Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Division of Cancer Prevention (DCP)
Entry Year

Doctoral Degree

Ph.D., Biomedical Sciences, The University of Texas MD Anderson (2017)

Master's Degree

M.P.H., Johns Hopkins University (2019)

Research Interests

Breast Cancer; Population Science; Clinical Trials; Chemoprevention; Recurrence

Primary Preceptor/Branch

Brandy Heckman-Stoddard, Ph.D., M.P.H., Breast and Gynecologic Cancer Research Group, Division of Cancer Prevention (DCP)

Secondary Preceptor/Branch

Serban Negoita, M.D., Dr.P.H., Data Quality, Analysis, and Interpretation Branch (DQAIB), Surveillance Research Program (SRP), Division of Cancer Control &  Population Sciences (DCCPS)


Negoita S, Ramirez-Pena E. Prevention of Late Recurrence: An Increasingly Important Target for Breast Cancer Research and Control. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2022 Mar 8;114(3):340-341. doi: 10.1093/jnci/djab203. PMID: 34747495.

Arnold JM, Gu F, Ambati CR, Rasaily U, Ramirez-Pena E, Joseph R, Manikkam M, Martin RS, Charles C, Pan Y, Chatterjee SS, Den Hollander P, Zhang W, Nagi C, Sikora AG, Rowley D, Putluri N, Zhang XH, Karanam B, Mani SA, Sreekumar A. Correction: UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenase regulates hyaluronic acid production and promotes breast cancer progression. Oncogene. 2020 Apr;39(15):3226-3228. doi: 10.1038/s41388-020-1252-1. PMID: 32214199.

Arnold JM, Gu F, Ambati CR, Rasaily U, Ramirez-Pena E, Joseph R, Manikkam M, San Martin R, Charles C, Pan Y, Chatterjee SS, Den Hollander P, Zhang W, Nagi C, Sikora AG, Rowley D, Putluri N, Zhang XH, Karanam B, Mani SA, Sreekumar A. UDP-glucose 6-dehydrogenase regulates hyaluronic acid production and promotes breast cancer progression. Oncogene. 2020 Apr;39(15):3089-3101. doi: 10.1038/s41388-019-0885-4. Epub 2019 Jul 15. PMID: 31308490.

Ramirez-Peña E, Arnold J, Shivakumar V, Joseph R, Vidhya Vijay G, den Hollander P, Bhangre N, Allegakoen P, Prasad R, Conley Z, Matés JM, Márquez J, Chang JT, Vasaikar S, Soundararajan R, Sreekumar A, Mani SA. The Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition Promotes Glutamine Independence by Suppressing GLS2 Expression. Cancers (Basel). 2019 Oct 22;11(10):1610. doi: 10.3390/cancers11101610. PMID: 31652551.

Vijay GV, Zhao N, Den Hollander P, Toneff MJ, Joseph R, Pietila M, Taube JH, Sarkar TR, Ramirez-Pena E, Werden SJ, Shariati M, Gao R, Sobieski M, Stephan CC, Sphyris N, Miura N, Davies P, Chang JT, Soundararajan R, Rosen JM, Mani SA. GSK3β regulates epithelial-mesenchymal transition and cancer stem cell properties in triple-negative breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res. 2019 Mar 7;21(1):37. doi: 10.1186/s13058-019-1125-0. PMID: 30845991.

Jia D, Jolly MK, Tripathi SC, Den Hollander P, Huang B, Lu M, Celiktas M, Ramirez-Peña E, Ben-Jacob E, Onuchic JN, Hanash SM, Mani SA, Levine H. Distinguishing mechanisms underlying EMT tristability. Cancer Converg. 2017;1(1):2. doi: 10.1186/s41236-017-0005-8. Epub 2017 Nov 1. PMID: 29623961.

Bhowmik SK, Ramirez-Peña E, Arnold JM, Putluri V, Sphyris N, Michailidis G, Putluri N, Ambs S, Sreekumar A, Mani SA. EMT-induced metabolite signature identifies poor clinical outcome. Oncotarget. 2015 Dec 15;6(40):42651-60. doi: 10.18632/oncotarget.4765. PMID: 26315396.

Program Spotlight

2023 Merit Award Winners

August 31, 2023
2023 Merit Award Recipients: Drs. Elfer, Harris, McGee-Avila, Ramirez-Peña.

The Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program recently announced its 2023 Merit Award Winners, recognizing the exceptional contributions of Drs. Kate Elfer, Alexandra Harris, Jennifer McGee-Avila, and Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña. The winners were honored at the Annual Potluck, a celebration marking the culmination of a year and the welcoming of a new cohort of fellows.

