FEATURED: Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernández played a key role in helping secure a $6 million state grant, announced on Friday, February 24, 2023, that will help launch the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine’s South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research. This image was taken on Wednesday, August 3, 2022.
Photograph Courtesy CITY OF PHARR FACEBOOK
$6 million state grant for UTRGV South Texas Center for Excellence in Cancer Research “is just a drop in the bucket – there will be more coming,” predicts DHR Health’s Dr. Ambrosio Hernández
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
A $6 million state grant for a research program that will focus on liver cancer among Hispanics/Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley “is just a drop in the bucket – there will be more (research money) coming,” says Pharr Mayor Dr. Ambrosio Hernández, who serves as a member of the Oversight Committee, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
The $6 million CPRIT grant (RP230419), announced on Friday, February 24, 2023, will help launch the UTRGV School of Medicine’s South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research, the first CPRIT-supported cancer research center in the region.
The South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research’s focus is reducing cancer health disparities in the area, which has the nation’s highest cancer incidence and mortality rate and, consequently, bears a disproportionate (unfair) share of the cancer burden.
Dr. Hernández, a pediatric (general) surgeon, also serves as Member, Board of Managers, DHR Health, as Chief Compliance Officer, DHR Health, and as Medical Director of Surgical Services, Driscoll Children’s Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.
He was joined by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, among other local, regional and state leaders, at the news conference for the announcement, which took place on Friday, February 24, 2023, at the Rio Bank headquarters in McAllen.
Funds to help build advanced, historical cancer-related research in Valley
“This is historical,” Dr. Hernández said. “It is by design that this happened. We (CPRIT leadership) clearly saw the fact that we need to design something that helps everybody in the State of Texas – (including) the Rio Grande Valley, El Paso, Odessa, Beaumont, where there are human beings who need help – they need cancer research.”
The South Texas Center of Excellence in Cancer Research (ST-CECR) is working to reduce health disparities among Hispanics in South Texas through advanced cancer-related research and studies in liver cancer, gall bladder cancer, stomach cancer and cervical cancer.
With a population of more than 1.3 million people, ST-CECR is building the leading center for cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley and will provide cutting-edge technologies, tools, and necessary scientific resources to support expert cancer research investigators of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas region.
Hernández singled out for special praise Wayne Roberts, CEO, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Roberts is responsible for working with the nine-member Oversight Committee, Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, and leading an executive team and staff that are required to fulfill CPRIT’s mission to find and fund the best cancer research and prevention projects in the state.
Award is transformational for cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley
“Wayne (Roberts), together with the (CPRIT) Oversight Committee, thought of an idea: ‘What exactly are you pushing?’” Dr. Hernández recalled. “What we are pushing as the committee is the fact that we have billions of dollars to give out. We need to bring the (cancer research) institutions to the residents of the entire state of Texas – push them out – and that they understand that they are to do research where its most needed.
The CPRIT Oversight Committee is governed by nine Texans who are appointed by the Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House to serve staggered terms. It meets at least one every quarter and is led by an Executive Committee.
“This award is transformational for cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Roberts. “It is not only a recognition of the impressive commitment to cancer research here at UTRGV, but it will have a long-lasting downstream impact for cancer patients in this community. CPRIT is proud to help launch this effort here.”
Dr. Hernández, who was selected by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to serve on the CPRIT Oversight Committee, is serving a term that began on Monday, February 10, 2020, and will end on Friday, January 31, 2025.
“We have these wonderful medical centers all along IH (Interstate Highway 35), in San Antonio, and at M.D. Anderson (Cancer Center in Houston), and they deserve it. We’re so delighted where they serve,” he continued. “But we also needed them in these other regions, and that is what CPRIT is for – to push the envelope forward, to be sure that research, that revenue we generate, gets pushed out to UTRGV, to El Paso, to Texas A&M, to Lubbock, the Odessa, to all of these areas.”
Texans voted in 2007 to create the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and to invest $3 billion in the state’s unprecedented fight against cancer.
On November 5, 2019, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to continue CPRIT’s work and invest an additional $3 billion for finding and funding the best cancer research and prevention opportunities in the state.
As a result, CPRIT is now a $6 billion, 20-year initiative – the largest state cancer research investment in the history of the United States and the second largest cancer research and prevention program in the world.
CPRIT grant most recent state investment in cancer prevention, treatment and research
The two Valley state lawmakers in attendance at the press conference – Hinojosa and Guerra – noted that the $6 million CPRIT grant is the most recent investment by the Texas Legislature into cancer prevention, treatment and research resources for the Rio Grande Valley.
“For us here in South Texas, the closest cancer research center for us is in San Antonio, more than 200 miles away, so this is very much needed cancer research,” said Hinojosa. “We have invested millions of dollars on cervical cancer research. The UT System Board of Regents have set aside more than $145 million for a cancer medical facility, so we’re pushing forward.”
On Friday, October 14, 2022, UTRGV and community leaders broke ground on the much-anticipatedUT Health RGV Cancer and Surgery Center, centrally located in the 495 Commerce Center complex in McAllen.
Valued at $145,723,401, the UT Health RGV Cancer and Surgery Center will allow for the provision of comprehensive cancer and surgical services that are on the leading edge of medicine, by serving as an incubator to train the physicians and scientist leaders of the future.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, a world leader in cancer care and research, is providing oncology advisory services to the Cancer and Surgery Center, to develop and launch the program.
