Vital Record » Medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 21 Nov 2014 19:22:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Texas A&M Health Science Center advancing Alzheimer’s disease research as coordinating center for new statewide grant program http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-health-science-center-advancing-alzheimers-disease-research-as-coordinating-center-for-new-statewide-grant-program http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-health-science-center-advancing-alzheimers-disease-research-as-coordinating-center-for-new-statewide-grant-program#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 17:29:53 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=22040 The TARCC is comprised of six Texas medical research institutions, including Texas A&M Health Science Center, all working together to advance scientific initiatives aimed at halting the disease in its tracks. One such initiative is a new grant program administered by TAMHSC that encourages utilization of TARCC’s extensive patient cohort]]>
Geriatric nurse caring for an older woman

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.2 million people in the United States are affected by Alzheimer’s disease. Texas in particular ranks third in the nation for the number of Alzheimer’s disease cases and deaths.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, an estimated 5.2 million people in the United States are affected by Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Of those people, more than 500,000 die each year because of this debilitating and incurable disease. Texas in particular ranks third in the nation for the number of Alzheimer’s disease cases and deaths.

In 1999 the Texas State legislature mandated that the Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders establish a consortium of Alzheimer’s disease centers, leading to the formation of the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium (TARCC). Fifteen years later, the TARCC is comprised of six Texas medical research institutions, including Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC), all working together to advance scientific initiatives aimed at halting the disease in its tracks.

One such initiative is the new Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease & Related Disorders TARCC Investigator Grant Program (IGP), a part of the state-funded Darrell K. Royal Texas Alzheimer’s Initiative. The council selected TAMHSC to administer the grant that encourages utilization of TARCC’s extensive patient cohort through the award of five pilot grants of $50,000 each and two larger awards of $125,000 over a two-year period. The TARCC Investigator Grant Program, which specifically targets burgeoning scientists, aims to increase awareness and application of TARCC’s unique and expansive patient data and sample resources in order to stimulate new understandings of Alzheimer’s disease and advance related scientific discoveries.

“The Council has the utmost confidence in Texas A&M Health Science Center to design and administer this important allocation of Alzheimer’s disease research dollars in Texas. We are proud of our affiliation with TAMHSC and the benefit to all Texans that will come from this endeavor,” said Debbie Hanna, Chair Texas Council on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders.

Specifically, the grant program will leverage the TARCC’s Texas Harris Alzheimer’s Study that tracks a diverse group of patients diagnosed with AD and mild cognitive impairment, as well as healthy controls. The study facilitates collaborative AD research projects among the TARCC member institutions and promotes novel, basic and clinical research that develops new insights into mechanisms of AD. One of study’s strengths is that it follows the participants annually in conjunction with regular collection of standardized clinical, neuropsychiatric, and genetic and blood biomarker data and samples. The study is unique in its inclusion of the largest number of Mexican-American participants – the fastest growing population in Texas – ever involved in an ongoing Alzheimer’s research study.

“Given the comprehensive nature of the data collected, as well as the inclusion of Mexican-Americans, the Texas Harris Alzheimer’s Study is an invaluable asset to national AD research” said Farida Sohrabji, Ph.D., professor and associate department chair at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who serves on the TARCC’s Steering Committee and will be responsible for coordinating launch and award administration of the grant program. “Although open to all researchers within the state, the program will target junior-level investigators to provide up-and-coming researchers with financial support to advance studies that utilize this unparalleled resource and spur multi-institutional, collaborative research throughout Texas.”

More information on the grant program and future announcements of application deadlines can be found at: http://www.txalzresearch.org/.

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Reddy elected as a Fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=reddy-elected-as-a-fellow-of-the-american-association-of-pharmaceutical-scientists http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=reddy-elected-as-a-fellow-of-the-american-association-of-pharmaceutical-scientists#comments Tue, 11 Nov 2014 18:47:33 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21956 Samba Reddy, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS)]]>
Dr. Reddy accepting an award from AAPS President, Dr. Morris.

Samba Reddy, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, accepts award from AAPS President Dr. Marilyn Morris.

