Vital Record » Medicine Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 01 May 2015 16:44:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention receives Texas A&M Board of Regents stamp of approval Fri, 01 May 2015 14:23:56 +0000 The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has officially approved establishment of the Texas A&M Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention as an organizational unit under the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology. The formal recognition will play a large role in the two-year-old center’s future growth as it aims to develop treatments using naturally occurring compounds to prevent and manage diseases]]>
Roderick H. Dashwood, director of the Texas A&M Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention.

Roderick H. Dashwood, director of the Texas A&M Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention.

The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents has officially approved establishment of the Texas A&M Center for Epigenetics and Disease Prevention (CEDP) as an organizational unit under the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology. The formal recognition will play a large role in the two-year-old center’s future growth as it aims to develop treatments using naturally occurring compounds to prevent and manage diseases.

“We are incredibly excited about the opportunity to grow this center and its novel approach to natural treatments, which hold great promise in the fields of medicine and preventative health,” said Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.

Led by Roderick H. Dashwood, Ph.D., an expert in epigenetics and dietary cancer prevention, the CEDP takes an innovative approach to disease prevention by implementing a “field-to-clinic” paradigm. This initiative integrates nutrition, chemistry and medicine to transform current approaches to cancer, metabolic disorders and other chronic conditions, by exploring treatments that utilize beneficial agents found naturally in food, such as compounds found in broccoli that guard against prostate cancer.

The center was established in 2013 with support from the Chancellor’s Research Initiative (CRI) and other institutions from the Texas A&M System in order to address new forms of preventative medicine. Currently, the CEDP receives funding from the CRI and various institutes within the Texas A&M System, totaling $9.1 million over five years, and receives over $10 million more in additional funding from the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas.

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Texas A&M Health Science Center partners with St. Joseph Health System to customize health and wellness care for seniors Wed, 29 Apr 2015 17:41:53 +0000 New partnership will provide a forum for research to improve the unique health care techniques for aging populations and utilize a team approach to further the common mission of supporting the overall health and wellness of our community]]>

Doctor examining a senior patient.The Texas A&M Health Science Center and St. Joseph Health System have partnered to develop a health and wellness center in Bryan, Texas, devoted to seniors. Known as the MatureWell Lifestyle Center, this two-story, 23,000-square-footcomplex will offer a single destination for healthy seniors to achieve their wellness goals and a platform to expand health care research and education for mature populations.

Conveniently located adjacent to the Texas A&M Biocorridor – a burgeoning epicenter of biotech development anchored by the Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus – the MatureWell Lifestyle Center will complement the area’s array of developing retail and business entities that are customized to meet the unique needs of seniors and the professional community. While the amenities of the Center are still being developed, plans are underway to break ground later this year.

The partnership will providing a forum for research to improve the unique health care techniques for aging populations and utilize a team approach through interdisciplinary experiences at Texas A&M Health Science Center, led by the Texas A&M College of Medicine. This is exciting progress on the part of both St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Science Center to further the common mission of supporting the overall health and wellness of our community.

“As we continue to develop the Texas A&M Biocorridor as a national center for innovation and health transformation, we remain committed to advancing programs that benefit our patients and the health of our community,” said Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “The MatureWell Lifestyle Center, in partnership with St. Joseph, is a priority project that will enable the highest quality inter-professional resources from Texas A&M Health Science Center – including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and public health professionals – to significantly improve the longevity and quality of life for our growing senior population. This efforts represents the first of many new initiatives for our faculty and students that will develop and implement novel clinical care delivery initiatives, including subspecialty programs, in collaboration with our clinical partner institutions.”

The St. Joseph MatureWell Lifestyle Center in partnership with Texas A&M Health Science Center will offer a single destination where seniors can achieve their health and wellness goals through a full range of services including health care specialists focused on the unique needs of older adults, a fitness area, diagnostic services, and an onsite pharmacy for prescriptions and medication education.

“The College of Medicine is fully committed to improving care for our geriatric patients, and will use this opportunity to improve the systems of care, diagnosis and management of geriatric patients. The goal is to keep the mature population active, healthy and vibrant in the community,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Geriatric care is evolving. We will ensure that our students receive the best geriatric education, and that our faculty, and Texas A&M University can use applied research to provide the best care possible in partnership with the St. Joseph Health System.”

