Vital Record » Medicine https://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:49:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Can technology transform health care? https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=can-technology-transform-health-care https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=can-technology-transform-health-care#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 20:19:36 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20946 While technology has revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives – from how we watch movies and listen to music to how we shop and manage our money – health care has lagged behind in its adoption of technology]]>

We’ve all experienced it. You go to your doctor and fill out the same forms on a clipboard every time. A specialist wants to see your X-rays, so you have to drive across town to pick up a CD. Your son has an allergic reaction while on vacation and the ER staff doesn’t have access to his medical records. While technology has revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives – from how we watch movies and listen to music to how we shop and manage our money – health care has lagged behind in its adoption of technology.

Health care IT

While technology has revolutionized just about every aspect of our lives – from how we watch movies and listen to music to how we shop and manage our money – health care has lagged behind in its adoption of technology.

But that’s starting to change thanks in part to legislative and regulatory initiatives that are designed to lower costs and improve the efficiency and quality of our health care system. More and more physicians are using electronic health records (EHRs) and other forms of health information technology (HIT) that offer benefits for health care providers and consumers alike, including:

  • Better coordination of care and fewer unnecessary tests and procedures. When caregivers have access to your full medical record they can make more informed care decisions. An EHR can alert one physician to tests and procedures that another physician may have ordered, flag any serious allergies, and allow doctors to track prescribed drugs to prevent possible interactions.
  • Improved communication. Patient portals enable you to communicate directly and securely with your provider, saving missed phone calls and delays and allowing you more hands-on access to your personal health information.

In addition to making health care safer and more convenient, HIT can improve the overall health of our communities. By tracking aggregate data, researchers can identify disease outbreaks, quickly notify affected individuals about unsafe drugs or medical devices, and develop more effective, personalized treatment plans for managing chronic illnesses. And with tools such as telemedicine and remote monitoring, more people can access care from wherever they are, regardless of geography.

Integrating technology into the day-to-day practice of medicine is challenging, and there are logical concerns about who will pay for it and how privacy will be protected. But the benefits are clear; and HIT adoption among health care providers has increased substantially over the last several years. To keep this momentum going and to help current physicians learn to take advantage of today’s HIT tools, Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) and Dell announced the creation of a health technology academy to provide customized information technology education.

Through the academy, TAMHSC and Dell will help increase the technological “literacy” of both current and future physicians and other health care professionals so that they can better integrate new tools and methods into the practice of medicine.

“Technology is changing rapidly and many of today’s physicians have a difficult time staying ahead of the curve,” said Jim Donovan, M.D., vice dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine in Round Rock. “Our goal is to help physicians utilize technology to improve patient outcomes and make their practice more efficient. It’s an area where we can bring real value that benefits patients directly.”

According to Dell’s chief medical officer, Cliff Bleustein, M.D., technology isn’t the only answer to improving the health care system, but it plays an important role. “In an information-driven health care system, the right people have access to the right information at the right time. EHRs are just the foundation of what we are trying to do. Ultimately, we want to help caregivers make the most of technology to provide better, safer care.”

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Texas A&M Health Science Center’s newest faculty member merges clinical excellence with leading scientific discovery https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-health-science-centers-newest-faculty-member-merges-clinical-excellence-with-leading-scientific-discovery https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-health-science-centers-newest-faculty-member-merges-clinical-excellence-with-leading-scientific-discovery#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 22:18:45 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20936 Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and eminent scientific leader known for developing novel treatments for the most challenging childhood respiratory diseases, has joined the faculty of Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC). ]]>

Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and eminent scientific leader known for developing novel treatments for the most challenging childhood respiratory diseases, has joined the faculty of Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC). Cannon, who previously served as director of both the Pediatric Cystic Fibrosis Center and Pediatric Pulmonology Fellowship Training Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is the most recent faculty recruit for the Texas A&M College of Medicine at TAMHSC’s Bryan campus.

