Thursday, June 8, 2023
  Science & Technology, Around Campus

By Victoria Brito Morales

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 8, 2023 – Five scholars in the first cohort of the Rio Grande Valley Bridge to Baccalaureate in Biomedical Sciences program graduated from UTRGV this spring semester, three years after its inception in 2020. 

B2BMED is a two-year research training program supported by the National Institutes of Health Bridges to the Baccalaureate Research Training Program. Scholars in this program matriculate from South Texas College with an Associate of Science in Biology, or from Texas Southmost College with an Associate of Science in Biology, then move into UTRGV’s Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Science program, known as BMED.

In total, it takes four years to obtain both the associate and bachelor’s degrees from the community colleges and UTRGV.

The B2BMED project, funded by a more than $2 million grant by the National Institutes of Health, brings UTRGV, STC and TSC together to develop a research training program in biomedical sciences, following and supporting aspiring students from STC and TSC as they transition into the UTRGV BMED program.   

“We are very appreciative and thankful for the award,” said Dr. Sue Anne Chew, UTRGV associate professor of Health and Biomedical Sciences. “With the NIH T34 Bridges to Baccalaureate grant, we are able to support 8 B2BMED scholars per cohort and help bridge them from STC’s Associate of Science or TSC’s Associate of Science in Science into the UTRGV BMED program, finish the BMED program and continue on into a research career or graduate school.”

Chew and Dr. Saraswathy Nair, professor and chair of the UTRGV Biomedical Science Department, wrote the grant application with Dr. Shima Chaudhary, STC instructor of Biology, and Ruben Reyes, TSC instructor of Biology. 

The program has been developed and run by Chew, who serves as UTRGV program director, with Nair as UTRGV co-PD; Dr. Mehrzad Mahmoudian Geller, STC professor of Biology, who serves as STC’s program director; and Dr. Griselda Galvez, TSC instructor of Biology, serving as TSC’s program director. Former PD’s include Chaudhary and Dr. Deborah Overath, TSC instructor of Biology and chair of Mathematics an Sciences, who helped develop the program at its inception. 

 

The program supports eight undergraduates per cohort. Currently there are 13 students pending completion of the program with a new cohort coming this Fall.

The spring 2023 UTRGV graduates were:

  • Karina Cantu, hometown Mission.
  • Natasha Garcia-Rodriguez, hometown McAllen.
  • Jose Martinez, hometown McAllen.
  • Megan Zamora, hometown Mission.
  • Viviana Villalobos, hometown Mercedes.

‘EVERY OPPORTUNITY FOR SUCCESS’

Cantu, Martinez and Garcia-Rodriguez now will be attending UT Health San Antonio to continue their educational pursuits: Cantu and Garcia-Rodriguez will be part of the Ph.D in Integrated Biomedical Sciences program, and Martinez will join the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP).

During her time at UTRGV, Garcia-Rodriguez, 34, had the opportunity to work with two principal investigators and participate in two different research projects. The first was Dr. Jameela Banu, associate professor of Health and Biomedical Sciences, on a project titled "The Effects of Salvia Hispanica on Bone Metabolic Pathways in Mouse Osteoblastic Cells – a miRNA analysis." The second project was with Chew on "The Combination of Temozolomide and Minocycline for the Treatment of Glioblastoma (GBM)."

Garcia-Rodriguez said she joined the B2BMED program to balance academic responsibilities while still providing for her family. 

“The program allowed me to advance my knowledge, skills and research experience in the biomedical field,” Garcia-Rodriguez said. “The B2BMED program not only provided me with valuable research opportunities, but also offered a stipend and an excellent financial aid package. That all made it possible for me to pursue my dreams while supporting my family.”

She now continues on to San Antonio to gain experience with a diverse population and continue her research in pharmacogenetics, which will allow her to contribute to healthcare on a larger scale through personalized precision medicine. Specifically, she hopes to utilize genomic data to address a lack of racial equity in precision medicine. 

“At UTRGV, I discovered my passion for research and gained the necessary knowledge to boost my confidence and pursue my wildest dreams,” Garcia-Rodriguez said. “Dr. Chew, my mentor and PI, has been truly exceptional. She has always been available to answer questions, guided me through doubts and difficulties, and ensured I was aware of every opportunity for success. I owe a great deal of my accomplishments to her dedication to the B2BMED program and her unwavering support.”

‘ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES TO SUCCEED’

McAllen native Martinez said he was drawn to the BMED program at UTRGV for its opportunities for growth and expansion within the biomedical field. 

“This program has opened endless possibilities for me to succeed, expanding my horizons with limitless opportunities in the biomedical research field,” he said. “I was able to conduct research for the last two years of my undergrad that allowed me not only to gain valuable knowledge in fields of research, but also to present my research in various national research conferences. It allowed be to contribute to important issues like diabetic retinopathy, which affects millions of people around the world.”

Martinez always knew research was his calling, and he was able to hone those skills with Dr. Andrew Tsin, professor and chair of UTRGV’s Molecular Science department and senior associate dean of Research in the UTRGV School of Medicine. Martinez’s research into the Interphotoreceptor Retinoid Binding Protein (IRBP) aimed to determine the mechanism of IRBP reduction in diabetes, to determine if altered levels of IRBP will affect its role in enhancing diabetic retinopathy. 

“Unlike many candidates in biomedical sciences, I started my educational career training knowing very well that I would pursue a career path in research,” he said. “I aim to enter a PhD program in which I can continue performing biomedical research and become a researcher. Biomedical research helps expand our understanding of the human body, of diseases and their underlying mechanisms.”

Martinez, who also is headed to San Antonio now, said the opportunities gained at UTRGV through the B2BMED program have been pivotal in his life. 

“I am more than thankful for being able to attend UTRGV, an institution that shaped my future and provided me with essential knowledge from amazing professors. My experience here will allow me to succeed in my future career as a researcher,” Martinez said.

For more information on the B2BMED program, visit https://www.utrgv.edu/hbs/student-engagement/bs-biomedical-sciences/b2bmed/about/index.htm



ABOUT UTRGV

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.