Vital Record » Medicine Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 27 Mar 2015 19:23:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Finding the right match: Medical students learn where they will do their residencies Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:32:44 +0000 Fourth-year medical students from the Texas A&M College of Medicine recently found out where they will be doing their residencies – the next step on their path to becoming physicians. Soon-to-be graduates "matched" with some of the most prestigious residency programs in Texas and across the nation. ]]>

Kia Ousley, a fourth-year medical student at Texas A&M College of Medicine, has wanted to be a physician ever since she was in eighth grade. Even at that early age, she knew what type of doctor she wanted to be – a family doctor, because that is the type of doctor she saw in her hometown of Goliad, Texas.

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Fourth-year medical student Kia Ousley waits to learn where she will be doing her residency during the College of Medicine’s 2015 Match Day event.

Ousley moved one step closer to her dream March 20 when she found out she has been accepted to a family medicine residency program at UT-Tyler. After completing this three-year residency, Ousley will be able to return to Goliad – or another small town like it – and practice medicine on her own.

Ousley was among 191 fourth-year medical students from the Texas A&M College of Medicine who recently found out where they will be doing their residencies. The occasion was “Match Day” – an annual ritual where all graduating medical students in the United States learn where they have been “matched” to do their graduate medical education, also known as residencies. Since there are more medical students graduating nationally than there are residency slots, some students applied to as many as 100 different programs in order to secure a residency in the specialty of their choice.

Ousley wants to stay in Texas, so she applied to 14 family practice residency programs in the state, and interviewed with nine of them. She did rotations at several different locations, but “knew right away” that UT-Tyler was where she wanted to do her residency.

“There is a big need for doctors in small towns,” Ousley said. “That’s why I picked Tyler.”

The Texas A&M College of Medicine held its 2015 Match Day ceremony in a ballroom at La Frontera Marriott in Round Rock that was packed with soon-to-be-graduates and their families. Each student picked a favorite song to be played as they walked to the front of the room to get their envelope and receive congratulations from Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the College of Medicine.

With her parents and grandmother sitting next to her, Ousley waited patiently until all the envelopes were passed out and the students were allowed to simultaneously open them.

Like Ousley, about half of the students graduating from the Texas A&M College of Medicine this year will be staying in Texas for their residencies. Some soon-to-be graduates were awarded residencies in the most prestigious programs, both in Texas and across the nation. These include programs at Baylor College of Medicine, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Massachusetts General Hospital, Mayo School of Graduate Medical Education, University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Additionally, there were six military matches, a point of pride for a Texas A&M college with roots in military education and a devotion to selfless service.

About half the graduating medical students from Texas A&M will be pursuing careers in primary care such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics and obstetrics/gynecology. Seventeen percent of this year’s students were matched into high-demand specialty areas such as dermatology, orthopaedic surgery, radiology and general surgery. The remainder of the graduates plan to pursue careers in a wide range of fields, including anesthesiology, neurology, otolaryngology, pathology and psychiatry.

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Casey Roth places her picture on the map showing where medical students will be going to do their residencies. She and three of her classmates all matched with an ob/gyn residency program in Dallas, which was her first choice.

“With the increasing population of Texas, we will need more and more physicians in our state, both primary care and specialty physicians,” Ogden said. “We are dedicated to providing the state with the best possible health care through our graduates and it’s great to see so many stay in the state. This is always one of our favorite days in medical school.”

After the students all opened their envelopes and shared the good news with family members and classmates, they went over to a map of the United States and put a picture of themselves in the location where they will be doing their residencies beginning in July.

“It’s really hard to believe I will be in the final years of my training soon,” Ousley said. “It’s a dream come true to have a job I’ve wanted since I was a kid.”

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Not all strokes are created equal: College of Medicine researcher studies how age and sex affect recovery from stroke Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:19:41 +0000 Strokes affect men and women much differently. Farida Sohrabji, Ph.D., is trying to learn why this is - and whether understanding gender and age differences in stroke could lead to better treatments]]>
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Stroke-related deaths have declined over the past 25 years for men, but not for women. Stroke is currently the 3rd leading cause of death in women.