Samba Reddy, Ph.D., R.Ph., professor of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, has been elected a Fellow of the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS), a lifetime recognition and the highest professional honor of achievement in the pharmaceutical field. The award was presented by the AAPS President Dr. Marilyn Morris at the 2014 AAPS annual meeting and exposition in San Diego this month.

Reddy, a renowned expert in neurotherapeutics, was selected on the basis of “professional excellence as exemplified by a sustained level of superior and distinguished contributions that have a substantial impact in the pharmaceutical field.”

Reddy joined the Texas A&M faculty in 2008 and was previously honored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the Fellow Award for Research Excellence in 2000. His work is centered on finding better medications for treatment of brain disorders such as epilepsy, brain injury and chemical neurotoxicity and he has made pioneering contributions that include development of a neurosteroid-replacement therapy for epilepsy, new epilepsy medication ganaxolone, and tonic inhibition therapy for persistent seizures and neurotoxicity. He successfully designed many model systems, treatment strategies and first-in-class agents for complex brain disorders.

Reddy is a member of several federal committees such as NIH, the Department of Defense and the United States Pharmacopeia. He also serves as editor-in-chief of the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Nanotechnology.

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Wielding Nature’s Sword: Researchers at Texas A&M discover new treatments against drug-resistant infections http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=wielding-natures-sword-researchers-at-texas-am-discover-new-treatments-against-drug-resistant-infections http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=wielding-natures-sword-researchers-at-texas-am-discover-new-treatments-against-drug-resistant-infections#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 19:28:02 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21808 Since World War II, antibiotics have been our only defense against bacterial infection, but overuse and misuse have caused some bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics. Now, researchers at Texas A&M Health Science Center have discovered an entirely new class of antimicrobials that have the potential to kill drug-resistant bacteria]]>

Since World War II, antibiotics have saved countless lives by killing disease-causing bacteria. To this day, traditional antibiotics remain the only treatment against such illnesses, but overuse and misuse have caused some bacteria to develop resistance to commonly used antibiotics. These bacteria, known as multi-drug resistant organisms (MDROs), are able to survive and even multiply in the presence of antibiotics, making treatment against them nearly impossible.

Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric pulmonologist and associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine

Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., pediatric pulmonologist and associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine

But now, after decades of using the same basic ingredients for antibiotics, a new way to treat bacterial infection is finally on the horizon. Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., and her team at Texas A&M Health Science Center have discovered that a new set of compounds synthesized by medicinal chemist Lászlo Kürti, Ph.D., with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, have the potential to kill MDROs. Specifically, the researchers have their sights set on methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) – a bacterial infection caused by a strain of staph bacteria that’s become resistant to commonly used antibiotics, making it so hard to treat, it’s been deemed a “super bug.” This discovery is predicted to yield an entirely new class of treatments for a multitude of drug resistant infections.

“Microorganisms have been battling each other for millennia, so they have a whole armamentarium of ways to kill each other,” said Cannon, who is a pediatric pulmonologist and associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “It’s just a matter of us noticing and isolating those weapons and then synthesizing them for use as treatments against pathogens, the bad guys.”

Penicillin and cephalosporin – the bases for the most commonly used modern antibiotics – were first isolated from fungi. Most new FDA-approved antibiotics are simply tweaks of those original molecules. The first molecule of Cannon and Kürti’s new class of antimicrobials was originally isolated by researchers more than a decade ago from a bacterium that originates from the ocean. Then, only tiny amounts could be extracted from cultures of the bacteria with great effort. Fast forward to present day, and the current team now has developed a simple method to synthesize the molecule and tweak it.

“The beauty of the discovery is that these compounds can now be synthesized in one pot in 30 minutes. It’s a very scalable procedure that can easily yield large quantities,” Cannon said. “We have been able to take the new compounds into the lab to study their activity, and have found that they are more active against MRSA than the gold-standard treatment, vancomycin. Plus, we have found compounds with better activity than the compound made by the bacterium from the ocean.” These constitute a completely new class of antimicrobial molecules that don’t look like anything else currently used in medicine.

While modern-day antibiotics readily go into solutions that can be injected, inhaled or ingested, these new molecules are not water soluble. That factor may seem like a major barrier, but thanks to new nanoparticle technologies, what was once an obstacle has become a momentous opportunity that Cannon’s group, as part of a National Institute of Health’s Program of Excellence in Nanotechnology, has the expertise to seize.

Nanoparticles are simply particles that exist on the nanometer scale (anything up to 100 nanometers is considered a nanoparticle). As a comparison, most bacteria are on the micrometer scale, averaging about a micron or two long. Even the largest nanoparticle – one that is 100 nanometers – is merely a tenth of a micron. Because they are so small, these nanoparticles contain some very useful properties. For instance, they can be designed to slip through sticky mucus and penetrate into biofilms. They can be synthesized from polymers, large molecules composed of many repeated subunits, designed to be broken down in the body.

“Think of a microscopic baseball with a rubber center covered by yarn, then cowhide. Our otherwise insoluble antibiotic contained in the ‘rubber center’ is shielded by a water-loving hydrophilic surface, the ‘yarn,’ which renders the nanoparticle compatible with suspension in a solution. You can decorate the outside, the ‘cowhide,’ with molecules that specifically bind to the surface of bacteria to allow accumulation of the drug at the site of the infection. This nanoparticle delivery is much more targeted than traditional antibiotics,” Cannon said.

Targeting in this precise manner allows for a dramatic drop in the amount of medication that a patient needs in order to kill infection. Further, targeting may spare beneficial bacteria that are often killed secondarily by traditional delivery of antibiotics that are dispensed throughout the body. What’s more, targeting may allow for the use of more potent drugs, since the drugs would merely affect the site of infection and not the entire body.

The next step for Cannon’s team is to test nanoparticles containing the antimicrobial molecules in animal models, which, she says, is very close to happening.

“This really is a game changer in the battle against these enemies we can’t see with the naked eye,” Cannon said. “Now, we have a weapon that is even more precise than those of their natural enemies that have been killing them for eons. We can zero in on and eliminate them with almost no collateral damage, which is huge.”

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Researchers at Texas A&M investigate “the pharmacy inside our bodies” for autoimmunity treatments http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=researchers-at-texas-am-investigate-the-pharmacy-inside-our-bodies-for-autoimmunity-treatments http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=researchers-at-texas-am-investigate-the-pharmacy-inside-our-bodies-for-autoimmunity-treatments#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 18:15:06 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21400 Sometimes we need a good gut check. For Robert C. Alaniz, PhD, Arul Jayaraman PhD, and their interdisciplinary team at the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Texas A&M University, gut checks are taken seriously because they’re not doing them metaphorically. The researchers are actually studying gut bacteria and microbes, referred to as the commensal microbiota, to determine what within this vital system keeps the human body in a healthy balance; and how, if left unchecked, it can knock us out of balance.

The benefits of healthy gut bacteria and microbes 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. The general public now understands that the bacteria in our digestive tract are important to our overall health, even if they don’t understand why.

Robert Alaniz, Ph.D.

Robert Alaniz, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine

“Microbes are partners with us. They have a huge impact on our overall health by improving our metabolism, strengthening our immune system, protecting us from infection and limiting allergies and autoimmune disorders,” said Alaniz, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Our overall research objective 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.”

While some essential compounds, such as fiber, vitamins, and amino acids are provided by the foods we eat, Alaniz says there are potentially thousands of unique molecules produced exclusively by the microbes of our gut.

“We are looking at the biochemical properties of these microbiota compounds and the way they communicate with and regulate the behavior of our immune system,” he said.

Our immune system usually remains quiet, monitoring tissues for infection, damage and foreign bodies. At sites of our body that are exposed to the external environment, where the microbiota are most abundant, the microbiota help maintain this “quiet” state – referred to as homeostasis – when inflammation is under control and limited. When the immune system recognizes something dangerous, like an infectious microbe, it becomes activated, causing an immune response in the form of inflammation.

