HARLINGEN — Groundbreaking research in brain health and state-of-the-art treatments have arrived in the Valley.

When the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Institute of Neuroscience opens Nov. 8, Dr. Ihsan Salloum will take the reigns as director.

“It will be really transformative in the Valley in regard to brain diseases and neurological disorders, as well as psychiatry and behavioral disorders,” said Salloum, who is also the new chair of the UTRGV School of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience.

“The institute is a world-class inter-disciplinary clinical and research site,” he said. “We’ll have cutting edge research as well as state of the art clinical care for neurological disorders.”

The primary goal of research, he said, is to improve the lives of people.

“That is our goal,” he said. “So what is really fascinating for me is to try to study the mechanism of disease and develop treatments, and then hopefully bring the treatment to the patient in the best way. That’s what we’re focusing on at the institute, at least in this phase.”

The institute will study and treat such major neurological disorders as Alzheimer’s, which is a serious issue not only in the Valley but throughout the country — and beyond.

“The major emphasis is on Alzheimer’s disease, so we will have an active program,” he said. “In fact, we will have probably the only research center in Texas between UTRGV and the University of Texas at San Antonio for the study of Alzheimer’s.”

Addiction and mood disorders will be another focus of the institute as well as alcoholism. International researchers will study epilepsy and multiples sclerosis.

“I think the strength of the institute will be that it’s multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary,” he said. “We’ll have people from different disciplines.”

Salloum originally hails from Syria and has spent a lifetime studying and practicing psychiatry.

“I specialize in addiction and psychiatry and those are interfaced with addiction and mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorders,” he said. “Certainly psychiatry and neurology and everything related to the brain are at the heart of neuroscience. And so I think the brain is the last frontier and probably the most complex and fascinating.”

Salloum is a diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He’s also an honorary member of the World Psychiatric Association.

“I was in Miami before the Valley, and that also has a big Hispanic population,” Salloum said. “I hope to work with our community the way I worked in Miama, with the unique mental health challenges Hispanics face that stem from illnesses like diabetes and hypertension.”

There’s a very real connection between such chronic diseases as hypertension and diabetes and psychiatric maladies, he said.

A view of the facade of the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) new Institute of Neuroscience (ION) in Harlingen. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

“There is a high association between depression and diabetes,” he said. “High blood pressure, sadly one of the frequent consequences is stroke and sometimes multiple strokes.”

He spoke with great enthusiasm about the technology which will equip the institute such as state of the art MRI machines. A device using transcranial magnetic stimulation will be installed to treat a variety of psychiatric disorders without medication.

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