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SA psychiatrist leads international human genetics training program

Costa Rican scientists will study at UT Health Science Center

A psychiatrist at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) will lead a program designed to wipe out health disparities by increasing human genetics training in developing countries.

Michael Escamilla, M.D., and his research team, which includes educators from both San Antonio and Costa Rica, will educate and train Costa Rican psychiatrists and molecular biologists as part of the Fogarty International Center Collaborative Genetics Research and Training program.

Dr. Escamilla, an internationally renowned expert in psychiatric genetics, is collaborating with the University of Costa Rica on a research venture to isolate the genes that cause bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

"Genetics are becoming a more important part of medicine and developing countries are lagging far behind in knowledge about genetic disease, genetic research and the ethical issues related to genetics," Dr. Escamilla said. His program will enhance researchers' technical, laboratory and clinical skills, as well as address the ethical, social and legal implications of genetic research in low- and middle-income countries.

"We want to bring these doctors and scientists to a level where they can do sustained research and genetics medical care, and we want them to eventually be able to teach and do research work independently," Dr. Escamilla said. "The key is for these researchers to draw from their own social values and use those to direct the future of work in genetics in their own country."

Dr. Escamilla hopes his work with Costa Rican researchers also will help other countries in Latin and Central America. He is one of six investigators who received FIC funding in the United States. The FIC is a branch of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and partnered with the NIH and the World Health Organization to develop the collaborative training program.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas