Hispanic Health Research Center

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Hispanic Health Research Center

The Hispanic Health Research Center was established at the Brownsville Regional Campus of the University of Texas School of Public Health in 2003 through funding from the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities at the National Institutes of Health. The primary objective of the Center is to identify the salient risk factors for obesity and diabetes in Americans of Mexican descent living in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. To achieve this goal, we utilize our Clinical Research Unit (CRU), the on-site laboratory facilities including a BSL-3, and engage in community outreach to promote physical activity and healthful food choices in the Hispanic population.

About the HHRC

The Hispanic Health Research Center at the UTSPH at Brownsville is part of the Regional Academic Health Center of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Our building is located on the University of Texas Brownsville Campus, adjacent to the UTB/TSC Life and Health Sciences Building. The faculty have a wide range of expertise, and extensive experience in research and teaching. Research is a major part of the expectations of all faculty as part of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. All faculty are well published and have embarked on research programs and grant writing upon arrival in Brownsville. Links with established scientists at the Houston campus as well as other institutions such as UTHSC-San Antonio, University of Texas at Dallas, Baylor College of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control, University of Colorado, University of Texas at Brownsville, etc. are well established. Further, research links with the medical community across the border area have also been established in order to conduct research on both sides of the border.


The University of Texas School of Public Health at Brownsville laboratory has a 6000 square foot wet-laboratory completed in 2008 This custom-built space has BSL-2 and BSL-3 facilities. The entire laboratory is supplied with deionized SF and Millipore quality water, and with vacuum lines. CO2, and air are also piped. The laboratory was designed to provide high technology and use of high throughput assays for screening large numbers of specimens from our field sites and clinics.

BSL-3: These specialized facilities are under limited access and the entire suite is under negative pressure with respect to the remainder of the laboratory space. It is accessed through an anteroom. The BSL3 room is entirely self-contained with 2 Type IIB cabinets, incubators, freezers, centrifuges, MGIT-960 and a bench top autoclave for pre-sterilizing cultures and other high risk material prior to bagging and transporting to the general autoclave. In this project, management of specimens containing M. tuberculosis will be carried out in the BSL-3 facility.

BSL-2: It is also fully-equipped with different suites for various purposes, including: i) a dark room designed for a FACS Canto II and other imaging equipment, ii) a PCR room for real time PCR (ABI7900), iii) a positive pressure tissue culture room with 1 6ft Class IIA hood, and iv) a chemistry area for liquid and mass spectrometry (Agilent LC/MS) with fume hood and chemical storage and piped gases, iv) autoclave room, v) washroom with autoclave, vi) room for centrifuges and other equipment. The BSL-2 also has a large general laboratory with the least restricted access, comprising about 2,500 square feet. This space allows field studies to occupy dedicated areas for handling, handling and storing of field specimens, and has space for students to pursue projects under supervision. This laboratory includes Type II cabinets for handling blood specimens.

Clinical Research Unit

AnneAnne Rentfro, RN, PhD (left) and Sue Fisher-Hoch, MD (right) operate an NIH-funded Clinical Research Unit (CRU PI Joseph McCormick). It is located in a large suite of offices given us by the Baptist Medical Center in Brownsville. It has a nurse-manager and several highly trained field workers, and a local physician is medical director. Since 2004, the Brownsville CRU has been an integral part of the UTHSC-H General Clinical Research Center, which is now part of the CCTS. The unit is affiliated with The University of Texas School of Public Health (SPH) Brownsville Regional Campus and its Hispanic Health Research Center which focuses on diseases that are common in Hispanic populations. To conduct clinical research in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Brownsville CRU uses a unique team approach tailored to the local community. CRU investigators support the use of promotoras, who are Spanish-speaking community health workers who assist in subject recruitment and are trained in human subject protection and the intricacies of the studies on which they are working. The promotoras work in various settings in the community to identify potential subjects for clinical studies.

Blanca Ortiz Community Outreach Annex

The Blanca Ortiz Community Outreach Annex is located at the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) Brownsville campus and houses many exciting activities. This annex provides vital work and meeting space dedicated to community outreach to improve public health through research and community projects at UTSPH Brownsville.

One part of the annex houses promotoras or lay health workers who are professionals from the community who have been specifically chosen because of their talents in educating, motivating and teaching skills to community members for improving their health. They have been trained in topics such as physical activity, healthful food choices, diabetes and cancer prevention and control through the Tu Salud Si Cuenta! (Your Health Matters!) community wide campaign. The annex also provides a conference room for community meetings, a clinic space used by the Clinical Research Unit for clinical research activities including participant enrollment in the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort. Finally the annex provides an office for local health oriented non-profit organizations including Healthy Communities of Brownsville and The Brownsville Farmers’ Market. These organizations are working to improve the health of the community through environmental change efforts including recycling initiatives and access to locally grown fruits and vegetables. The entire annex is dedicated to community activities and as such is a warm place enriched by the volunteers and staff who work to provide healthy resources for the local community.