While men are not actually from Mars and women do not hail from Venus, the two genders can be very different when it comes to medical conditions. In the case of stroke, for example, young women have the lowest incidence of stroke, while older women have more strokes than men and don’t recover as well.

Why is this? And could understanding these gender and age differences in stroke lead to better treatments?

These are the questions that Farida Sohrabji, Ph.D., professor and associate chair of the Department of Neuroscience and Experimental Therapeutics in the Texas A&M College of Medicine, is trying to answer.

Sohrabji says one reason that men and women have different risks for stroke may be due to the type of hormones they make and the fact that levels of these hormones change with age. Young women, for example, have high amounts of estrogen, but estrogen levels decline as women age.

This led many researchers to believe that giving estrogen therapy to older women might reduce their risk for stroke, but in reality, studies showed that estrogen treatment could increase stroke risk. Additionally, Sohrabji and her colleagues found that administering estrogen treatment to middle-aged female rats actually made the stroke worse, and caused more brain tissue to die – an outcome that she attributes to the fact that estrogen is not the only hormone that declines as women age.

“Estrogen is the most obvious one because menopause is a huge event in women’s lives so we pay a lot of attention to it and we know a lot about it, but in reality a lot of other endocrine organs are changing,” she says.

Among the other hormones that decline as women become older is a peptide hormone made by the liver called Insulin-like Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1), which plays a key role in the growth of cells and blood vessels.

“IGF-1 levels also go down with age, so essentially in middle-aged women you have a double whammy – low estrogen and low IGF-1,” Sohrabji says.

Sohrabji’s lab has shown that if you give older, estrogen-treated females IGF-1, the combined effect is reduced brain cell death after stroke.

“IGF-1 works wonders when given four hours after a stroke,” Sohrabji says. “It virtually shrinks the size of the infarct (tissue death). We are very excited about the potential this therapy has for use in patients.”

Unfortunately, administering IGF-1 for long periods of time can cause tumors, so the research team must continue searching for alternate therapies that could be used alone or in conjunction with IGF-1.

One potential novel therapy involves exploiting very small RNA molecules that are known as microRNA (miRNA). More than 2,000 different miRNA molecules exist, and each plays a key role in determining what proteins get made in the body.

Sohrabji has discovered that one of these miRNA salvages brain tissue when it is injected intravenously after stroke in older female animals. She believes that microRNA could eventually be a viable stroke therapy.

To further test her theory, Sohrabji has been working with a local group of emergency department physicians to collect blood samples from women who have had strokes and are willing to participate in a research study. By discovering which miRNAs are expressed in patients with good outcomes versus those with bad outcomes, researchers may be able to develop a targeted therapy that will improve the outcome for patients who don’t have enough of the “good” miRNA.

The need for new stroke treatments is great because right now, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) is the only option available and it must be administered within a four-and-a-half hour window after occurrence of a stroke.

“Because some of the symptoms of stroke are different in women than men, many women may be misdiagnosed and may not be eligible in time for tPA therapy,” Sohrabji says. She also notes that since many older women live alone, they are less likely to have someone who can take them to an emergency room.

Sohrabji’s research on women and stroke is part of a growing field known as gender-specific medicine that seeks to exploit naturally occurring differences in age and sex to develop new treatments. She believes her research may have applications to other diseases in which estrogen plays a role.

Sohrabji has received more than $2.5 million in funding from the National Institute on Aging, the National Institute of Neurologic Diseases and Stroke, and the Office of Research on Women’s Health

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Mission BREATHE program combines education and science to target asthma in South Texas Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:49:46 +0000 A new program developed by a researcher in the Texas A&M College of Medicine shows families in South Texas simple things they can do to reduce asthma triggers in the home]]>

As a child growing up in South Texas, medical student Jacob Cobb remembers how difficult it was to control his asthma. Pediatricians and pulmonologists both told him about all of the environmental factors in and around his home that could affect his asthma.

