In this episode, we talk with Dr. Stephanie Perez at the UT Health San Antonio about her career and passion for pursuing scientific discoveries to make a difference in health and wellness. Dr. Perez shares the story of how new discoveries go from the laboratory to patients, as she appeals for support to keep the science and entrepreneurship continuum going.
BRINGING HOPE TO PATIENTS
When Dr. Stephanie Perez was growing up in San Antonio, she could not have envisioned that the hope and wonder she experienced in childhood playtime would remain a part of her life into her career. “My favorite subject in school was science. I always thought that you studied science to become a medical doctor. That’s where I thought I was headed,” shares Dr. Perez.
As an undergraduate, she studied biology and received a bachelor’s and master’s degree in science from The University of Texas at San Antonio. Instead of going on to medical school, she chose to pursue a doctorate in neuroscience at the region’s only academic health center, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, now called UT Health San Antonio. “When I learned of the opportunities to make science a career, I was fascinated,” said Stephanie. After earning her Ph.D., Stephanie joined a team of researchers at UT Health San Antonio. “We are currently studying Schizophrenia to find better therapies to treat the disorder and possibly find a cure,” she says.
“The (research) team I work with will eventually pursue a patent and seek collaboration with pharmaceutical companies to bring new treatments to patients—it is an amazing feeling to know that my life’s work as a bioscientist brings hope to people suffering from mental health disorders and disease,” added Dr. Perez. “Bioscience is an industry that makes a difference when combined with an entrepreneurial spirit. It begins in the lab, where one discovery leads to the next, which then leads to better treatments and eventually a cure,” Dr. Perez points out.
MAKING LIVES BETTER
Now referred to as UT Health San Antonio™, The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, with missions of teaching, research and healing, is one of the country’s leading health sciences universities. Its Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Health Professions and Graduate School for Biomedical Sciences have produced more than 33,000 alumni who are advancing their fields throughout the world. With six campuses in San Antonio and Laredo, UT Health is the primary driver of the community’s $37 billion biomedical and health care industry.
While teams of researchers at UT Health San Antonio pursue the development of therapeutics and medical devices to impact human health, like many major academic research institutions, it has experienced a decline in federal funding to support bioscience research. Universities rely on private funding to help bridge the gaps caused by rising costs and fewer grants.
The journey to bring new treatments to market, called commercialization, could take more than a decade, which includes rigorous review by the Food and Drug Administration before a drug makes it to market. While the review standards in the United States exceed those of other countries, and set the bar for the protection of patients everywhere, the costs of sustaining research programs, protecting intellectual property and commercializing discoveries continues to rise. Add the lengthy review process of up to 14 years for therapeutics and up to 7 years for medical devices and you have a system that by design costs more over time.
Researchers like Dr. Stephanie Perez face great challenges of finding funding on top of finding cures. “It is my passion for science and people that keeps me going back to the lab. I’m grateful for my career as a scientist and the opportunity to stay in Texas and do what I love,” says Dr. Perez.
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