A Conversation with CEO of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Dr. Schlesinger
This past week the Texas-Israel Chamber of Commerce conducted an interview with internationally renowned physician and scientist, Dr. Larry S. Schlesinger M.D., CEO and President of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute located in San Antonio, Texas.
Dr. Schlesinger detailed the purpose of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and stressed the importance of international collaboration on medical research. Schlesinger also outlined the institutes educational efforts towards developing the next generation of research scientists.
Q. What is the Texas Biomedical Research Institute:
A: A leader in infectious disease research unraveling the mysteries of human illness through innovation and cutting-edge technology.
Q: What is the institute’s mission:
A: Enhancing lives through discovery.
Q: What are its notable contributions to medical academia and medical practice:
A: Texas Biomed scientists were instrumental in research that led to a cure for hepatitis C, a vaccine for hepatitis B, and the development of the high frequency oscillating ventilator that has saved the lives of millions of premature babies. It is currently discovering the causes of malaria resistance, new HIV vaccines, how the immune system changes with age and new animal models for Zika virus infection among others.
Q. Would you consider Texas a national and or international leader in this fields of biomedicine and biotechnology?
A: In specific areas. There are several outstanding university enterprises around the state in biomedicine and biotechnology. In addition, Texas is distinguished for having partner organizations like Texas Biomedical Research Institute – private, not-for-profit organizations whose primary mission is biomedical research and making discoveries that lead to improving the human condition. If you put these together, Texas is a force in biomedicine and biotechnology.
Q. What particular resources does Texas have an advantage in that allows it to play such a major influence in biomedicine and/or biotechnology?
A: In addition to the universities and not-for-profits, there is a growing, vibrant biotechnology corridor throughout Texas – growing particularly in San Antonio. We’re a city that’s on the move. Partnerships with biotechnology are strong. The spirit of collaboration is what distinguishes our community. That is absolutely required when one looks at so-called public/private partnerships in biomedicine and biotechnology.
Q. What improvements can Texas make to lead in the field?
A: We need to have more regular conversations and strategies among biomedical research institutions and this is happening now. For example, the presidents of the University of Texas at San Antonio, UT Health San Antonio, Southwest Research Institute and Texas Biomed have been meeting for months now. We’re developing an agenda of collaboration to collectively elevate the stature of biomedicine and biotechnology in this city. We need more of this. It’s a hyper-competitive world so it cannot be underestimated how important it is that we synergize to maximize our potential as a state.
Q. What are some notable projects and/or discoveries that have been made through collaboration with institutions in other states and countries?
A: Working with partners in international sites, investigators at Texas Biomed are discovering and utilizing new technologies to diagnose tuberculosis. Technology needs to be simple, affordable and accessible. Those technologies are being developed by investigators working with international partners in Ukraine, Guatemala, China and others. In addition, there’s a big problem with drug resistance and malaria. We have leading investigators in that area working at international sites such as Malawi to discover the mechanisms that make a malaria parasite resistant to our current therapies. We’re also looking at the epidemiology of these infections, that is, how they travel internationally and how they acquire this resistance. The majority of research at Texas Biomedical Research Institute is related to the sciences around curing infection. We are particularly strong in the types of infections that cause a huge amount of suffering and death in the world. For example, HIV, tuberculosis and malaria together along with hepatitis viruses represent more than 50% of all human deaths due to infectious diseases in the world each year. We have scientists working in these areas. When you work on infections of importance to global health, you need to establish international cites and partners working in these areas. Texas Biomedical Research Institute has strong collaborative efforts with Mexico (particularly in metabolic diseases), Central and South Africa, Guatemala, China, and other parts of the world in orchestrating our scientific mission.
Q. How important do you believe collaborations with institutions and professionals from other nations is for the advancement of scientific research and medicine?
A: We are a global society and research is moving at the fastest pace it ever has with new technologies. The ability to work with partners internationally is becoming more and more important in the research arena because of access to individuals who have a variety of diseases and the ability to take some of our ideas in diagnostics, therapies and vaccines to the field – so-called clinical trials.
Q. How does international collaboration offer a unique and complementary perspective and approach to problem solving and medicine?
A: I think with limited resources available, it optimizes our research efforts by collaborating internationally. Plus, we live in a time when infections are just a plane ride away. A problem in one country today can become a problem halfway around the world tomorrow.
Q. Is Texas Biomed interested in collaborating with Israeli biomedical and biotechonology institutions?
A: Yes. Through some of my personal collaborations with investigators from Israel, I know that they have terrific capabilities in the biomedical corridor. I can imagine that there would be many opportunities for us to consider as we emerge as a leader in the sciences around infectious diseases in particular.
Q. In your view, in which particular areas of biomedical research and innovation does Israel excel?
A: Diagnostics, genomics and systems biology.
Q. How can we stay informed of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute's work?
A: You can visit the Facebook pages for Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the Southwest National Primate Research Center. We also have a new podcast TXBioBytes from Texas Biomed. You can follow Texas Biomed on YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter. Information about the different ways to donate can be found here.
Q: Lastly, does the research institute have a summer fellowship or similar program that encourages the next generation to pursue biomedical research?
A: Texas Biomed has several opportunities for the next generation of scientists. As CEO, I’m particularly passionate about growing that sector of our operation. One builds internationally renowned research sites in order to provide unique environments for trainees to come and flourish. We have established relationships with UT Health San Antonio as well as UTSA. We have a summer program through our Southwest National Primate Research Center. We also hire college level summer employees through the City of San Antonio Student Ambassador program. In our anticipated growth over the next ten years, we are looking to grow our programs at the high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral levels.