MCALLEN, RGV – If UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine is keen to recruit a top researcher and his or her research team, it may soon have additional funding to make it happen.

The City of McAllen is to set up an office within the McAllen Economic Development Corporation to help recruit research projects for the school of medicine.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling

“We recruit industry. Why would we not recruit research?” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian in an exclusive interview.

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of the UTRGV School of Medicine, said working with the City of McAllen to secure more research funding will allow the region to attract and retain expert clinicians, researchers and other high-caliber health care professionals who are committed to finding solutions to health care problems facing the community and beyond.

“Forging a partnership with the City of McAllen will enable us to spur economic growth and improve the quality of life of those who live in the Rio Grande Valley,” Krouse told the Rio Grande Guardian.

Mayor Darling said he recently went to Austin to talk to UT System Chancellor McRaven. Darling said he asked McRaven why UTRGV needs the two million dollars McAllen committed to providing the medical school.

“The obvious answer is, everybody that has a medical school has local support. But, we have had two elections (to set up a healthcare district) and they have failed,” Darling said “Another question we asked is, what are you going to use the money for? Well, research is one area they do need more money.”

Dr. John H. Krouse, dean of UTRGV School of Medicine

Darling explained: “If they are recruiting a professor for instance, he or she might have a research project they want to bring down. That costs money. It is money that is off-budget for the university. So, there are opportunities for us to work directly with the university. Some of the money we spend recruiting industry, which we do all the time, why would you not take some of that, or add to that, to help them (UTRGV SOM) recruit research?”

In a recent report to McAllen EDC board of directors, Darling said he met recently with Dr. Krouse.

“We are hopefully going to get something rolling with this new office. There is obviously a lot of diabetes research down here. We got picked out for the Zika study. We are one of only five places in the whole world that is doing that. If we discover the Zika vaccination in our area, that will put us on the map,” Darling told the MEDC board.

In his interview with the Rio Grande Guardian, Darling said: “I want to do a research office. We do economic development different to everybody else around us. We try to keep it non-political. I sit on the board (of MEDC) but I am not the mandatory president or anything like it. So, when we went to them (UTRGV) we said we are going to do it (create an office) at city hall or at the chamber or the EDC. And the EDC said, let us try that.

McAllen EDC President Keith Patridge

“So, Keith (Patridge) is the designated person. We are going to try to get an interlocal agreement with the University and Dr. Krouse and once we get that understanding, I would like to develop it as a model and then take it to the other EDCs and say, we all need to participate in this. It is better for the health of our region, it is better economically for our region. I do not want to create envy with this. But, somebody has got to start this, so I thought, let’s start it.”

Keith Patridge is president of McAllen EDC. He told his board of directors: “We are working with Mayor Darling and the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley medical school to see how we can come together to start developing the medical research clinical trials, and hopefully the manufacture of medical products and pharmaceuticals. It is a longer-term project, but we have a good start working on that. We look forward to more coming out of that.”

Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero

Mayor Darling said a example of the medical and economic impact research at the UTRGV School of Medicine can have is the recruitment of Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero. Dr. Williams-Blangero came to UT-Pan American in October 2014 to lead the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute (STDOI).

Dr. Sarah Williams-Blangero

She and her research team, which has grown to more than 50 scientists, are advancing research of diabetes and obesity that will lead to more effective treatments and improve the lives of residents throughout South Texas and beyond. Diabetes impacts more than 30 percent of Valley residents.

Before coming to UTRGV, Williams-Blangero worked at the Texas Biomedical Research Institute in San Antonio, where she served as chair of the Department of Genetics and deputy director of the Southwest National Primate Center.

In March of this year, UTRGV named Williams-Blangero, a renowned genetics and infectious diseases expert, as the endowed chair of the H-E-B Distinguished Chair in Diabetes and Genomics for the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute. In December 2014, H-E-B donated $1 million to establish the H-E-B Distinguished Chair in Diabetes and Genomics, benefitting STDOI.

Williams-Blangero has published more than 100 articles in scientific literature. In 2001, she was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for her contributions to anthropological genetics and health, for dedication to advancing biological anthropology, and for developing one of the premier research groups in the field.

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows the City of McAllen leaders presenting a ceremonial “big check” to the UTRGV School of Medicine for their continued efforts to make the school one of the leading medical institutions of higher learning in Texas. The check, presented last month, represented the $1 million payment approved by the McAllen City Commission, in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding between the two entities, “to support and ensure the success” of the school.