As a Hispanic-serving institution among the top 5% of research universities in the nation, the University of Texas at El Paso fosters a climate of scholarly inquiry, with a special focus on addressing major health issues that confront the U.S.-Mexico border region.
The focus on biomedical research is evident throughout the campus.
Much of the work is being conducted by teams in the Border Biomedical Research Center, which includes state-of-the-art laboratories and equipment in the $45 million Bioscience Research Building. That work will be bolstered by the completion of the new $85 million Interdisciplinary Research Building, which is expected to open later this year.
A few of UTEP’s most recent notable projects include:
Although the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic and related COVID-19 disease have caused major disruptions at all levels of society, there are substantial COVID-19-related disparities present in racial and ethnic minority groups, including Hispanic communities.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UTEP, the city and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso recently signed an agreement to expand the city’s testing capacity using the state-of-the-art laboratories in the UTEP Border Biomedical Research Center.
The collaboration will help inter-professional teams of UTEP scientists, physicians and community partners conduct research to understand how interactions between the virus and biomedical, social and behavioral factors affect our community.
The BBRC was recently funded for five additional years by the National Institute for Minority Health and Health Disparities with a $19.2 million grant focused on understanding Hispanic cancer health disparities.
The project integrates basic science, clinical and behavioral research, and involves collaborative efforts between investigators in the colleges of Science and Health Sciences and the School of Pharmacy. Studies are focused on understanding potential mutations in proteins that lead to leukemia, developing new cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, and identifying predictors of human papilloma virus vaccine uptake as well as practices and behaviors of healthcare providers to increase HPV screenings and vaccination.
Traumatic brain injury
Traumatic brain injury is a serious societal challenge. More than 144,000 Texans suffer TBI per year due to accidents or assaults and more than 5,700 of them are later permanently disabled. Even mild TBI changes the brain function, causing mental and physical problems. Efficient diagnosis and monitoring are critical for recovery after TBI. The current medical standard of care focuses on CT scans of the head and clinical, in-person evaluation. These procedures are costly, time-consuming and unsuited to telehealth and social distancing during pandemic spreads such as COVID-19.
Anita Bialunska, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist from UTEP, studies how to improve functional assessment and rehabilitation in TBI. For example, in collaboration with engineers and physical therapists, she is working on a novel patient and medical provider-friendly, wearable system for the precise, functional markers of TBI, allowing for remote monitoring and better long-term prognosis.