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Biomedical research, ethics and issues top discussions at PACE Conference
Posted: 04/12/2013
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Raquel Martinez hopes her research on genes induced by a high fat diet and their role in the poor prognosis in breast cancer among Hispanic women, may one day lead to better treatments or a cure for the disease.

Miguel Angel Rivera Calderon, a senior majoring in manufacturing engineering, is pictured explaining his research to produce an ecological and economical wheelchair to a judge during the PACE Conference poster competition. Undergraduate and graduate students had an opportunity to present their research at the conference.

"It has been shown that there is a link between a high fat diet and a high risk for getting breast cancer, however, it hasn't been shown between the different phenotypes of breast cancer. Each type of breast cancer needs to be treated differently," said the international student from Venezuela who is majoring in chemistry at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Martinez, who placed first for her poster presentation among undergraduate students from the College of Science and Mathematics, called the opportunity to present and have her research judged amazing.

"It is a challenge ... my mentor (Dr. Robert Dearth) said it was a good first try," said Martinez, who has aspired to be a doctor but now is more attracted to doing research and finding a cancer cure. "It interests me more now - in research, you are finding something, you are studying, you are learning."

Martinez was one of many undergraduate and graduate students who participated in the poster competition at the fifth annual PACE (Pan American Collaboration for Ethics in the Professions) Ethics Conference held April 2-5 at UTPA. The conference - this year titled "Bioethics: Creating and Challenging Knowledge in Health," - is designed to address ethical issues that arise in medical practice, health care and biomedical research, as well as issues in educating health care professionals to make ethical decisions.

Nearly 850 attendees heard local and nationally known speakers and participated in discussions about current and controversial issues, like Western medicine vs. traditional practices, the "business" of medicine, websites like WebMD and diagnostic apps, and the funding scandals over cancer research in Texas.

Pictured at the recent PACE Bioethics Conference at UTPA are left to right Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean, College of Arts and Humanities; conference keynote speaker Rick Martinez, M.D., assistant medical director and member of Board of Managers, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance; Dr. Cynthia Brown, associate professor of philosophy and PACE director; and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.

In his presentation, "Scientists Behaving Badly," on April 5, Dr. Evan Oransky, executive editor of Reuters Health, talked about cases of fraud in research and asked the audience of faculty, students, doctors and health care professionals to think about the credibility of scientific literature, particularly that written on clinical trials.

"How much can we trust that what we are reading reflects reality? How much of what we think is being published can help us make scientific decisions, funding decisions or clinical decisions in a doctor's office," he said.

Oransky, who also co-authors the blog Retraction Watch, provides an analytical eye on the latest news regarding the global pharmaceutical, medical and consumer health sectors. He told attendees to consider if the literature they are reading and relying on is representative and what biases the scientist, researcher or doctor who produced the literature might have.

"You need to understand the limitations of a particular study or a field of research can help, not just to serve so you can criticize it but it can actually help to improve it. The whole goal is to do better research," he said.

Other speakers throughout the two-day conference included Christopher Sholer, M.D., internal medicine specialist, nephrologist and transplant researcher; Lynnae Ruttledge, disability advocate and retired commissioner for the Rehabilitation Services Administration; Dr. Christina Rivera-Garza, award-winning author and professor of writing; and Rick Martinez, M.D., assistant medical director and member of Board of Managers, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance. UTPA faculty and students also led or participated in numerous panel sessions.

Sponsors of the conference were PACE, Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, UTPA Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement, College of Arts and Humanities, College of Science and Mathematics, College of Health Sciences and Human Services, the UTPA Library and UTPA Continuing Education.

Go to the PACE website to learn more about PACE and PACE activities.