HHRC Research

Cameron County Hispanic Cohort

IMG_3052 The CRU staff recruit participants to the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort (CCHC n=2500) from randomly selected homes in the community, and invite them to the CRU for an extensive questionnaire and clinical examination. The major areas of research revolve around obesity, diabetes, and their effect on heart disease, liver disease, infectious diseases and mental health. In addition, the CRU and CCHC serve as a means to evaluate the behavioral and biological effects of population based and clinical interventions. Several publications using data from this important minority, health disparity cohort can be found on our website and many more are in progress. Clinical examinations include anthropometrics, mental health, EKG, and ultrasound. Protocols and data collection are maintained to NIH Good Clinical Practice standards. In addition to clinical information, we obtain and archive serum and blood cells for a range of biological data that complement our behavioral and clinical data. Our laboratory studies range gene expression and flow cytometry (Dr. Mirza and Dr. Qu) to metabolic and serological studies. The CRU is also home to many collaborative nested studies using the CCHC participants, including intervention studies (Dr. Reininger), and cardiology and hepatology studies in collaboration with the Department of Medicine in Houston. We are currently performing 5-year follow-up visits to track our participants and their health. A small satellite clinic is in the community outreach center at the main campus, where CRU staff also assist with other studies such as a pediatric obesity led by Dr. Barroso. The CRU and the CCHC have provided many students with hands on research experience over the years.

Community Outreach Projects

The BRC community outreach programs focus on health problems and solutions specific to the border area. Special areas of interest include intervention research with adults and children to prevent and control obesity and diabetes. Students in Brownsville have a great opportunity to gain invaluable experience in international health with numerous bi-national programs with Mexican organizations and studies in adjacent areas of Mexico.


Tu Salud Si Cuenta

The Your Health Matters!  Curricula are designed to provide scientifically accurate information to community health workers and people outside of the health profession about healthy food choices and physical activity in a manner that promotes individual behavior change and/or policy, environmental and system changes.  For more information, go to Your Health Matters Curricula and become educated on the Fitness For Life, Nutritious Eating, Growing Active Communities, Growing Active Healthy Communities and Tu Salud Si Cuenta. 

Outreach Media

Belinda Reininger: Designs and examines the effectiveness of interventions based on behavioral theory and the Ecological Model to improve health outcomes associated with obesity and related chronic diseases among Mexican Americans.

Brownsville Farmers’ Market

To fight an epidemic of obesity and its life-threatening complications in the Brownsville area, faculty and students at the BRC developed a strong weapon: a farmers’ market loaded with fresh fruits and vegetables. The Brownsville Farmers’ Market is a collaborative effort to provide locally grown produce and increase the awareness of chronic diseases associated with obesity. The market provides affordable fresh produce to the community, and it provides local farmers an outlet to sell their produce. It also gives health care experts the opportunity to educate shoppers on nutrition, obesity and diabetes.

Promotora Outreach

Obesity and Body Image among Mexican-Americans

The research is funded through Salud America!, a subdivision of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, whose aim is to reduce and prevent obesity among Latino youth.


List of Publications (2003 to present)


HHRC in the NEWS

Brownsville Herald - UTB - TSC Professors study exercise for college-aged Hispanic males.

Areas of Research Studies

Genetics, Obesity, Diabetes and Health Disparities

Susan Fisher-Hoch: Clinical, metabolic, immunological, proteomic and genetic studies, including gene expression, focused on understanding and preventing the complications of diabetes obesity and their complications. Translation of these studies to Global Health sites.

Joseph McCormick: Impact of obesity and diabetes on the mental, social and physical health, on the immune system and response to infectious diseases, as well as, intervention studies that could improve the health of the community. Long-term research includes viral hemorrhagic fevers and HIV.

Key Findings in Diabetes’ Link to Tuberculosis

Epidemiologists at the BRC have been conducting binational studies on TB patients identified in pulmonary clinics from South Texas (Hidalgo and Cameron County Health Departments) and northeastern Mexico (Secretaria de Salud de Tamaulipas in Matamoros). They have discovered that people with Type 2 diabetes may be at increased risk of contracting tuberculosis because of a compromised immune system, resulting in life-threatening lung infections that are more difficult to treat. The team has now led three studies that revealed key findings:

  • Type 2 diabetes, especially Type 2 diabetes involving chronic high blood sugar, is associated with altered immune response to TB, and this was particularly marked in patients with chronically high blood sugar
  • Patients with diabetes and TB take longer to respond to anti-TB treatment
  • Patients with active tuberculosis and Type 2 diabetes are more likely to have multi-drug resistant TB

Scale Tests

The CAB-E (Cognitive Assessment Battery English Version) is a collection of scales to test a range of cognitive functions including: 

Depression, Anxiety, Orientation, Memory, Attention, and Literacy.  All of the materials in the CAB-E are designed to be administrated in English only (for testing in Spanish use the CAB-S).  It is assumed that interviews are proper trained and fluent in English.

Cohort Brownsville

  • Anthropometrics & Physical Activity
  • Bioimpedance-EKG
  • Blood Pressure Random Zero
  • Contact and Scheduling
  • Examination Cover Form
  • Diabetes History
  • Family History
  • ID and Demographic Data
  • Laboratory
  • Medical History and Medications
  • Health Results
  • Smoking and Drinking History

Welcome Researchers

The Hispanic Health Research Center of UTSPH-B has an interest in sharing specimens and data with other interested and qualified research groups of individual researchers who may wish to contribute analyses for the benefit of the scientific and health care communities.  We encourage and solicit manuscript proposals and ancillary studies.

Manuscript Proposals:

The manuscripts is to be completed making use of the Cohort/Core data resources and submitting to the Cohort/Core Publications committee PRIOR to obtaining data and writing the manuscript.

Ancillary Proposals:

The ancillary studies is to be completed making use of the Cohort/Core data resources and specimen collections.  PRIOR to obtaining data or specimens, please submit to the Ancillary Studies Committee.