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UNM ECHO gets $10 million grant

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An innovative health care initiative developed in New Mexico will start tackling one of the country’s leading killers – cancer – thanks to a new $10 million grant.

Project ECHO’s grant from the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is designed to help prevent, detect and treat cancer in rural and under-served areas around the U.S. and South Africa.

Based out of the UNM Health Sciences Center, Project ECHO works to improve health care in remote areas by connecting health care providers in those communities to specialists at academic institutions. The specialists impart their knowledge via internet-based and video-conference training, helping local primary care doctors and other practitioners better treat patients’ complicated medical conditions.

ECHO originated in 2003 as a method of expanding hepatitis C treatment around New Mexico, and the model is now used by 117 partners around the world to address more than 55 conditions. But this is the first time it will focus on cancer – the second-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures.

Dr. Sanjeev Arora, Project ECHO’s director, said universities and other major medical centers like MD Anderson have participated in pilot projects using ECHO for cancer care over the last year and a half. He said it was “very successful” and set the tone for the larger rollout.

A UNM-based team will train peer institutions how to use ECHO to become “hubs” that can more easily share their cancer care expertise with other mid-level providers in surrounding communities.

“They already know how to treat cancer,” he said of the hospitals and universities. “We train them how to do ECHO.”

The new $10 million could help establish ECHO-model cancer “hubs” at 25 academic medical centers around the U.S. and at least one in South Africa.

“ECHO’s potential to strengthen and heal gaps in systems of care for the most vulnerable patients and expand the idea of a cancer-care team across space and health-care organizations is enormous,” John Damonti, the president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, said in a statement.