Normal inflammation appears as fever, a red bump after an insect bite, scar tissue or swelling, which helps our bodies fight the infection and heal. However, when the immune system is unregulated or hyperactivated, more serious problems arise, such as autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even cancer.

Alaniz and his team have already discovered a number of the unique microbiota compounds that promote homeostasis – the normal non-inflammatory state we experience. Their basic science research is unraveling the immune and non-immune cells these compounds regulate and the receptor targets on or inside the cells that recognize the microbiota compounds. Their most recently published research in Molecular Pharmacology reveals the first identification of the host receptor for a handful of these compounds, and that, Alaniz says, will hopefully lead to new therapeutics that can help treat a number of ailments.

In translating their discoveries from the laboratory to the clinic, the researchers have found that in animals with an experimental inflammatory disease, some of the microbiota compounds can be injected, just as any current drug might be, to almost completely cure the disease, without any of the obvious side-effects most current synthetic drugs have.

“We are literally discovering inside our bodies a little pharmacy filled with potential new drugs produced by our microbiota,” Alaniz said. “Our job is to translate these microbiota compounds and formulate them into legitimate next-generation therapeutics with superior safety and efficacy that will transform how we treat the rising incidence of autoimmune and inflammatory disorders in the U.S. and the world.”

Also contributing to the research are Kyongbum Lee, PhD at Tufts University and Stephen Safe, DPhil at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

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Husband and wife research duo join Texas A&M, advance novel protein engineering research to combat cancer http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=husband-and-wife-research-duo-join-texas-am-advance-novel-protein-engineering-research-to-combat-cancer http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=husband-and-wife-research-duo-join-texas-am-advance-novel-protein-engineering-research-to-combat-cancer#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 17:09:25 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21391 The age-old saying still holds true: Two heads are better than one, at least for the newest research team at Texas A&M. Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Ph.D., a molecular immunologist, and her husband, Raimund J. Ober, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer, have joined the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University, respectively]]>

The age-old saying still holds true: Two heads are better than one, at least for the newest research team at Texas A&M. Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Ph.D., a molecular immunologist, and her husband, Raimund J. Ober, Ph.D., a biomedical engineer, have joined the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and Dwight Look College of Engineering at Texas A&M University, respectively. The duo’s move to Aggieland will allow them to continue their interdisciplinary research to generate effective therapeutics for autoimmune disorders and cancer.

Sally Ward

Elizabeth Sally Ward Ober, Ph.D., the newest faculty recruit for the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine

Ward, who previously held the Paul and Betty Meek-FINA Professorship in Molecular Immunology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, is the most recent faculty recruit for the Texas A&M College of Medicine. Ober, who was previously a faculty member at the University of Texas at Dallas, has joined Texas A&M University as a professor of biomedical engineering. He also holds an appointment in the Texas A&M College of Medicine Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine.

“We look forward to carrying out our work in an academic environment that fosters and encourages interactions between researchers from different disciplines,” Ward said.

Ober has pioneered a high-end, state-of-the-art microscopy approach that enables the team to use three-dimensional viewing to understand how antibodies and tumor targets move within cells and, in turn, how the trafficking behavior can be affected by engineered alterations in protein-protein (antibody) interactions. Ultimately, the innovation allows the duo to watch protein trafficking in real time so that they can determine which engineered therapeutic antibodies are going to be most efficient in stopping a tumor from growing. With that information, Ward is leading the way with novel approaches for manipulating antibodies to specifically target cancer cells, rather than by chemotherapy that can kill both healthy cells and cancer cells.

An example of the process can be seen in the team’s development of improved, engineered antibodies to target growth factor receptors such as the HER2 protein for breast cancer therapy. By using the high-resolution, live-cell tracking approach, the duo was able to follow the movement of the marker, gaining valuable insights on the biology of breast cancer. The tracking of individual proteins represents an important means for studying cancer and other diseases at the molecular level, which is a key step in the path to curing such deadly diseases.

