Congratulations to Kathleen M. Schmeler, MD, of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital for being the winner of the“Heroes in Medicine” award from Physician’s Weekly for May 2016.
Dr. Schmeler’s primary research interest is in cervical cancer prevention and treatment, particularly in developing countries and for medically underserved women in the United States. She is actively involved with the hospital’s Global Academic Programs and is performing several clinical trials with MD Anderson Sister Institutions in Latin America and around the world.
According to recent data, cervical cancer ranks as the 14th most common cancer in the United States. However, the disease is one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in women in Latin America, Africa, and the Caribbean. To bridge this gap, Dr. Schmeler and colleagues run the Central America Oncology Education Program, or CONEP. The program brings gynecologists from MD Anderson and other institutions to Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Panama. On these missions, clinicians make patient rounds and train local doctors. Since the inception of CONEP in 2009, more than 100 Central American medical residents and faculty have participated in each of the visits. The program recently expanded to Mozambique in Southeast Africa.
In addition to these efforts, MD Anderson recently expanded its ambitious Moon Shots Program to include HPV-related cancers. Co-led by Dr. Schmeler, the goal of this program is to improve access and vaccination rates, develop HPV-related cancer screenings for men, develop targeted drugs for HPV-related cancers, and develop immunotherapies that help the immune system fight the virus.
“The Moon Shots Program has spurred us to organize our efforts and move our work benefiting patients to the next level,” says Dr. Schmeler. “It’s not acceptable to make small, incremental improvements. We must do something big and innovative on their behalf.”
Dr. Schmeler also has been instrumental in working with the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, which provides state funding for cancer research, prevention, and product development programs. Efforts from the institute are designed to target the states’ Cameron, Hidalgo, Willacy, and Starr counties, all in the Rio Grande Valley along the Texas-Mexico border where there are 40% fewer physicians and half as many nurse practitioners as the rest of Texas. Participants teach local women about cervical cancer screenings and HPV vaccinations.
Dr. Schmeler is also a co-leader of the Project ECHO (Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes) program, which uses a Skype-like video conferencing program to link MD Anderson faculty in Houston with Rio Grande Valley clinicians. Houston-area physicians connect on screen and in real time with Rio Grande Valley healthcare providers to discuss patient cases and teach medical techniques.