Biomedical Research and Health Professions
Building 2 Dedication
of Texas at Brownsville
morning! My name is Juliet García, and I have the honor of serving as president
of The University of Texas at Brownsville.
are very honored that you have taken time out of your busy schedule to join us
in dedicating the second building of our Biomedical Research complex.
in the program, you will hear from our Vice President for Research how humble
our university’s beginnings were in the field of research. And how just a few
visionaries have been able to grow research exponentially at this university.
building we dedicate today was the product of one of those visionaries. Luis
Colom was recruited to UTB by José Martín from the Baylor College of Medicine
to teach and conduct research in biology in 2001. His medical and doctoral
degrees from his native country, Uruguay, coupled with his extensive research
training in Spain, Canada and Baylor College of Medicine were fundamental to
developing his research expertise in Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy.
upon joining our campus community, Dr. Colom began to act as a high powered
Pied Piper attracting student after student into his research lab. There, he
would immerse them as undergraduates in sophisticated research activities and
soon a job in a lab turned into a major, a major turned into a graduate
student, and a graduate student turned into a scientist.
had modeled the attributes of the best teacher/scholar/researcher. Quickly the
number of majors in biology began to grow. I recall seeing a graph that showed
that the more external funding we received for research, the more biology
majors we added. The number of biology majors increased from 131 in 2001 to more
than 800 this year. Research dollars buy equipment and pay for professors’
time; but as importantly, they also create jobs in labs for students that
transform their lives.
Luis’ skill in attracting research funding and growing more majors led to his
being selected as Chair of the Biology Department. There, Luis quickly began to
use his new position to recruit other teacher/scientists like himself. Since he
served as chairman, the biology and biomedical faculty have almost quadrupled from
8 to 30. The number of principal investigators overseeing grants on campus also
grew – from just a few to now 59. The faculty who will be conducting research
in our new building have diverse specialties that include bioengineering,
nanoscience, exercise science, biophysics and microbiology.
the past decade, Luis rapidly rose to leadership positions and was key in
recruiting energetic faculty. Through discipline, diplomacy, talent, and most
of all, hard work, he has helped his colleagues work together to create one of
the most vibrant departments on campus. Not surprisingly, enrollment of both
majors and students in biology courses rose rapidly.
day Dr. Colom lives with our urgent need to build research capacity. He alone has
personally attracted more than $13.4 million in grants while at UT Brownsville.
But you can’t attract scientists without labs; high quality labs. So in 2009, Dr.
Colom wrote a grant to seek funding from the National Institute of Health to
build more labs that would attract research faculty and entice students towards
grant proposal was successful, and today we see the results. The building
behind me increases our biomedical laboratory space by 50 percent.
six labs are also accompanied by office space for the professors. When you
think scientists, you often think of a professor conducting research in an
isolated lab. Our building was designed to do exactly the opposite. They were
planned to create interactive places where students are introduced to science
perhaps for the first time and where it is our most fervent hope that they will
fall in love with science over and over again.
building is special in yet another way. It is our first LEEDs certified
building on campus. Developed and administered by the U.S. Green Building
Council, LEED is a rating system that stands for Leadership in Energy &
projects are awarded points based on design and construction practices that
increase profitability while reducing the negative environmental impacts of
buildings and improving occupant health and well-being.
the points earned for our facility were those for green construction materials,
the recycling center, air and water conservation systems and the native plants
used in the landscaping.
experienced our first LEED building, it is now our intention to become a leader
in sustainable building campus wide.
building we dedicate today nicely complements the adjacent $33 million Biomedical
Research building which features:
11 state-of-the-art labs in the building―each one is designed for a specific use
Faculty offices planned to create interactive
places where students are introduced to science for the first time
vivarium consisting of four holding rooms, a place to conduct surgery,
quarantine areas, easy access to clean the cages, and room to grow
Command Center built to withstand a category four hurricane
like to recognize and thank the experts who helped bring Luis’ vision to life.
Laura Lara – Sr. Project Manager
Richard De Leon – Regional Program Manager
while the compilation of these labs and essential support areas are impressive,
what is really impressive is the work that takes place inside.
want to share the story one our recent graduates named Ivan Valdez. Ivan came
to us as a freshman from one of the local high schools.
father is a cook in a small restaurant in Brownville. Ivan’s mother learned
just enough English to help her children make it through the public school
system. Although Ivan’s parents didn’t have the luxury of attending college
themselves, they knew they wanted Ivan to have the opportunity.
made academics his highest priority. Because he had to work to afford the
expense of going to college, and he got a part-time job at our city zoo. Our
zoo is a breeding zoo for endangered species; so it was there that Ivan first
began to study genetics. That job sparked an interest that then led Ivan to apply
for a campus job in a research lab. The job Ivan got was with Luis Colom.
in the lab soon turned into doing research in the lab, and then turned into
presenting the results of his work at a scientific conference where he met the dean
from Cornell who recognized the spark in Ivan. She told him that she was going
to try to recruit him to Cornell, but at the same time, she was going to help
him connect with faculty from Harvard.
next summer, Ivan was invited to complete an internship at Cornell University
to conduct research. Eventually Ivan was in his senior year at UTB and applying
for graduate work. Ivan got into Cornell; but he also was invited to Stanford
and Harvard to do his doctoral research.
accepted a full ride scholarship to plus a $30,000 stipend to attend Harvard
University's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. Ivan has been there for
three winters now pursuing a doctoral degree in biomedical research.
spoke with Ivan last week when he was at home visiting his mother. He spoke
excitedly about his research and about his experience at the International
Society for Stem Cell Research conference he attended this year in Boston that
described a new kind of stem cell research.
met a Japanese scientist, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka, who in 2006, discovered a way to
extract any adult cell from a person’s body, such as a skin cell, and turn back
its biological clock reverting it to a stem cell state. These cells are called
induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS cells), and like Embryonic Stem Cells, they
have the capacity to be reprogrammed into any other cell type, such as a
neuron, a heart cell or, in the case of Ivan’s laboratory, an insulin-producing
pancreatic beta cell.
since iPS cells are derived from a patients’ own cells, they not only nullify
the ethical issues elicited by Embryonic Stem Cells, they also hold great
promise for tissue replacement and organ regeneration without fear of immune
rejection. Because of his discovery, Dr. Yamanaka was awarded the Nobel Prize
in Physiology or Medicine in 2012.
told me that he knew when he heard that lecture, that this was the research he
would make his life's work.
if UT Brownsville hadn’t been here for Ivan and the 35,000 other students who
have earned degrees through the community university over the last 22 years?
if he hadn’t had access to a visionary professor like Luis Colom who took a
personal interest in him?
will complete his Ph.D. from Harvard in just three years. It is my dream that shortly
after, Ivan will return to the new UT medical school being established in the
Rio Grande Valley to conduct his research and inspire the students in this area
as he was once.
new Biomedical Research building represents UTB’s commitment to innovation and
experimentation. The work that will take place in this building and across the
campus will strive to transform a region too long plagued by poverty and lack
of education into a vibrant and dynamic community.