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Live from UNLV: University continues top-tier research for betterment of Las Vegas

Becca Schwartz
UNLV via Facebook

Monday marked the first of four live shows that KNPR's State of Nevada will embark on from UNLV's Greenspun Hall. And we started this series in an area that, until very recently, hadn’t gained much attention at UNLV: research.

For almost as long as the university has existed, it’s played second fiddle to the metro area's well-known tourism machine and the Strip.

But, eighteen years ago, then-UNLV President Carol Harter set a goal to raise the university’s status as an academic and research institution.

In 2018, the university attained top-tier research status. Out of 4,000 degree-granting institutions in the U.S., only 146, about 3.7%, had reached that status by the end of 2022.

But even with the university reaching its goal, they don't plan to stop there. They look to not just make more international headlines with their research, but also impact and serve the community they're in.


Gaming and entertainment is the lifeblood of the Nevada economy, and that all goes away if there are no tourists or residents to partake in those industries. UNLV saw an opportunity to make sure tourism remained sustainable and attractive with the launch of their new Tourist Safety Institute at the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs.

The institute aims to collaborate with local, state and federal authorities to improve safety for tourists and residents alike for future Las Vegas events. Greenspun College of Urban Affairs Dean Robert Ulmer expanded on the institute's purpose.

"We do this well, but how can we do it better?" said Ulmer. "And I think if we look at our action plans, or think about F1 coming up and the Super Bowl; this gives us a chance to really look at these events, respond to them and say, what can we do better and then also export our successes around the world."

The institute plans to host seminars, webinars, podcasts, and conferences where authorities and the community can discuss solutions. Ulmer also said the institute is the first of its kind in the world.


Nevada consistently ranks significantly below average in the quality of public education compared to other states. But something that has garnered quite a bit of traction in recent years is the debate over financial literacy in schools. Seven states in the U.S. require some form of financial literacy, and more than a dozen others have introduced legislation in support of it.

UNLV is looking to do something about this with the launch of yet another institute, the Institute for Financial Literacy and Wellness. UNLV already has classes dedicated to financial literacy, but this institute looks to expand that by being available to the community at large and introducing counseling and one-on-one services, with the latter happening in the near future.

Institute director and co-founder, Darwin Hopwood, who also is a finance professor at UNLV, said the institute will provide resources to people that need it perhaps more than others.

"We want to reach out people that maybe haven't had a chance to go to college," said Hopwood. "Here at the university we have a lot of first-gen students, we find that many of those students just haven't had the financial education in the home, than people whose parents have gone to school before them have had. There's different levels where we can apply it and I think no matter what level you're at, you can make your life better and more satisfying by using the information that's out there."


UNLV leadership wants to improve the medical student experience and increase its impact on the community with their recently openedKirk Kerkorian School of Medicine.

The nation is feeling the burn of the ongoing doctor shortage, but Nevada is perhaps feeling it the worst. Add a fast-growing population with an even faster aging population, and the result is more patients than physicians.

The shortage is a direct consequence of the lack of medical residency programs in the state, but the situation gets worse with specialists.

Marc J. Kahn, Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine dean, said dermatology was a good example.

"The key to getting more doctors in our state is to have more residency programs. We need more of them, but we also need them in areas where we don't provide training," said Kahn. "One good example is dermatology. We're a pretty sunny state, and there's not a dermatology training program in the entire state. We have an aging population, and there's not a hematology medical oncology training program in the entire state; and I can go on with others. But, we really see this as our mission to grow these programs to care for our community. We need more docs and we're going to work to try to fix those numbers."

Kahn said the school plans to add 100 more doctors in the future, but he also plans to continue being more politically involved. Recently, he and UNR School of Medicine Dean Paul Hauptman lobbied during this year's legislative session for more medical residency programs in Nevada.


UNLV is well-known in recent years for its medical and scientific research, and professor of medicinal chemistry at UNLV, Chandra Bhattacharya, is working on something that might change the future of blood cancer, Alzheimer's disease and diabetes treatment.

Bhattacharya came from MIT to continue her research on mRNA, which became known to the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic in the development of the vaccine. She focuses on immunotherapy, and although mRNA is already used in immunotherapy, the method in which she and her lab are using mRNA is different.

"In cancer, our immune system is compromised, it cannot recognize the cancer," said Bhattacharya. "There are therapies where the cells from the body, which are the fighter T-cells, are taken out and modified outside the body with RNA and put back. But, the problem is because RNA cannot penetrate a cell, they have to give it an electric shock. Electroporation is the technique, and it kills a lot of cells, so you need a lot of money to purify; it costs like $500,000 per treatment. So, we are trying to develop a therapy which can by just one injection, go to the T cell in the body and express and modify the cells so they can recognize the tumor and kill it. We are sending the mRNA to the body's immune system and kill the tumor, which is immunotherapy, a very growing field."

Bhattacharya said there is potential for this method to provide therapy for other life-threatening diseases, and that she is hopeful and excited for the future.

Guests: Robert Ulmer, dean, Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, UNLV; Darwin Hopwood, professor, Finance Department, UNLV and director, Institute for Financial Literacy and Wellness, UNLV; Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean, Kirk Kerkorian School of Medicine, UNLV; Chandra Bhattacharya, professor of medicinal chemistry, UNLV

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Christopher Alvarez is a news producer and podcast audio editor at Nevada Public Radio for the State of Nevada program, and has been with them for over a year.