Friday, October 2, 2020
  Faculty Focus, Research

By Victoria Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – The UTRGV School of Medicine’s Alzheimer’s Disease Resource Center for Minority Aging Research (RGV AD-RCMAR) has announced its third cohort of researchers specializing in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia-related illnesses in aging among minorities.  

The center annually awards three to four pilot projects up to $25,000 for a one-year development of their research proposal for the center. This center is funded by the National Institute on Aging under the  National Institutes of Health (NIH). 

This year’s UTRGV scholars include:  

  • Dr. Upal Roy, UTRGV assistant professor of Health and Biomedical Sciences: The Genetic Basis of Alzheimer Disease in Hispanic Americans affected by Type-2 Diabetes.  
  • Dr. Dean Kyne, UTRGV associate professor of sociology: Understanding Association Between Toxic Releases and Alzheimer’s Disease Mortality.  
  • Dr. Murat Karabulut, UTRGV associate professor of Health and Human Performance: The Feasibility of Blood Flow Restriction Training Method in Hispanic Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment.  
  • Dr. Bernard Fongang, UT Health Science Center San Antonio assistant professor of biochemistry: Association between the gut microbiome and dementia in the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium. (Fongang is the first non-UTRGV faculty to be included.)  

The center was established in 2018 with funding from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging, with the mission of enhancing diversity of the workforce and reducing health dipartites among Hispanics in South Texas through advancing research in minority aging diseases.   

The AD-RCMAR supports researchers from multiple disciplines at novice stages in their scientific career, to enrich research and seek innovated methods of eliminating burdens on caregivers.  

“This center supports investigation related to minority aging, and specifically, Alzheimer’s and related dementia, particularly for Hispanics,” said Rosa Pirela Mavarez, AD-RCMAR project coordinator. “We are looking for impactful proposals for pilot projects to support the mission of the center.” 

UTRGV scholars who previously have been part of the pilot program studies are: 


Year 1 

  • Dr. Annelyn Reveron-Torres, assistant professor of neuroscience: Designing an environmental enrichment intervention to improve quality of life of caregivers of persons with dementia. 
  • Dr. Mario Gil, assistant professor of psychology: Role of AVPR1A gene in psychosocial stress, cognitive performance and health outcome in older Hispanics/Latinos. 
  • Dr. Juan Lopez-Alvarenga, assistant professor of human genetics: Vascular Dementia Research [VADER] Pilot Project at Rio Grande Valley. 


Year 2 

  • Dr. Marcio A. Almeida, assistant professor of research in human genetics, Search for novel endophenotypes predicting genetic risk of dementia in Mexican Americans. 
  • Dr. Romeo Luis Escobar, assistant professor of social work: Characters of Mexican American Alzheimer’s Caregivers within the South Texas-Mexico Border Region. 
  • Dr. Ana Cristina Leandro, assistant professor of research scientist of human genetics: Epigenetic influences on Alzheimer’s disease risk. 



Dr. Gladys Maestre, professor of neuroscience and director of the center, said Alzheimer ́s disease has disproportionately high impacts upon the aging Hispanic population. 

“In the United States, Hispanics manifest 150 percent higher prevalence and incidence,” Maestre said. “And its onset is about seven years earlier – significantly earlier than in non-Hispanic whites.” 

Maestre said the reasons for the high vulnerability are not clear, but it is suspected that the higher prevalence of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, certain lifestyles and socioeconomic barriers are important factors.  

“Pathways, mechanisms and critical intervention windows to decrease the burden of Alzheimer's are unknown,” she said. “The AD-RCMAR fosters the development of a first-rate care of researchers, particularly from underrepresented groups, to develop effective approaches and solutions to understanding and mitigating the complex mechanisms contributing to disparately adverse impacts of Alzheimer’s disease in Hispanics.”


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.