Featured, from left: Nolan Pérez, MD, Member, Board of Regents, The University of Texas System; Dr. Guy Bailey, President, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; UTRGV’s mascot “The Vaquero” (Cowboy); Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Verónica Gonzáles, Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations, UTRGV; and John H. Krouse, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Health Affairs, Dean, School of Medicine, UTRGV. This image was taken at the UTRGV campus in Edinburg on Monday, October 21, 2019 to announce that the UTRGV School of Medicine, in partnership with the Honors College, had created a new early-assurance, pre-med program for high school students throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Photograph By JENNIFER GALINDO
PhD in Human Genetics program at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley ready for action by UT System Board of Regents, announces Rep. Canales
Genetics, which is the study of heredity, and genomics, which is the study of genes and their function, would become that latest major advances in biomedical research at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley with an upcoming proposal to establish a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Genetics program, Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, has announced.
UTRGV Edinburg, which is the largest campus in the Valley-wide state higher education system, along with a major component of the UTRGV School of Medicine, is located in the heart of Canales’ House District 40.
“Genetics is a branch of biology that studies how heredity and how qualities and characteristics are passed on from one generation to another by means of genes,” Canales said. “According to the National Institute of Health, one of the major benefits of studying human genetics is that it leads to the discovery and description of the genetic contribution to many human diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.”
A gene is the basic physical and functional unit of heredity. Genes are made up of DNA. Some genes act as instructions to make molecules called proteins. However, many genes do not code for proteins. In humans, genes vary in size from a few hundred DNA bases to more than 2 million bases. The Human Genome Project estimated that humans have between 20,000 and 25,000 genes.
“Genomics, on the other hand, can detect disease long before symptoms present themselves, and such early diagnosis of a disease can significantly improve the chances of successful treatment, according to an excellent report last year by the National Geographic,” he further explained.
In general, biomedical research is defined as the broad area of science that involves the investigation of the biological process and the causes of disease through careful experimentation, observation, laboratory work, analysis, and testing.
On Wednesday, May 6, 2020, the UT System Board of Regents is scheduled to consider approving that planned postgraduate, four-year, full-time, research-intensive program consisting of 72 credit hours and recommending that it be authorized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).
Nolan Pérez, MD, of Harlingen, is one of the nine-members of the UT System Board of Regents.
Fred Farías III, OD, of McAllen, serves as Vice-Chair of the nine-member Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.
The members of the UT System Board of Regents and of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board are appointed by the Texas governor with the advice and consent of the Texas Senate.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board is a state agency that reviews and recommends changes in formulas for allocation of state funds to public institutions. In addition, it helps eliminate costly duplication in academic programs and unnecessary construction projects. Working with higher education institutions, the governor, and the Legislature, the THECB also ensures that all Texans have access to high quality programs at different instructional levels and administers the state’s student financial aid programs.
The agenda packet for the meeting, along with video links to view the UT System Board of Regents meeting live, or in its recorded version, are available at:
In the executive summary of the plan contained in the UT System Board of Regents agenda packet, James B. Milliken, Chancellor of the UT System, Steven W. Leslie, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs of the UT System, and Guy Bailey, President, UTRGV, provide details on the importance and need of the proposed PhD in Human Genetics program for deep South Texas:
• The use of genetic testing and genetic approaches for understanding disease and applying personalized medicine based on each patient’s genetic makeup has significantly grown. This growth is associated with an increased demand for qualified geneticists in the areas of basic research, clinical research, medical care, and biological science. Because of the location of the program in the Rio Grande Valley, there will be a natural focus on the diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect minority populations, particularly Hispanics;
• Projected student demand is strong. The presence of undergraduate and graduate training programs in the biological sciences generates a large pool of UT Rio Grande Valley graduates each year who are prepared to pursue doctoral studies in human genetics. The BS and MS in Biology, and MS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology all produce students capable of feeding into the PhD in Human Genetics program. In addition, this degree program will be able to recruit students nationally and internationally;
• Moreover, UT Rio Grande Valley has made significant facility and equipment investments to support a high-quality, nationally competitive program. Available resources to support human genetics research are located in facilities in Brownsville, Edinburg, and San Antonio. These resources include the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute Genomics Computing Center in Brownsville, a 1,000 square-foot machine room housing a high-performance computing cluster; and
• Over its first five years of existence, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Genetics degree program is projected to have a budget of $11.8 million in expenses and $12.7 million in revenue.
