The third annual PACE Ethics Conference, "Bioethics in Health Care: Engaging professionals, researchers, and stakeholders," was held at The University of Texas-Pan American March 23-25.
Dr. Cynthia Jones, director of UTPA Pan American Collaboration for Ethics in the Professions (PACE), said the goal of the event is to engage local health care practitioners, the Rio Grande Valley community, UTPA faculty and, most importantly, students in discussions of health care and research ethics.
"Clinical Institutional Review Boards (IRB)," was the first session to kick off the three-day conference March 23. Three panelists from UTPA - Dr. Robert Dearth, assistant professor in biology; Dr. Sandra Hansmann, associate professor in rehabilitative services; and Dr. Dawn Lantero, research subject advocate at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio - presented their views on a university research review process for clinical human and animal studies.
The panelists discussed ethics during research which involves conflict between participant and researcher, a child's guardian and/or parent and the researcher, and with animal safety. They told the audience of faculty, staff and students that IRBs are composed of expert scientists and research investigators who not only evaluate research studies, but also assist during times of conflict.
Panelists also spoke about the relationship between a researcher and the participant during a study, and the respect and consideration that is formed by both parties.
Edward Flores, a junior at UTPA majoring in history and social studies composite, said he attended the session to gain awareness on the ethical practice of research.
"It's important that we know how we get our medicines and how clinical trials are done," Flores said. "The more you know the better and the more informed you are."
Flores believes these types of events are educational and something in which more students should get involved.
"These are definitely topics the public should be made aware of and not isolated to the medical field," Flores said. "And in this case we're looking at a scientific medical study, but from an ethical, humanities and philosophy point of view. So I think this is great and more programs like this would help educate all of us."
Panel discussions continued throughout the week in topics such as "Health Disparities and Health Literacy," and "Robotic Surgeons and other Challenges with Emerging Technology in Healthcare," among others.
During a panel discussion on "Violence Against Women as a Healthcare Challenge," held Thursday, March 24, nurses and those who work with battered women said while domestic abuse continues to plague the region, there remains a shortage of forensic nurses who can treat victims and collect evidence for law enforcement.
Participating in the panel were Pricilla Flores, sexual assault program coordinator for Mujeres Unidas/Women Together, Yvonne Lopez, a forensic nurse with Mission Regional Medical Center, Dr. Nora Montalvo-Liendo, assistant professor of nursing at The University of Texas at Brownsville.
Women who are in abusive relationships usually are also forced into having sex with their partners, said Montalvo-Liendo. But many times women are too afraid or unable to tell medical professionals about their abuse even if they are being treated at the hospitals for injuries related to an attack from their spouse or partner, she and the other panelists said.
Montalvo-Liendo conducted a study in 2008 where she interviewed 26 women seeking help at a shelter for abused women and children in Brownsville. Of those 26, 19 said they were raped or repeatedly forced to have sex with their spouses or partners. And at Mission Regional Medical Center, where a program was created in December 2009 specifically to help sexual assault victims, health care professionals treated 195 patients within those 15 months. However, she said many cases are not reported because the victims don't want to undergo the exams and other processes because they're still traumatized.
Currently, there are about nine trained forensic nurses in Cameron County and a few in Hidalgo County. There are more nurses in training, but still not enough to handle the case load throughout the Valley, the panelists said.
"By increasing the number of forensic nurses, the potential is there in providing the needs for these women," Montalvo-Liendo said.
Training forensic nurses can be costly, and some nurses don't want to undergo the training because of the traumatic situations that involve providing care and collecting evidence, the panelists said.
"Having a sexual assault exam done on you is almost like having the same thing done back to you again," Flores said. "So it is very important to have these individuals be specifically trained for that because it's very difficult for these people to go through it again."
Delia Zorrilla, a graduate student in UTPA's nursing program and who works as a nurse at an area federal detention facility, said she was glad the University hosted a panel that discussed this issue.
"I find that it is a huge problem," she said.
Zorrilla said she oversees care for detainees who have been abused and previously has worked with women detainees who had been abused. There were times when she would have them sent to hospital emergency rooms but the women refused treatment because they are afraid.
In addition to panels and speakers, the PACE Ethics Conference hosted a research poster presentation for undergraduate and graduate students. Nearly 20 students in the bio-medical sciences in the College of Science and Math and in the nurse practitioner's program in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services participated in the presentations where they described their research to UTPA and visiting faculty who served as judges.
Dr. Hassan Ahmad, UTPA professor of chemistry, said poster presentations provide an opportunity for students to learn how to communicate what they have learned in their research. He said his students also take a bioethics course developed by Dr. Tom Pearson, UTPA associate professor of philosophy, to learn about ethical questions they will have to face when they are doing research.
Diana E. Trevino, a graduate student in biology, has studied with chemistry faculty members Dr. Joanne-Rampersad-Ammons and Dr. David Ammons on what the use of antibiotics by Lower Rio Grande Valley residents has done to staphylococci bacteria found in this area. Trevino wants to earn a Ph.D. and one day conduct research on Alzheimer's disease, a condition found in her own family. Trevino's research was recognized under the graduate students category, along with Brenda Benavides for her research in Biocompatibility of Electrospun Nanofibers.
Trevino explained that the people along the border have traditionally crossed into Mexico to purchase antibiotics without a prescription and her research looked at what gives resistance to the staph genetically and has this altered due to the overuse of antibiotics here.
"Taking antibiotics changes the genetics behind the staph which can bring in resistance to other families of antibiotics," said Garza, who indicated that this is particularly a problem for people with compromised immune systems. "Based on this I recommend that people do not self treat with antibiotics unless you are told by a professional or a doctor."
Dr. Gayle Woloschak, who spoke on Ethical Excellence in Genetics Research as a keynote speaker at the conference, also served as a judge and said she was impressed with the presentations of both the graduate and undergraduate research students. Woloschak is a professor in the Departments of Radiation Oncology, Radiology and Cell and Molecular Biology in the Robert E. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center, Feinberg School of Medicine, at Northwestern University in Chicago.
"The degree of understanding of their research question, the methodology they used for the study, and their ability to convey the results in a professional manner was remarkable. The quality of the research they are doing ranks very highly with that I have seen at research institutions. It was evident the faculty are very engaged with the students and provide strong mentorship," she said.
Winners were selected from each college for their research. Undergraduate winners for the College of Science and Math were: first place, Adarsh Mamachen; second place, Adrian Silva; and third place, Stephanie Rico. For the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, first prize went to Diana Perez-Hernandez; second place, Shincy Philip; and third place, Dianna Galvan.
The top winners received an iPad 2, second and third place received MP3 Players and both graduate students also got MP3 Players.
Overall, the PACE Ethics Conference received attention from students, faculty, staff, local health care practitioners and the Rio Grande Valley community who joined in discussion about the ethics of health care, research and the practice of medicine.
For more information contact the PACE office at (956) 665-8081.