Kate Elfer

Dr. Kate Elfer, a recipient of the program's Merit Award, has made significant strides in various areas of cancer research. Their expertise spans digital pathology, medical devices, regulatory aspects of diagnostic devices, artificial intelligence/machine learning, image perception, and the integration of sex and gender in research. Dr. Elfer's contributions have been supported by research funds from prestigious organizations such as the NCI-FDA Interagency Oncology Task Force and the Food and Drug Administration, Center for Devices and Radiological Health, FDA/CDRH Office of Science and Engineering Laboratories. They have developed continuing medical education courses and been recognized for their involvement in esteemed events, including the STEM Representation Matters Series at Brown University and the Biomedical Engineering Departmental Seminars at UMass Lowell. Dr. Elfer's commitment extends to serving as a co-chair in working groups such as the FDA DigiPath and AI/Machine Learning Working Groups. Additionally, they actively mentors aspiring researchers through programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program and FDA PRIDE Mentoring Committee. Their exceptional contributions to the Peer Mentoring Program have earned her the prestigious NCI Director's Champion Award in 2023. Dr. Elfer also takes an active role in service within the CPFP, they served as former co -chair of the Fellows Advisory Board CDSS committee, and organizes the CPFP Book Club.

Alexandra Harris

Dr. Alexandra Harris, another recipient of the 2023 Merit Award, has made remarkable strides in cancer research. Her dedication to bringing the worlds of laboratory science and molecular epidemiology to study the breast tumor microenvironment, molecular underpinnings of epidemiologic risk factors, and breast cancer disparities in women of African descent has garnered widespread recognition and support. Dr. Harris has been honored with prestigious accolades such as the CPFP Transdisciplinary Fellowship Research Award, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics (DCEG )Intramural Research Award, and, together with her mentors, the Center for Cancer Research (CCR) Health Disparities Flex Award. Her commitment to science communication, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) , and outreach is evident through her leadership roles in significant initiatives like the CPFP Grants and Scientific Writing Committee and active participation in the DCEG Cancer Health Disparities Fellows Interest Group, DCEG Inclusivity Minute Project, and NCI Cancer Community Partnership. Dr. Harris's passion for mentorship is exemplified through her involvement in programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program for which she earned an NCI Director's Champion Award, and STEM for Her, where she empowers aspiring researchers and promotes diversity in STEM.

Jennifer McGee-Avila

Dr. Jennifer McGee-Avila has also been honored with a merit award for her notable contributions to cancer prevention research. Her achievements span a wide range of areas, including cancer prevention in people with HIV, cervical cancer, HPV-associated cancers, cancer inequities, and public health policy. Dr. McGee-Avila's active participation in influential initiatives such as the NIH Federal Cervical Cancer Collaborative, focusing on cervical cancer elimination, and the Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS) Evidence-Based Cancer Control Policy Research Working Group, and the DCEG Cancer Health Disparities Fellows Interest Group, showcases her dedication to the field. She has been recognized with prestigious awards, including the NCI Director's Champion Award and the Sallie Rosen Kaplan Fellowship. Dr. McGee-Avila's involvement in various working groups, councils, and committees highlights her commitment to addressing cancer health disparities. As a mentor, she actively contributes to programs like the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Health Policy Research Scholars Program.

Esmeralda Rameriz-Pena

Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, a distinguished recipient of this Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program's prestigious award, has made exceptional contributions to cancer prevention research. Her expertise in real-world and clinical trial data analysis, chemoprevention, and cancer recurrence measurements has led to her work being presented at renowned events. Esteemed institutions have recognized Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña's work, reflecting the quality and impact of her research. With a commitment to collaboration, she actively engages with national and international partners, participating in working groups focused on addressing cancer recurrence and systemic racism. Dr. Ramirez-Peña's notable accolades include the NCI Director's Emerging Leaders Award and the NCI Director's Champion Award, further underscoring her contributions to the field. As a mentor in the CPFP Peer Mentoring Program, she plays a pivotal role in empowering aspiring researchers and cultivating a diverse and inclusive environment in STEM. Her dedication to fostering equity and promoting underrepresented groups' involvement in research is evident.

The Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program's 2023 Merit Award winners, Drs. Kate Elfer, Alexandra Harris, Jennifer McGee-Avila, and Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, represent the program's commitment to recognizing excellence in cancer prevention research. Their diverse expertise, significant contributions, and dedication to mentorship underscore the program's mission of advancing the field and reducing the burden of cancer. These accomplished researchers serve as inspirations for the future generation of cancer prevention scientists.

2023 recipients Jennifer McGee-Avila, Esmeralda Ramirez-Pena, and Kate Elfer, pose with previous recipients Heather Platter and Lauren Hurwitz.
Figure 1. From left, 2023 recipients Jennifer McGee-Avila, Esmeralda Ramirez-Pena, and Kate Elfer, pose with previous recipients Heather Platter and Lauren Hurwitz.
Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.
2023 Merit Award Recipients

