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UTHSC: Proud Beginnings, Proud History, Proud Expectations

San Antonio (April 24, 2003) — The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio began as a bold idea in the hearts of leaders. Year after year, visionaries such as physician John Smith and dentist James Hollers told the story of what could be accomplished in San Antonio. Their groundwork finally came to fruition in 1959, when the Texas Legislature passed an act (House Bill 9) authorizing the Board of Regents to establish a medical branch of The University of Texas within Bexar County. The Senate bill included a proviso that a teaching hospital be located within one mile of the new campus.

The Board of Regents subsequently approved 100 acres in the Oak Hills area for the location of the Medical School and the adjoining 22 acres for the teaching hospital, now known as University Hospital. The action was contingent upon an agreement by the San Antonio Medical Foundation to acquire an additional area of some 400 acres for a Medical Center. The foundation would hold the land and grant or lease it exclusively for medical and health service use.

Construction began in 1961. On what was the Joe J. Nix Dairy Farm, workers removed the cattle pens, milking barns and silos, and the dairy farm was rapidly transformed into the South Texas Medical School and the teaching hospital.

The Medical School opened its doors in 1968. A period of rapid expansion followed. In 1972, lawmakers officially designated The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio to encompass the health professions courses now offered. Today, in addition to its five schools — Medical School, School of Nursing, Dental School, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Allied Health Sciences — the UTHSC offers cooperative programs in public health with the UT Houston Health Science Center and in pharmacy with UT Austin.

The Health Science Center is the preeminent education, research and treatment facility in South Texas. Researchers and clinicians alike have gained international recognition for their work in cancer, aging, cardiovascular disease, mental health, diabetes, transplant surgery, addiction, sight research, oral health, genetics and biomaterials.

Several important leaders have shaped the institution's progress. Dr. F. Carter Pannill served as dean in the formative years of the 1960s as the Medical School was established. The school was located in space at Trinity University until its new home was ready in 1968. Dr. Frank Harrison, former president of UT Arlington, became the first president of the Health Science Center in 1972. He was a behind-the-scenes consensus builder who led the new institution to exceptional stability and growth until his retirement in 1985.

Another strong leader, Dr. John P. Howe, III, succeeded Dr. Harrison in early 1985 and guided the Health Science Center through a time of unprecedented growth, including expansion to the Texas Research Park in 1990, when the UT Institute of Biotechnology was dedicated, and to the North Campus in the South Texas Medical Center, where the Robert F. McDermott Clinical Science Building opened in 1991. During a time of falling oil prices and shrinking state budgets, Dr. Howe was especially successful at involving community leaders in the expanding vision for the Health Science Center's future. He left to pursue other opportunities in October 2000 and handed the reins to another gifted leader, the preeminent transplant and pediatric surgeon Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa.

Dr. Cigarroa, a native of Laredo, was educated at Yale, Harvard, Johns Hopkins and the UT Southwestern Medical School at Dallas, where he received his medical degree with honors. A mentor recalls that he was one of the most brilliant students to ever pass through the program at Southwestern. He has performed a number of historic surgeries, including the region's first successful small bowel transplant in a child. Now he has overseen two years of successful fund-raising efforts as president — all while performing surgery one weekend a month.

The Health Science Center's history is punctuated by major developments, including the formation of specialized centers of research. For example, the Frederic Bartter General Clinical Research Center, a collaboration of the Health Science Center, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System, was launched in the Audie Murphy Hospital in 1980. It continues to receive substantial NIH support today. A strong aging research program dating from the 1970s led to the establishment of the Aging Research and Education Center in 1992; the AREC now has more than 150 faculty members pursuing various grant-funded studies of aging.

A $5.2 million positron emission tomography (PET) system purchased by the South Texas Veterans Health Care System and the U.S. Department of Defense helped propel the UTHSC's Research Imaging Center, launched in 1991, to the stratosphere of the world's preeminent centers in that field. In 1999, the UTHSC received a $200 million endowment for a Children's Cancer Research Institute (CCRI). This is the largest single cancer endowment in the country. A nationally known director for the CCRI was recruited in 2002.

The Health Science Center's reputation has grown with its resources. The Dental School and School of Nursing consistently are ranked among the best in the country; in fact, the Dental School twice was named number one in the country, according to a peer survey published in U.S. News & World Report. Multidisciplinary collaboration is a hallmark of the Health Science Center's research and clinical success. For example, a multidisciplinary approach to bioengineering will be evident in a new Ph.D. and master's degree program to be offered by the Health Science Center in conjunction with our sister general academic university, UTSA.

The Health Science Center's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences offers eight Ph.D. programs and has bestowed doctorates on at least 450 candidates. The UTHSC ranks in the top 50 institutions in the United States in NIH grants received. The Aging Research and Education Center, which recently broke ground on the Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies, supported in part by a generous $4 million gift from the Barshops of San Antonio, is second nationally among medical centers in the number of National Institute on Aging grants received. The UTHSC's research expenditures totaled $121 million in the last fiscal year.

In addition to campuses in San Antonio and the Texas Research Park Campus in western Bexar County, the Health Science Center has established a Regional Academic Health Center (RAHC) in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and a campus in Laredo. The RAHC Medical Education Division at Harlingen opened in June 2002, and the RAHC Medical Research Division is under construction at Edinburg. The Laredo Extension Campus opened in December 2002. The Health Science Center educates the majority of physicians and other health care professionals practicing in South Texas, and it has provided more than $1 billion in uncompensated care to the medically indigent.

The Health Science Center anchors the biosciences, the largest sector of the San Antonio economy. This sector pumps an estimated $11.5 billion into the economy annually and provides more than 100,000 high-quality jobs. Those totals are increasing as companies form or relocate to San Antonio to license Health Science Center inventions for potential product commercialization.

With its annual budget of more than $420 million, its 5,000 faculty and staff and 2,728 students, it is no wonder the Health Science Center has been called the "Crown Jewel of the South Texas Medical Center."

Contact: Will Sansom