Dr. Sarah Chavez is the Senior Scientist in Washington University's Department of Surgery Public Health Sciences Division in the Office of Community Outreach and Engagement (COE). COE provides support and data resources to researchers across Washington University School of Medicine (WUSM) and Siteman Cancer Center. They design educational materials and outreach events, and also monitor the epidemiology of cancer and other social determinants of health within their patient population and the 82 counties in Missouri and Illinois that make up their catchment. They also monitor the diversity of patients enrolled in clinical trials to ensure that the patients are an accurate representation of the community as a whole.
Dr. Chavez is a Saint Louis native. She studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia (Mizzou) earning a BS in Biochemistry in 2001. During her time at Mizzou, she worked in several labs, including one that studied transgenic corn and the Maize Genome Project, and another that worked on animal cloning and nuclear transfer (pigs). She also spent a semester abroad in Scotland, studying health care and history, and working in a laboratory at the Roslin Institute. She was lucky enough to work with Dr. Ian Wilmut and the team that cloned Dolly and learned about cloning technology firsthand. After graduation, Dr. Chavez worked in a vascular biology lab (studying aortic aneurysms) while deciding between medical or graduate school. Ultimately, she decided that she really loved teaching and writing, so she applied to graduate school at WUSM. Long-term, she knew she wanted to study cancer, since she came from a BRCA family and had lost many loved ones to cancer.
Dr. Chavez completed her thesis work in circadian rhythms and photobiology in the Department of Ophthalmology, giving her a strong background in molecular biology and biomedical engineering. She finished her PhD in Molecular Cell Biology in 2007, and then did her post-doc research in breast cancer, where she worked on imaging modalities for monitoring tumor angiogenesis and lymph node metastases. The lab also developed a breast cancer vaccine, which has been extremely successful in clinical trials at WUSM. After her post-doc, Dr. Chavez took a position teaching Biology Labs at the Danforth campus. She loved working with undergraduates and teaching, but quickly realized she missed being a researcher. She returned to working in research labs, working on several projects including congenital heart disease and viral infections of the eye. In 2018, Dr. Chavez accepted a position as a Senior Scientist in Public Health Sciences, and in 2020, she was elected as the next Chair-Elect for the Missouri Cancer Consortium. Her current research projects are focused on cancer control and prevention, access to screening, barriers to treatment, and cancer disparities. She is also part of the research team looking at the impact of Covid-19 on the cancer care continuum.
Since 2008, Dr. Chavez she has taught courses for WashU's University College in Problem-Based Learning, General Biology, Genetics, Cancer Biology, and Global Health. She began teaching in Arts & Sciences pre-college programs in 2011. Dr. Chavez has always been passionate about the importance of diversity in medicine, both in clinical and research terms, and always tries to incorporate a wide variety of topics and examples that are relevant to diverse patient populations.
Dr. Chavez teaches Exploration Courses in Genetic Engineering, Cancer Biology, and Climate and Health as well as the Healthcare Continuum Institute.