The Bio-Island of Puerto Rico: Promoting and Advancing  Basic and Translational Biomedical Research Excellence in Puerto Rico by Nurturing Network Development Among Academic and Industry Scientists.




The University of Puerto Rico (UPR) is a state-funded institution that was established in 1903 as Puerto Rico's first public institution of higher education, is host of the Puerto Rico Alliance for the Advancement of Biomedical Research Excellence (PRAABRE). PRAABRE is a program inspired by the National Institutes of Health Institutional Developmental Awards: IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (INBRE). Thus, PRAABRE is a program whose efforts are to promote the continued development of biomedical research infrastructure in Puerto Rico. Such continued development is achieved through the implementation of a strengthened and cohesive structure and integration of common scientific and educational interests, collaborations, and a newly created Mentoring Initiative.

With the advent of the knowledge-based global economy, Puerto Rico is traversing its way from a manufacturing economy dependent on tax exemption incentives toward an increasingly diversified economy centered on a high-technology industry based on strong and sustainable local Research and Development (R&D) capability. This shift is being heralded by a strategic alliance between the Island's Government, the Research Universities and the Private Sector. PRAABRE will advance the development, coordination and sharing of research resources and expertise and will expand research opportunities for the biomedical research community in Puerto Rico, with emphasis on the Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs) of the Alliance.  This application represents a collaborative effort of the UPR to sponsor research in sixteen institutions in Puerto Rico, listed on Table 1, encompassing three medical schools, a research intensive institution, and a cluster of primarily undergraduate institutions in Puerto Rico with ongoing biomedical research activities.

Table 1. Institutions Comprising PRAABRE: The UPR (described above) will continue to serve as a host to the whole PRAABRE activities.  The UPR-Río Piedras Campus has been classified in 2000 as a Doctoral/Research Intensive University by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and will continue to serve as such in PRABRE.  This UPR campus will host the PRAABRE’s Administration Core, Centralized Research and Instrumentation (CRI) Core with important involvement from the UPR-Medical Sciences Campus (see next).  Three Medical Schools, one in the UPR System, the UPR-Medical Sciences Campus, and two private Institutions, the Universidad Central del Caribe (UCC) and the Ponce Scool of Medicine also are integral constituents of PRAABRE and serve here mainly as Mentoring Institutions.  As mentioned above, the UPR-Medical Sciences Campus will co-serve within the CRI, and also co-host the Science and Technology Education Core (STEC) with the Metropolitant Campus of the Inter American University, one of the ten Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs, see table). The ten PUIs listed in the table below will contribute talented and promising young researchers and their research projects to continue to or become part of the INBRE network in Puerto Rico.  Carlos Albizu University, a Graduate School in Psychology within Puerto Rico’s metropolitan area will also continue being a PRAABRE component.  Finally, the High Performance Computing facility (HPCf), a service facility established at the UPR-Central Administration’s level will serve as the host for the required and continued Bioinformatics Core in PRAABRE.

Table 1. PRAABRE Institutions.

Institution    Category  
University of Puerto Rico (UPR)    PRAABRE host
UPR - Río Piedras Campus    Research Intensive (Carnegie Foundation classification).
UPR - Medical Sciences Campus    Medical School
UPR- Mayagüez Campus    PUI
UPR - Humacao Campus    PUI
UPR - Cayey Campus    PUI
UPR - Bayamón Campus    PUI
Universidad Central del Caribe    Medical School
Ponce School of Medicine    Medical School
Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico    PUI
Universidad Metropolitana (Ana G. Mendez System)    PUI
Universidad del Turabo (Ana G. Mendez System)    PUI
Universidad del Este (Ana G. Mendez System)    PUI
Inter American University (Bayamón Campus)    PUI
Inter American University (Metropolitan Campus)    PUI
Carlos Albizu University    Graduate School of Psychology
High Performance Computing facility of the URP    Bioinformatics core host