Baby boomers make up about 78 million Americans. As the oldest of them are now hitting retirement age, many have additional medical needs, which will have a marked impact on the U.S. health care system. As such, health care providers across the country are seeking opportunities to advance preventative care and effectively control chronic diseases before the “Silver Tsunami” hits.

“As more and more seniors move to Bryan/College Station to retire, and baby boomers continue to age, this new center puts us at the forefront of changing the way these individuals can achieve their wellness and lifestyle goals right here in our community,” said Kathy Krusie, CEO, St. Joseph Regional Health Center.

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4 Things you didn’t know about Meningitis Thu, 23 Apr 2015 17:05:45 +0000 Most people are familiar with the telltale signs of meningitis – a headache and stiff neck – but little else. To brush up on our knowledge about this potentially deadly disease, we sat down with Dr. Cristie Columbus, who shares information about the different strains and people most at risk]]>
Rearview image of a young man holding his neck, suffering from neck pain.

Meningitis occurs when the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges) become infected and inflamed. This inflammation is responsible for the telltale sign of the infectious disease: a headache and stiff neck.

Most people are familiar with meningitis, at least by name. It seems like every year or so there is an outbreak either in a community or on a college campus. But what actually causes meningitis, and how can it be prevented?

Meningitis occurs when the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meninges) become infected and inflamed. This inflammation is responsible for the telltale sign of the infectious disease: a headache and stiff neck.

“We’re most familiar with the bacterial or viral strains of meningitis, however there are also fungal, parasitic and non-infective types of meningitis, which aren’t as common,” explained Cristie Columbus, M.D., an infectious disease specialist and vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Dallas.

To help brush up on our knowledge of meningitis, we sat down with Columbus to reveal some of the lesser-known facts about the disease.

1. There’s more than one cause of meningitis

Meningitis is often used as a singular term, however there are many different organisms that can affect people. The most common bacterial causes of meningitis include Group B streptococcus, Neisseria meningitidis (also known as meningococcus), Streptococcus pneumoniae, (also known as pneumococcus), and Listeria monocytogenes.

Fortunately, the germs that cause meningitis are not as contagious as the viruses that cause the common cold or the flu, but Columbus still advises following the same precautions to reduce the risk of contraction:

  • Wash your hands regularly
  • Do not eat or drink after others
  • Do not share toothbrushes with people
  • Avoid unpasteurized dairy products
  • Practice safe food handling


2. Different people are at risk for different causes of bacterial meningitis

There are several factors that put people at greater risk for meningitis, including people living in close living quarters (which is why we commonly see outbreaks on college campuses), having a brain or skull injury, immunosuppression and those who have had their spleen removed. However, different types of meningitis pose a higher risk to certain groups of people.

  • Newborns are most often affected by group B streptococcus meningitis
  • Adolescents are at greater risk for meningococcal meningitis
  • Adults with bacterial meningitis are most likely to have pneumococcal meningitis
  • Older Adults (50 and older) and pregnant women are more susceptible to listeria meningitis


3. Meningitis can cause permanent damage

“In severe cases, meningitis can cause permanent damage,” Columbus cautioned. “The most common complication is hearing loss, but it can also cause brain damage, including subtle neuro-cognitive difficulties (such as difficulty remembering specific words or making calculations) and hydrocephalus – caused by inflammation of the base of the brain and the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of the brain.”

In some cases, the infection spreads to other parts of the body (including the bloodstream) and may require amputation of limbs or can even prove to be fatal.

If someone is experiencing the symptoms of meningitis (sudden onset of fever, headache, stiff neck, sensitivity to light, nausea, vomiting and altered mental status or confusion), they should seek medical attention immediately.

4. The original meningococcal vaccine doesn’t cover all the strains

“The conjugate vaccines (Mentactra®, Menveo® and MenHibrix®) cover four different serogroups of Neisseria meningitidis, however, they don’t cover one of the most common strains in the U.S.: serogroup B,” Columbus explained. “Recently two new vaccines were approved to prevent meningitis from serogroup B – Trumenba® and Bexsero®.”

For adolescents, meningococcal vaccine is recommended for pre-teens at age 11 to 12, with a booster at age 16.  For adults who have not previously received the meningococcal vaccine, it is recommended for first-year college students living in a residency hall, military recruits, patients whose spleens have been damaged or surgically removed, patients with a type of immune suppression known as terminal complement deficiency, microbiologists routinely exposed to Neisseria meningitidis and travelers to a country in which the disease is common.

Pneumococcal vaccines to prevent invasive pneumococcal infections, such as meningitis, are recommended for healthy infants and children through age four, for adults older than 65 years and for both children and adults with certain underlying diseases and/or immunocompromising conditions that predispose them to pneumococcal infections.

For more information on the types of meningitis and available vaccines, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Fast Facts: Listeria 101 Wed, 22 Apr 2015 20:08:46 +0000 In the U.S., an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill from listeria each year. This isn’t an everyday, household term – unless you are pregnant and avoiding foods that run a higher risk of contamination, so when a doctor or health official does bring up the disease, it is important to know the basics]]>

Listeria. This isn’t an everyday, household term – unless you are pregnant and avoiding foods that run a higher risk of contamination, or if you hear that your local grocer has announced a recall of foods with potential exposure to the bacteria. So when a doctor or health official does bring up the disease, it is important to know the basics.

We sat down with Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and an infectious disease expert, to find out the facts about this public health issue.

What is Listeria?

Listeria, also known as Listeria monocytogenes, is a hardy bacteria that lives in the intestinal tract of animals that produce milk, including goats, sheep, and cows. It can survive extreme heat and cold, and therefore is commonly found in foods such as processed meats and unpasteurized cheeses and milk. When consumed by human, the bacteria can cause a serious infection known as listeriosis.

Who is most at risk?

In the U.S., an estimated 1,600 people become seriously ill from listeria each year. The disease primarily affects elderly, pregnant women, newborns or very young children, and adults with weakened immune systems. However, rarely, persons without these risk factors can also be affected. Studies show that approximately 10 percent of humans may carry the bacteria, but only a small portion of those carriers develop listeriosis.

What are the symptoms of listeriosis?

Symptoms are similar to that of influenza, including fever, muscle aches, and gastrointestinal issues. Severe cases can lead to meningitis, for which symptoms may advance to include headache, stiff neck, light sensitivity, and confusion. In rare cases, listeriosis can lead to death.

Why is listeria the cause of a number of food recalls?

Listeria is most commonly found in unpasteurized dairy products, but can contaminate other foods, including processed meats, fruits and vegetables. Once introduced into a food processing plant, it is nearly impossible to isolate and clean the infected equipment, so the entire plant must be sterilized. Unlike other bacterial conditions, such as E. coli and Salmonella, refrigeration does not kill listeria. In fact, this particular bacteria can still multiply in temperatures as low as 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Even when the listeria bacteria freezes, it doesn’t die, but rather goes into dormancy; therefore, it survives at significantly lower temperatures than other bacteria.

How can consumers reduce their risks of contracting listeria?

Meat should be cooked to the USDA’s recommended temperatures, and all raw vegetables and fruit should be washed thoroughly. Refrigerators should be kept below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and leftovers eaten within three to four days. Also stay abreast of any food recalls and discard products that are in question.

Ultimately, consumers can reduce their risk of contracting listeria by following standard, safe food preparation and storage.

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New method for cleaning hospital rooms could help stop the spread of ‘superbugs’ Mon, 13 Apr 2015 22:20:38 +0000 When a typical 100-bed hospital sees roughly 10-20 hospital-acquired infections a year it's no wonder "superbugs" like CRE or MRSA are top of mind. New study shows that manual disinfection combined with UV light can kill more than 90 percent of infection causing bacteria]]>
Germ infested hospital bed

Surfaces in hospital rooms such as tray tables, bedrails, call buttons and grab bars can be reservoirs for bacteria.

Can a robot clean a hospital room just as well as a person?

According to Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple, that is indeed the case.

While it may sound more like science fiction than real life, Jinadatha’s research that looks at the effectiveness of a germ-zapping robot to help clean hospital rooms could hold the key to preventing the spread of “superbugs” – in turn, saving countless dollars and, most importantly, lives.

Keeping hospital rooms clean is important to prevent the spread of infections from one patient to another. Surfaces in hospital rooms such as tray tables, bedrails, call buttons and grab bars can be reservoirs for bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can be difficult to treat, and in some cases, fatal.

“A typical 100-bed hospital sees about 10-20 hospital-acquired infections a year,” Jinadatha says. “Our goal is to get to zero infections.”

In addition to the human toll, hospitals now have a financial reason to reduce hospital-acquired infections: beginning in 2017, the federal government will dramatically reduce Medicare payments to hospitals that exceed incidences of certain conditions, such as hospital-acquired infections.

Since the current method of cleaning hospital rooms relies heavily on housekeeping staff, who often have a high turnover rate, Jinadatha has focused his research on using technology to prevent hospital-acquired infections. In particular, he is studying the effectiveness of a pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV) light system that was developed in Texas. Jinadatha has been among the first to study the system since it was introduced in 2011.

The device – which Jinadatha admits bears a striking resemblance to the fictional robot in Star Wars known as R2-D2 – has a large saucer-shaped head on top of a column that rises up to reveal a bulb filled with xenon gas. When the system is switched on, high-voltage electricity passes through the bulb and releases a spectrum of UV light that binds to the DNA of organisms and kills them.

Last year, Jinadatha published a study that compared the effectiveness of manual disinfection alone to manual disinfection plus the use of UV light. This study found that manual cleaning plus UV light killed more than 90 percent of the bacteria, compared to 70 percent with manual cleaning alone. Of particular note was the fact that manual disinfection plus UV light killed 99 percent of the bacteria that cause MRSA.

Jinadatha’s latest study, which was published earlier this year in the American Journal of Infection Control, looked at the effectiveness of UV light disinfection by itself. This study found that in just 12 minutes, the xenon UV light system cut the amount bacteria in the room by about 70 percent – roughly the same level of effectiveness as manual disinfection.

Jinadatha stresses that he would never recommend that a hospital use the UV light system by itself, but he believes it does have value as a “safety net” to kill bacteria that traditional cleaning may miss. Currently, the system is being used in 40 VA hospitals across the country and about 200 private hospitals. He predicts it will eventually become standard equipment at all hospitals.

“There is no one thing that will take away the problem of hospital-acquired infections, but we are slowly chipping away at it,” he says.

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Women’s Health in Neuroscience Program fills a critical research gap Fri, 10 Apr 2015 14:47:56 +0000 The need for more basic research on how neurological diseases differ in men and women is what prompted researchers from the Texas A&M College of Medicine to start the Women’s Health in Neuroscience program. The ultimate goal of the program is to learn how to exploit these differences to develop new therapies. ]]>

In his original career as a pharmacist, Samba Reddy says he frequently encountered female patients with epilepsy who complained that they had more seizures during their menstrual periods. He also noticed that neurologists prescribed the same medications for these women as they prescribed for men – and that the medications were largely ineffective.

After returning to school and earning a Ph.D. in pharmacology, Reddy set out to discover a better way to treat these women. In addition to developing new treatments, he is trying to understand the biological reasons why epilepsy affects men and women of physician and patient looking at brain image

Reddy is among the faculty members in the Texas A&M College of Medicine who are involved with the Women’s Health in Neuroscience program, which was started by Farida Sohrabji, Ph.D., associate chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics. Sohrabji saw a need for more basic research on how neurologic diseases such as epilepsy differ in men and women. The ultimate goal of the program is to learn how to exploit these differences to develop new therapies.

Reddy suspects that women are more prone to seizures around the time of menstruation – a condition called catamenial epilepsy – because the level of a key neurosteroid called allopregnanolone falls around this time.

“Because there is a hormonal component to this disorder, many neurologists don’t even know it exists,” Reddy says. “We are fundamentally ignoring the changes in brain receptors that women are going through.”

Reddy is developing a new paradigm for treating women with catamenial epilepsy that takes into consideration these hormonal changes. A key difference in this therapy, which he calls neurosteroid replacement therapy, is that women only have to take anti-epileptic drugs on a few key days each month rather than every day.

Reddy’s research on how hormonal cycles impact medication could have implications for other drugs that are given to women. For example, he says, the most commonly used sleeping medications, such as benzodiazepines, may work differently at various phases of the menstrual cycle. Migraine headaches offer another potential opportunity to expand Reddy’s research as those that occur around the time of menstruation are often harder to control with conventional medications.

Seizures and migraines aren’t the only afflictions that could factor into the battle of the sexes. Sohrabji’s research focuses on how a person’s age and sex impact their recovery from stroke.

“There are big differences in infarct volume (the amount of brain tissue that dies) as a result of age and sex,” Sobrabji explains. “Young women have the best response – with a very small loss of brain tissue – but males and older women have terrible responses.”

Sohrabji is particularly interested in trying to find a way to help middle-aged women recover from stroke.

“We are learning the hard way with stroke that drugs will work in one sex or the other, in one age group or the other, and in one ethnic group or the other, but there won’t be a one-size-fits-all treatment,” she says.

Many women who have strokes also develop post-stroke depression, and Sohrabji’s lab is one of only a few in the country that are studying this correlation in a pre-clinical model. Her team is trying to see if there are markers in the blood that will predict who is likely to develop post-stroke depression.

Sohrabji also is working with Reddy to study sex and age differences in post-stroke epilepsy. Twenty to thirty percent of people who have strokes develop epilepsy, and many of these patients are women. Sohrabji and Reddy are developing an animal model that will allow them to seek early markers for post-stroke epilepsy and test possible interventions.

“We can’t do anything about the stroke, but we can at least stop something else that is coming,” Reddy says.

A key goal of the Women’s Health in Neuroscience program is to train the next generation of scientists, who will further advance research into gender-specific medicine.

Min Jung Park, Ph.D., is among the postdoctoral research associates who are involved with the program, specifically the post-stroke epilepsy study.

“Like many other scientists, I had not considered gender as a biological variable,” Park says. “The Women’s Health in Neuroscience program offers me a unique opportunity to study how diseases present differently in men and women and apply those findings toward developing new drugs that are specific to women.”

Park notes that in the past, the dosage of drugs administered to women was either scaled up or down depending on their body weight, without giving consideration to the fact that there were physiological differences.

“I am very proud to be part of a program that has set out to fill this critical research gap,” Park says.

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Health Science Center offers new programs to increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:24:02 +0000 College of Medicine and College of Nursing start new programs with the help of grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board]]>

Having a more diverse health care workforce isn’t just a lofty goal. Numerous studies – including one by the Institute of Medicine – have documented that patients from minority communities do better when they are treated by health care professionals with similar backgrounds.

photo of minority student

The Texas A&M College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who apply to medical and nursing school.

That is why the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs they hope will help increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas. Both programs have been funded by grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The College of Medicine has started a three-part program it calls the Aggie Doctor Initiative. This initiative is designed to help prospective medical students at key stages in their academic careers: their first year of college, the medical school application process, and their first year of medical school.

The initiative launched last fall with the selection of 25 first-year undergraduate students at Texas A&M University who are participating in an existing program called the FOCUS Learning Community, which is designed to help support low-income students or those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Each of these students was paired with a current Texas A&M medical student who has a similar background. In the fall, the students all took the same chemistry class as well as a common seminar class to help them prepare for exams. The program has also made science tutors and supplemental instruction available for those who want them.

“First-year undergraduate students on a pre-med track face a schedule packed with classes such as chemistry, biology and statistics,” said David McIntosh, assistant dean for diversity at the College of Medicine and director of the Aggie Doctor Initiative. “We lose so many students in that first year.”

After just one semester, McIntosh said the benefits were clear as the program’s inaugural students performed much better in their first semester than pre-med students have done in the past.

“We even had two students earn a 4.0 grade point average,” he said, also noting that the group of students has formed a unique bond, which should provide support as they continue their undergraduate education.

This spring, McIntosh began offering some medically relevant experiences for the undergraduates, such as a suture clinic taught by medical school students. Participants also are shadowing physicians at Health for All, a nonprofit medical clinic in Bryan, and have had the opportunity to work with Mark Sicilio, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and the interim chair of the Humanities Department in the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

“We hope some of these students will attend the Texas A&M College of Medicine, but we will be happy to see them attend any medical school,” McIntosh said. “Some of them will be highly sought after.”

