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Last night in a crowded room at the Vista at Valero, the who’s who of San Antonio’s leadership, bioscience, and medical community gathered to honor Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, a South Texas native and local San Antonio leader, with the ninth annual Julio Palmaz Award for his work in bioscience and biomedical education.
The community has awarded the prize to some of the most prestigious scientists and doctors in the country. While it’s hard to top the number of patents on the resume of last year’s recipient, Dr. Robert Langer. Dr. Cigarroa is a major player in the medical world in his own right.
This year’s award was unique in that the festivities were kicked off by Dr. Palmaz himself, who extended his gratitude for the opportunity to have an award given to so many great men and women associated with his name.
“I am humbled to be back in the city of science,” Dr. Palmaz said. “But beyond that, I am even more honored to continue to have the opportunity to be associated with so many great men and women – especially former colleagues like Dr. Cigarroa.”
The University of Texas Health Science Center‘s current President, Dr. William L. Henrich, then introduced Dr. Cigarroa by describing his journey and what it meant to have someone of his stature back in San Antonio.
“I met Dr. Cigarroa during his time at the UT Health Science Center. He is a brilliant transplant surgeon – one of the best in the world. When he first left to take the job in Austin, many bemoaned the loss and some questioned his move from surgery to a highly scrutinized administrative position.
“What they fail to realize, though, is that education saves lives, too … and as head of the entire UT System, Dr. Cigarroa had the chance to directly impact 218,000 students over the course of his tenure as chancellor,” he commended. “And now he is coming back full circle to the place where he began his career, training future doctors and saving lives one at a time. “
Born in Laredo, one of 10 children, Dr. Cigarroa graduated from Yale in 1979 with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned his medical degree in 1983 from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. After spending a dozen years of post-graduate training at the Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Cigarroa returned to South Texas in 1995, when he accepted a position as the director of Pediatric Surgery at the UT Health Science Center. In this role, Dr. Cigarroa led a team that performed the first successful small bowel transplant in a child.
In 2000, Dr. Cigarroa became president of the UT Health Science Center, establishing the Regional Academic Health Center in the Valley, spearheading a new 190,000-square-foot research center for the South Texas Medical Center, and co-creating the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics with the aim to prepare tomorrow’s healers to act with compassion and justice.
In 2009, Dr. Cigarroa took over as chancellor of the UT System, becoming the first Hispanic head of a major collegiate system in the nation’s history. While in office, Dr. Cigarroa not only continued to perform kidney and liver transplants at University Transplant Center, but also worked tirelessly to bring medical schools to both Austin and the underserved Lower Rio Grande Valley.
The speakers thanked Dr. Cigarroa for his commitment as chancellor to transforming UTSA into a tier-one research institution, increasing funding to the the UT Health Science Center, leading the construction of new medical schools, and enhancing the college system’s capacity to produce engineers on a level to meet the state’s demand. He now returns to a city poised to be one of the top bioscience communities of the 21st century.
For his own part, Dr. Cigarroa spoke graciously about the opportunity to come back to a city that has seen massive growth and development in such a short time.
“San Antonio has a $29.2-billion (dollar) biomed industry. Fifteen years ago, we weren’t on anyone’s radar in the science community, but now, thanks to the leadership of groups like BioMed SA, San Antonio is (now) the city of science,” he said. “I’ve always said that it is the best city in the country to raise a family and do business and now it’s the best city for science and innovation, too.”
Named after Julio Palmaz, the inventor of the Palmaz stent – which was twice listed as one of the 10 most influential patents by IP World Magazine – it was developed in 2005 by BioMed SA and Henry Cisneros as a way to increase awareness of the bioscience sector and honor the men and women who have led the biggest advancements in the field.
“We rotate each year between giving the award to a local leader in the biomedical world and someone with more national recognition,” said Ann Steven, president of BioMed SA and recent recipient of the San Antonio Business Journal’s Women in Leadership Award. “The idea for the rotation was brought to the table by Henry Cisneros as a way to raise awareness for all of the great innovators found in our own city while also honoring some of the biggest names in science and innovation in the U.S.”
Former Mayor and founding Chair of BioMed SA Henry Cisneros will be honored a 2014 Stem Cell Action Leadership Award for his work to support health care and biomedical research and innovation during the World Stem Cell Summit on Dec. 3 at the Marriott Rivercenter.
While the night centered around celebrating the city’s rapid rise as a player in the bioscience world and Dr. Cigarroa’s many successes, it was, in typical San Antonio family-like fashion, the last line of his speech that garnered the most applause and brought the whole night full-circle:
“Turn on the front porch light, San Antonio, Graciela and I are coming home.”
*Featured/top image: From left: Dr. Julio Palmaz, 2014 award recipient Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, BioMed SA Chair Ken Trevett, and President Ann Steven. Photo by Joel Spring.