HARLINGEN, Texas – The Rio Grande Valley is far short of the national average for neurologists and the UT-Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine wants to do something about it.
UTRGV SOM, along with its clinical arm, UT Health RGV, held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for its eagerly-awaited Institute of Neuroscience (ION). Medical students will be trained at the 30,000-square-foot facility in order to go into the specialist field of neuroscience.
Neurology is a branch of medicine dealing with disorders of the nervous system.
In an interview with the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service, Dr. Michael R. Dobbs explained just what a shortage of neurologists the Valley has.
“This building is going to be a wonderful place to train new neurologists to practice in the Rio Grande Valley area for their careers. Also, to get medical school students interested in going into neurology because we are really short of neurologists in the Valley,” Dobbs said.
“We have around 20 neurologists. Just to reach the national average ratio we need about 50 more.”
Dobbs is chair of the Department of Neurology and chief medical officer for UT Health Rio Grande Valley.
“Any department of neurology at any medical school across the state would be proud to have (what UTRGV SOM now has),” Dobbs said.
“This building has world-class research facilities. People will be able to participate in clinical trials to test leading edge therapies for neurological diseases. We will also be able to study diseases in the laboratory as well. It is an opportunity for the whole region to advance brain health.”
Dobbs added: “The technology at ION will allow physicians to provide leading-edge specialty services and procedures, including advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), high-resolution CT scanning, and positron emission tomography. Brain health just got a huge boost in our region, and we should celebrate that.”
The institute, which broke ground in 2019, is an all-encompassing research, education, clinical care and community partnership facility “with the goal of transforming brain health for the Rio Grande Valley community,” a UTRGV SOM news release stated. The news release said ION “will bring advanced care and training in specialized neurological medical treatments and research to the Valley.”
Here is a podcast of the Rio Grande Guardian’s interview with Dr. Dobbs:
UTRGV President Guy Bailey said partnerships with the South Texas Medical Foundation, the City of Harlingen, and the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation have made it possible to bring ION to fruition.
The South Texas Medical Foundation gifted the 35 acres on which the institute is being built. The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation contributed $15 million to support the operations of the institute.
“The Institute of Neuroscience is really transformative, for the UTRGV School of Medicine and for the Valley,” Bailey said. “This building is going to house a lot of folks who are going to transform the lives of the people of the Valley.”
Bailey added: “We thank our partners – including the City of Harlingen, the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, and the South Texas Medical Foundation – for helping us take this bold step in fulfilling our commitment of improving healthcare in South Texas.”
According to UTRGV SOM there are plans to start a residency program to train neurologists in the future.
“We are so excited about training the next generation of neuroscientists here in the Valley,” Dr. Ihsan Salloum, UTRGV School of Medicine director for the Institute of Neuroscience, said. “As a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we will place particular emphasis on working with underrepresented minorities and expanding on an already strong research program, with particular focus on brain diseases that affect our communities.”
Salloum added: “We are building a team of multidisciplinary researchers that will bring together biomedical engineers, cognitive neuroscientists, geneticists and computational neuroscientists, along with neuropsychiatrists and neurologists. This will provide the foundation for scientific discoveries to advance brain health. There’s so much to look forward to.”
Dr. Michael B. Hocker, dean of UTRGVSOM, said ION fulfills the School of Medicine’s mission to provide innovative, high-quality medical resources for the people of South Texas.
“This Institute of Neuroscience is a concrete example of UTRGV’s mission to provide leading-edge research, as well as educational and clinical care opportunities to this area of the country,” Hocker said. “This is a state-of-the-art facility in South Texas, and we are going to have top-notch researchers and clinicians taking care of patients right here in the Valley.”
Judy Quisenberry is executive director of the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation. Quisenberry said ION is yet another example of UTRGV’s efforts to bring excellence to the region.
“While none of us could have pictured what the UTRGV medical school would become, the reality is much bigger and better than any of us could have dreamt,” she said. “To be the only distributed campus across a broad geography that we all call home is the most inclusive and provides the most access to its students, and that’s something to be really proud of.”
Attending the ribbon-cutting were state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., of Brownsville; state Rep. Alex Dominguez of Brownsville; Robert and Anne Shepard, of the Shepard Walton King Insurance Group, and Randy Whittington, president of the South Texas Medical Foundation, for whom the Shepard Whittington Lobby is named; Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell; Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez; and UT System Regent Dr. Nolan Perez.
The Institute of Neuroscience is expected to receive its first patients in November.
Editor’s Note: Ron Whitlock of Ron Whitlock Reports assisted with this story from Harlingen.
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