While the first year of college is a pivotal time for all students, sophomores and juniors interested in entering into medicine can still benefit from the Aggie Doctor Initiative through a program called Pre-Med Fellows, which accepted its first 10 participants last fall.

The Pre-Med Fellows program also provides mentoring, as well as an MCAT prep course, a seminar on preparing medical school applications, and the opportunity to sit in on some classes at the College of Medicine. Students who complete the Pre-Med Fellows program and earn a score of 27 on the MCAT will be guaranteed admission into the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Finally, for students entering their first year of medical school, the initiative is launching MedCamp, which will welcome its first 25 participants this summer. These participants will be selected from among applicants who have expressed an interest in remediating healthcare disparities in Texas. These students will have the opportunity to arrive on campus a month early so they can participate in a variety of social and academic activities designed to acclimatize them to life as a medical student.

“In medical school, students have tests every two weeks that cover about as much material as they would have had in a whole semester as undergraduates,” McIntosh said. “Even students who have been high-achieving their entire lives sometimes hit a bump in the road when they get here.”

Students participating in MedCamp will be connected with four mentors to help them as they start medical school – a staff mentor, a clinical faculty mentor, a science faculty member and a mentor who is a second-year medical student.

The College of Medicine received funding from the THECB to run the Aggie Doctor Initiative for two years. After that, McIntosh hopes to secure additional funds to keep the program going and make it available to even more students.

The College of Nursing is using the grant it received from the THECB to develop a program to recruit and retain more nurses from South Texas, specifically Hidalgo County, which is the poorest county in the United States. The goal of the program is to expand the Hispanic nurse workforce, since this is the most underrepresented racial/ethnic group among the registered nurses, with only about 6 percent nationwide.

The college is partnering with South Texas College, the South Texas Health System and the McAllen Independent School District to identify potential candidates beginning as early as middle school who have an interest in the field of nursing. The program, which will leverage the college’s presence at the Texas A&M Health Science Center McAllen campus, will include workshops to talk about careers in nursing and offer application assistance to prospective students.

Jodie Gary, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nursing who is directing the initiative, said the college hopes to double its enrollment of Hispanic students within the next two years. Gary thinks one program that might be particularly appealing to students in the area is the college’s R.N. to B.S.N. program that can be completed online.

“South Texas has fewer nurses with bachelor’s degrees than other parts of the state,” Gary said. “Studies have shown a positive correlation between level of education and patient outcomes, so this is something we can do that will really make an impact in that area.”

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Eating to your heart’s content: How the Mediterranean Diet can improve your heart health Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:05:28 +0000 The Mediterranean Diet is gaining traction for the plethora of health benefits it provides, including heart-health. Studies have shown that adhering the Mediterranean habits reduces the risk of cardiovascular events and strokes]]>
Of all the diets vying for our attention, the Mediterranean diet seems to be the one health care professionals are starting to support.

Of all the diets vying for our attention, the Mediterranean Diet is the one gaining the support of health professionals.

A sunset over the Mediterranean Sea, a perfectly poached salmon on a bed of roasted vegetables and a glass of fine red wine in your hand. This may sound like a dream-like vacation, but it could also be your everyday… well, everything except for the sunset.

Of all the diets vying for our attention, the Mediterranean Diet is the one gaining the support of health professionals. The diet, relying heavily on plant-based foods, can assist with weight management, help decrease the chance of certain cancers and even help maintain a healthy heart.

John P. Erwin III, M.D., a cardiologist and professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, sheds some light on the heart-healthy benefits of the diet.

What to eat

As opposed to a traditional western diet, the Mediterranean Diet downplays starches and red meats and promotes high-fiber vegetables and poultry or fish. Since the diet doesn’t shy away from fats, but rather encourages the consumption of healthy, unsaturated fats, it tends to be more satisfying than other popular diets.

“The Mediterranean Diet emphasizes consuming more vegetables and substituting butters and other fats for healthier alternatives like olive or canola oil,” explained Erwin, who even encourages his patients to adopt the diet.

An average day on the diet would include:

  • Four to eight servings of non-starch vegetables
  • Two to four servings of fruit
  • One to three servings of legumes and nuts (which are good sources of protein)
  • Four to six servings of whole grains
  • One to three servings of low-fat dairy products

While the Mediterranean is mostly plant-based, it does encourage one to three servings of fish or poultry per week. The fish and poultry can be prepared in most fashions, but frying is discouraged. And for those who can’t imagine giving up red meat, don’t worry, the Mediterranean Diet allows for the occasional burger three or four times in a month.

