UTMB researcher gets $2.26 M grant to expand HPV-vaccine program in Rio Grande Valley

In February, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas awarded Dr. Ana M. Rodriguez and her research team a $2.26 million grant to help fight human papillomavirus related cancers.

Texas has one of the lowest HPV vaccination rates in the country, and in the Rio Grande Valley, young people are at a higher risk of developing HPV-related cancers.

“My mission is to contribute to the elimination of the HPV-associated cancers by increasing access to HPV vaccines and improving vaccine uptake among underserved and vulnerable populations,” said Rodriguez, a professor in University of Texas Medical Branch's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. “This award allows us to meet these goals in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Since 2016, Rodriguez’s team increased HPV vaccination in U.S.-Mexican border counties in the Rio Grande Valley as a response to the high risk for developing HPV-associated cancers in this region. The team implemented a school-based HPV vaccination program that debuted in three middle schools in Rio Grande City and expanded to three other counties involving 16 middle schools in 2022. Before the program began, HPV vaccination initiation among some middle schools were between 8.8% to 17.7%. Now, middle schools involved with the program have reached HPV vaccination initiation rates between 65.5% to 71.9%.

HPV vaccination could potentially reduce the number of cervical cancer cases by 20%-72% in areas where resources are limited, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez and her multi-disciplinary team will continue HPV education and vaccination efforts in Hidalgo County and expand to Cameron and Willacy counties across 14 additional schools in 8 school districts. 

“This expansion will continue to increase HPV vaccination in the region where rates have been lagging in comparison to the state and the nation,” she said.

“We thank the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas for its support for our community-based and school-based vaccination program and the underserved population of the Rio Grande Valley,” Rodriguez said.

This is the fourth major grant that the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has awarded Rodriguez and her team.