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Building A Bridge Between UTSA and UTHSCSA
Today's research issues are so complex that they require multidisciplinary teams

The days of the solitary scientist laboring in specialized research silos are fast disappearing.

With the creation of the San Antonio Life Sciences Institute (SALSI) in 2003, the scientific community in San Antonio began tearing down the walls that separated physicians and biochemists from engineers, physicists, economists, sociologists and demographers. By building a virtual bridge between The University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, SALSI has accelerated discoveries at both of these institutions and sped up the process that brings breakthrough research to the market. “If you look at diseases like Alzheimer’s, wound healing or infectious diseases, any one person doesn’t have the solution to these big, complex problems,” said Special Assistant to the President Robert Gracy. “It takes teams—public health people, clinicians, engineers, basic scientists. It takes people of all kinds of different backgrounds to form these teams to effectively address these problems.”.

The Texas legislature created SALSI in 2003 to foster collaboration between UTSA and UTHSCSA and to create multidisciplinary research teams that would address major health problems facing society. In the ensuing years, SALSI has given life to joint UTSA-UTHSCSA programs such as the Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering, the graduate neuroscience training program, the Center for Health Care Disparities and the Medical Humanities Initiative, among others.

SALSI also helped establish and equip the South Texas Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases (STCEID) and allowed the two public institutions to spawn partnerships with Southwest Research Institute and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute to create the San Antonio Vaccine Development Center. “This is the most successful pilot model of this type,” Gracy said. “Although SALSI was designed initially just to bring the Health Science Center and the University together, the resulting synergy quickly led us to realize that we should include additional partners, like the military, Southwest Research, Texas Biomedical and others. We welcomed their expertise.” During the biennium, STCEID was selected as a Center of Excellence in Infection Genomics (CEIG) by the Department of Defense. The grant of $4.6 million supports research on possible cures for infectious diseases, while also training undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. And the graduate students in turn reach out to high school students by helping teachers at local schools develop an enriched science curriculum.

SALSI provided UTSA and UTHSCSA each with $4 million over the two-year period. The collaborative pilot projects supported by these funds have already resulted in $37.7 million from external agencies, largely the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Defense. This leveraging, or return on investment, of almost fivefold is most impressive! Also, UTSA and UTHSCSA trained more than 150 graduate students, 40 undergraduate students, and 20 postdocs and residents under this new scientific discovery framework, with researchers working as teams. “The next generation of researchers we’re training are now getting exposed to this new paradigm. They’re part of a team,” Gracy said. “They’re no longer working by themselves in a chemistry or biology lab. They’re working as part of teams with researchers from UTSA, UTHSCSA, Southwest Research Institute, the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and others. They’re learning to work in an environment of mixed disciplines that may include chemists, biologists, engineers, behavioral and social scientists, demographers, architects, economists and more. They’re getting an education that’s much broader. And they are learning the value of multidimensional team research.

“In addition, there’s always the serendipitous situation during research where you are trying to find solutions to something, and you find answers to a question that you didn’t even ask,” he noted. “And it’s critical to recognize this new, unexpected insight. Teams with their greater breadth in backgrounds will much more quickly recognize this and the potential implications.”

Finally, it should be pointed out that this research is not just for academic curiosity but is aimed at addressing real problems facing society. It is essential that the research be translational and be moved from the discovery level through development and then to the market where it can really impact our well-being. The SALSI program has been successful in bringing inventions and discoveries through patenting and partnerships with industry to provide new products and services for better health care. For example, Merck licensed a chlamydia vaccine developed by a SALSI team working within STCEID to bring that vaccine to market.

“Today’s research issues are so complex that they require multidisciplinary teams,” Gracy stressed. “The SALSI program is designed to provide the opportunity to bring together these teams to solve such big problems. This model is working extremely well and getting better all the time.”


SALSI Research Projects and Collaborating Investigators - Awarded during the First Cycle

Microencapsulated Delivery of Oncolytic Respiratory Syncytial Virus for Targeting Prostate Tumor in Vivo.
Yusheng Feng, Ph.D., Computational Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Lab (UTSA), and Santanu Bose, Ph.D., Microbiology and Immunology (UTHSCSA)

Preclinical Optimization of a Novel Antitumor Agent CB694.
Doug E. Frantz, Ph.D., Chemistry (UTSA), and Susan L. Mooberry, Ph.D., Pharmacology (UTHSCSA)

Whole-Spectrum Fluorescence Microscopy with Ultrafast Supercontinuum Excitation.
JingYong Ye, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering (UTSA), and James Donald Lechleiter, Ph.D., Cellular and Structural Biology (UTHSCSA)

