Chemistry professor embarks on lung cancer research

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Chemistry professor embarks on lung cancer research

Claudia Hernandez

Claudia Hernandez

Claudia Hernandez

Rene Delgadillo, Multimedia Editor

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More than 5,000 miles away from where he was born, Rachid Skouta, a chemistry research assistant professor at UTEP, is following his dreams to help fight against lung cancer.

Skouta recently received more than $109,300 from the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología through the University of Texas System for a two-year study on lung cancer.

With the grant he received, Skouta was able to bring in a postdoctoral researcher from Mexico, who will conduct specific research about lung cancer in Skouta’s laboratory for two years.

“With this money, we will continue our research projects toward the development of new drugs with specific mechanisms for targeted cell death to overcome drug resistance,” Skouta said.

Skouta, who was born in Morocco, a country in northern Africa, earned his Ph.D. in Chemistry from McGill University and arrived at UTEP in 2014 after finishing his postdoctoral studies at Columbia University. He said UTEP and El Paso have become his new home.

“UTEP is a very unique university. I like the people and their culture,” Skouta said. “I am fearless of exploring places and opportunities and I’m very delighting to do that through educational purposes.”

Helping students achieve a college degree is something that motivates him as he continues to do his research.

“Engaging Mexican-American students in the biomedical field and pushing them to get maybe their first degree in their own family was something that really attracted me to come to this school,” Skouta said. “My mission is to train students, and I hope I can transfer this energy of mine to next generations. Another mission is to inspire students the same way I was inspired by my professors.”

Another important factor in coming to El Paso was UTEP’s Border Biomedical Research Center. He said this center allows him to continue his passion in the research of lung cancer.

Mais Ismael, a sophomore cellular and molecular biochemistry major, said Skouta is a professor who does not give up on his students.

“He is very helpful and enthusiastic about the work he does. He teaches you step by step until you’re confident about doing it on your own,” Ismael said. “I think it’s pretty cool that he got that grant for his lab, I think that shows you how passionate he is.”

Other students said Skouta’s way of teaching has motivated and inspired them to not give up on such a difficult field.

“He is really involved with the students compared to other professors that I know and having professors like that really just pushes you to be better,” said Abimael Vasquez, senior chemistry major. “I like the way he teaches me and because of him I got to RISE (Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement) program, which pays you to do research.”

There has been a huge improvement in the research on lung cancer and the lifestyle of cancer patients in the last 15 years, but he also said there is more work to be done, as thousands of people die each year in the U.S. because of it.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 222,500 Americans will be diagnosed with lung cancer this year and more than 155,000 lung cancer patients will die.

“Lung cancer is the second killer in the U.S. and we still have a lot to do to understand how come we can’t overcome drug resistance or develop other drugs to cure this disease,” Skouta said.

His motivation in lung cancer research comes from the high mortality of this disease and the effects it had on his life.

“I had a family member who unfortunately died of lung cancer because the disease just moved all the way into the brain,” Skouta said.

He doesn’t like to mention the name of the family member he lost and prefers to focus on the future and how he can help in the search for a cure.

“Cancer is like a huge ocean, we have so many types of cancers that I wanted to put all my energy and efforts on one type of cancer to look for a cure,” he said.

In 2016, the Lung Cancer Research Foundation received 180 applications from 120 institutions for a $150,000 grant to conduct research of this disease. Skouta was one on 15 researchers across the country who was awarded this grant.

“We were able to demonstrate that UTEP can compete with top and popular schools,” Skouta said. “UTEP has research opportunities that allow scientists and young researchers like me to do high-quality research that will make a difference in the future.”

Skouta said he hopes to spend more years at UTEP and continue making a difference in his field. 

“I want to continue this kind of research for more years and maybe have a breakthrough and discover something important at this institution,” Skouta said.

Follow Rene Delgadillo on Twitter @rdelgadillonews

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