The American Association for Cancer Research, the world's oldest and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research, recognized two scientists at the UNM Cancer Center for excellence within the nationwide community of minority cancer scientists and minority-serving institutions.

Kristina Flores won a Minority-Serving Institution Faculty Scholar in Cancer Research Award, which honors leaders in the minority cancer community. She is one of 36 recipients nationwide. Flores is a research assistant professor within the Department of Internal Medicine and a member of the UNM Cancer Center's Cancer Population Sciences Program.

A second UNM researcher, Alexandra Fajardo, a doctoral candidate in biomedical sciences, received a Minority Scholar in Cancer Research Award, which recognizes meritorious minority scientists at the early stages of their careers. She is one of just 50 recipients nationwide.

Flores and Fajardo will receive their awards and present research at the AACR Annual Meeting, April 2-6 in Orlando, Florida.

"The UNM Cancer Center is honored to be training the next generation of cancer investigators," said Cheryl Willman, director and CEO of the UNM Cancer Center. "It is part of our mission as a minority-serving institution in the nation's only majority-minority state to educate and mentor outstanding new faculty and up-and-coming researchers from all the communities we serve. We are delighted for Dr. Flores and Ms. Fajardo, and incredibly proud of their accomplishments."

The AACR awards underscore the UNM Cancer Center's commitment to multiethnic and multicultural diversity in every aspect of its mission: from the delivery of compassionate, cutting-edge cancer care to all New Mexicans and the reduction of cancer health disparities in partnership with New Mexico's communities, to the pursuit of world-class research into cancer causes and cures and the education of young scientists of diverse backgrounds and research interests.

"I am thrilled to be recognized by the AACR," Flores said. "UNM has provided a supportive environment for pursing a range of cancer research projects, including ones that uniquely reflect the communities and health disparities found in our state. I am grateful to the mentorship of Drs. Marianne Berwick and Steve Belinsky from the UNM Cancer Center's Population Sciences Program." Flores is conducting research relevant to lung cancer, examining the relationship between aspects of folate metabolism – folate is a B vitamin that occurs naturally in food – and a molecular process known as hypermethylation that is associated with lung cancer risk and could eventually aid in early detection of the disease. She will present findings from this research at the upcoming AACR Annual Meeting. Flores also participates in collaborative research on cancer education and prevention with Navajo communities in New Mexico, part of the UNM Cancer Center's commitment to address, reduce and eliminate cancer health disparities in the state.

"Receiving this award is a great honor," Fajardo said. "I am grateful to the AACR for this recognition, and to the UNM Biomedical Sciences Graduate program, especially my mentors Drs. Marco Bisoffi and Todd Thompson, for the opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge cancer research." Fajardo is investigating novel mechanisms to target the androgen receptor – i.e., the male sex hormone receptor – for treatment of prostate cancer utilizing experimental therapeutic agents discovered at UNM. She will present her research at the upcoming AACR Annual Meeting. After her anticipated graduation this spring, Fajardo plans to pursue a career in cancer research and drug development.