Originally published December 12, 2014
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
A new partnership between the College of Health Sciences at The University of Texas at El Paso and the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas is increasing collaboration among faculty and students at both universities.
In November, the first students from the Universidad Autónoma de Tamaulipas Unidad Académica Multidisciplinaria Reynosa Aztlán (UAM Reynosa – Aztlán) in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico, came to UTEP to engage in clinical laboratory sciences research.
Alejandra Aldaba and Gustavo Jiménez from the Químico Farmacéutico Biólogo (Pharmaceutical Chemistry Biologist) program at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán spent two weeks in the University’s clinical laboratory sciences lab studying antimicrobial resistance for a pilot project involving UTEP faculty from clinical laboratory sciences, chemistry and pharmacy.
Aldaba and Jiménez had previously traveled to the United States, but this was their first time working in a university laboratory in a foreign country.
“This research opportunity at UTEP helped me realize that I want a career in research,” Aldaba said in Spanish. Aldaba also speaks English, but she felt lucky that she came to UTEP where people also speak Spanish.
“I want to keep studying, but I want to work in research,” she added. “This is an area that requires time, patience and dedication because when you don’t get the results you want (from an experiment), you get exasperated. But once you get it right it’s not just going to help me, it’s also going to help the scientific community. This is something interesting that I want to keep doing.”
Students in the four-and-a-half year program at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán earn the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, pharmacy and biology.
The program is similar to the Clinical Laboratory Sciences curriculum at UTEP, except students at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán also are prepared in pharmacy.
UTEP offers a doctorate in pharmacy through the UTEP-UT Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program.
“The students are able to reinforce some of the material that they’ve learned (at UAM-Reynosa) in our laboratory,” said Delfina C. Domínguez, Ph.D., professor of clinical laboratory science. “Their program is identical to ours expect that they have courses in pharmacy.”
This fall semester, Domínguez is collaborating with Juan C. Noveron, Ph.D., associate professor of chemistry, and José O. Rivera, Pharm.D., director of the UTEP Cooperative Pharmacy Program, to test a polymer Noveron is sensitizing to see if it has properties that inhibit bacteria or infectious agents.
Domínguez is testing the compound using different types of bacteria collected from patients in El Paso and Juárez that she and Rivera gathered during a previous study. Researchers expect to use the primary data to apply for a grant.
“Chemistry is giving us the compound and because of my expertise in microbiology, we do the testing,” Domínguez said, referring to the collaboration. “Dr. Rivera is giving us directions on how to combine certain antibiotics.”
The Tamaulipas students arrived at UTEP Nov. 10 in time to start the project’s testing phase.
Domínguez enlisted Jiménez to evaluate the polymer for antimicrobial properties. Aldaba worked with Jantele Alaniz, a microbiology major at UTEP, to assess the ability of bacterial pumps to exclude ethidium bromide from cells.
“Because of my schedule, I can’t really be (in the lab) a lot so it’s actually good that (Aldaba) came,” Alaniz said as she stepped away from the workstation where she and Aldaba were preparing the cultures. “(Aldaba) is perfecting the protocol that we’re doing. We have control organisms, which were obtained from the Universidade Nova de Lisboa (University of Lisboa) Portugal. These organisms have been modified so that they exclude certain antimicrobial agents. We are testing these controls using an ethidium bromide assay. If they do work, the ethidium bromide cultures shouldn’t have any ethidium bromide in them because they have an efflux mechanism that pumps it out.”
Even though Jiménez has done similar microbiology experiments in the lab at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán, there were some different research protocols he had to follow in the UTEP lab.
The Bunsen burners Jiménez was used to working with in his school’s lab were not available in the bench lab at UTEP, because UTEP uses disposable loops. Students in the clinical laboratory sciences lab also have access to biological safety cabinets and DNA kits, which are not available to students at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán.
“Here you have kits that you use to extract DNA,” Jiménez explained in Spanish. “Over there we do it manually with different reagents and here you have the kits prepared and ready to go. Over there it takes us three to four hours to get the DNA and here you have it in less than an hour.”
Another difference between the two programs is that students at UAM Reynosa – Aztlán have to complete a thesis before they graduate, Jiménez said. The thesis is based on a research project that students have conducted.
“Having that research experience is a bonus when we apply to graduate schools,” Jiménez said.
The opportunity to participate in microbiology research at UTEP has allowed Jiménez to get experience in an area that he is interested in and it’s also something that he can highlight in his graduate school applications.
“This is helping me a lot because I’ve always wanted to work in the area of microbiology doing research,” Jiménez said.