Fellows Advisory Board Leaders Receive NCI Director’s Award

February 14, 2022

The annual NCI Director’s Awards recognize exceptional individual and group performance or special efforts in support of NCI’s biomedical research mission. This year at the NCI Director’s Awards ceremony hosted on February 14, 2022, Cancer Prevention Fellows, Drs. Derek Brown, Alexandra Budenz, Ian Buller, Michelle Doose, Sydney O’Connor, Heather Platter, Esmeralda Ramírez-Peña, Naoise Synnott, and Jacqueline B. Vo were honored with NCI Director’s Emerging Leader Awards. This achievement was well-earned through their leadership of the Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program’s (CPFP) Fellows Advisory Board (FAB) during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This FAB leadership group was nominated by CPFP’s Learning & Development Specialist, Ms. Ann Maxson, and CPFP’s Director, Dr. Lisa Signorello, for spearheading innovative opportunities for fellows to develop skills and community during the COVID-19 pandemic. In April 2020, as the NIH community transitioned to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this group of emerging leaders swiftly and selflessly volunteered to serve in leadership roles on the FAB. They were quick to recognize the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on their fellow colleagues and to ramp up activities to serve them. They developed strategic programming for building virtual community and advocating for the needs of the fellows, for advancing the fellows’ scientific and professional development, and for promoting their professional networking. In these efforts, they cumulatively hosted dozens of innovative events that aimed to offset and ease the pandemic’s effects on fellows. They served as exemplary role models as they motivated and empowered NCI trainees to achieve and connect during a time of great uncertainty. Their empathy, vision, and commitment to their colleagues was a true demonstration of their outstanding leadership abilities.

Esmeralda Ramírez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Drs. Samira Brooks and Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña Selected as Scholars for the 2020 Scientist Mentoring & Diversity Program for Biotechnology (SMDP Biotech)

November 30, 2020

Current Cancer Prevention Fellows Dr. Samira Brooks and Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña have been selected by the SMDP Biotech Selection Committee as Scholars for the “2020 Scientist Mentoring & Diversity Program for Biotechnology (SMDP Biotech)”.  Promoted by the International Center for Professional Development (ICPD), this 1-year career mentoring program pairs ethnically diverse students and early career researchers with industry mentors who work at biotechnology, consumer healthcare, and medical technology companies. 

Dr. Brooks’ and Dr. Ramirez-Peña’s mentors will be chosen by the ICPD from a pool of leaders in the biotech field.  Each Fellow and her mentor will attend a week-long training session and develop a Personalized Mentoring Plan designed to help her transition to a career in the biotech field.  They will receive monthly mentoring support, as well as complimentary registration to attend a major industry-specific conference. 

Dr. Brooks’ goal is “to emerge from this training fully versed in the intersections of translational research and industry to continue to make scientific advances to improve our understanding of disease for advancing prevention, detection, and treatment.”  In NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, Dr. Brooks receives mentorship from Dr. W. Marston Linehan, Chief of the Urologic Oncology Branch.  There, she leads an interdisciplinary study that is investigating mechanisms in cancer-associated reprogramming of iron metabolism in individuals that express a distinct mutation in Ferroportin. 

Dr. Ramirez-Peña is working with population and clinical trial level data from breast cancer patients and conducting research in both the Breast and Gynecologic Cancer Research Group in the Division of Cancer Prevention and the Surveillance Research Program in the Division of Cancer Control & Population Sciences.  During her SMDP mentoring year, Dr. Ramirez-Peña hopes “to learn from professionals in different sectors of the pharmaceutical industry and create a network where I can bridge my research with clinical impact.”

Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Current Fellow, 2018 CPFP Cohort

Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña Gives Keynote Address at GSLSAMP/NNJ-B2B STEM Research Conference

December 11, 2019

In October 2019, Dr. Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, a current CPFP Fellow, was invited to present the keynote address at the 11th Annual GSLSAMP/NNJ-B2B STEM Research Conference at Rutgers University. This yearly event is sponsored by the Garden State-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and the Northern New Jersey Bridges to Baccalaureate Alliance and seeks to support traditionally underrepresented minority (URM) students by expanding opportunities in STEM-related disciplines.

Dr. Ramirez-Peña’s address focused on her scientific journey from childhood, a stage of her life impacted by a move from Mexico to the US, to the present. She told the story of her passion for laboratory research and her struggle with impostor syndrome (IS), a struggle which was amplified by statistics surrounding attrition rates and lack of leadership positions for URMs and women in STEM. She stressed that participation in community outreach initiatives helped her to realize that as a female, Latina scientist, she had the power to inspire future generations of URM researchers. From these experiences, she became more comfortable in her space as a scientist.

Esmeralda also credits the CPFP for supporting this scientific journey. She expressed that with “the NCI CPFP I have received training that has enhanced my scientific career through the M.P.H. and the Leadership Series. These training opportunities have broadened my horizons and have enabled me to make valuable connections with other URMs in public health and cancer research. The Leadership Training Series has equipped me with strategies on dealing with IS and strengthening emotional intelligence to maximize my productivity. I was able to share what I learned from this series during my talk and pass on valuable information to students struggling with IS.”

Following her talk, Dr. Ramirez-Peña interacted with conference attendees, students presenting research projects on topics spanning engineering, the microbiome, genetics, single cell algorithms, and immunology. She enjoyed learning about their own scientific experiences and the strong academic community and dedicated mentors they receive from the Garden State Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation and The Northern New Jersey Bridges to Baccalaureate Alliance.

Esmeralda Ramirez-Peña, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Current Fellow, 2018 CPFP Cohort