14_Cannon_Carolyn_5x7A Children’s Hospital of Boston, Harvard-trained pediatrician with specialty in pulmonology, Cannon will care for patients at Texas Children’s Hospital in the Texas Medical Center, and also will mentor Texas A&M medical and M.D./Ph.D. students in Houston. Additionally, she will provide leadership to new initiatives, such as asthma prevention and screening that will occur under TAMHSC’s new Healthy South Texas initiative.

“Dr. Cannon truly is a role model for future physician scientists and bench researchers. Her passion for patients and students, combined with a dedication to the discovery of novel life-saving treatments are unmatched,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “It is this kind of brilliance, fueled by passion that we want to instill in our students and young faculty so they become the leaders of 21st Century Health Care.”

Cannon is currently a member of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Center for Integrated Nanosystems for Diagnosis and Therapy, led by Karen L. Wooley, Ph.D., W.T. Doherty-Welch Chair in the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry. The ability to more closely collaborate with Wooley was an important factor in Cannon’s transition to Texas A&M. Together, Cannon and Wooley are discovering new ways to deliver therapeutics to fight lung infections in children living with cystic fibrosis. Although the team will focus attention on cystic fibrosis patients, their work offers broader application for therapies aimed at preventing and treating other more common, and oftentimes life threatening, respiratory infections as well.

“This partnership between a pre-eminent bench scientist, Dr. Wooley, and a leading physician-scientist, Dr. Cannon, is the exact recipe for discovering and clinically testing new desperately needed therapeutics.  Their discoveries have the potential to cure even the most resistant organisms that infect children with cystic fibrosis, and also offer hope to adult patients with highly resistant pneumonias,” said Brett P. Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.

This recruitment marks a return to Aggieland for Cannon, who received a bachelor’s degree in bioengineering from Texas A&M and her doctorate from the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences in Houston. Cannon credits the “can do” Aggie attitude with giving her the drive and know-how to tackle previously unchartered scientific territory by combining the problem-solving approach of engineering with a translational approach to research and medicine.

“Dr. Cannon’s and Dr. Wooley’s collaborative work will open new doors at Texas A&M for the development of health-related research that leverage the academically rich environments of the health science center and university – a unique combination of resources not found anywhere else in the world,” Giroir added. “We are becoming one of the fastest emerging, research intensive, innovation-driven health science centers in the nation, and the addition of leaders like Dr. Cannon is just one more example of this emergence.”

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Low-cost TB test means quicker, more reliable diagnosis for patients https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=low-cost-tb-test-means-quicker-more-reliable-diagnosis-for-patients https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=low-cost-tb-test-means-quicker-more-reliable-diagnosis-for-patients#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:47:06 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20601 A new test for tuberculosis (TB) could dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis for one of the world’s deadliest diseases, enabling health care providers to report results to patients within minutes]]>

A new test for tuberculosis (TB) could dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis for one of the world’s deadliest diseases, enabling health care providers to report results to patients within minutes, according to a study published this week in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

Cirillo

TB REaD™ improves the speed and accuracy of a TB diagnosis, allowing health providers to deliver results in 10 minutes and begin treatment in the same patient session.

Jeffrey Cirillo, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, in collaboration with GBDbio, a Texas A&M spinoff company, and investigators at Stanford University, have identified a new chemical compound to spot the bacteria that cause TB with a level of sensitivity that currently takes months to produce; and results of the first human clinical trial data are promising. Findings show the test can determine that a patient has tuberculosis with 86 percent sensitivity and 73 percent specificity. Smear microscopy, the most widely used test in the world, has a significantly lower ability to detect TB, ranging between 50 to 60 percent sensitivity.

Although preventable, TB claims three lives every minute, making it the second leading cause of mortality from an infectious disease in the world. Spread through the air when an individual with active TB infection coughs or sneezes, reports show that if left untreated, a person with active TB infects an average of 10 to 15 people each year, leaving a great need for faster, more reliable testing.

