Neurosciences research gets $3M boost from The USAA Foundation

SAN ANTONIO (Feb. 6, 2013) — The USAA Foundation has given a $3 million boost to neurosciences research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, which is already a leader in this far-reaching area of study.

The gift will be used to endow The USAA Foundation President’s Distinguished University Chair in Neurosciences. The chair will help retain and recruit international leaders and foster interdisciplinary discovery in neuroscience research, a field that spans all five schools and multiple scientific disciplines at the UT Health Science Center.

The first holder of the chair is Kenneth Hargreaves, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chairman of endodontics in the Health Science Center’s Dental School, whose groundbreaking research soon may lead to a new class of nonaddictive painkillers that hold the promise of impacting burn and cancer patients and others who suffer from severe or chronic pain worldwide.

The USAA Foundation recognizes the value of having a top health sciences university within the community and supports the Health Science Center in its efforts to achieve greater pre-eminence, USAA CEO Josue (Joe) Robles Jr. said. Recruiting and retaining outstanding scientists and clinicians is crucial to the Health Science Center’s ascent.

“We want to compete to bring the best and brightest to San Antonio, where they can make a difference for our community and the world,” Robles said. “This is certainly true in our business community, and it’s particularly true with the Health Science Center, which has the ability to improve so many lives.”

In the larger effort to move the Health Science Center forward, the neurosciences are a natural area of focus, both because of their especially broad impact and the Health Science Center’s existing strengths in that area.

Virtually everyone is affected by one or more of the large number of conditions that fall under the neurosciences, including chronic pain, headache, sleep disorders, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, autism, neuropathies and movement and muscular disorders. The neurosciences also encompass psychiatric conditions, such as mood disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia.

The country’s aging population has brought greater attention to conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. And military conflicts have led to more cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

These conditions have common threads, and research in one area can lead to unexpected breakthroughs in another. This is leading to a new paradigm in the study of neurosciences – one that recognizes that medical and surgical issues often overlap with psychiatric conditions.

The Health Science Center currently has $55 million in annual research funding dedicated to the neurosciences, making them the leading funded scientific area at the university. Faculty working in the neurosciences can be found in all five Health Science Center schools and across any number of departments and divisions.

The university counts two leading neuroscientists among its deans: Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., vice president for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and David Weiss, Ph.D., vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Given the vast expanse of neuroscientific research taking place across the Health Science Center, President William L. Henrich, M.D., M.A.C.P., saw the need to recruit an accomplished investigator to help advance this promising field of study.

“Dr. Henrich recognized that our work in the neurosciences would be enhanced by a leader who can speak to the collective vision that drives our many research projects, and who can use that vision to recruit outstanding faculty, develop exciting new lines of research and encourage collaboration across disciplines,” said Kenneth L. Kalkwarf, D.D.S., M.S., president ad interim of the Health Science Center.

Dr. Hargreaves epitomizes the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to the neurosciences. He holds appointments in the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in addition to the Dental School, and his training includes research fellowships at the neurobiology and anesthesiology branch of the National Institute of Dental Research, one of the National Institutes of Health.

His team, which brings together researchers with backgrounds in medicine, dentistry and the basic sciences, has made importance advances in pain research.

Said Dr. Hargreaves: “Our research is on the verge of a significant breakthrough. A gift like the one The USAA Foundation has made lifts us all and spurs the field forward. It will certainly be transformative in advancing my work and the efforts of our entire team, and it will set a course for future and continued success for generations to come.”

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