But not all children who grow up in South Texas are fortunate to have such access to health professionals. That’s what prompted Robin Fuchs-Young, Ph.D., a professor of molecular and cellular medicine in the Texas A&M College of Medicine and the Texas A&M Institute of Biosciences and Technology, to develop a new program called Mission BREATHE, which stands for Better Recognition of Exacerbating Asthma Triggers in the Home and Environment.

Asthma_infographic“There is a high prevalence of asthma in South Texas due to agricultural pollution that blows in from across the border, high usage of agriculture pesticides and herbicides, and a variety of other issues associated with poverty, like open trash burning,” Fuchs-Young says. “We wanted to see if we could develop an effective, short intervention program that would be easy for busy families.”

During the summer of 2013, Fuchs-Young worked with medical students Cody Dornhecker and Johanna Villasenor and public health student Temi Ajayi to develop the curriculum for Mission BREATHE.

To gather information about asthma and other environmental health concerns along the Texas-Mexico border, the team visited several communities, including McAllen, Mercedes and Progresso, the later of which is home to one of the oldest colonias – unregulated settlements that lack basic utilities such as water and sewage and also lack environmental protection. Genny Carrillo Zuniga, M.D., Sc.D., an associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health who has developed other asthma education programs in South Texas, helped organize these meetings.

Once the educational program was developed and the study approved, Cobb was one of three medical and public health students who helped test the program with families in McAllen, in collaboration with the Rio Grande Regional Hospital.

“There is much misinformation out there about what asthma is and what potential triggers can be,” Cobb says. “It was very enlightening and satisfying to be able to have real conversations with people directly affected by this disease. I learned that simple, non-invasive measures such as patient education can truly make a large impact on someone’s understanding of and compliance with a physician’s orders.”

Ebunoluwa Babalola, another medical student who participated in the project, says she also enjoyed the opportunity to interact with patients, as well as the other local health care workers who were involved in the project.

“I was exposed to many aspects of research and really had the opportunity to learn a lot,” Babalola says. “I am very glad I was given the opportunity to do this.”

While low-income people may not be able to go out and purchase expensive air purifiers, Fuchs-Young says there are simple things that can be done to reduce asthma triggers in the home. For example, she recalls that during one information-gathering session in Progresso, she asked about what kinds of cleaners the parents use in the home.

“The mothers were anxious to make me understand that they keep their homes very clean, so they talked about using bleach and Fabuloso and other strong cleaners,” Fuchs-Young says. “What they didn’t realize was that using cleaners that have scents or perfume can actually trigger asthma symptoms.”

Fuchs-Young notes that some traditions in the Hispanic culture can pose challenges for children with asthma. For example, it is common for several generations to live together under one roof and to be extremely hospitable to guests. It can be difficult to ask a senior member of the household not to smoke when that relative is the owner of the house. To help overcome this, Mission BREATHE educators describe strategies to guide discussions with members of the household and even provide opportunities for role-playing.

“The entire educational intervention is very gentle, respectful and conversational,” Fuchs-Young says. “It’s less of a formal lesson and more of a dialogue where we invite parents to ask lots of questions. These are very loving and concerned parents who are devoted to their children. We want to help them reduce asthma triggers and symptoms with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life.”

Driven by that goal, Fuchs-Young plans to expand the program with the help of Nicolaas Deutz, M.D., Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology at Texas A&M University. The next phase will involve taking blood samples from children to see if the intervention has worked.

“There are biological markers in the blood that go up when asthma gets worse,” Fuchs-Young explains. “We can use these to monitor their asthma over time.”

Fuchs-Young directs the Community Outreach and Engagement Core of the Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), which is funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. She and Deutz have received a $50,000 pilot project grant from CTEHR to fund the study of biological markers and they hope to  begin collecting blood samples this summer.

Once they have the results of this study in hand, Fuchs-Young says they can apply for additional funding that will enable them to expand the program to other communities.

For his part, Cobb says he plans to return to South Texas to practice medicine, and what he learned from participating in the Mission BREATHE program will definitely come in handy.

