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UT Chancellor and Students Dedicate Biomedical Research Building  

BROWNSVILLE, TEXAS – FEBRUARY 20, 2012 – The new Biomedical Research Building formally dedicated on Monday, Feb. 20 should serve as a magnet to recruit more research-oriented faculty members, find cures and provide opportunities for students.

Biomedical StudentsDr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, Chancellor of The University of Texas System and a nationally renowned pediatric and transplant surgeon, said he was quite impressed with the construction achievement.

“One of the more attractive features of the new building is its interconnected and interactive structure – putting researchers and students in close proximity so that students will receive instruction, mentoring and hands-on collaboration with extraordinary researchers,” he said.

Construction began on the 58,558-square foot structure in April 2009 with faculty members in the College of Biomedical Sciences moving in last September. The $33.8 million building was funded with Texas tuition revenue bonds issued by the state Legislature.

“We celebrate our students whose hopefulness turns into dreams that have no limits as they come here to ignite the spark that will launch them into careers as physicians, scientists and educators,” said Dr. Juliet V. Garcia, President of The University of Texas at Brownsville.   

The building also houses the Office of Sponsored Programs and suites for Dr. Luis Colom, the Vice President for Research and Dr. Alan Artibise, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. The university’s new Emergency Operations Center is on the windowless third floor and was built to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.

The building is already being considered a catalyst to boost the more than $6 million in external research funding that flows yearly into the university. Some of the work faculty members and students are conducting now include drug addiction, neuronal channel biology, epilepsy, evolutionary medicine and medicinal plants.

“The building is an important infrastructural stepping stone that allows us to develop a vibrant biomedical research portfolio and attract new talent to our university,” said Dr. Michael Lehker, Professor and Chair of the Department of Biomedicine and Associate Dean in the College of Biomedical Sciences. “It is an important sign to funding and granting agencies that the university is serious about supporting biomedical research and will enable us to convince grant reviewers that the proposed work can indeed be carried out.”

Biomedical Students

The structure has four classrooms, 12 laboratories, three technology labs, eight faculty research facilities, 12 science research facilities and an outreach space. There are also hot and cold storage rooms and a vivarium for research animals.

“I look forward to the day when I shake hands with a Nobel laureate or the president of a health science center who was educated in this building,” said Cigarroa. “The future chancellor of a university system may be standing among us this morning, waiting for that special professor and that special course that will transform his or her own life.”

Colom recalled how he and Dr. Eldon Nelson, Interim Dean of the College of Biomedical Sciences, once spent time figuring out how to convert closets and classrooms into research-worthy spaces in some of the university’s buildings.

“The ceremony brought to fruition the product of the effort of Dr. Colom and many faculty and staff who initiated the building of a Biomedical Research Building in 2003,” said Nelson. “Even then, it was recognized by the research faculty and administration that students were excited by opportunities for research experience and that it was important to develop the research program to provide even more students the opportunity to become engaged in research. These students stayed in college and raised their vision to enter graduate school and professional programs.”

Nicole Ruiz, 25, a second year graduate student working on a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in biology from San Benito, is researching the pathophysiology of obesity and Type 2 diabetes and monitoring rats for epileptic weight gain and fluid intake to determine gene expression in the hippocampus.  She works in the laboratory of Dr. Saraswathy Nair, an Assistant Professor of Genetic and Molecular Basis of Chronic Diseases in the Department of Biomedicine.

“In the old building we were in a teaching lab,” said Ruiz, a 2009 university graduate with a bachelor’s degree in biology referring to the Biology Wing she once worked in. “It wasn’t set up as a research lab. It was harder to set up and do experiments.”

Ruiz, a graduate of San Benito High School, credited her work with College of Biomedical Sciences professors for helping her have the knowledge to be accepted into the University of Utah’s graduate program for bioinformatics.

At the end of the ceremony, Ruiz presented Cigarroa with a white laboratory coat bearing the new UTB logo. He joined laboratory students, who also wore white laboratory coats, to ring the university’s ceremonial bell.

Edna Michi, 22, a senior biology major from Brownsville and a graduate of Los Fresnos High School, has worked in Colom’s laboratory for two and a half years. She said she is proud to have the opportunity to work alongside Colom for 20 hours a week through the university’s Student Employment Initiative program.

“I love the architecture, not just of this building for the university,” said Michi. “The new building feels homey. You belong. I really love working here and I like it here.”

The university’s construction boom in recent years is not over yet.

Construction is scheduled to begin in April on a second phase housing six laboratories scheduled to open in May 2013. The structure will be located next to the Biomedical Research Building. The $4 million funding for its construction is from the National Institutes of Health.

“So if we want to know if everything that has been done to build this university over the last 20 years has been of value, the answer must be an explicit yes,” said Garcia. “It has propelled us towards this moment making us ready to play an even more active role in the transformation of the Rio Grande Valley.”

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