An architectural rendering of the Hidalgo County Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center was unveiled Thursday, Dec. 13 at The University of Texas-Pan American.
University administrators, regional leaders and elected officials at the unveiling included UTPA President Dr. Miguel A. Nevárez; Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio; Hidalgo County Judge Eloy Pulido; Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa; Dr. Leonel Vela, RAHC dean; State Sens. Carlos Truan and Eddie Lucio; and State Reps. Juan Hinojosa and Roberto Gutierrez.
Construction of the approximately $20 million research facility adjacent to UTPA should begin next year and be complete in 18 months. The 45,500-square-foot building will include a laboratory animal resources facility, a Level 3 biological safety laboratory, offices and other lab space.
Nevárez and others emphasized that the Edinburg research facility would not be possible without collaboration among the University, the City of Edinburg, the UTHSCSA, the UT System Board of Regents and the Valley delegation of state legislators.
"We are extremely pleased that The University of Texas-Pan American's vision of a medical research facility located on our campus is becoming a reality," Nevárez said.
"This facility will be the gateway for necessary medical research to be conducted that will have a positive effect on the people of our region. It will also be another opportunity for our students to gain parity with other regions in the state through the research opportunities that will be available."
The RAHC has three divisions: medical education in Harlingen, a school of public health in Brownsville and medical research in Edinburg. An extension of UTHSCSA, the medical research component will focus on basic, medical and infectious disease research.
"The high rates of diabetes, tuberculosis, dengue fever and other diseases in the Valley require that we build a research facility of great magnitude and consequence," Cigarroa said. "Today, we have unveiled a future resource for improving the health of all residents of this region."
Through its mission of providing the highest quality and excellence in medical education and research, the RAHC will benefit the entire lower Rio Grande Valley, Vela said. One area of research will be diabetes, as the rate of diabetic complications among Valley residents is 2.5 times the national average.
"The development of the RAHC research and education divisions will enable students considering careers as physicians and/or scientists to receive their training in the Valley," said Vela, adding infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever also will be studied. "Our focus will be on diseases that affect our population."
The RAHC will complement resources and interests of Valley universities, and the research division's proximity to UTPA will make for a natural collaboration. For example, space will be provided for the current cooperative Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree program between UTPA and The University of Texas at Austin College of Pharmacy.
"UTPA students and graduate students will have a great opportunity to be involved in biomedical research, and further, that opportunity will be right next door," Vela said.
Ochoa echoed Vela's comments, adding Edinburg and Hidalgo County will also benefit.
"The Edinburg Medical Research Center will help communities in Hidalgo County achieve sustainable economic development, generate long-term jobs and economic growth, and improve economic conditions in the area," Ochoa said. "Education is power, and having education of this caliber available is excellent."