“Asthma is a common disease process in both pediatric and adult populations,” he says. “I believe that regardless of what specialty I choose, I will see asthmatic patients. Therefore, being more knowledgeable about non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical interventions will be especially helpful. More and more often in medicine we are attempting to shift toward prevention rather than treatment of disease. If I can prevent an asthma attack from happening by avoiding environmental triggers, why shouldn’t I?”

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Committing the ‘gambler’s fallacy’ may be in the cards, new research shows Mon, 09 Mar 2015 19:29:26 +0000 It’s called the gambler’s fallacy: After a long streak of losses, you feel you are going to win. But in reality, your odds of winning are no different than they were before. For years, the gambler’s fallacy has been thought to be a prime example of human irrationality, but a new study published by researchers from the Texas A&M Health Science Center suggests that our brains naturally soak up the strange statistics of random sequences, causing us to commit the gambler's fallacy]]>

gambling photoIt’s called the gambler’s fallacy: After a long streak of losses, you feel you are going to win. But in reality, your odds of winning are no different than they were before.

For years, the gambler’s fallacy has been thought to be a prime example of human irrationality, but a new study published by researchers from the Texas A&M Health Science Center suggests that our brains naturally soak up the strange statistics of random sequences, causing us to commit the gambler’s fallacy.

The study, which appears in the March 9 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was designed to help understand the gambler’s fallacy at the neural level. Researchers took a computer model of biological neurons and trained it with random sequences. They found that by simply observing a coin being tossed repeatedly, the neurons could learn to differentiate and react to different patterns of heads and tails. Most interestingly, the neurons that preferred alternating patterns such as head-tail significantly outnumbered the neurons that preferred repeating patterns such as head-head.

“In other words, these neurons behaved just like the gamblers in a casino: when the outcome of a fair coin toss is a head, they are more likely to predict that the following toss will be a tail than to predict it will be a head, despite the fact that either pattern is equally probable,” said principal investigator Yanlong Sun, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbial pathogenesis and immunology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Hongbin Wang, Ph.D., a professor of microbial pathogenesis and immunology and a corresponding author on the paper, said the study demonstrates how neurons in our brains react to time-sensitive information.

“The model’s rather surprising behavior has to do with the way these neurons encounter different patterns of heads and tails at different times,” Wang said. “How likely an event is to occur and when it is to occur are two different questions, and traditional theories do not often distinguish them, which can lead to problems.”

The finding that our brains may have naturally learned to commit the gambler’s fallacy has implications for everything from medical decision making to building smarter machines.

“Physicians have these same sort of biases in terms of probabilities, and being aware of these biases and what causes them could help us train physicians to be more accurate in their decision-making,” said Jack Smith, M.D., Ph.D., professor of microbial pathogenesis and immunology and a co-author on the paper.

Smith said the research shows that we need to program machines more like neurons rather than just programming digital computers.

“If a computer is going to interact with humans it has to have similar behaviors, otherwise the interaction is strained,” Smith said. “The more a computer’s behavior is like the behavior we expect from people, the easier the interface between us and the device will be.”

The study also involved researchers from the University of Colorado, HRL Laboratories LLC, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The research was partially funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Office of Naval Research, and Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA).

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Understanding the immune system provides new ways to treat diseases Thu, 05 Mar 2015 16:14:22 +0000 A growing team of researchers in the Texas A&M College of Medicine is trying to understand the basic mechanisms of how the immune system works. This knowledge could be used to develop new treatments for diseases such as multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It also has broad implications for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis]]>
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Koichi Kobayashi, M.D., Ph.D.

As a physician in his native Japan, Koichi Kobayashi felt he had a direct impact on the patients he treated. But he believed there had to be a way to have a wider impact – a way to reach people around the world.

As a result, Kobayashi – who holds both an M.D. and a Ph.D. – decided to switch from treating patients with immunology-related diseases to trying to find new cures for such diseases.

His desire to pursue immunology research led Kobayashi to the United States, where he did a postdoctoral fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine and then spent eight years at Harvard Medical School before joining the Texas A&M College of Medicine in 2012.

