The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio on Thursday unveiled the architectural rendering for the Hidalgo County Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC). The Health Science Center will operate the Edinburg-based research facility along with the RAHC Medical Education Division facility in Harlingen.
Elected officials, regional leaders, and university presidents and deans gathered at The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA) for the unveiling. The RAHC Medical Research Division facility is to be located adjacent to UTPA and will enjoy close collaboration with the university and with institutions throughout the state and nation.
"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," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of the Health Science Center. "Today we have unveiled a future resource for improving the health of all residents of this region."
Dr. Cigarroa noted that the RAHC Medical Research Division is the vision of the citizens of the Rio Grande Valley as expressed through their elected officials. The 75th Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents asked the Health Science Center to establish and operate the RAHC and its Edinburg campus. "We are happy to partner in this important undertaking with the city of Edinburg and UT Pan American," he said.
UTPA President Miguel A. Nevárez, Ph.D., said the RAHC Medical Research Division "will be another opportunity for our students to gain parity with other regions in the state through the research opportunities that will be available. We are grateful for the collaboration with the city of Edinburg, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and the UT System Board of Regents, and for the support of the Valley legislative delegation that made this facility possible."
Through its mission of providing the highest quality and excellence in medical education and medical research, the RAHC will benefit the entire Lower Rio Grande Valley, said Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean of the RAHC and professor at the Health Science Center's School of Medicine. "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," he said.
The $20 million Medical Research Division facility will occupy 45,500 square feet. Construction is expected to begin in 2002 and be completed within 18 months. Helmut Obatta Kassabaum (HOK) of Houston is the architect, and a general contractor is to be selected. The building will include a laboratory animal resources facility, a Level 3 biological safety laboratory, offices and other lab space.
"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," said Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa.
"We look forward to this research initiative having the same economic impact in the Valley as the UT Health Science Center research initiatives have in San Antonio," Dr. Cigarroa said. "We envision that this RAHC research campus will eventually incorporate biotechnology in a most significant way. The medical research and biotechnology industry has an $8 billion annual economic impact in San Antonio."
The RAHC Medical Research Division also will complement the strong diabetes research programs at the Health Science Center's facilities in San Antonio. The rate of diabetic complications among Valley residents is 2.5 times the national average. This is measured in terms of hospital and clinic admissions for extremity amputations, blindness and kidney failure. "Almost no family in the Valley is spared from the ravages of diabetes," Dr. Vela said.
In addition, RAHC scientists will study infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever that occur with disproportionate regularity in the Valley.
The RAHC Medical Research Division facility also will provide space for a cooperative program in clinical pharmacy leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. The degree will be granted through the UT Austin College of Pharmacy and UTPA. Faculty from the RAHC will participate in the education and research activities. The same program has been offered to students in San Antonio since the 1970s.
The RAHC, created by the Legislature in 1997, will consist of the Medical Research Division in Edinburg, the Medical Education Division in Harlingen and the Public Health Division in Brownsville. The Health Science Center is operating the research and education divisions, and the UT Health Science Center at Houston is operating the public health branch.
Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D., professor and chairman of microbiology at the Health Science Center, chaired the facility program committee for the RAHC Medical Research Division. "He has done a marvelous job," Dr. Vela said.