“For more than a decade, CPRIT has increased cancer research and prevention efforts along the Texas border, from El Paso to McAllen to Brownsville,” Guerra cited figures from CPRIT. “During this period, CPRIT has awarded 44 awards to Cameron, Duval, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties totaling more than $67 million.”
At its meeting held on Wednesday, February 15, 2023, the Oversight Committee, of which Dr. Hernandez is a member, awarded a $1 million CPRIT prevention grant to the Brownsville campus of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (PP230018) for the “Tu Salud ¡Si Cuenta!” project that will focus on physical inactivity, poor nutrition, and increased alcohol use linked to multiple cancers.
At the same meeting, CPRIT approved a $2.5 million grant to continue and expanded the “Salud en Mis Manos” prevention project (PP230038) to Starr County. This project, led by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, has provided breast and cervical screenings and HPV vaccinations for underserved Latinas in Hidalgo and Willacy Counties since 2019.
“Lives will be saved from the seeds planted with this important research.”
Dr. Mahendra Patel, presiding officer of CPRIT’s governing body, could not attend the news conference in McAllen on Friday, February 24, 2023, but provided a statement.
“On behalf of the CPRIT Oversight Committee, I am pleased to congratulate The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley on the outstanding accomplishment represented by the Texas Regional Excellence in Cancer award. It is truly a testament to the dedication of your team and your institution to advancing cancer research in the Rio Grande Valley and improving the lives of your neighbors,” Dr. Patel said. “This award is a signature achievement in CPRIT’s decade-long commitment and presence in the Rio Grande Valley.”
“Ultimately, that is the most important benefit of the grants CPRIT awards,” said Dr. Patel. “Lives will be saved from the seeds planted with this important research.”
Biography of Dr. Ambrosio Hernández
Dr. Ambrosio Hernández, native of Pharr, was elected into office as Mayor of the City of Pharr in 2015, re-elected in 2019, and elected to a third consecutive term in May 2023 to continue representing one of the largest cities in South Texas.
Dr. Hernández is a pediatric surgeon, bariatric surgeon, director of surgical services, hospital compliance officer, and business professional by trade.
As mayor, Dr. Hernández values the importance of creating partnerships with neighboring communities, private industry, and local school districts.
He continues to be a tireless advocate for expanding educational opportunities, promoting jobs and economic development, enhancing international trade and commerce, and improving transportation and infrastructure.
As mayor, Dr. Hernández has helped Pharr emerge as a regional leader in South Texas and on the state, national, and international levels. Under his leadership, Pharr has secured more than $400 million in state and federal funding for major transportation, infrastructure, and bridge projects.
Dr. Hernández was instrumental in leading efforts to merge South Texas’ three Metropolitan Planning Organizations into the Rio Grande Valley MPO, where he now serves as Chair. He continues to forge partnerships with all industries and at all levels, working together to provide opportunities for Pharr residents and families to thrive.
Dr. Hernández graduated from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School in 1986 and received his Bachelor of Science in Biology from The University of Texas-Pan American in 1990. He received his Doctor of Medicine from the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor in 1995, and completed his residency and obtained a Master’s Degree in Medical Science from The University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston.
Dr. Hernández returned to the Rio Grande Valley in 2004, and is presently the Medical Director of Surgical Services at Driscoll Children’s Hospital, practicing pediatric surgeon at Rio Grande Regional Hospital and Edinburg Children’s Hospital, and Chief Medical Compliance Officer at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg, Texas.
Dr. Hernández is married to Christina Hernández of San Juan, Texas; they have been blessed with a son, Joseph Matthew.
More about DHR Health
DHR Health is a health system that operates two general acute hospitals, the only dedicated women’s hospital south of San Antonio, a rehabilitation hospital, a behavioral hospital, and more than 70 clinics Valley-wide.
DHR Health offers the most comprehensive and advanced healthcare services in the Rio Grande Valley including – but not limited to – advanced cancer services, the only transplant program in the Rio Grande Valley, and as of September 8, 2021, the first 24/7 Designated Level One Trauma Center south of San Antonio.
On Tuesday, November 16, 2021, Driscoll Health System held a groundbreaking ceremony for Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley, located at 2820 W. Michelangelo Drive in Edinburg, which is being built on the site of the DHR Health campus, next to DHR Health’s The Women’s Hospital at Renaissance. DHR Health was instrumental in working with Driscoll Children’s Hospital to bring the first true freestanding children’s hospital to the Valley.
The new, independently operated eight-level pediatric hospital will further the mission of Driscoll Children’s Hospital founder Clara Driscoll to provide medical care to all the children of South Texas. The building is expected to be completed later in 2023. The Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley represents a combined investment of more than $105 million. Driscoll Children’s Hospital Rio Grande Valley will operate with more than 500 employees, creating significant economic impact and new job opportunities for clinical, ancillary and support staff in the Valley.
On Wednesday, March 29, 2023, DHR Health and Texas A&M University Health Science Center (Texas A&M Health) announced an expansion of their long-standing collaboration in clinical research (and graduate medical education. With this new agreement, the Texas A&M School of Medicine will become the academic affiliate for the DHR Health Graduate Medical Education residency and fellowship programs.
This relationship further reinforces Texas A&M Health’s commitment to developing workforce pipelines in areas most impacted by physician shortages in the state.
For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).