UF Health Cancer Center researchers accepted into NCI investigator training program

Two UF Health Cancer Center researchers have been accepted into a National Cancer Institute (NCI) program that aims to assist cancer researchers and clinician-scientists in becoming successful investigators. 

Lakeshia Cousin, Ph.D., APRN, AGPCNP-BC, and Paul Castillo, M.D.

Lakeshia Cousin, Ph.D., APRN, AGPCNP-BC, and Paul Castillo, M.D., were accepted as part of the third cohort of Early Investigator Advancement Program Scholars. The training program, part of the NCI’s Center to Reduce Cancer Health Disparities, strives to bolster expertise and offer guidance for investigators to create competitive R01 or equivalent grant applications.

Launched with the support of the NCI Equity Council in 2021, the program also provides access to mentoring and peer networks and fosters a community of up-and-coming established investigators from diverse backgrounds. 

Cousin and Castillo were connected to the program through the UF Health Cancer Center’s Training Navigation program, which helps connect cancer research trainees and early-stage investigators with career development resources at the NCI.  

“We are delighted to see our newly funded Training Navigation program at work,” said Luisel Ricks-Santi, Ph.D., associate director for opportunity and access at the UF Health Cancer Center. “This  program will help meet the goals of our early-stage investigators and provide the mentoring and resources they need as they embark on their journey to obtaining their first R01.” 

Cousin, an assistant professor in the department of family, community and health systems science in the UF College of Nursing, is a nurse scientist who bridges health equity, behavioral medicine and psychosocial support to research improvements in breast cancer survivorship for underserved populations. 

Her research includes creating culturally tailored interventions with a biopsychosocial approach to understand how protective factors can promote resilience, reduce stress and improve physical health outcomes (e.g., inflammatory biomarkers, cardiometabolic risk) and behaviors. 

Castillo is an assistant professor in the division of hematology and oncology in the department of pediatrics in the UF College of Medicine and a physician-scientist in the T Cell Engineering Laboratory of the Pediatric Cancer Immunotherapy Initiative and the Brain Tumor Immunotherapy Program at UF. 

His translational efforts are focused on developing new technologies that include systemic activation of innate and adaptive immunity to synergize and enhance CAR T-cell activity against metastatic osteosarcoma. 

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