“The recruitment of the Ward-Ober research team is a perfect example of the marriage between science and engineering, specifically between molecular biology and device innovation,” said Brett P. Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “Their move to Texas A&M will establish yet another important linkage between medicine and engineering, and the vital role such interdisciplinary collaborations play in scientific discovery.”

The Cambridge University-trained molecular biologist/biochemist and her engineering research partner also bring an impressive funding portfolio, including grants from the National Institutes of Health, Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas and National Multiple Sclerosis Society; as well as multiple high-impact journal publications including: Nature, Science, PNAS, Nature Biotechnology and Nature Methods, among others.

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Piecing together the puzzle: Addressing the primary care shortage http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=piecing-together-the-puzzle-addressing-the-primary-care-shortage http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=piecing-together-the-puzzle-addressing-the-primary-care-shortage#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 22:06:21 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21310 Texas A&M Health Science Center is heeding the call to fill the overwhelming primary care gap, not only by producing more primary care physicians and working with partners where possible to develop new residency programs or expand existing ones, but also by extending health care teams through educational programs in nursing and pharmacy and empowering patients through targeted research and outreach programs]]>

It’s no surprise the United States has been facing a shortage of primary care physicians for several years. This shortage, coupled with a growing population, an aging population (physicians included) and the entrance of newly insured individuals following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, will increase the demand for primary care services across the country. In Texas, this demand will likely be even higher since the state currently falls below the national average with just 165 physicians for every 100,000 individuals. In 126 of 254 Texas counties, primary care services are so low that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared these regions Health Professional Shortage Areas.

But why, exactly, are physicians in such short supply? The Texas shortage can be attributed to several factors. First, primary care interest from medical school students has traditionally been relatively low due to low-income potential compared with other specialties, but demand for primary care physicians has gone up. Following implementation of the Affordable Care Act, millions of Americans who were not previously insured are entering the health care system. The Texas population is outpacing the national growth rate, and more aging Baby Boomers are becoming eligible for Medicare every day. In addition, the prevalence of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension, is growing, requiring more health care services. And to top it off, about one-third of all doctors plan to retire this decade, but the number of available residency slots hasn’t kept pace with the increase in medical graduates, leaving some graduates in limbo, unable to secure on-the-job training required before they can begin practice.

Texas A&M Health Science Center is heeding the call to fill the overwhelming primary care gap, not only by producing more primary care physicians and working with partners where possible to develop new residency programs or expand existing ones, but also by extending health care teams through educational programs in nursing and pharmacy and empowering patients through targeted research and outreach programs.

Producing more primary care physicians

More than half – 92 out of 157 – of Texas A&M College of Medicine graduates placed in primary care residencies in 2014, well above the national average. In fact, recent studies by the Council on Graduate Medical Education show that fewer than 20 percent of all U.S. medical students are choosing primary care specialties. So, why are future Aggie physicians more attracted to the primary care setting?

“It has a lot to do with the kind of students we recruit,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Texas A&M has always possessed a service mentality due to our roots as a land-grant university, and the physicians we train want to serve their patients. They get to interact more with their patients in primary care settings, and they value that service more than the money other specialties can offer.”

Throughout the years, the college has also established key partnerships in rural areas where health care services are in dire need. One such partnership with DeTar Healthcare System recently established a Family Medicine Residency Program in Victoria that addresses the critical need for more primary care physicians in South Texas. The three-year program, which will accept its first six residents in July 2016, and other upcoming partnerships of this nature, will play a key role in the development of a comprehensive physician workforce solution for the state.

However, the problem is not one-dimensional, and medical schools alone cannot fill the growing need for primary care services.

“Fixing the nation’s primary care shortage goes far beyond recruiting and training more primary care doctors,” Ogden said. “The fix isn’t physician-centric, because medical schools simply can’t produce enough physicians to address the need.”

Extending the health care team

To make bigger strides toward closing the gap, the primary care team must be extended with additional nurses and pharmacists, and Texas A&M Health Science Center is doing just that.

