Global Cancer Program Hosts Second Annual Meeting with Partners from Mexico

From Left: Dr. Alejandro Mohar, Dr. Katherine Van Loon, Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, Dr. Martin Lajous, Dr. Alejandro Sweet-Cordero and Dr. Alan Ashworth. 

In January 2019, the Global Cancer Program hosted the second annual meeting for the UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative. UCSF faculty, including Katherine Van Loon, MD, MPH, Director of the HDFCCC Global Cancer Program and Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine, Gastrointestinal Oncology, Alejandro Sweet-Cordero, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Molecular Oncology Initiative, and Michael Potter, MD, Professor of Family and Community Medicine and Director of the San Francisco Bay Area Collaborative Research Network, hosted their Mexican partners from January 28-30.  Alejandro Mohar Betancourt, MD, ScD, Director of the Institutos Nacionales de Salud y Hospitales de Alta Espacialidad de Mexico (Mexico’s National Institutes of Health and High Specialty Hospitals), and Martin Lajous, MD, ScD, Faculty-Researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública (Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health) were both in attendance. The group also had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, MD, St. Jude Global Director and Executive Vice President of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, for the meeting.

The UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative was formalized in January 2018, when the Global Cancer Program convened a scientific symposium in San Francisco with key stakeholders from UCSF and Mexico. During this meeting, the team identified priority topics for collaboration and matched the issues that investigators from Mexico identified as critical to cancer control in Mexico with the resources and skills of UCSF faculty. Following this symposium and with $100,000 of pilot funding contributed by the HDFCCC and the Institute for Global Health Sciences (IGHS), the UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative launched two collaborative projects in 2018 focused on translation of UCSF genomic sequencing technology for pediatric cancers in Mexico and examination of the feasibility of colorectal cancer screening in Mexico City.

I am a different researcher than I was a year ago. I now concentrate a significant part of my time to colorectal cancer and have refocused my career to include implementation science to contribute to the creation of a colorectal cancer screening program in Mexico City.

Dr. Martin Lajous

Faculty-Researcher at the Instituto Nacional de Salud Pública

Drs. Mohar and Sweet-Cordero lead a project to develop efficient and cost-effective genome sequencing technology for pediatric cancer patients in Mexico, adapting the UCSF500 platform. The UCSF500 test examines nearly 500 genes, including the majority of known cancer genes, and results of this test clarify diagnoses to allow doctors to match the right patient with the right drugs. The abbreviated gene panel in development for Mexico will test approximately 50 genes known to be of clinical significance for pediatric cancers. The UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative partners with the Instituto Nacional de Medicina Genómica (INMEGEN) for this project; INMEGEN will validate and run the test at state-of-the-art lab facilities that already exist in Mexico. UCSF will assist INMEGEN in the setup of a bioinformatics pipeline for analysis of the sequencing data. During the first year of this project, the team established relationships with INMEGEN, trained three INMEGEN geneticists at UCSF on testing and analysis of test output, and identified key genes for inclusion in the Mexico abbreviated gene panel. As a next step, the team looks forward to finalizing the assay for Mexico and developing the bioinformatics pipeline in early 2019.

Drs. Lajous, Potter, and Van Loon lead the UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative activities in colorectal cancer screening for Mexico City. Colorectal cancer is currently the leading cause of cancer mortality in Mexico City, despite being a preventable and curable cancer. Currently, colorectal cancer screening is not included in Mexico’s national cancer control plan. Recognizing this issue, UCSF, INSP, and INCan partnered to evaluate the feasibility of a colorectal cancer screening program in Mexico City. Through this project, the team aims to determine the current capacity to provide colorectal cancer screening in Mexico City, to identify potential barriers and facilitators to colorectal cancer screening, and to evaluate the feasibility and scalability of incorporating mHealth technology for patient navigation to ensure the completion of colorectal cancer screening. During 2018, the team partnered with endoscopy units and community health centers in Mexico City to identify strategies to navigate patients from colorectal cancer screening to necessary follow-up examinations and clinical care. Looking forward, the team aims to focus on the development and implementation of mHealth technologies to support colorectal cancer screening in Mexico City.  

The January 2019 meeting allowed the UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative team to reflect on the significant progress made across both projects, with both projects yielding external funding sources during the first year to establish sustainability.  The meeting highlighted how the UCSF-Mexico Cancer Initiative has facilitated unique bi-directional exchange of expertise and resources in cancer research, prevention, and capacity-building. In reflecting on the first year of collaboration with the UCSF Global Cancer Program, Dr. Martin Lajous commented, “I am a different researcher than I was a year ago. I now concentrate a significant part of my time to colorectal cancer and have refocused my career to include implementation science to contribute to the creation of a colorectal cancer screening program in Mexico City.” All partners look forward to continued cultivation of our partnerships and development of existing projects in the coming year as we also explore expansion into new priority cancer-related disciplines.