AACR MONARCA Grants Empower Early-career Cancer Researchers in Latin America

In 2022, AACR launched a unique initiative called AACR Maximizing Opportunity for New Advancements in Research in Cancer (MONARCA) Grant for Latin America. This initiative was designed to cultivate the next generation of cancer researchers with the overarching goal of shaping the future of cancer control and treatment in Latin America.

Latin America is grappling with the significant impact of cancer on public health. Beyond immediate health care challenges, there is a crucial need to generate local evidence and knowledge upon which effective clinical, public health, and policy guidelines tailored to the region’s unique characteristics can be built.

In addition, Latin American cancer researchers encounter limitations due to limited funding mechanisms, particularly in the early stages of their careers. The MONARCA initiative aims to cultivate a pipeline of early-career investigators in Latin America with the ultimate goal of strengthening the community of skilled cancer researchers in the region, ensuring not only development of local talent but also contributing to the advancement of cancer research in the entire region.

“The AACR MONARCA award supports the development of an early-career investigator from Latin America to work collaboratively with a national scientific mentor to explore a relevant cancer research question for the community they serve,” explained Marcia R. Cruz-Correa, MD, PhD, chair of the 2023 AACR MONARCA Grant Scientific Review Committee.

“This award is a testimony of the commitment of the AACR to continue to support the global community of scientists, the patients that we serve, and to bridge knowledge gaps in cancer research,” Dr. Cruz-Correa said. “Participation of the Latin American scientists and the breath of scientific questions was very encouraging and points towards a bright future for diverse scientists!”

In the inaugural year of the MONARCA program, three grantees were selected through a rigorous and competitive application process. The current grantees are early-career investigators hailing from different Latin American countries, encompassing both clinical and academic researchers. Here’s an introduction to the 2023 AACR MONARCA grantees:

Javiera Garrido, MSc, PhD

Photo of Javiera Garrido, MSc, PhD
Javiera Garrido, MSc, PhD

Postdoctoral Researcher
Universidad de Desarrollo
Santiago, Chile

What she aims to achieve through this program: “The MONARCA grant is the first grant I have been awarded as an independent researcher, and I am honored and humbled to have been given this remarkable opportunity. I will work very hard to make the most of this achievement and to further the scope of cancer epidemiology research in Latin-America.”

Research interests: Lung cancer in never-smokers, tumor heterogeneity, cancer inequalities, epidemiology, and biostatistics.

Fun Fact: “I enjoy playing sports, spending time with my family, and watching cat videos on TikTok.” 

Rafael Loch Batista, MD, PhD

Picture of Rafael Roch Batista, MD, PhD
Rafael Roch Batista, MD, PhD

Researcher Physician
University of Sao Paulo Medical School
Sao Paulo, Brazil

What he aims to achieve through this program: “Raising public funds for research in Brazil is exceptionally challenging due to the lack of government policies that support science. Therefore, recognizing the potential to generate impactful translational data, the AACR opportunity is of utmost importance to us. It represents a crucial avenue through which we can obtain the necessary resources to advance our research efforts and contribute to the field of science.”

Research interests: Oncologic endocrinology, sex steroids, human endogenous retroviruses, and hormone-cancer connection.

Fun Fact: “I enjoy culinary adventures, intimate musical concerts, artistic pursuits such as painting and photography, and I am a huge fan of dogs.”

Sofia Russo, PhD

Photo of Sofia Russo, PhD
Sofia Russo, PhD

Assistant Professor
Institut Pasteur de Montevideo
Montevideo, Uruguay

What she aims to achieve through this program: “The AACR MONARCA Grant will drastically improve the quality of our research focusing on Th17-exhausted CD8+ T-cell cooperation in the context of cancer immunotherapy. Personally, this project marks a milestone in my career as it brings me closer to my goal of becoming an independent researcher.”

Research interests: Cancer immunotherapy and tumor immunology.

Fun Fact: “It brings me joy when my 3-year-old twins explain what my job is.”