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Students excited about RAHC research facility at Edinburg

UT Health Science Center breaks ground Dec. 11 on center across from UT-Pan American

Sulema Cano is a senior studying dietetics at The University of Texas-Pan American (UTPA). She has submitted her proposal to do a master's degree at UTPA in nutrition and dietetics, and after that degree is finished she wants to go into consulting in the field of dietetics.

She might even do post-graduate research, possibly at the soon-to-be-constructed Medical Research Division of the Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) across the street from UTPA in Edinburg. Two divisions of the RAHC are operated by The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which will break ground for the Medical Research Division at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 11, at the corner of North Sugar Road and Schunior Street.

"I know they have a RAHC in Harlingen next to Valley Baptist Medical Center," Cano said, referring to the RAHC Medical Education Division, which opened last June. "I'm doing practicum rotations at Valley Baptist, so that's how I know about it. The RAHC at Edinburg definitely would increase my opportunities. Right now, with the research I'm doing (she is studying the effect of medical nutrition in diabetics), I'm having a hard time recruiting subjects because they lack transportation."

Cano, who is from the small town of Elsa and graduated from Edcouch-Elsa High School in 1996, picks up study volunteers and drives them to McAllen for lab tests. "With the RAHC here, we could work there at the center," she said. "To me, it would help promote more research. The other people who have been working on this study have had a hard time recruiting subjects for that same reason. Most of the subjects are low-income and can't take time to do it."

If all goes according to schedule, she will receive her bachelor of science degree in May 2003 and will be eligible to take the exam to become a registered dietician.

Elsa is 15 miles east of McAllen in Hidalgo County. Cano also has family in Weslaco. "Diabetes is very prevalent down here," she said. "I think that the RAHC will be beneficial by improving therapies that can be offered to diabetics."

"The RAHC Medical Research Division facility will be of the same high quality as the outstanding biomedical research programs conducted at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio," said Leonel Vela, M.D., M.P.H., regional dean for the RAHC in the Health Science Center's School of Medicine.

Walter Quiroga, a junior majoring in chemistry at UTPA, said he wants to focus on medical school first, and then think of research opportunities. The RAHC research facility might fit into his plans. "My first impression was, wow, there are opportunities to do things here rather than go to Houston or somewhere out of state," he said. Quiroga is from Brownsville, where he graduated from St. Joseph Academy in 2000.

Another UTPA senior, Devon Lacey of Laredo, already has completed summer research experiences at Baylor College of Medicine and Johns Hopkins University. "I've been accepted to medical school, but I'm not sure I want to start yet, and one reason is the chance to do research. I started work on hepatitis B virus at Baylor and bladder cancer at Johns Hopkins, but there were fits and starts when I came back to the Valley," he said. "A facility that could accommodate students with a research interest would be a huge asset."

Lacey, a 1999 graduate of the John B. Alexander Magnet School for Health and Science in Laredo, is majoring in biology at UTPA. "I would like to get an M.D. and Ph.D., so I could see patients and also conduct research," he said. "The great thing about it is, in several years I can come back to the Valley and do my research here and return something to my home region. I can't put it into words, but this is such a huge step forward for us."

Contact: Lucie Portela or Aileen Salinas