National Minority Health Month Spotlight: Patricio Meneses, PhD, Moves Through the CURE Pipeline to Research Independence
, by CRCHD Staff
For National Minority Health Month, the National Cancer Institute (NCI) Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities (CRCHD) will feature CRCHD-supported researchers working in cancer and cancer health disparities research. This spotlight is a conversation with two-time Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences (CURE) scholar Patricio I. Meneses PhD, who is Associate Professor and Department Chair, Biological Sciences, at Fordham University in Bronx, NY.
CURE Funding Supported Prescient HPV Research
What inspired your interest in cancer research?
As a graduate student I became interested in the biology of viruses. My research at the time was the use of viruses as a means of delivering the tumor suppressor p53 gene into primary tumors. This indirectly led me to the field of cancer development as a result of Human Papillomavirus (HPV). The number of cervical cancers was and continues to be high—more than 500,000 cases worldwide. Add to this the number of oral and anal cancers caused by HPV, and you exceed 600,000 cases with a mortality rate of more than 300,000. This means that, in the world, someone dies of HPV every two minutes. These staggering numbers solidified my desire to dedicate my work to to understand the onset of HPV infection, in an effort to assist in reducing the burden of HPV-induced cancers.
Would you briefly describe your current research?
The main focus of my research is on the initial steps of HPV binding, entering and moving into a target cell in order to deposit the viral genome into the nucleus. As a postdoc I identified that HPV was co-localizing with intracellular markers of endosomes and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). I theorized that the viral particle was within a vesicle inside the cytoplasm and not free in the cytoplasm, unlike the existing literature at the time. It took over 10 years for others to come to similar observations, and my findings have contributed to the current understanding of HPV trafficking and residing in ER-derived vesicles before being found in the nucleus.
The lab has also begun work understanding the steps leading to the progression of cancers i.e., from premalignant to CIN stages, by looking at cellular transcriptome changes as a result of viral gene expression, as well as epigenetic modification of viral DNA.
As a postdoc I identified that HPV was co-localizing with intracellular markers of endosomes and endoplasmic reticulum (ER). I theorized that the viral particle was within a vesicle inside the cytoplasm and not free in the cytoplasm, unlike the existing literature at the time. —Dr. Meneses
How has the CURE program supported your career and professional development?
The CURE program has offered me an invaluable tool: independence. CURE funding was instrumental in my ability to support my studies. The research described above was in contrast to that of established labs at the time. In fact, one of my grant submissions came back with “Applicant will not succeed…if he continues to work on ER/HPV findings.” As discouraging as that was to hear as a very young investigator, members of the CURE granting mechanism, including Dr. Sanya Springfield, Dr. Nelson Aguila, and Dr. Peter Ogunbiyi, were supportive and continued mentoring me in grant writing…and every aspect of my career.
Can you describe how your research was impacted first as a CURE K22 awardee, and then as a CURE R21 awardee?
I was a postdoctoral fellow working with Dr. Erle Robertson at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Robertson provided me the freedom to pursue my HPV work, and I was three months from the end of my financial support when the K22 was funded. Dr. Robertson was instrumental in my acquisition of data and of the K22 award. Thanks to the K22 and my published work, I received offers from various institutions and chose to start my lab as an Assistant Professor at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science in Illinois.
As an Assistant Professor, I expanded my research and was fortunate to be granted a CURE R21. At this point my family had grown in number and my wife and wanted to be closer to family. The R21 was instrumental in my ability to obtain my current position as an Associate Professor at Fordham University, Bronx, NY, allowing us to return to New York City. During this path, I was also funded by the American Cancer Society, including being awarded a Research Scholar Grant. None of my research, academic positions, or grant awards would have been possible without CURE support.
Is there anything that you would like to share about your research or career path with underrepresented students and trainees?
The research path is difficult, no matter who you are. It was and perhaps is more difficult for those of us who are not surrounded by role models in our fields. As an immigrant and as a first-generation college attendee, the path forward was paved and experienced by me and my older siblings. What does a PhD do? Really, what do they do? This question is not answerable if there’s no one around who is a researcher. I was fortunate to encounter mentors in my path, including my graduate PI, Dr. Berns, my post-doctoral mentor, Dr. Howley, and, as mentioned, Dr. Robertson. Be on the lookout and receptive to these interactions. Also, be devoted, persistent and consistent.
Is there any overlap between your research and this year’s theme for National Minority Health Month, which is “Active & Healthy”?
My lab’s research is impacted by the well-being of the lab members. In my lab, we may not work on the effects of active and healthy lifestyles on health, but, if you join my lab, you will find your way to the gym or to the roads. As an avid runner, my lab members are encouraged to find an exercise routine in order to balance their daily life...and just about everyone does.
Is there anything else you would like to share or you think would be helpful to know about you or your career path?
The one piece of advice I would give is one I live by: no matter what it is, my goal is to be better than yesterday. Not better than others, not competing with others, but better than I was yesterday.
I can’t thank the CURE program enough.
Visit the CURE webpage to learn more about the program.