Cirillo’s latest breakthrough perfects the technology behind the test. Using a fluorescent substrate, the device targets BlaC – an enzyme produced by the bacteria that cause TB – as an indicator of the bacteria’s presence. Until now, it has not been possible to target a specific TB enzyme for diagnosis.

Once sputum samples are combined with the reactive substance, a battery-powered, portable tabletop device, the TB REaD™, is then used to detect any fluorescence and deliver the diagnosis in as little as 10 minutes.

“It’s simple. Take a sputum sample, treat it with the solution and put it inside the reader,” Cirillo said. “A camera inside looks for a reaction between the sample and solution that produces light. No light, no infection.”

Currently, there is no diagnostic tool comparable to this and while others exist, they take several months to produce the same level of sensitivity; and come with a high price tag. The latest FDA-approved model cost upwards of $20,000. The target price tag on Cirillo’s test is less than $1000 for the reader and less than $5 per test. Additionally, the one-step test will require little technical expertise or resources, should take less than 30 minutes to carry out, and is easily transportable, making it an ideal candidate for field diagnosis in developing countries.

The device significantly undercuts current diagnostic methods, important, given the staggering statistic that if left untreated – a common scenario in countries lacking infrastructure or resources to efficiently screen and follow up with infected patients – a person with active TB has only a 50 percent chance of survival, Cirillo notes.
“Interrupting disease transmission will require early and accurate detection paired with appropriate treatment,” Cirillo said. “Our new, rapid point-of-care TB test dramatically reduces the current delays in diagnosis with incredible accuracy, accelerating appropriate treatment and reducing the death rate of the highly infectious disease. We’re looking at a low-cost, easy-to-use test that has the potential to eradicate TB.”

The test is currently in the later stages of clinical trials with plans to go to market in the next 18 months. Although the first applications will be in TB, Cirillo’s detection platform – Reporter Enzyme Fluorescence – could be applied to many other respiratory diseases and infectious agents.

The research project, previously published in Nature: Chemistry, has garnered support from the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics, the Clinton Health Access Initiative and is supported by the Wellcome Trust.

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Houston Methodist and Texas A&M join forces to enhance physician education and research innovation https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=houston-methodist-and-texas-am-join-forces-to-enhance-physician-education-and-research-innovation https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=houston-methodist-and-texas-am-join-forces-to-enhance-physician-education-and-research-innovation#comments Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:00:24 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20589 Houston Methodist and Texas A&M Health Science Center are partnering to bring more innovative research and medical education to the state through new health professions degree programs in the Texas Medical Center]]>

Houston Methodist and Texas A&M Health Science Center have teamed up to train the next generation of physician leaders in the Texas Medical Center.

Houston Methodist and Texas A&M Health Science Center are partnering to bring more innovative research and medical education to the state through new health professions degree programs in the Texas Medical Center. Beginning in 2015, 24 Texas A&M medical students will begin clinical training and graduate research in Houston, with plans for that number to double by 2016.

“The Texas A&M and Houston Methodist joint degree programs combine the strengths of our institutions to train the next generation of physician leaders,” said Tim Boone, M.D., Ph.D., co-director of the Houston Methodist Institute for Academic Medicine and the new regional vice-dean for the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Our programs will mentor young physicians to nurture their ideas for new cures and treatments, and provide them the skills they need to turn these ideas into realities that improve health for patients everywhere.”

The medical degree program will begin with two years of basic medical science and pre-clinical training at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Bryan and continue with the third year rotation and options for fourth year electives at Houston Methodist Hospital. As part of a joint M.D./Ph.D. degree program, Texas A&M will work with Houston Methodist to provide translational research opportunities on the Houston campus. Those individuals pursuing an M.D./Ph.D. joint degree will take their medical and graduate sciences classes at Texas A&M campuses and complete three to four years of doctoral thesis work at the Houston Methodist Research Institute or the Institute for Biosciences and Technology, both leading medical research institutes.

