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UA, Sonoran cancer centers sign binational agreement

By Ariel Serafin
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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Universities agree to future collaborations

The Arizona Cancer Center has joined forces with the University of Sonora for future cancer research and education projects marking the beginning of new opportunities for both institutions.

The institutions signed a nonbinding agreement to collaborate on future cancer research projects.

The program is intended to lead the University of Sonora in Mexico in the cancer research and educational programs, said Dr. María Elena Martínez, co-director of the Arizona Cancer Center's Cancer Prevention and Control Program.

The binational collaboration will create an opportunity for students to do research at the University of Sonora.

A group of UA students are in Sonora researching the potentially cancerous effects of long term arsenic exposure by interviewing families about their diets and lifestyles and testing urine and toenail samples.

Martínez was one of the eight members of the Arizona Cancer Center who visited Hermosillo, Sonora to establish the collaboration and attend the Sonora-Arizona Binational Meeting on Cancer Research between Dec. 5 and 6.

Martínez said the idea for the collaboration came about over the summer during a visit to Sonora. As she drove around looking at the hospitals, she decided that the country's infrastructure was fit to accommodate advanced research and education.

"I said, 'Wouldn't it be great to form a partnership?'" Martínez said.

Dr. Robin Harris, the principle investigator in a study on the possible connection between arsenic exposure and gastro-intestinal cancers in Sonora, said the formal agreement is an extension of a previous collaboration between the Arizona Cancer Center and University of Sonora.

Harris said although the first research collaboration between the two institutions began almost two years ago, it was only in regards to arsenic exposure effects, rather than the entire scope of the cancer-related issue.

Martínez said a primary reason the collaboration was established was to help Sonora establish a cancer registry database similar to the one in Arizona. Without a registry that tracks cases, it is difficult to record cancer-related statistics such as increased prevalence or fatality rate, Martinez said.

The collaboration is also intended to help Sonora begin clinical trials of cancer drugs, which are virtually non-existent in Sonora, where national protocols tend to dictate available treatments.

However, Martínez said the agreement would benefit both parties involved.

Martínez said one of the most obvious benefits Arizona would receive from the collaboration would be the opportunity to explore cancer-related trends in the native country of many Arizonans.

"We have a large Hispanic population (in Arizona)," Martínez said. "Doing research in their country of origin helps our own population."

Harris agreed that the collaboration would give researchers and opportunity to look at cancer statistics and information with a regional perspective, rather than national.

"(Mexico and Arizona's) environments and histories are very similar," Harris said.

Martínez also said the agreement would provide Arizonan students with the rare and exciting opportunity to do medical research in another country.

Martínez said the agreement was made "non-binding" to simplify the collaboration.

"There are no legal issues and no lawyers involved," Martínez said.

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