Fred Hutch announces 7 inaugural recipients of Dr. Eddie Méndez award

The award recognizes postdoctoral researchers in cancer biology who are from underrepresented minority groups

SEATTLE — May 1, 2019 — Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has announced seven inaugural recipients of an award honoring Dr. Eddie Méndez, a physician-scientist at Fred Hutch and cherished colleague and mentor.

Méndez, originally from Puerto Rico, died last year at age 45 from cancer. Fred Hutch leaders created the award to recognize Méndez’s commitment to cancer research and to support early-career scientists from underrepresented minorities, including racial and ethnic groups (African Americans, Hispanics, Latinos, American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and other Pacific Islanders) as well as individuals with disabilities.

“The Méndez award is meant to showcase the incredible breadth of skills and knowledge from a vast talent pool that is often excluded or overlooked,” said Aiko Bethea, director of Diversity & Inclusion at Fred Hutch. “This annual award is a part of the Hutch’s commitment to developing a more diverse and inclusive workforce, not just here in our labs, but elsewhere.”

Nominations were solicited from universities and cancer research centers around the United States. This year’s recipients are postdoctoral researchers with a range of expertise, including in cancers caused by bacteria, social supports for African American cancer survivors, and genes that help cancer grow.

“We are more innovative when there is a range of perspectives at the table, and this is particularly important in science and medical research,” Bethea said. “The future therapies of the world that will benefit the most people will be inspired by the breadth of individuals working to develop them."

An expert in head and neck cancer, Méndez was one of the first surgeons to embrace genomics and precision medicine -- one example of his passion in developing therapies that saved lives and spared patients harmful side effects of cancer treatments.

“Dr. Mendez was an incredibly talented clinician and researcher who was dedicated to improving the lives of patients with head and neck cancers,” said Dr. Christopher Li, a member of the Public Health Sciences division at Fred Hutch who worked with Méndez.

“I am sure he would have been hugely supportive of the intent of this award that we have named in his honor, which is focused on supporting the next generation of underrepresented minority scientists,” added Li, who leads the Hutch’s Executive Diversity and Inclusion Faculty Committee, which works with the Fred Hutch Office of Diversity and Inclusion to select the award recipients.

The Méndez award includes an honorarium and travel expenses for the recipients to attend a June 4 symposium at the Hutch, where they will receive their awards and give presentations on their research findings.

The award will be bestowed each year, and the next round of applications will be due Feb. 15, 2020.

2019 Dr. Eddie Méndez award recipients

Hugo Arellano-Santoyo 
Novartis Institute of BioMedical Research
Research topic: Investigating the role of tumor-associated bacteria in cancer development and therapy response

Valerie Cortez
St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital
Research topic: Enteric virus infection of goblet cells: Consequences for gut homeostasis and immunity

Ahmed Diab
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Research topic: Therapeutically targeting the cell cycle in head and neck cancer

Carlos Gil del Alcazar
Harvard Medical School – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research topic: Immune related strategies for prevention of breast tumor initiation and progression

Jemila Kester
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Research topic: Studies in “germ-free humans” reveal new insights into the impact of antibiotic treatment

Colles Price
Harvard Medical School – Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Research topic: Genomic perturbation reveals EGLN1 as a dependency in ovarian cancers and melanoma

Shaila Strayhorn
University of Illinois at Chicago
Research topic: Sources of social support among African American cancer survivors: A systematic review

Note: Photos of award recipients and more information on their projects available – contact Molly McElroy for details.

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Molly McElroy
206.667.6651 (desk)