,000 doctors, nurses and researchers, soon adding dentists to its alumni.