“Through combined efforts, Texas A&M and Houston Methodist are offering aspiring physicians and clinician scientists a unique, unparalleled educational opportunity in an academically rich environment renowned for scientific discoveries and translational clinical research,” said Brett P. Giroir, CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “These are exciting times for the Aggie family as we continue to build our Houston campus, and in turn, lead world-class research and medical education in the most important health-related district in the world.”

The partnership is part of a larger Houston expansion plan for the Texas A&M Health Science Center and follows the recent announcement of a two-year ground lease in the Texas Medical Center for future construction of a multidisciplinary research and education building adjacent to the Albert B. Alkek Building that currently houses the Texas A&M Institute for Biosciences and Technology.

“We are pleased with the announcement of this partnership between two prestigious members of the Texas Medical Center, Houston Methodist and Texas A&M Health Science Center,” said Robert Robbins, M.D., president and CEO of Texas Medical Center. “This is a great example of the new spirit of collaboration that is emerging across the Texas Medical Center.”

Participating Houston Methodist doctors and scientists will receive Texas A&M faculty appointments and titles.

“This partnership will afford Texas A&M medical students the opportunity for specialized training alongside world-class doctors and scientists at Houston Methodist as they complete their journeys toward becoming the next generation of health care leaders,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of medicine and vice president for clinical affairs, Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Together we are opening new doors for the future of medical education, all the while ensuring Aggie doctors are amply prepared to address the ever-changing health care needs of Texans.”

Mauro Ferrari, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Houston Methodist Research Institute and director of the Houston Methodist IAM, said initiatives like this one join the strengths of two Texas institutions in a way that benefits Texans.

“These are the kinds of programs Texas needs to cut through the barriers to medical innovation. They empower physicians at our nationally recognized hospitals, to partner with our excellent universities and our growing biotechnology industry to use research dollars more efficiently and achieve real progress in treating the worst diseases.”

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Dell and Texas A&M create health technology academy to bridge healthcare’s digital divide https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dell-and-texas-am-create-health-technology-academy-to-bridge-healthcares-digital-divide https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dell-and-texas-am-create-health-technology-academy-to-bridge-healthcares-digital-divide#comments Thu, 05 Jun 2014 13:18:05 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20428 Dell and Texas A&M Health Science Center are combining their expertise to ensure that the 21st Century health care workforce understands the value of health information technology and the role it plays in improving patient outcomes and lowering the cost of healthcare]]>

Dell and Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) have announced the creation of a health technology academy to provide customized information technology education to the ever-evolving health professions workforce.

Dell partnership for health IT education

Dell and Texas A&M Health Science Center are combining their expertise to ensure that the 21st Century health care workforce understands the value of health information technology and the role it plays in improving patient outcomes and lowering the cost of healthcare.

By combining Dell’s technology and consulting expertise with TAMHSC’s innovative research and education programs, the collaborative effort will enhance development, implementation and adoption of novel technologies that will revolutionize information-driven primary care, resulting in improved patient outcomes and overall cost savings across healthcare systems worldwide. Ultimately, the academy aims to advance healthcare discovery and business innovation by increasing providers’ knowledge and understanding of the value of IT through technology-driven continuing medical education for current physicians, new curriculum for medical and health professions students, and training programs for other clinicians.

“As part of our mission, Texas A&M Health Science Center brings together technology, policy making, clinical delivery and scientific advances each and every day in order to shape 21st Century healthcare,” said Brett P. Giroir, M.D., CEO of TAMHSC. “By partnering with Dell, we are leading the way in creation of a highly skilled workforce pipeline and development of a one-of-a-kind think tank intent on serving as a national model for transforming health.” Giroir announced the collaboration during his keynote presentation last night at a summit sponsored by the Texas Healthcare and Bioscience Institute in Austin.

