Med Center Expansion

A number of institutions in the Texas Medical Center are getting more than $500 million to expand facilities and research. Houston Public Radio's Laurie Johnson has more.

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The influx of new money will flow directly to organizations in the University of Texas System. UT's board of regents approved the plan that will send millions of dollars to Houston for improvements to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the UT Health Science Center, UT Dental Branch and UT Medical School. Dr. James Willerson is the president of the UT Health Science Center at Houston. He says a large chunk of the money will fund a Biomedical Research and Education Center.

"We're going to house much of the stem cell work. We also hope that this research building, where stem cell work will occur, will be a place where scientists from the Texas Medical Center can come together and work with us. If we can bring together many of the scientists concerned with spinal cord injuries and strokes, heart attacks, heart failure and vascular disease, dementia, cancer -- working together on stem cells I think we'll make even more rapid progress."

Expanding adult stem cell research is critical to the center's role in world science, Willerson says. He points out they have been focused on patient treatment using stem cells and it's time to strengthen the department's research efforts.

"I don't know of another center in the United States that has three FDA-approved protocols for treating patients with heart and vascular disease and we were the first to treat patients with heart failure. This new facility, and the opportunity to collaborate should lead to even more extensive advances."

Willerson was the first in the world to treat heart patients with their own stem cells. He says the Texas Medical Center is already among the top leaders in stem cell therapy. But he believes the Biomedical Research Center will attract both students and scientists in greater numbers.

"There's a lot of work to do and we're going to need the best minds in the country and in the world. Research space we need, an opportunity where we can collaborate we need, an ability to expand our research efforts we also need. This new facility will provide all of that."

The Biomedical Research and Education Center will cost $62 million and should be complete within four years. The largest block of funding is a $280 million designation to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to expand the facility's Alkek Hospital. Laurie Johnson, Houston Public Radio News.

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