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BMB Partnership with the University of Puerto Rico

University of Puerto Rico

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center formed a Joint Educational and Academic Exchange Program with the University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences, Department of Biochemistry in 2010. This exchange program is aimed at establishing a long-term educational and academic partnership between the two departments, emphasizing the unique environments of UPR and MDACC. Faculty and trainees from each department exchange visits to direct workshops, participate in scientific retreats and train in laboratories. Goals include the establishment of research collaborations, fostering of joint publications, and an ongoing, thriving exchange to encourage the recruitment of UPR students to BMB as Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Dr. William Klein, chair of BMB, had earlier established a professional relationship with Dr. José Rodriguez Medina, chair of UPR Medical Sciences, Department of Biochemistry. MD Anderson and UPR Cancer Center were previously awarded the Partnership for Excellence in Cancer Research through a Minority Institute/Cancer Center Program U54 grant from the National Institutes of Health. This partnership grant allows both institutions to pursue research objectives ranging from basic science to clinical trials.

October 2011 Faculty Visit

In October 2011, Dr. Michael Galko visited the Biochemistry Department at the University of Puerto Rico. He presented a seminar on his research, taught a class/journal club in the gene expression course and co-arranged a laboratory practical on Drosophila with Dr. Bruno Marie at the Institute of Neurobiology which sits on a promontory in old San Juan overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. About six students participated in the laboratory practical where they learned basics of Drosophila genetics, visualization of fluorescently labeled Drosophila tissues, and got some practice dissecting Drosophila larvae.

Future Plans

  • May 2012: Dr. Howard Gutstein and seven trainees from MD Anderson will participate in the May 2012 Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program retreat.
  • Spring 2012: Dr. Xiaobing Shi will visit UPR to lecture in the Department’s Protein Biochemistry course, present a seminar on his research in protein demethylases, and do a workshop on protein array screening for PHD domain-containing proteins.
  • Fall 2012: Dr. Pablo Vivas of UPR will visit our campus to present a seminar, spend time with the department’s faculty and trainees, and meet with other MD Anderson faculty for possible collaboration.

Summer 2010 Retreat

Seven members of the biochemistry department attended a retreat in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, with graduate students and faculty from the University of Puerto Rico medical school RISE program. Dr. Georg Halder gave a keynote presentation and students Andria Schibler and Nam Tonthat also spoke about their research. Four other students and postdocs (Jessica De Orbeta, Amanda Brock, Marenda Wilson-Pham and Wouter Bossuyt) gave poster presentations. The focus of the retreat was career development, and there were many excellent presentations about finding post-doc and faculty positions, writing effective grants, and securing research funding. There was plenty of additional time for socializing and networking with the Puerto Rican students, some of whom have already traveled to MD Anderson to learn laboratory techniques or use available facilities.

The students all agreed that the retreat was a great way to connect with our institutional partner.

“We were warmly welcomed by everyone and had many fruitful intellectual conversations regarding science, careers, and even life. I look forward to our future scientific interactions.“ –Nam Tonthat

This retreat followed Dr. Pierre McCrea’s visit in February, and likewise, this group hopes to build on this partnership in order to allow for future collaboration involving training as well as scientific exchange.

February 2010 Faculty Visit

Left to right: Students Carmelo Orengo, Marina Martínez, Monica Rivera, Ednalise Santiago and Yacidzohara Rodríguez; Dr. Pierre McCrea and Dr. Carmen Cadilla.

Left to right: Students Carmelo Orengo, Marina Martínez, Monica Rivera, Ednalise Santiago and Yacidzohara Rodríguez; Dr. Pierre McCrea and Dr. Carmen Cadilla.

Dr. Pierre McCrea visited the University of Puerto Rico in late February 2010. He was first hosted by Dr. Carmen Cadilla at the Medical Sciences Campus in San Juan, and then by Dr. Jose Garcia-Arraras at the Rio Piedras Campus. The Medical Sciences Campus offers advanced training in the basic and medical sciences (e.g. Ph.D. and M.D.), while the Rio Piedras Campus offers both undergraduate and graduate education. The University of Puerto Rico boasts additional campuses, including one at Humacao, where two former postdoctoral fellows from the Genes & Development program are pursuing junior faculty positions – Dr. Edwin Traverso (Etkin) and Dr. Tania Malave (Dent). Dr. McCrea presented a class in the Eukaryotic Gene Expression course and two research seminars, assisted with a journal club, and led an informal discussion session on career opportunities with approximately 30 graduate student members of the Research Initiative for Scientific Enhancement (RISE) program. He reports productive interactions with motivated and bright students present at both campuses, and along with many other individuals at MDACC and UPR, hopes that further basic science interactions will allow for meaningful exchanges, such as those involving the training of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center