“The advances in healthcare technology today are driving improvements in patient outcomes and providing greater accessibility to quality care around the globe,” said Sid Nair, vice president and general manager for Healthcare and Life Sciences, Dell Services. “This new environment of information-driven healthcare requires an adequately prepared workforce and a pool of supporting talent across the entire spectrum of care delivery.”

Curriculum development is underway, with the goal of launching the first technologically focused continuing medical education program later this year.

 

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Griffith named Distinguished Alumnus of University of Texas-Medical Branch https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=griffith-named-distinguished-alumnus-of-university-of-texas-medical-branch https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=griffith-named-distinguished-alumnus-of-university-of-texas-medical-branch#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 15:36:28 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20320 William Griffith, Ph.D., was honored with the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award from University of Texas-Medical Branch]]>
William Griffith, Ph.D.

William Griffith, Ph.D., was honored with the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award from University of Texas-Medical Branch.

William Griffith, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics, was awarded the 2014 Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Texas-Medical Branch in Galveston, Texas, where he also delivered the commencement address on May 2, 2014.

Dr. Griffith received his Ph.D. from UTMB’s department of pharmacology and toxicology in 1980. He went on to serve as a research associate at the University of London’s School of Pharmacy and then as a postdoctoral fellow at Baylor College of Medicine before joining the TAMHSC College of Medicine. Dr. Griffith also participates as a member of the training faculty in the Texas Consortium in Behavioral Neuroscience, and as a member of the faculty of Texas A&M University’s Institute for Neuroscience.

“It doesn’t really matter what direction you take your career – academia, industry, education, policy,” Griffin told the graduates in his address. “The moral of the story is to take chances and opportunities when they present themselves. You never know how it will turn out… Have fun, and find your passion—you know, whatever makes you love Monday mornings. It is all a big adventure and often good things happen. It certainly did for me.”

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The fungus among us: How engineered baker’s yeast may crack the code for new treatments https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=the-fungus-among-us-how-engineered-bakers-yeast-may-crack-the-code-for-new-treatments https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=the-fungus-among-us-how-engineered-bakers-yeast-may-crack-the-code-for-new-treatments#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 14:32:10 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20317 Researchers are optimistic about new strategies to cure human ailments caused by fungal pathogens, thanks to a lab-engineered strain of simple baker’s yeast]]>
photo of bacteria

Researchers are optimistic about new strategies to cure human ailments caused by fungal pathogens, thanks to a lab-engineered strain of simple baker’s yeast.

Candida. Athlete’s foot. Aspergillosis. Black mold. From the pesky to the deadly, fungi and other eukaryotic parasites may get less press than viruses and bacteria, but they’re nothing to sneeze at. In part, their very real danger is due to how much we have in common with them. But thanks to a lab-engineered strain of simple baker’s yeast, researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine are optimistic about new strategies to cure human ailments caused by fungal pathogens.

“Fungi, as life forms, are more like us than bacteria are, and that poses treatment problems” said Vytas Bankaitis, Ph.D., a researcher in the college’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine. “These organisms are eukaryotes, as are humans, which means that they share structures like nuclei and mitochondria, and their biochemical architectures are very similar to ours. Because they’re less foreign, we can’t kill them as easily. Drugs directed against eukaryotic pathogens aren’t good at discriminating between the fungus and its host.”

Vytas Bankaitis, Ph.D.

“Fungi, as life forms, are more like us than bacteria are, and that poses treatment problems,” says Vytas Bankaitis, Ph.D.

Bankaitis’ team, working alongside colleagues from a number of U.S. and Canadian institutions, are developing new ways to rapidly screen thousands of chemicals for their potential to treat parasitic diseases. The experimental foundations of these efforts, which are now being translated into medical applications, were featured in the January issue of Nature Chemical Biology and in the journal Science.