Impact on Under-represented Minorities:  An important value-added to the PRAABRE comes from the impact it will have on under-represented minorities.  Collectively, over 40 percent of the undergraduate population in PRAABRE Institutions are first-college generation, 5 percent are disabled, 99 percent are Hispanic, and more than half come from families with annual incomes below poverty level.  It is noteworthy that historically, the UPR-Río Piedras Campus enrollment accounts for 2.3% of all Hispanics in US Higher Education Institutions and 6.9% of all Hispanic graduate students (Snyder, 1993).  Hispanics, who constituted about 12.5% of the US population in 2000 (U.S. Census 2000), account for 6.4% of all bachelor's degrees in science and engineering awarded in the US (Smith, 2000) and for less than 2% of the science pipeline leading to a doctoral degree (Levy, 1992). Importantly, this trend remains today. The leaks and cracks in the academic pipeline for careers in research are further exacerbated by the changing demographic composition of the population and the growing demand for research scientists.  The Hispanic population in the US increased by 57.9%, from 22.4 million in 1990 to 35.3 million in 2000, compared with an increase of 13.2% for the total U.S. population.  In fact, on June 19, 2003, the USA Today reported that with a population of 39 million, Hispanics have become the largest minority group in the United States (El Nasser, 2003).  In the 2006 American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau (, 299.4 million residents were estimated in the U.S. (excluding the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Protectorate Areas), of which 44.3 million (or 14.8%) were Hispanic.  An additional 3.9 million Hispanics were enumerated in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  As the traditional source of scientific talent decreases, special attention must be given to attracting and maintaining minorities in the academic pipeline, lest we be faced with a major shortage of scientific resources that will affect all levels of the research enterprise.  There is a critical need to expand and enhance research development programs that support minorities in their pursuit of careers in biomedical research.  PRAABRE and the enhancements developed through this renewal application aim to ameliorate the pipelining problems by focusing on the development of biomedical research and the research infrastructure at historically Hispanic-serving institutions, such as those in Puerto Rico.


The main goals of the Puerto Rico Alliance for the Advancement of Biomedical Research Excellence (PRAABRE) proposal are to: (1) enhance and strengthen the scientific infrastructure and research competitiveness of the Commonwealth in three specific research areas deemed to be key to advance Puerto Rico's biomedical and behavioral research capacity; (2) elevate the productivity, competitiveness, and number of human resources needed to attract established investigators in those research areas; and (3) promote the development of research skills of talented junior investigators and gifted students. The Alliance created  counts with three distinct institutional types, namely Mentoring, Primarily Undergraduate Institutions (PUIs), and Outreach Institutions.

The UPR, as host of PRAABRE, will team up its main campus (UPR-Río Piedras) and its medical school (UPR-Medical Sciences Campus, UPR-MSC) together with the Ponce School of Medicine and the Universidad Central del Caribe School of Medicine, to serve as Mentoring Institutions for the Alliance.  Nine research subprojects in PRAABRE will be conducted at the Primarily Undergraduate Institutions, namely, the Universidad Metropolitana (of the Ana G. Mendez System), Universidad del Este (Ana G. Mendez System),  and from the University of Puerto Rico the Mayaguez, Cayey, Humacao campuses.  Two junior faculty members will also be sponsored at Mentoring Institutions, at the UPR-MSC and at the UCC.  Outreach activities of PRAABRE (organized and provided by the Science and Technology and Education Core (STEC) will be extended to serve the Outreach Institutions, including the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico, the University of Puerto Rico - Bayamón Campus, the Universidad del Turabo (Ana G. Mendez System), the Carlos Albizu University, and Inter American University - Metropolitan and Bayamón campuses. The Scientific Cluster Areas to be enhanced and strengthen were selected by the PRAABRE Steering Committee (described below) after consensus of all participating institutions, and these will remain similar as during Phase II, namely Neuroscience, Drug Development, and Molecular Medicine.

This renewal of PRAABRE will foster the continued development of the biomedical research infrastructure in Puerto Rico thorough the implementation of a new structure where we have better integrated common interests and functions and created a new Mentoring Initiative that will standardize mentoring protocols and offer Grantsmanship workshops provided through an agreement and collaboration with the Kentucky-INBRE.  Thus, the structure of PRAABRE will present the following cores: Administrative Core, Bioinformatics Core, Science and Technology Competence and Education Core, Centralized Research and Instrumentation Core, and a Scientific Network Core in which the 11 biomedical research subprojects are organized. 

Impact on Puerto Rico’s Workforce and Economy: BIO (Biotechnology Industry Organization,, the world's largest biotechnology organization, has recently enunciated that Puerto Rico’s largest sector of the economy is specialized in three bioscience sub-sectors: Drugs and Pharmaceuticals, Medical Devices and Equipments, and Research.  Puerto Rico has an important pharmaceutical industry that generates one third of the Island Gross National Product.  More than 40 companies operate in the island and, as a result, three-quarters of the 20 top-selling prescription drugs sold in the mainland U.S. are manufactured in Puerto Rico.  These include Lipitor, Viagra, Zoloft, Zocor, Nexium and Propecia, as well as other household names in contemporary medicine.  But manufacturing alone will not secure the future economic success of the Island.  Thus, the government of Puerto Rico is promoting the use of its trained people not only to manufacture, but to research, design, develop and test products, transforming Puerto Rico into the “BioIsland.” The “BioIsland” economic development initiative was release on 2006 and it focuses on developing and enhancing the research capacity in science and biotechnology in Puerto Rico.  The research infrastructure and environment created by the INBRE program has not only enhanced training of students in science and technology but has already led to the generation of 4 patents. Therefore, the INBRE program is contributing to the transformation of the island’s economy into a knowledge-based economy. 


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