The Texas A&M College of Nursing recently announced the creation of a new Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner (M.S.N.-FNP) graduate program. The program is expected to launch in January 2015, pending final approval from the Texas Board of Nursing.

The family nurse practitioner program will produce nurses who can provide primary, acute and specialty health care. Like registered nurses, nurse practitioners perform thorough assessments, but in addition, have the training to diagnose patients, prescribe treatments and medications, and assume primary responsibility for patients’ overall care.

Expanding the role of pharmacists is another avenue for filling the rising demand for health care.

“Today, more than ever, pharmacists are likely to be found engaged in conversations with customers, providing information on over-the-counter drugs, administering immunizations, and assisting with overall disease prevention and management, while improving patient medication adherence and outcomes,” said Indra K. Reddy, Ph.D., professor and founding dean of the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville, Texas.

Research shows that patients who work with a team that includes a pharmacist and one or more physicians are more likely to achieve improved health goals. This co-management of the patient with the primary care provider offers more direct, patient-focused care and ultimately, better patient outcomes.

To that end, the Texas A&M Rangel College of Pharmacy trains future pharmacists in a variety of health care settings, and oftentimes alongside medical and nursing students in the clinical setting. Fourth-year students complete rotations in community pharmacies, retail pharmacies, clinics and hospitals. Pharmacy students also rotate through the Texas A&M Health Science Center Diabetes Education program in Corpus Christi, Texas, teaching diabetes patients about medication options, insulin administration and medication adherence.

Empowering patients with self-care education

Working with a comprehensive health care team can help improve patient outcomes, but there is one person who has perhaps the most impact on your overall wellness: you.

Researchers at the Texas A&M School of Public Health are working with clinicians to develop programs that educate the public about the importance of self-care in their journey toward overall well-being.

One of the gaps they have identified, both in research and in practice, is the disconnect between what is recommended in the clinical setting and how, or if, patients are implementing those recommendations in their daily lives. These recommendations include becoming more physically active, eating a healthier diet, taking certain medications and incorporating dietary supplements or drinking more water.

To help bridge that gap, the school has developed evidence-based, chronic disease self-management programs and fall prevention programs to educate patients on how to take control of their own health. The goal is to keep people healthy so they don’t have to see their primary care provider often or utilize the emergency room, which should help alleviate congestion of those services.

The school currently offers chronic disease self-management, fall prevention, physical activity and nutrition, stress management and medication management programs in the Brazos Valley region of Texas. Partnerships have also been formed with the Texas Falls Prevention Coalition, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services and the Texas Department of State Health Services to build programs in other parts of the state.

“We are helping to build upon and expand the reach of clinicians by going beyond the clinic walls and into the community, engaging people in activities and teaching them skills that will help them better manage their chronic diseases, reduce their risk for falls, and avoid medication complications,” said Marcia Ory, Ph.D., regents and distinguished professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health.

Utilizing community health workers

The Texas A&M Health Science Center Diabetes Education Program in Corpus Christi follows a similar formula as the programs disseminated by the School of Public Health. Health educators, who include nurses, certified diabetes educators, registered dietitians and nutritionists, teach diabetes patients in South Texas how to take control of their disease. The program consists of lab work evaluation, education and a one-year follow-up program to measure patients’ progress toward improved health. In rural areas where patients are unable to travel to the program’s clinic in the city, community health workers (CHWs) visit patients in their homes to take basic lab work such as blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar. They also answer questions, connect patients to services and provide informal counseling and social support.

Many health care providers are beginning to recognize the value of CHWs (also known as promotores de salud, community health advocates, lay health educators, peer health promoters and community health outreach workers) as a way to expand primary care services in rural areas. CHWs are usually not formally trained as health care providers, but they can deliver some basic direct services (like first aid) and administer health screening tests. Because they are members of the communities which they serve, CHWs are able to connect with patients on a peer level to provide culturally appropriate and accessible health education and information.

By expanding the health care team to include not only physicians, but nurses, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, community health workers, health educators and patients themselves, Texas A&M is piecing together the puzzle to help alleviate the current primary care shortage, and thus ensure that Texans are getting the best care possible. At the end of the day, health care is a team sport.