“We created yeast strains that express pathogen genes, turning them into a tool for identifying small molecules that would block a pathogen’s ability to harm other cells,” Bankaitis said. “In this way, we can more easily determine whether potentially helpful chemicals are inhibiting the desired target gene, while also determining whether they have any ‘side effects’ that would harm the cells we’re trying to protect. This will help researchers more efficiently identify compounds that might be of value in future drug development.”

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Researchers probe healthy gut bacteria for new medical treatments https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=researchers-probe-healthy-gut-bacteria-for-new-medical-treatments https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=researchers-probe-healthy-gut-bacteria-for-new-medical-treatments#comments Fri, 23 May 2014 13:59:49 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20312 A Texas A&M Health Science Center researcher calls it the "12th Man of human health" - healthy gut bacteria could solve infectious diseases, cancer and more. ]]>
photo of yogurt

The benefits of healthy gut bacteria have gained popularity in recent years. It’s one reason why yogurt now outsells ice cream, and why probiotics are a multi-billion dollar industry.

Until the late 20th century, science recognized 11 organ systems—the muscular, skeletal, circulatory, and respiratory systems are just a few. Each plays a role in keeping a living, breathing human body working smoothly, like player positions on a football team. But recently, a new “organ system” has been taking the limelight, one which plays a surprising role in keeping us on our game. This so-called twelfth organ system—the “12th Man of human health,” as Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Assistant Professor (and Aggie ’91) Robert C. Alaniz, Ph.D. likes to call it—is the vast community of beneficial microbes, dubbed the “microbiota,” that live inside of our digestive tract and almost every other body region.

The microbiota is an important part of “us” in a unique way, and impacts our susceptibility to everything from cancer and HIV to obesity and the common cold.

The benefits of healthy gut bacteria have surged into the public consciousness over the past several years. It’s one reason why yogurt now outsells ice cream, and why probiotics are a multi-billion dollar industry. People now understand that the bacteria in our digestive tract are important to our overall health, even if they don’t understand why. Which, strangely enough, is the same position scientists are currently in.

Robert Alaniz, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor Robert Alaniz calls healthy gut bacteria the “12th man of human health,” with possibilities of new medical treatments.

“We’ve learned a lot about the microbiota in the past decade. Vast amounts of research energy have been put into sequencing the genomes of microbes, and cataloging what is present in the gut during health and disease. This research has revealed a great deal about how the microbes in our gut and other body sites contribute to our overall health by improving our metabolism, strengthening our immune system, protecting us from infection, and limiting allergies and autoimmune disorders,” said Alaniz. “That research has laid the foundation for a much more exciting, and potentially life-saving, functional phase of research. Our goal is to focus on what these microbes are producing that we can’t get any other way, and then testing these different molecules in the lab to see how they might benefit human health.”

Once you know that, Alaniz says, you can develop ways to support those beneficial microbial communities, supplement them in a targeted way, or even replicate their positive effects on human health by introducing the microbes’ novel beneficial products directly through dietary supplements or formulated as biologic therapeutics. So what do they expect to find? Immediate research targets include treatments for infectious diseases and complex diseases that involve chronic inflammatory responses, such as colitis, psoriasis and cancer.

Working in partnership with Arul Jayaraman, Ph.D., a professor in Texas A&M’s College of Engineering, Alaniz has been studying compounds produced exclusively by gut bacteria which may act as next generation therapeutic compounds. Alaniz uses multiple animal models of widespread immune-mediated human diseases, where Jayaraman then uses cutting-edge analytical mass spectrometry to identify the essential microbiota compounds that protect the animals from disease.

Once novel compounds are identified, Alaniz then investigates their functional and molecular effects on a number of distinct immune cells with critical roles in health and disease.

Alaniz has big plans for microbiota research at Texas A&M. “It’s the medicine cabinet in our own bodies,” Alaniz said. “If we can unlock its secrets, there’s no telling the implications for human health.”