The agenda item for the PhD program follows in its entirety:
8c. UT Rio Grande Valley: Approval to establish a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Genetics degree program
The Chancellor concurs in the recommendation of the Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the institutional president that authorization, pursuant to Regent’s Rules and Regulations, Rule 40307, related to academic program approval standards, be granted to
a. establish a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Genetics degree program at UT Rio Grande Valley; and
b. submit the proposal to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for review and appropriate action.
UT Rio Grande Valley proposes to develop a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Human Genetics degree program that will address the growing need for researchers in human genetics and genomics. The PhD in Human Genetics will be a four-year, full-time, research-intensive program consisting of 72 credit hours.
The proposed degree program is designed to develop the next generation of independent scientists in human genetics and genomics, with a heavy focus on research training. The program will be focused on applications of human genetics to medicine and will encompass training across the breadth of genetics, from molecular genetics through computational approaches to analysis.
Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, the use of genetic testing and genetic approaches for understanding disease and applying personalized medicine based on each patient’s genetic makeup has significantly grown. This growth is associated with an increased demand for qualified geneticists in the areas of basic research, clinical research, medical care, and biological science. Because of the location of the program in the Rio Grande Valley, there will be a natural focus on the diseases and conditions that disproportionately affect minority populations, particularly Hispanics.
(The Human Genome Project (HGP) was the international, collaborative research program whose goal was the complete mapping and understanding of all the genes of human beings. All our genes together are known as our “genome.” Genetic testing is the use of a laboratory test to look for genetic variations associated with a disease. The results of a genetic test can be used to confirm or rule out a suspected genetic disease or to determine the likelihood of a person passing on a mutation to their offspring. Genetic testing may be performed prenatally or after birth. – https://www.genome.gov/human-genome-project/What)
The proposed degree program is structured to produce highly qualified, research-oriented human geneticists able to meet the critical need for genetics expertise in the coming decades.
Need and Student Demand
The American Society of Human Genetics has noted a current and continuing shortage of human geneticists able to meet the labor demands generated from the expanding understanding of the human genome and proliferation of genetic testing. Doctoral-level human geneticists will be needed in the traditional academic areas of basic science, clinical research, and education.
However, they will also be needed in management and consulting, biocuration and bioinformatics, patent law, biotechnology, pharmaceutical development, clinical laboratory management, health policy, science reporting, and scientific editing.
The expected growth in need for human geneticists is substantial. Market research reports reflect a primary need for advanced genomic/genetic scientists growing at a rate of nearly 20% per year. These reports identify primary areas of growth in sequence analysis, large-scale data analysis, and “omic” applications, such as genomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, methylomics, microbiomics, and proteomics. These are areas of substantial existing strength in the Department of Human Genetics at UT Rio Grande Valley.
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not include human geneticist as a specific job title in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the job outlooks for a variety of other relevant titles are provided. Between 2018 and 2028, medical scientist jobs are projected to grow by 8%, which is faster than the average. Similarly, growth in biological science educators at the college level is projected to increase by 12% between 2018 and 2028.
At the regional level, Texas is a major employer of life scientists, with 13 medical schools, four National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Centers, over 1,700 medical and testing labs, and more than 4,000 life science and research firms.
The projected growth in medical and life science jobs in Texas will increase more rapidly than the projected national growth, with medical scientist positions expected to grow 17% and life scientist positions expected to grow by 14% between 2016 and 2026.
