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Young Scientist Finds the Right Place

Annual Report - Winter 2011

(From left) Gustavo Martinez, Lora Shea, Stephanie Centeno
Photos: Wyatt McSpadden

Martinez enjoys working with 'inspirational mentor'

By Mary Jane Schier

Gustavo Martinez credits a high school teacher with motivating him to excel in a national biology competition in his native Argentina.

After earning a master’s degree from the University of Buenos Aires, Martinez applied to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) that is operated by MD Anderson and The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

His goal was to study with Chen Dong, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Immunology and director of MD Anderson’s Center for Inflammation and Cancer.

“I had always wanted to come to the United States,” he notes. “When I found out that Dr. Dong was at MD Anderson, I knew this was the place for me.”

Martinez began working in Dong’s laboratory in 2007 and expects to receive his Ph.D. this year.

Program, Dong get high marks

“The Immunology Program at GSBS is very strong, and Dr. Dong is an inspirational mentor. I’m also fortunate to have other great advisors,” he says.

Martinez has been widely recognized for his research, the latest honor being a Presidents’ Scholarship given by the presidents of MD Anderson and UTHealth. 

He has published three first-author papers, co-authored five additional journal articles and presented his immunology studies at several international conferences.

Shea's efforts help others learn about cancer risks

By Gail Goodwin

If you’re wondering about your risk of getting cancer, there’s a new tool that can help.

Cancer Risk Check is an online resource that helps determine your personal risk for developing cancer. After completing a questionnaire, participants receive personalized screening recommendations based on gender, age and risk status, and feedback on ways to reduce their risks.

Project incorporates guidelines

Led by Lora Shea, former senior education specialist in the Public Education Office, the project incorporates MD Anderson’s screening algorithms for breast, cervical and colorectal cancers. 

The site also provides information specific to prostate cancer for men, as well as lifestyle choices that influence cancer risk such as tobacco use, sun exposure, diet and exercise.

A recent participant survey showed:

  • 78% intended to adopt one or more health behaviors recommended in their Cancer Risk Check profile,
  • 61% intended to make an appointment to get a recommended screening test, and
  • 59% intended to discuss recommendations with their doctor.

So far, so good

“Public Education has received positive feedback on the Cancer Risk Check,” Shea says. “Those looking to make lifestyle changes are appreciative of this tool.”

As the project lead, Shea was responsible for writing the content, getting medical approvals and interacting with the Department of Internet Services, which provided programming and technical support. 

Now a project director in the Department of Faculty Development, she uses her expertise to work on undergraduate education initiatives.

Determination leads Centeno to MD Anderson career

By Lana Maciel

When Stephanie Centeno sets her mind to it, she can do anything.

When she had her son as a teenager, she refused to drop out of high school. As a single mother, she earned her diploma and pursued a college education.

When her application to MD Anderson’s School of Health Professions was denied twice, she retook those college classes in which she made a C and improved her grades. On her third try, she was accepted into the school.

Hard work pays off

And when Centeno learned of a job opening for an MRI technologist at 
MD Anderson, she pursued the opportunity even though she was still six months from completing her degree. Her hard work and determination paid off, and she was hired full time.

Although she didn’t get to see much of her now 10-year-old son during those six months, Centeno admits the stress and sacrifice of 16-hour days spent at work and school were well worth it.

“It was a really tough time,” she says. “But honestly, I couldn’t have done it without my family. I knew that if I wanted a better future for my son and me, I had to make some sacrifices.”

Centeno, who completed her degree last August, hopes to one day earn her master’s. And it’s likely there’s no challenge tough enough to keep her from obtaining it.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center