President Cigarroa receives UNAM’s highest medical award

Celebrating the occasion in Mexico City are, left to right, Dr. Mario Melgar, director of UNAM-San Antonio; Dr. José Narro Robles, dean of UNAM´s School of Medicine; Dr. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, rector of UNAM; and Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, president of the Health Science Center

The nation’s only practicing surgeon/university president, Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., traveled to Mexico City Feb. 20 to receive an honorary award from the oldest university in the Western Hemisphere.

Dr. Cigarroa, president of the Health Science Center, received the Dr. Ignacio Chávez Medal of Merit from the National University of Mexico (UNAM) in a ceremony at UNAM’s Mexico City campus. Dr. Juan Ramón de la Fuente, UNAM rector, presented the award, which celebrates a former UNAM rector and leading international cardiologist, Dr. Chavez.

Dr. Cigarroa is honored for his steadfast commitment to improving the health of residents on both sides of the Texas-Mexico border. During his visit, he spoke to the medical faculty of UNAM, focusing on technology transfer, and addressed the Mexican National Academy of Medicine.

During his acceptance speech, Dr. Cigarroa noted that his great-grandfather, Angel Gonzalez de la Vega, was the first member of his family to graduate from UNAM, and was followed by several others in the family.

Last September, Dr. Cigarroa visited Ciudad Victoria, capital of the northern state of Tamaulipas, to sign an agreement for a master’s degree program in infectious diseases. The Health Science Center is providing assistance to establish the program at the medical school branch in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, across the border from McAllen. The courses will be taught by Tamaulipas university faculty. The master’s degree program will focus on tuberculosis and other infectious diseases that occur with regularity along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Health Science Center also has ongoing initiatives in the northern state of Nuevo Leon. One of the projects is expansion of a prostate cancer screening program to Monterrey, Mexico, to find new biomarkers of the disease in men before they are diagnosed. Other active research projects focus on schizophrenia, lupus and microbial biofilms.

UNAM, founded in 1551, or 69 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, is older than Harvard, Yale or any university in the Americas. Dr. de la Fuente, secretary of health during the administration of President Ernesto Zedillo, is nationally known in Mexican government and society.

Dr. Cigarroa and Dr. Mario Melgar, director of UNAM-San Antonio, welcomed Dr. de la Fuente to San Antonio in March 2002 at a luncheon attended by 200 business leaders, including Tom Frost. Dr. Melgar was present as Dr. Cigarroa received the Chávez Medal.

Dr. Ignacio Chávez (1897-1979) held honorary degrees from 95 universities around the world and in 1962 was named lifetime honorary chairman of the International Society of Cardiology. He was UNAM rector in 1965-66 and held many other offices before and after.

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