As a researcher in the College of Medicine’s Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, Kobayashi is part of a team that is trying to understand the basic mechanisms of how the immune system works.

This knowledge could be used to develop new treatments for an array of diseases, including multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which presents as either Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. It also has broad implications for infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

Kobayashi is working in a variety of areas, but one he is perhaps most noted for is his research related to Crohn’s disease, which is the most common form of inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease is genetically related and there is no effective cure. Anti-inflammatory drugs can help control the symptoms, but the illness typically re-occurs, repeatedly. Long-term use of anti-inflammatory drugs to minimize this acute disease can have a variety of side effects.

While he was at Harvard, Kobayashi discovered a function of a gene called NOD2 that is particularly associated with Crohn’s disease in the small intestine.

“If there is a mutation in this gene, the small intestine can’t control bacterial flora,” Kobayashi explains. “This means the intestine will have more bacteria in it, and it is more susceptible to Crohn’s disease.”

To conduct further research on the relationship between NOD2 and Crohn’s disease, Kobayashi developed an animal model of Crohn’s disease with mice that lack the NOD2 gene. By using this mouse model, Kobayashi hopes to be able to identify fundamental mechanisms that lead to Crohn’s disease, which in turn will help in the development of new ways to treat the disease.

James Samuel, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology, says he was delighted that Kobayashi decided to move his laboratory to Texas A&M.

“Bringing in someone like Dr. Kobayashi really establishes our credibility in the world of innate immunology,” Samuel says. “He has a stellar publication record in some of the most prestigious journals and is making a significant contribution to the basic understanding of immunology.”

Samuel says Kobayashi’s recruitment was part of a larger plan to build a team of investigators who study the broad field of innate immunity. The innate immune system is programmed to recognize common signals from invading pathogens and activate the body’s response to them.

Another new member of this team is Robert Watson, Ph.D, M.P.H., who recently joined the department from the University of California, San Francisco. Watson is trying to understand the mechanisms by which the bacteria that causes tuberculosis is able to modulate the innate immune response to establish an infection. He joins two other tuberculosis researchers in the department – Jeffrey Cirillo, Ph.D., and Regents Professor David McMurray, Ph.D.

“We are trying to bring together a collection of investigators who enhance our ability to complete at the national level in the area of innate responses to infections and other diseases,” Samuel says. He notes that these researchers are part of a growing interdisciplinary group of immunologists that is forming across Texas A&M University.

Since leaving the clinic for the research bench, Kobayashi says there will only be one drawback if his research ultimately leads to new treatments – he won’t get to see the impact on patients firsthand.

“But I will know the impact by the number of patients with these serious diseases who are able to be treated,” he says with a smile.

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Program that screens low-income Texans for colon cancer expands to 17 counties Mon, 02 Mar 2015 14:14:39 +0000 The Texas A&M Health Science Center has received a $1.5 million grant that will enable a colorectal screening program for low-income Texans to continue for another three years and expand its outreach to 17 counties]]>

When Janet Helduser and her husband turned 50, she suggested that they both get colonoscopies to screen for colon cancer, since that is the age at which an initial colonoscopy is recommended.

“He was a tough guy and didn’t really want to have a colonoscopy,” Helduser recalls.

Two years later, her husband died from colon cancer.

“By the time he felt the first pain, the cancer was stage IV (the most advanced), and had already spread to his lungs and liver,” Helduser says.

Stories such as her own make Helduser even more passionate about her role managing a colon cancer screening program in central Texas that is run by the Texas A&M Health Science Center. The program is called C-STEP, which stands for Cancer Screening, Training, Education and Prevention.

The C-STEP program was started in 2011 with a three-year, $2.7 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). The Texas A&M Health Science Center recently received another $1.5 million grant from CPRIT that will enable the colorectal screening program to continue for another three years and expand its outreach to an additional 10 counties.

David McClellan, M.D., proposed the C-STEP program to make colon cancer screening available to Texans living in rural areas.

