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Grantee Spotlight: Daniel Hughes

Daniel Hughes, Ph.D Daniel Hughes, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics
Institute for Health Promotion Research Group
University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio
7703 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio, TX 78229
phone: (210) 567-4885

Daniel C. Hughes, Ph.D. has never forgotten his beginnings. Much of his work is dedicated to studying cancer health disparities as a researcher and assistant professor at the Institute for Health Promotion Research Group at the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.

He grew up in the slums of Mexico City, the 4th youngest of five siblings which to a single mother. “We never knew how poor we really were,” Hughes said. His mother received no child support, no welfare checks, and the family had no refrigerator, no television set, not even a radio.

“The one thing we did have is that our family and our neighbors loved and cared for each other,” said Hughes. Later he discovered two half-brothers and a half-sister as well.

When Hughes was nine, his aunt brought him to the United States, adopting an uncle’s American name and his life soon changed. At first, Hughes had to become totally immersed in English and then totally immersed in getting an elementary education, because in Mexico he had only two years of school and at first found himself at the age of 9 back in the first grade again. But his older brother became the first to get a college degree and ultimately a Ph.D. in Mexico’s school of Agronomy and Hughes felt he could do it too using his brother as a role model. While many of his Latino friends were dropping out at school, Hughes was bursting out on his own.

He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in biology from the University of Texas in Austin in 1974, a technical equivalency in Chemical Engineering in 1977, his masters of education in exercise science (in 1999) and a Ph.D. in Kinesiology from the University of Houston in 2004.

Today, Hughes focuses his research on exercise and the Latino community and preventing cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. To Hughes, “it is all about getting people to be more active for more of the time,” he said. “If we can make just small changes in the percentage of disparate populations that engage in more activity, we will most assuredly have a major impact on the bottom line of the country’s disparate burden of health, while improving individual quality of life.”

Hughes sees a “huge disconnect in the translation of the science we now have and the translation of that science to the underserved.” Two of the biggest barriers is “cultural literacy; the other is cultural incongruence,” he said. And there is a third barrier, that which he calls “Cultural effectiveness.”

“We need to first understand the social determinants of health behaviors in the community within individual cultures,” Hughes said. “These determinants are varied and different throughout the country. The first step is to get into the communities and research what those cultural/behavioral determinants are so we can tailor interventions to maximize effectiveness in the communities themselves.”

Much of his research in cancer health disparities was motivated when a cousin and two Aunts both developed and later died of cancer. His Ph.D. dissertation was on “Physical Activity and Stress in Hispanic Breast Cancer Survivors.”

For 23 years, Hughes had a successful career working as a chemical engineer for Dow Chemical and even managing his own department of 50 technical engineers. “I jokingly say to friends I went from being a middle manager with an office, a secretary, a parking space and a six digit income to a no status graduate student in one weekend,” he said.

But the risk of starting over was well worth it to him, he said. After receiving his Ph. D., he applied for and received a postdoctoral fellowship from an R25 National Cancer Institute’s Fellowship Training Grant in Cancer Prevention. The fellowship, which involved working with Principal Investigator Dr. Robert M. Chamberlain, provided Hughes with post-doctoral training and opportunities to help establish careers as an independently funded investigator in cancer control and prevention research.

Hughes can not overstate how valuable the Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities has been and continues to be to his new career.

“I had the opportunity to continue my postdoctoral fellowship with a R25 minority supplement and be able to write for and earn a K01 career development award during that time,” said Hughes. But more importantly CRCHD program officers gave him “tremendous counsel and support.”

At a recent CRCHD Workshop Development Conference, Hughes noted the “mock review was very much a reality check. I came away knowing I had to set a path now and that there cannot be too many research publications too soon. Also interaction with other grantees through networking and the poster sessions were very beneficial.”

Obtaining federal grants is challenging, said Hughes. “One of the major challenges of course is time management. I think a lot of us face getting more publications done, more grant proposals submitted while still conducting the research we strive to move forward,” he added.

Even now, Hughes’ life is in transition. Having completed his fellowship in behavioral sciences at University of Texas MD Anderson’s Cancer center at an instructor and having completed his first year on a K01, he has just promoted to Assistant Professor at University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio at the Institute for Health Promotion Research working with NCI Grantee Dr. Amelie Ramirez.

Here he will be doing the remainder of his K01 work in San Antonio and the Regional Academic Health Centers in Harlingen and Edinburg Texas along the Rio Grande Valley while writing for funding to expand his research. In the immediate future he will be applying for a K-22 award to further his work with culturally tailored exercise interventions for disparate populations

Updated: 07/08/11