In addition, women are allowed to consume one alcoholic beverage per day and men may have up to two drinks, because of their higher body mass and ability to metabolize alcohol quicker.

The benefits

There are a number of benefits to adhering to the diet – including weight loss and management – but ultimately, the diet encourages a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. Studies have shown that following the Mediterranean Diet can also reduce the risk of cardiovascular events and stokes by 38 percent. While the diet is higher in fat than most traditional, heart-healthy diets, its use of unsaturated fats helps to reduce the negative effects saturated fats can have on the cardiovascular system. In addition to its heart benefits, the Mediterranean Diet has also been associated with a lower risk of cancer.

But the good news doesn’t stop there: “In a recent study, it was revealed that people who followed eating habits similar to the Mediterranean Diet experienced a change in the lifespan of their chromosomes. The ends of the chromosomes (telomeres), which hold the strands of DNA together like caps, became longer, which is associated with a longer aging process,” Erwin said.

Since the chromosomes have a longer life cycle, this potentially translates into a longer lifespan for the individual. Even more compelling, this effect could also mean a slower aging process.

It’s a lifestyle, not a diet

“It’s important to realize the Mediterranean Diet is not so much a diet as it is a lifestyle,” Erwin said. “For the benefits to be seen, regular adherence is a must.”

As with all lifestyles, physical activity and exercise are still important. Erwin recommends including 30 to 60 minutes of exercise five times per week to help compliment the diet’s effects on your heart health. Keep in mind that the health benefits of exercise can be attained by moderate, low-impact activities such as walking, biking or swimming.

While the diet promotes many healthy substitutes that can help weight management or lead to weight loss, it is important to be conscious of portion sizes. Large portions can lead to weight gain, which mitigates some of the diet’s benefits. For those trying to lose weight, be sure to still account for portions and calories.

For individuals who are looking to improve their health and lifestyle – and put an end to the diet wars – the Mediterranean Diet may be the answer.

For more information about the Mediterranean Diet and its effects on heart-health, visit the Mayo Clinic’s website.

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Health Science Center announces 2015 Commencement ceremonies, speakers Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:19:38 +0000 State and national healthcare leaders will address students graduating in medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and dentistry]]>

The Texas A&M Health Science Center will host its 2015 commencement ceremonies in May at locations across the state.14335732762_d3357a9745_k

The first ceremony will take place on Friday, May 8, when the College of Nursing holds its commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. in Rudder Auditorium on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. The featured speaker will be Janelle Shepard, B.S.N., M.B.A., senior director of care transitions for the Texas Health Alliance and a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Commencement ceremonies for the College of Medicine and the School of Public Health will be held in Rudder Auditorium on Saturday, May 9. The ceremony for School of Public Health graduates will begin at 9 a.m. and will feature James F. Sallis, Ph.D., distinguished professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego and director of Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sallis is one of the world’s most cited authors in the social sciences, and has been featured in Time magazine as one of the four most effective scientists currently working to address America’s obesity problem.

The ceremony for College of Medicine graduates will begin at 2 p.m. and will feature Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Ling has launched several well-publicized projects at DARPA, including the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which is trying to develop a robotic human arm, and the PREVENT program, which focuses on blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI). Prior to joining DARPA, Ling was an Army doctor and a professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is considered to be the Army’s premier subject matter expert on TBI and was one of the doctors who treated U.S. Sen. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in 2011.

Thomas Menighan, Sc.D., MBA, executive vice president and CEO of the American Pharmacists Association, will be the featured speaker at the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy’s commencement ceremony, which will be held on Saturday, May 23, at 2 p.m. in the Steinke Physical Education Center in Kingsville. Menighan has founded several pharmacy-related companies, including SynTegra Solutions Inc., SymRx Inc., and©.

Maxine Fienberg, D.D.S., president of the American Dental Association, will be the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony for the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, which will be held on Wednesday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Admission to all commencement ceremonies is free and does not require a ticket. For additional information, visit the Texas A&M University commencement website.

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