Rio Grande Region is Becoming a Biomedical Hotbed
Science and health care are evolving in the Rio Grande Region, producing more biomedical jobs, research and graduates than ever before.
"If you look at the past 12 or 13 years, the industry's evolution has been striking," says Noemi Rojas, communications director for the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation.
More than a decade ago, a local economic summit set forth a vision to position the region as a global leader of health delivery, education and research, specializing in issues unique to Hispanic, border and military populations. Since then, the approval of the El Paso Children's Hospital (opening in 2012), $1.25 million in medical scholarship funds, and the establishment of the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center Medical School, University Medical Center of El Paso and the Medical Center of the Americas Foundation have placed the region firmly on that path.
El Paso's most recent commitment to growing the region's biomedical industry includes an allocation of 12 acres and more than $3 million to the MCA Foundation, an organization anchored by UMC and TTUHSC's Paul L. Foster School of Medicine. By 2016, leaders hope to house a biotech incubator and commercialization center on the property to support the establishment of a biomedical research park that would focus on border health and treatment for combat injuries.
Ideal for Combat, Genetics Research
Expansions at Fort Bliss are expected to create even more research opportunities in the region for post-traumatic stress disorders, brain injury, prosthetics and advanced operational procedures. The fort is home to the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, which is currently undergoing a $1 billion renovation that includes the newly opened, holistic Warrior Transition Complex for wounded soldiers.
TTUHSC, which opened the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine in 2009, continues to attract aspiring doctors – many of whom share a desire to practice medicine on the border. The school recently added the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing, and its programs receive support at both the local and national levels. A $1.5 million grant from the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas will help TTUHSC and the University Medical Center establish a Cancer Clinical Research Core Facility. In 2011, the medical school received a $945,000 grant to develop a primary-care program for medical students on the U.S.-Mexico border, which also serves as a hotbed for genetics research.
"El Paso, in part because of its relative geographical isolation, tends to have large multigenerational families, which makes it a terrific place to do genetic research," says Charles Miller III, Ph.D., chair of TTUHSC's Department of Biomedical Science. "What we learn through research in El Paso will become increasingly important for the health and economic well-being of Texas, and really every major city in America, within 20 years."
Rewarding for Doctors
Physicians and El Paso natives Angel and Briana Garcia returned to their hometown for residency training in 2008.
"We plan on staying in El Paso for the same reason we decided to come back," says Briana Garcia, M.D. "It's a great place to work since there's such a need for doctors. There is also the development of UMC into a tertiary center that adds another level of medical complexity."
As the primary teaching hospital of the Paul L. Foster School of Medicine, The University Medical Center of El Paso is a research powerhouse and acute-care teaching facility. Debabrata Mukherjee, M.D., left the prestigious Cleveland Clinic to join UMC as chief of cardiovascular medicine in 2010.
"My goal is to make this the dominant academic medical center in the region, focusing on world-class patient care, innovative research and leaders in graduate medical education," says Mukherjee, who will implement UMC's cardiovascular fellowship program in 2012. "The growth in military installations, science investment and bi-national manufacturing makes the region a hub of economic activity, and is paving the way for even more investment and expansion."