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Life Sciences Institute expected to be 'lightning rod' for new innovations

San Antonio (Aug. 19, 2003) — Leaders are praising the educational, research and economic potential of the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute, a new project of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) and The University of Texas at San Antonio. The UT System Board of Regents, meeting Aug. 7 at the Health Science Center, announced $6.5 million in funding for the Institute and heard the presidents of UTHSC and UTSA state their vision for the bold project.

"The San Antonio Life Sciences Institute was established by House Bill 1716, an effort led by Sen. Leticia Van de Putte in the Senate and Rep. Robert Puente in the House of Representatives," said Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., president of UTHSC. "We wish to thank Sen. Van de Putte, Rep. Puente and the entire Bexar County and South Texas delegations for their outstanding leadership on our behalf. There is no doubt that this alignment of UTSA and the Health Science Center through the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute will develop synergies in research and education that will exceed the combined efforts of the institutions if each acts alone. This will help UTSA in its efforts to become a top-tier institution with $100 million in research expenditures and will equally benefit the Health Science Center as we move toward $200 million in research expenditures."

UTSA President Ricardo Romo, Ph.D., said: "The Life Sciences Institute serves as a vital component of UTSA's and the Health Science Center's partnership to accelerate development of new doctoral degree programs and research in the biomedical arena. Together, our universities will enhance the quality of life for all Texans and train tomorrow's experts in the biomedical profession."

Much of the funding for the Institute will be placed in a San Antonio Life Sciences Institute Research Enhancement Fund, to be modeled on the Presidential Research Enhancement Fund (PREF) at UTHSC. For every PREF dollar invested by the UTHSC's faculty researchers, six new extramural dollars have been received by the institution.

"Our partnership in the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute is predicated on three principles: that we have smart people with good ideas, that the dollars we provide will add incentive to collaborate, and that their proposed joint projects will be judged by independent scientific peers to ensure the highest quality," said Steven A. Wartman, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president for academic and health affairs at UTHSC and dean of the School of Medicine. "I am confident that there will be substantial benefit to our research, education and biotech programs."

Guy Bailey, Ph.D., provost and vice president for academic affairs at UTSA, told the Board of Regents that there would be great benefit from sharing core resources such as the Health Science Center's Research Imaging Center.

UT System Chancellor Mark Yudof praised the creativity of Drs. Cigarroa, Romo, Wartman and Bailey in putting together the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute proposal and said it is a model for other planned collaborations among UT System components. Yudof made available $2.5 million from the Chancellor's Special Projects Fund for the project, UTHSC and UTSA each came up with matching grants of $1 million, and UTSA will commit $2 million from its Lutcher Brown Endowment to support two faculty members who will have joint appointments at the two institutions.

"I am very excited because the Life Sciences Institute is a tremendous achievement for the two institutions and the city of San Antonio," said C. Mauli Agrawal, Ph.D., director of the new UTHSC-UTSA biomedical engineering graduate degree program that is part of the Life Sciences Institute. "It brings together UTSA, one of the largest and fastest growing universities in the UT System, and the Health Science Center, which is one of the preeminent health research universities in Texas. The Institute will capitalize on the synergies of these institutions and serve as a lightening rod for new innovations in science and education. This will have a significant impact on the biomedical industry in San Antonio and potentially launch various start-up companies in the biotech arena."

Dr. Agrawal is professor of orthopaedics and engineering at UTHSC and associate dean for graduate studies and research in the UTSA College of Engineering.

UTSA's Zorica Pantic-Tanner, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering, said: "The Institute will serve as an economic engine for San Antonio's $11 billion biotechnology industry by providing a highly qualified workforce through the associated educational programs, such as biomedical engineering, research capabilities of nationally recognized faculty, and biotechnology-related products through technology transfer."

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the biomedical engineering degree program earlier this year after five years of preparatory work by faculty at both institutions. The program has enrolled 12 highly qualified Ph.D. students who started classes Aug. 18. "There is great interest in our program. We had received the first applications even before the program was officially approved and announced," Dr. Pantic-Tanner said.

One of the enrollees, Dr. Paul Rose, has a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from Penn State and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Rochester. "I am already a licensed electrical engineer," he said. "For the past 13 years, I have been trying to apply my engineering background to medicine. This program allows me a formal way of doing that. This will be an excellent program utilizing the capabilities of the Health Science Center and UTSA, good faculty at both universities and a wide variety of courses. Also, I am looking for a career change and I am following a dream — to marry engineering and medicine."

Dr. Rose said he has already spoken with a faculty member at the Research Imaging Center and is especially interested in imaging systems.

"There is a tremendous demand for biomedical engineers," Dr. Agrawal said. "A report by the U.S. Department of Labor indicates that the number of biomedical engineering jobs will increase by 31.4 percent by 2010 — double the rate for all other jobs combined. The new biomedical engineering program in San Antonio will produce high-caliber professionals for employment in the biomedical industry and educational institutions nationwide, but especially in South Texas."

In addition to the biomedical engineering degree program, the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute may include other programs such as a UTHSC-UTSA neuroscience initiative and a joint effort to address health disparities.

Contact: Will Sansom, UTHSC, or Kris Rodriguez, UTSA