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“Battle of the bulge” may be linked to body clock in immune cells https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=battle-of-the-bulge-may-be-linked-to-body-clock-in-immune-cells https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=battle-of-the-bulge-may-be-linked-to-body-clock-in-immune-cells#comments Mon, 19 May 2014 17:53:38 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=20273 It’s all in the timing, according to Texas A&M researchers who have confirmed disruption of the internal biological clock plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes. ]]>
Man eating pizza late at night on couch.

Researchers at Texas A&M have found unhealthy eating habits – especially late at night – can disrupt the body clock in immune cells and lead to the development of metabolic diseases like diabetes and obesity.

It’s all in the timing, according to Texas A&M researchers who have confirmed disruption of the internal biological clock plays a key role in the development of metabolic diseases, including obesity and diabetes. Their study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, suggests a high-fat diet alters the timing of our body clock, particularly in immune cells that are involved in mediating inflammation in obesity.

Our “body clock” is located in virtually all cells and controls circadian rhythms, 24-hour cycles that tell our bodies when to sleep and regulate many physiological processes, including inflammation and metabolism. When our circadian rhythms are disrupted, sleeping patterns and metabolism become unbalanced, notes study authors David Earnest, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine’s Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics and Chaodong Wu, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. With combined interests in sleep cycles and nutrition, the duo has jointly explored effects of unhealthy eating on circadian rhythms for a number of years.

“Under normal conditions, circadian clocks help maintain the anti-inflammatory function of immune cells and keep metabolism functioning properly,” said Earnest. “With a high-fat diet, the circadian clock is dysregulated, which intensifies inflammation and fat deposition and leads to systemic insulin resistance and glucose intolerance.”

Earnest notes the internal body clock is akin to a watch. When you have a watch with a weak battery, your watch “loses time,” as do you. You will think it’s 3 p.m., when, because the watch is now running slow, it’s actually 9 p.m. Saturated fatty acids have the same effect as weak watch batteries, making our clocks run long.

Using an animal model, the team tested the effects of over-nutrition on body clocks. The test group was fed a high-fat diet and controls were fed a low-fat diet. The study found that a high-fat diet increased the normal functioning body clock from a 24-hour cycle to a 30-33 hour cycle, particularly in immune cells involved in mediating inflammation. This, in turn, results in six to nine hours of time lost each day, causing critical inflammatory and metabolic processes to occur at abnormal times throughout the day.

“As key components of inflammation in obesity, immune cells contain circadian clocks that regulate daily rhythms in inflammatory responses,” Earnest said. “Our experiment was able to demonstrate that a high-fat diet alters the molecular ‘gears’ of the clock along with the inflammatory responses in these immune cells, which can lead to metabolic disorders.”

The team also conducted novel “bone marrow transplantation” experiments to allow circadian clock disruption only in immune cells used to “re-populate” immuno-deficient recipients.

“The mere ‘breakdown’ of circadian clocks in these immune cells increased adipose and liver tissue inflammation, fat deposition and systemic metabolic dysfunction caused by a high-fat diet,” Wu said.

Independent data from the researchers suggests that “bad” saturated fatty acids (common in high-fat diets) perturb circadian clocks at specific times of the day/night when their pro-inflammatory effects are maximal. With these findings, Earnest is working on a complementary study to show that specific polyunsaturated “good” fatty acids or drugs that target inflammatory pathways could prevent the effects of saturated fatty acids, in both dysregulating the clock and increasing pro-inflammatory responses.

Findings could ultimately lead to therapeutic strategies for treating obesity-related metabolic disorders, especially the progression of insulin resistance in type 2 diabetes and other inflammation-related health disorders such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, arthritis and even recovery from injury-induced inflammation, common in sports injuries.

“Keeping our body clock running properly is vital,” Earnest said. “To promote health, we need to eat healthy foods, and more importantly keep a healthy lifestyle, which includes avoiding sleeping late and eating at night. Time your body right and it will work better.”

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