Officials from The University of Texas-Pan American, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), City of Edinburg, and legislative representatives picked up shovels and broke ground for the $20 million Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) Wednesday, Dec. 11 in Edinburg.
The groundbreaking ceremony marked a celebration of new beginnings for the Lower Rio Grande Valley RAHC - which is the first biomedical research facility of its kind to be located on the U.S.-Mexico border and will be operated by UTHSCSA.
"Beginning today the future of South Texas changes forever. Today we gather to break ground for a top quality research facility - the first of its kind along the Texas-Mexico border region," said UTHSCSA President Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa. "Within the walls of this facility, groundbreaking research will be conducted, research that focuses on the debilitating diseases that affect our population. Incredible discoveries will be made in the labs of these facilities, and discoveries that will provide the promise of bringing improved health and a better quality of life for the people of this great region."
RAHC will be devoted to the basic and epidemiological study of diseases that affect the Lower Rio Grande Valley, including diabetes, tuberculosis, dengue fever, hepatitis and certain cancers and neural tube defects that affect the Valley in high concentrations.
The research facility will be located across the street from UTPA on Van Week Street, and will allow research faculty to mentor undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students from UTPA and other area universities in the summer and provide other research opportunities.
Nevárez said UTPA students would benefit greatly from the RAHC research programs, scientists and on-site doctor of pharmacy program that will be housed in the new facility.
"This facility will also give our students the opportunity to gain parity with other regions in the state through the research opportunities that are going to be made available to them," Nevárez said. "We are grateful for the collaboration with the City of Edinburg, UTHSCSA and the UT System Board of Regents that have made this facility possible."
The RAHC medical research facility will feature a laboratory animal resources facility, a Level 3 biological safety laboratory, offices and other lab space.
The medical research division will complement the RAHC Medical Education Division, which opened June 28 in Harlingen, and the RAHC Public Health Division - which the UT Health Science Center at Houston opened in Brownsville.
Attending the groundbreaking ceremony was Senator-elect and former State Representative Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa - who sponsored the legislation to bring RAHC to the Valley, and Representative Roberto Gutierrez - who was also instrumental in getting the facility. Also honored was Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. - who was not in attendance, but was recognized for being the author of the legislation that established the RAHC.
Also recognized for their efforts was UTPA Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Rodolfo Arévalo and Dr. William McIntyre, interim dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services.
During the ceremony, City of Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa was recognized for the recent $1 million contribution to show the city's commitment to the establishment of the research facility.
Eight UTPA students and six high school students from the Edinburg area were also honored for their academic excellence and leadership during the ceremony and named Ambassador Scholars for the RAHC medical research facility.
"We want you to serve as our official ambassadors to the medical research division of the Regional Academic Health Center," said Dr. Steven Wartman, UTHSCSA executive vice president for academic and health affairs. "I know that you will represent us with great distinction and pride as you help us promote and maintain a standard of excellence of all that will be available within this new building."
UTPA students who were honored, included Walter Quiroga, chemistry; Michelle Duran, computer science; Erica Ramirez, engineering; Roberto Coalson, mathematics; Devon Lacey, biology; Frank Sepulveda, physics and geology; Charles Strong, pharmacy; and Sulema Cano, health sciences and human services.
Representing the high schools were Fermin Gonzalez and Daniel Davila, Edinburg North High School; Homero Lopez and Sylvia Cuevas, Edinburg High School; Roman Morin and Olga Romero, Economedes High School.
Also in attendance was The University of Texas System Board of Regent member Patrick C. Oxford, chairman of the health affairs committee, who led the groundbreaking; Representative-elect Aaron Peña; RAHC Dean Dr. Leo Vela; and numerous community leaders, UT System and UT Health Science Center officials.