David McClellan, M.D., proposed the C-STEP program to make colon cancer screening available to Texans living in rural areas.

The idea to start the C-STEP program came from David McClellan, M.D., an assistant professor of family and community medicine in the Texas A&M College of Medicine. McClellan also has a personal reason for being interested in colon cancer – his mother died of the disease when she was 67.

“If she had had a screening colonoscopy, she might be alive today,” McClellan says.

McClellan believes one way to make screening colonoscopies more widely available is to increase the number of family physicians who are trained to perform them – as he himself did when he worked as a family physician in the small town of Spearman, Texas.

“In some towns, the nearest gastrointestinal (GI) specialist might be 150 miles away,” McClellan says.

For help in developing the C-STEP program, McClellan turned to Jane Bolin, Ph.D., J.D., R.N., who is a professor of health policy and management at the Texas A&M School of Public Health. Like McClellan, Bolin also lost her mother to colon cancer.

“It was a very painful thing to watch,” she says.

Colorectal cancer currently ranks third in cancer incidence and cancer-related deaths for men and women in the United States. The incidence of colon cancer is higher in rural communities, and African-Americans tend to have higher rates of colon cancer than some other population groups.

While colonoscopies are recommended every 10 years beginning at age 50, only about half the people who should be screened for colorectal cancer actually get a colonoscopy. One reason for this, Bolin says, is that while Medicaid often covers cancer treatment for the uninsured, it doesn’t provide for routine screenings such as colonoscopies, which can cost anywhere from $800 to more than $3,000.

A recent study by one of Bolin’s doctoral students, Chinedum Ojinnaka, M.P.H., suggested that providing free or subsidized colonoscopies to people in rural areas should be explored as a means of reducing the higher incidence of the disease.

The C-STEP program has two main components – it provides funding to help low-income people receive colonoscopies and it trains young physicians in the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s family medicine residency program how to perform colonoscopies.

A portion of the funds from the initial CPRIT grant were used to purchase colonoscopy equipment for the Texas A&M Physicians clinic in Bryan, Texas, which serves a training ground for the family medicine residency program.

In the first three years of the C-STEP program, family medicine residents performed more than 1,200 colonoscopies, of which more than 800 were funded by CPRIT. Through these colonoscopies, polyps were discovered in 275 people and 11 cases of cancer were found.

Polyps are unwanted growths that, over time, develop into cancerous cells. Colonoscopies can help detect polyps early before they develop into cancer, and the family medicine residents have been trained in how to remove them.

The C-STEP program does not cover cancer treatment, but it does help patients try to identify possible sources of help such as Medicare or Medicaid. Of the 11 cases of cancer that have been found, McClellan says all of them were found early enough that the patients have a good chance of surviving. Patients who had polyps removed are being monitored to make sure they do not develop cancer.

The original CPRIT grant covered colorectal cancer screenings for people in the 7-county Brazos Valley region. The program has recently been expanded to cover a 17-county area and a second screening location has been established in Crockett, Texas, under the direction of J. Patrick Walker, M.D., who also works with physicians in the Texas A&M Family Medicine Residency program.

“We are very excited about this opportunity for our residents,” Walker says.

Walker volunteers regularly at the C.O. Murray Community Clinic in Crockett and says he anticipates many referrals from patients who come to this clinic.

Bolin and McClennan have put together a team of about 50 clinical partners such as Walker who keep an eye out for patients who might need colorectal screenings. They also have 200 community partners such as churches and social service agencies who help get the word out about the availability of the free colorectal screenings.

Bolin, Helduser and McClellan say they hope the C-STEP program will serve as a national model for reducing the incidence of colon cancer, as well as incorporating cancer prevention, screening and education into family medicine residency training programs.

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Alpini named the 2016 Takeda Distinguished Scientist, honored for work in gastrointestinal field Thu, 26 Feb 2015 15:24:46 +0000 Alipini, Gianfranco

Gianfranco Alpini, Ph.D., distinguished professor of internal medicine and medical physiology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Gianfranco Alpini, Ph.D., distinguished professor of internal medicine and medical physiology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC) College of Medicine, was recently named the 2016 Takeda Distinguished Scientist by the Gastrointestinal & Liver Section of the American Physiological Society.

