• September 21, 2020
 UTEP Professor awarded 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award

Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been named the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS). Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre / UTEP Communications

UTEP Professor awarded 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award

Renato Aguilera, Ph.D., professor of biological sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso, has been named the recipient of the 2019 Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS).

Aguilera, who also serves as director of UTEP’s Biology Graduate Program and Deputy Research Director of the Border Biomedical Research Center, will accept the award Oct. 31, 2019, during the 2019 SACNAS – The National Diversity in STEM Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii.

SACNAS officials said Aguilera and other award recipients are true examples of the organization’s mission who have demonstrated throughout their careers an unmatched dedication to excellence in science, mentoring, and teaching. Awardees were nominated by students and colleagues who have been impacted by their work, and were selected by a committee of peers.

“I started as an undergraduate member of SACNAS in the late ’70s and have only missed one meeting since then. The society has helped me in countless ways by providing me inspirational mentors, lifelong friends and colleagues, and the emotional and intellectual support that I needed through all the stages of my career,” Aguilera said.

“Over my 30-year academic career, I have trained and mentored more than 100 undergraduate and graduate students and was recognized in 2013 for these efforts by receiving the Distinguished Research Mentor Award.  This year, I am honored to receive the SACNAS Distinguished Research Scientist Award for my research productivity and commitment to advancing scientific research in the fields of immunology and cancer,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera’s laboratory has recently developed methods for the screening of chemical libraries on human cancer cells. Recently, his group developed and validated a screening assessment that has resulted in the identification of several compounds that are cytotoxic to lymphomas but not other cancer cell types.

They have also identified compounds that are highly active against lymphomas/leukemias and breast cancer cells. The main goal of Aguilera’s laboratory is to characterize the novel compounds that have been identified and to search for additional compounds from chemical libraries and natural sources. His group has discovered one drug that has been used for many years as an antimalarial drug and shown to be safe in humans.

In addition, two other patentable anti-cancer drugs are at various stages of development that may be novel therapeutic agents in the future. This research involves the participation and training of several underrepresented minority undergraduates and graduate students.

“Every year we recognize two excellent scientists that have made significant contributions to their field and that have a long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion in STEM,” SACNAS President Sonia Zárate, Ph.D. said. “This year we honor Dr. Robert Megginson and Dr. Renato Aguilera, inspiring professionals who embody the mission of SACNAS.”

Since the SACNAS Distinguished Awards program began in 1997, the organization has honored more than 80 scientists, educators, and program directors.

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