Aging, Hearing Loss, and the Cocktail- Party Problem.
Rama Ratnam, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Suzette D. Tardif, Ph.D., Cellular and Structural Biology/Barshop Institute for Aging and Longevity Studies (UTHSCSA)

Neighborhood-Level Nutritional Assessments as an Innovative Teaching Approach to Understanding Root Causes of Health Disparities.
Thankam Sunil, Ph.D., Sociology (UTSA), and Adelita Gonzalez Cantu, Ph.D., RN, Chronic Nursing Care (UTHSCSA)

A Computational Proteomics Approach for Genome-wide Identifying MicroRNA Targets.
Jianqiu (Michelle) Zhang, Ph.D., Electrical and Computer Engineering (UTSA), and Shou-jiang Gao, Ph.D., Pediatrics (UTHSCSA)

Dysregulation of Ocular Blood Flow in Glaucoma: Application of Novel MRI Technologies
Rena Bizios, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering (UTSA), and Timothy Duong, Ph.D., Ophthalmology/ Research Imaging Center (UTHSCSA)

Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine: New Solutions to Old Problems.
John R. McCarrey, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Christi A. Walter, Ph.D., Cellular and Structural Biology (UTHSCSA)

Molecular Changes in Aging Breast Stroma.
Jianhua Ruan, Ph.D., Computer Science (UTSA), and Rong Li, Ph.D., Molecular Medicine (UTHSCSA)

A Novel Non-Polymer Drug Delivery Platform for Coronary Stents.
C. Mauli Agrawal, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering (UTSA), and Marc Feldman, M.D., Medicine (UTHSCSA)


SALSI Research Projects and Collaborating Investigators - Awarded during the Second Cycle

Development of a New Lipid Nanoparticle Platform for Drug Delivery
George R. Negrete, Ph.D., Chemistry (UTSA), and Ande Bao, Ph.D., Otolaryngology/ Radiology (UTHSCSA)

Decoding Variable Gene Expression of CCR5, the HIV Coreceptor, using a Genetic-Proteomic Approach.
Harry Wellington Jarrett III, Ph.D., Chemistry (UTSA), and Sunil Ahuja, M.D., Microbiology/ Biochemistry (UTHSCSA)

Francisella tularensis Pathogenicity Island Secretion Proteins.
Karl E. Klose, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and John P. Hart, Ph.D., Medicine (UTHSCSA)

Effects of Food Restriction on Dopamine Neuron Firing Patterns.
Carlos A. Paladini, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Michael Beckstead, Ph.D., Physiology (UTHSCSA)

Dynamic Regulation of Dentate Gyrus Granule Cell Excitability through Calcium- activated Potassium Channels
David B. Jaffe, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Robert Brenner, Ph.D., Physiology (UTHSCSA)

Science Partnerships to Adapt Research for K-5 Teachers (SPARKT).
Carmen Fies, Ph.D., Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching (UTSA), and Michael J. Lichtenstein, M.D., Medicine (UTHSCSA)

Alkaline Phosphatase—An Early Appearing Marker for Pneumonic Tularemia.
James P. Chambers, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Guangming Zhong, Ph.D., Microbiology and Immunology (UTHSCSA)

Blockade of Breast Tumor Cell Invasion through RON Tyrosine Kanase Inhibitor(s)
Anand K. Ramasubramanian, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering (UTSA), and Sudhakar Ammanamanchi, Ph.D., Medicine (UTHSCSA)

The Role of BIGH3 in Diabetic Complications.
Richard G. LeBaron, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Reto Asmis, Ph.D., Clinical Laboratory Sciences and Biochemistry (UTHSCSA)

Development of New Technologies to Target 26S Proteasome with Anticancer Drugs.
JingYong Ye, Ph.D., Biomedical Engineering (UTSA), and Maria Gaczynska, Ph.D., Molecular Medicine (UTHSCSA)

Ligand-induced Conformational Changes in Ion Channels Detected by Luminescence Resonance Energy Transfer.
Robert D. Renthal, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and David S. Weiss, Ph.D., Physiology (UTHSCSA)

Building a Healthy Temple
Meizi He, Ph.D., Health and Kinesiology (UTSA), and Deborah Parra-Medina, Ph.D., Epidemiology and Biostatistics (UTHSCSA)

Chromatin Modulation of Neural Stem Cells in the Adult and Developing Brain.
Gary O. Gaufo, Ph.D., Biology (UTSA), and Olivia M. Pereira-Smith, Ph.D., Cellular and Structural Biology (UTHSCSA)

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