Projected student demand is strong. The presence of undergraduate and graduate training programs in the biological sciences generates a large pool of UT Rio Grande Valley graduates each year who are prepared to pursue doctoral studies in human genetics. The BS. and MS in Biology, and MS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology all produce students capable of feeding into the PhD in Human Genetics program. In addition, this degree program will be able to recruit students nationally and internationally.
Seven new students will be admitted into the program each year. The enrollment projections were determined after reviewing the faculty-to-student ratios at other programs in Texas, as well as the number of students accepted each year into those programs. The expectation is to achieve a steady-state of 25 doctoral students by the end of Year 5. Based on the 72-credit hour program of study, the degree program can be completed in four years.
The program is projected to require a partial or full-time commitment from 23 core and supporting faculty members, including a designated Course Director. The university already employs 11 of the core faculty members and nine support faculty members; three new program faculty will be hired during the first three years of the program.
Faculty members currently employed by the university have a demonstrated record of research productivity. Over the past five years, 11 core faculty members currently employed by the university have averaged 43.5 referred papers and 1.2 book chapters per faculty member. In addition, core faculty members have won over $62 million in total external grant awards over the past five years, including several National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants.
Moreover, UT Rio Grande Valley has made significant facility and equipment investments to support a high-quality, nationally competitive program. Available resources to support human genetics research are located in facilities in Brownsville, Edinburg, and San Antonio. These resources include the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute Genomics Computing Center in Brownsville, a 1,000 square-foot machine room housing a high-performance computing cluster.
Coordinating Board Criteria
The proposed program meets all applicable Coordinating Board criteria for new doctoral degree programs.
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS RIO GRANDE VALLEY PSYCHOLOGY CLINIC LAUNCHES “WARMLINE” TO HELP SOUTH TEXANS FIND EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
The UTRGV Psychology Clinic will provide a new, confidential phone service called a “warmline,” to help community members find support during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The warmline will be a free and brief counseling telephone service for individuals experiencing emotional and mental distress related to the pandemic. It also will provide early intervention with support that can help prevent a crisis.
The phone service will be staffed by UTRGV mental health clinicians and Ph.D. clinical psychology students. All students will be supervised by faculty members.
The need for a warmline stemmed from conversations Dr. Cynthia Cavazos-Gonzalez, Director of the UTRGV Psychology Clinic and Associate Professor of Practice, had with other mental health providers who were receiving calls from people asking for sessions to help cope with the anxiety they were experiencing because of the pandemic.
“These were people that seemed they just needed to talk to someone, and needed to have some kind of support,” she said. “I thought it would be an opportunity for us, as a clinic, to step up and provide that kind of warm, supportive help to people who are emotionally distressed from being quarantined, with anxiety from not knowing if they may have contracted the disease.”
The main focus of the warmline is to prevent crisis and provide a lifeline for people to talk to someone. González said the service can help prevent people from deteriorating physically, emotionally and mentally, especially during this global crisis.
“When you are overwhelmed, your body has a physiological response. Sometimes people may become ill from other things because their immune system is being compromised by emotional, mental distress,” she said.
The warmline will provide callers with resources and effective types of interventions, including stress management and mindfulness techniques, relaxation exercises, behavioral interventions for sleep and appetite issues and psychoeducational counseling.
The service is open to the RGV community, including students, healthcare workers, first responders and essential workers.
González said that if they do notice the caller needs more assistance than the warmline can provide, they will direct them to local mental health community centers.
The UTRGV Psychology Clinic does provide tele-mental health appointments.
The phone number for the warmline is (956) 665-8800.
Hours of operation are:
• Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
• Friday, 9 a.m. to noon.
Visit the UTRGV Psychology Clinicfor more information.
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.
UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the Fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the Summer of 2016.
Amanda Alaniz contributed to this article. Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the Chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and a member of the Sunset Advisory Commission. Rep. Canales represents House District 40 in Hidalgo County, which includes portions or all of Edinburg, Elsa, Faysville, La Blanca, Linn, Lópezville, McAllen, Pharr and Weslaco. He may be reached at his House District Office in Edinburg at (956) 383-0860 or at the Capitol at (512) 463-0426.