The second most prestigious recognition offered by the Gastrointestinal & Liver Section of the American Physiological Society, the Takeda award is given annually to an outstanding investigator who is internationally recognized for contributions to research in gastrointestinal and liver physiology.

Alpini joined the Texas A&M College of Medicine faculty in 1994 and holds the Nicholas C. Hightower Centennial Chair in Gastroenterology at Scott & White.  Just last year, Alpini was appointed a university distinguished professor, which is among the highest honors awarded to Texas A&M University faculty members.

As a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Research Scholar Award recipient, he also serves as a research scientist with the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTVHCS) as well as director of the Digestive Disease Research Center (DDRC) at Baylor Scott & White Health (BSWH).  The major goal and objective of the DDRC is to discover novel ideas and research findings regarding the digestive system and the liver diseases that affect millions in the United States.

“It is a great honor to represent the university with this distinguished award, and I hope to continue promoting excellence through research and education for many years to come,” Alpini said.  “Thank you for all of the support that I and the DDRC have received from TAMHSC, BSWH and CTVHCS.”

Throughout his career, Alpini has made novel contributions to the science of cholangiocytes (epithelial cells that line the bile duct), the biliary system, melatonin synthesis, clock gene regulation, and the understanding of the role of secretin, a hormone that regulates secretions of the stomach and pancreas and other functions.  His work has led to the development of therapies for specific cholangiocyte/biliary disorders including a biliary and liver cancer, alcoholic liver injury, liver regeneration, primary sclerosing cholangitis and primary biliary cirrhosis.

The goal of Alpini’s current research is to determine the molecular mechanisms by which stem cell derived microvesicles contribute to the recovery of biliary injury through non-coding eRNA and cellular senescence related mechanisms. Alpini’s research program is funded by the National Institutes of Health, VA Merit Award and Research Career Scientist Award and the Hightower S&W endowed chair in Gastroenterology.

Alpini has authored more than 200 peer-reviewed scientific articles, reviews and book chapters, as well as more than 300 abstracts.  He is a Fellow of the American Gastroenterological Association and serves as an editor or on the editorial board of a number of prestigious scientific journals.  He is also a permanent member of the Hepatobiliary Pathophysiology (HBPP) NIH Study Section.  His research team was recognized with a prestigious Research and Development Award for Department of Veterans Affairs Scientists by the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States.

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Texas A&M, DeTar receive accreditation for Family Medicine Residency Program in Victoria Mon, 23 Feb 2015 20:01:51 +0000 Texas A&M College of Medicine and DeTar Hospital in Victoria have received accreditation for a Family Medicine Residency Program that will train more primary care physicians for South Texas]]>

In collaboration with Texas A&M Health Science Center, the DeTar Healthcare System Family Medicine Residency in Victoria has received approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), effective July 1, 2015. The three-year program – which addresses a critical need for more primary care physicians in South Texas – will accept its first six residents in July 2016.

Family Medicine Residency at DeTar creates more physicians for South Texas

Texas A&M College of Medicine and DeTar Hospital in Victoria have received accreditation for a Family Medicine Residency Program that will train more primary care physicians for South Texas.

“As a land-grant university, Texas A&M has always embodied a service-oriented mentality,” said John Sharp, chancellor of The Texas A&M University System. “The DeTar collaboration, and this latest accreditation milestone, brings us one step closer to serving more patients in this community and improving the health of South Texans for years to come.”

Cliff Thomas of Victoria, who serves as Vice Chairman of The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, also expressed his appreciation for the residency program. “This program will make a big difference in the quality of health care, and in the quality of life, for the citizens of our region,” Regent Thomas said.

