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CRCHD Grantee Gloria D. Coronado Awarded Top NIH Grant on Colon Cancer Screening in Hispanic Populations

Gloria D. Coronado, Ph.D.
Gloria D. Coronado, Ph.D.

CRCHD grantee Gloria D. Coronado, Ph.D., was awarded a grant from the Health Care Systems (HCS) Research Collaboratory on September 25th for her research examining strategies to improve colorectal cancer screening rates among racially and ethnically diverse, and other underserved populations. Coronado, a Mexican American epidemiologist, and one of only eight recipients of the award, is a Merwyn "Mitch" R. Greenlick Endowed Senior Investigator in Health Disparities Research at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research, in Portland, Oregon.

The new fund, totaling approximately $11.3 million, will support the first year of the HCS Research Collaboratory, which will engage health care systems as research partners in conducting large-scale clinical studies. Health care systems, which include health maintenance organizations and other large integrated care settings, see large populations of patients. By partnering with these entities, NIH will be able to conduct large-scale and more cost-effective clinical research within the settings where patients are already receiving their care. The funds are managed through the Common Fund at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Coronado conducts research on health disparities related to cancer prevention and pesticide exposure among underserved communities. Her research portfolio has included designing clinic-based interventions to improve Latino participation in preventive screenings, examining Latino parents' acceptance of the HPV vaccine for their daughters, evaluating strategies for reducing children of farm workers' exposure to pesticides, and developing culturally tailored programs for reducing diabetes and cancer risks for Latinos in rural settings.

Coronado's recent research focuses on the use of fecal testing in the Hispanic community as a possible alternative to colonoscopies for colorectal cancer screening. Hispanics have a lower screening rate than other whites, which may account for a large proportion of disparities in their colorectal cancer incidence and mortality. Research has shown that when Hispanic patients are given the choice to have fecal screening first over colonoscopy, they are more than twice as likely to complete colorectal screening.

Coronado attributes her interest in disparity research to her father. A Mexican native with only a 4th grade education, he was her motivation to strive to learn and succeed, just as he had done all his life. "In 2011, I lost my dad to bladder cancer, she says. "Yet, through it all, I was confident that he had the brightest and most compassionate doctors."

Coronado hopes that all patients facing cancer are able to develop healing relationships with their doctors, but worries that may not be possible. "My concern is that there are not yet enough Spanish-speaking and/or culturally trained providers to make that happen," she says. "Doing research in the Latino population has allowed me to acknowledge, advocate, and tell the story of my community." While there are many organizations across the U.S. that are working to ensure that those without health insurance receive much needed medical services, resources in the Latino community still do not meet the high demand.

Coronado believes that a healthcare system that considers access to healthcare a human right, regardless of documentation status, would be the best approach to improving community health and well-being. "Our healthcare system is changing in a positive direction," she says. "Now there is greater value placed on preventive care and these services are provided free without co-pays for individuals with insurance. "But," she continues, "more is needed to address the needs of the uninsured."

Coronado also thinks it's crucial that more Hispanic/Latino students enter the health and science field, and has been involved in developing strategies to increase the number of underrepresented undergraduate students at New Mexico State University who enroll in cancer research training programs. "In leading programs to prepare undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students to enter graduate programs in the biomedical sciences, one thing was clear," she says. "Latino students were less likely than other students to reach out to professors and others to initiate mentorship relationships." Coronado adds "I think we need to teach students to be courageous about putting their ideas forward. This doesn't always come naturally."

Coronado is a former Associate Member of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, and Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Washington's School of Public Health, where she, herself, earned her Ph.D. in epidemiology in 2001.

Updated: 01/10/14