The Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) will have a profound impact on South Texas and Mexico, according to Dr. Leonel Vela, RAHC dean and keynote speaker of the March 8 International Conference on Health Issues at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Vela's luncheon comments were just part of the all-day conference, which provided a forum of international exchange of health-related information and research. It also brought together physicians, health educators, nurses and other health care providers for possible future collaboration in health care research, service and education.
About 200 people from the United States and Mexico attended, along with UTPA physician's assistant and social work students and students from Universidad de Monterrey in Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
The RAHC has three divisions: medical education in Harlingen, a school of public health in Brownsville and medical research in Edinburg. An extension of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the medical research component will focus on basic, medical and infectious disease research, Vela said.
An architect already has been selected for the Edinburg facility, which will be adjacent to the UTPA campus. The component is expected to open in early 2003, though research will be started before then and transferred to the facility upon its completion.
"UTPA is an excellent institution and it does not take a back seat to anyone," said Vela. "We want to collaborate and tap into each other's strengths by locating the medical research component here. It also will expand the medical research opportunities for students and benefit the entire region."
Meanwhile, internationally known speakers discussed new research related to health issues affecting the world, especially diseases prevalent in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and Mexico. Among them were experts in diabetes and cancer, along with a panel from Mexico and the United States that examined health economics.
"This is a great idea to bring people together and discuss health issues," said Dr. Guillermo Tortolero-Luna, an assistant professor of gynecologic oncology and an assistant epidemiologist at the U. T. MD Anderson Cancer Center-Houston. His focus is on developing strategies to meet the cancer health needs of Hispanics and assure appropriateness and accessibility to cancer research, prevention-control programs and health care services.
"This conference is important because it brings people to the border to look at the issues impacting the area and possible research ideas," Tortolero-Luna added. "By doing this, it allows us to establish partnerships and work together."
Following the conference is a National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Cancer Institute contract-writing workshop coordinated by NIH administrator Joe Bowe.
The three-day workshop gives colleges, universities and institutions with substantial minority student enrollment the expert training and consultation to negotiate and secure NIH contracts. It also provides opportunities for partnerships that enhance teaching, research and community development at Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) and the communities they serve.
Sponsors include the NIH National Cancer Institute, Central Power & Light, the South Texas Health System, Sigma Theta Tau (international nursing honor society), and numerous other University organizations and area businesses.