As part of the Region 5 Texas 1115 Medicaid Transformation Waiver, DeTar requested to establish a Family Medicine Residency Program in South Texas to serve this population, cited as Medicaid underserved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A 304-bed two-hospital system, DeTar provides care for Victoria and its surrounding counties, a 5,200 square mile area with a population of 164,467.

“The DeTar Healthcare System has recruited physicians to this community for more than 80 years as part of our commitment to provide quality medical care to the Crossroads area,” said William R. Blanchard, chief executive officer for the DeTar Healthcare System. “The family medicine residency program allows us to continue this tradition for many years to come.”

The three-year curriculum will train residents to provide comprehensive primary care within a patient-centered medical home environment and encourages graduates to continue practicing in the underserved area. The program will enroll an additional six residents per year, for a total program size of 18 family medicine residents training at DeTar in 2018.

“We have designed our program to meet the unique needs of South Texas, with full spectrum family medicine with obstetrics; tropical and international medicine; cutting edge lifestyle intervention to prevent and reverse diabetes and heart disease; and rural telemedicine experiences,” said Sidney Ontai, M.D., DeTar Family Medicine Residency program director and assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Studies show that the majority of matriculating residents locate within 60 miles of their residency programs, so our curriculum should equip our graduates to serve South Texans well.”

The program received a $150,000 planning grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, part of the $16 million appropriated to graduate medical education by the 83rd Texas Legislature. Partnerships such as this increase access to physicians in underserved areas and are a critical component to growing the health care workforce across the state.

“The Family Medicine Residency Program in Victoria will play a key role in the development of a comprehensive physician workforce solution for the entire state,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Texas A&M is piecing together the puzzle, working with partners like DeTar to develop new programs to alleviate the current primary care shortage, and thus ensuring that all Texans are getting the best care possible.”


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Diet high in red meat may make kidney disease worse Thu, 19 Feb 2015 21:06:35 +0000 Diet can play a key role in whether kidney disease progresses to kidney failure, according to research conducted by a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine]]>

A diet high in red meat may speed the progression of kidney disease.

An estimated 26 million people in the United States have chronic kidney disease, which can lead to complete kidney failure. Once the kidneys fail, patients either need to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week or have a kidney transplant to remain alive. In 2013, more than 47,000 Americans died from kidney disease.

Diet can play a key role in whether kidney disease progresses to kidney failure, according to research conducted by a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

Donald Wesson, M.D., was among the authors of a study that was recently published online by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. The study suggests that a diet high in animal proteins – especially red meat – can worsen the progression of kidney disease.

“Our study found that patients with chronic kidney disease who consumed diets high in animal protein were three times more likely to develop kidney failure than patients who consumed diets high in fruits and vegetables,” Wesson says.

The findings were based on data collected from 1,486 adults with chronic kidney disease who were participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III. The study is believed to be the largest one to look at the long-term impact of diet on kidney disease in humans.

Wesson explains that when humans eat animal proteins such as red meat, the body metabolizes these proteins into acids. The kidneys produce substances to help the body rid itself of this acid, but these substances can hurt kidney function if they remain at high levels in the body over long periods of time.

“It’s like a double-edge sword,” Wesson says. “In the short term these substances can help the kidneys get rid of acid, but in the long-term they can reduce kidney function.”

Wesson has spent more than 30 years studying the impact of diet on kidney disease. His studies have shown that when animals or humans switch from a diet high in animal protein to one high in plant proteins such as fruits and vegetables, kidney function is protected. This is because the body metabolizes plant proteins into bases, not acids.

Wesson currently is a co-investigator on a multi-center, $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to conduct a national study to confirm if reducing dietary acid slows or prevents worsening of kidney disease.

Wesson says that while studies have yet to prove that eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can prevent kidney disease, such diets have already been shown to help to maintain overall good health.

He notes that diets high in fruits and vegetables reduce blood pressure, which is very beneficial to patients with chronic kidney disease because most of these patients have higher than normal blood pressure without treatment.

“We know that fruits and vegetables are ‘heart friendly’ and these ongoing studies will help confirm if they are also ‘kidney friendly’,” Wesson says. “Stay tuned.”


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