Ramiro Tovar leads biomedical students in the ceremonial ringing of the university’s bell.
“Research has changed the way I see the world,” said Tovar. “Seeing all the people up for the challenges gives you faith back in humanity to find a cure and help others.”
Tovar and other biomedical students helped university administrators and professors celebrate the formal opening of the Biomedical Research and Health Professions Building II at an outdoor ceremony held Friday, Sept. 6.
The $4.9 million, 4,299-square-foot building was funded by a National Institutes of Health grant and the university.
The new structure has faculty offices, support space and six Biosafety Level 2 laboratories built to Center for Disease Control and Prevention standards, which include limited laboratory access and requirements for handling non-contaminated and contaminated items.
“In the Biomedical Research Building I we have 11 labs,” said Dr. Luis V. Colom, Vice President for Research. Dr. (Emilio) Garrido uses two of those labs. You can see with these six new labs in the Biomedical Research and Health Professions Building II we are raising our biomedical research more than 50 percent.”
The new building will continue the university’s growing mission of biomedical research to find solutions to local and worldwide health problems. In 2012 the university had $8.3 million in annual research expenditures compared to 2002 when there was $1.2 million in annual research expenditures, according to university financial information.
Biomedical makes up 27 percent of the university’s 2012 research portfolio, according to the Office of the Vice President for Research. Other research areas include Physical Sciences at 58 percent, Computer Science at 9 percent and Environmental Science at 4 percent of the research portfolio.
“Can we rest? Of course not,” said Colom.
Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, President of UTB, credited Colom for having the vision to build the university’s research capacity through the years.
“Grants are important because they create jobs in labs that transform students’ lives,” said Garcia.
Professors from other academic departments whose research has ties to biomedical sciences were invited by the College of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions to move into the new building.
“We have been flexible enough to people addressing biomedical and health issues to continue and expand their research,” said Colom.
Four labs will be used by Dr. Murat Karabulut, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance in the College of Education; Dr. Karen Martirosyan, an Associate Professor and Dr. Ahmed Touhami, an Assistant Professor, both in the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the College of Science, Mathematics and Technology and Dr. Sue Ann Chew, a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedicine in the College of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions.
The laboratory that Karabulut will use will have several apparatuses including a metabolic cart, a vibration platform, an EKG machine and a BodyPod. The equipment is used to study obesity and other biomedical issues.
Dr. Juliet V. Garcia with members of the stage party celebrate the new Biomedical Research and Health Professions Building II on the UTB campus.
“This is a well-organized and beautiful lab,” said Karabulut “You don’t have to look for any plugs because there are plenty. The students will do research in this lab.”
The remaining two labs will be used for students participating in molecular, behavioral and neuroscience research.
“The building symbolizes the ability to collaborate better and to give students real research experiences instead of placing them in individual labs,” said Dr. Michael Lehker, Chair of the Department of Biomedicine in the College of Biomedical Sciences and Health Professions. “It’s a good outward sign that biomedical research is important for the region.”
The building was constructed to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certified Rating as required by NIH grant stipulations. The designation shows the university’s commitment to environmentally compatible construction, said Colom.
The new building starts the university off on its goal to eventually be a net-zero energy campus, a place where more energy is produced than consumed, said Garcia.
The event’s keynote speaker was Dr. Roy G. Smith, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Metabolism and Aging at The Scripps Research Institute in Florida. He toured the building and met students and faculty members on Thursday, Sept. 5. He said the visit was stimulating and that he was pleased the university has built a supportive environment for students to accelerate learning and build a passion for science.
Smith’s visit had significance because he also attended the opening of the university’s Life and Health Sciences Building in the early 2000s.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am about a lot of the progress that has been made the last 10 to 12 years,” he said.
The ceremony featured biomedical students wearing white laboratory coats and the ceremonial ringing of the university’s bell. University of Texas System Regent Ernest Aliseda of McAllen said the students symbolized the first step in the establishment of a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley. That medical school will be part of a new university with the unification of UTB and The University of Texas – Pan American in Edinburg set to open in August 2015.