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Texas A&M College of Medicine awards scholarship in recognition of Medal of Honor recipient http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-college-of-medicine-awards-scholarship-in-recognition-of-medal-of-honor-recipient http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-am-college-of-medicine-awards-scholarship-in-recognition-of-medal-of-honor-recipient#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 17:29:56 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21223 The Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine awards the first Clarence Sasser Scholarship in recognition of the Medal of Honor recipient's selfless service, a quality that those in the health care professions demonstrate on a daily basis]]>

January 10, 1968, in South Vietnam: Specialist fifth class Clarence Sasser and his battalion are conducting an air assault while on reconnaissance in Dinh Tuong Province. Without warning, they begin to take heavy enemy fire and one of their helicopters goes down. In minutes, 30 men are killed and several more are wounded. Without hesitation, Sasser, a medical aidman, runs across an open rice field through a hail of enemy fire to aid his fallen countrymen. After moving one man to safety, an exploding mortar shoots shrapnel into Sasser’s left shoulder and two additional shots from enemy soldiers immobilize both his legs. Despite these agonizing wounds, he drags himself through the mud, calling orders for others to move to safety as he aids more wounded soldiers.

It took several months of rehabilitation in Japan before Sasser regained use of his legs. Upon his return to the United States in 1969, Sasser received the Medal of Honor from President Richard Nixon for his life-saving acts of valor, which were deemed above and beyond the call of duty. He was later recruited to attend Texas A&M University on a scholarship personally offered by the late Gen. Earl Rudder, who was then president of the university. While life circumstances prevented Sasser from graduating, he remained an Aggie at heart, and in 2014, he was presented with an honorary degree from Texas A&M.

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first-ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor Recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.

From left: John Espinoza, first year medical student and first-ever Clarence Sasser Scholarship recipient; Clarence Sasser, Medal of Honor Recipient; Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center

In recognition of his selfless service – a quality that those in the health care professions demonstrate on a daily basis – the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine created the Clarence Sasser Scholarship this year, a $25,000 scholarship initially made possible by the generous contribution of an anonymous donor and slated to be awarded annually to entering medical students who demonstrate the same dedication that Mr. Sasser personified on the battlefield.

“Excellence, integrity, leadership, loyalty, respect and selfless service – these are the values that define Texas A&M, and we seek to instill each of these in the physicians we educate,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “Clarence Sasser embodies all of these traits, as witnessed in his courageous acts in Vietnam and throughout his life. I cannot think of a better example of the type of physician we’re striving to produce.”

“As an army medic with aspirations of becoming a doctor, this is truly an honor to be recognized in this manner,” Sasser said. “I hope the scholarship will be a ticket for future medical student hopefuls to achieve their goals of becoming Aggie physicians.”

One of those hopefuls, Johnny Espinoza, is now well on his way to becoming an Aggie physician thanks to the generous scholarship.

Espinoza, the first-ever Sasser Scholar, began classes at the Texas A&M College of Medicine in July. Prior to joining the ranks of future Aggie doctors, he served for more than eight years as an Army veterinary food inspection specialist, while he earned dual bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and biology from the University of Mary Hardin Baylor in Belton, Texas. During those eight years he served a tour in Iraq, a decision he made so one of his soldiers wouldn’t have to go alone.

“Another unit was deployed, but they had one soldier who was unable to go, so they pulled a soldier from my unit. I was a higher rank, so they didn’t need me, but I didn’t want her to go alone, so I volunteered,” he said.

After the military, Espinoza worked for a pharmaceutical company and then began applying for medical school. When he interviewed at Texas A&M, he says it just felt right.

“The students at Texas A&M seemed like they had really close relationships with their professors and could always ask them for help when they needed them. The atmosphere felt very genuine,” he said.

After completing medical school and residency, Espinoza plans to work in medically underserved areas in rural regions of the U.S., but says he would ideally like to serve as a Navy surgeon so he can travel and help those in third-world nations where access to medical care is scarce at best.

Espinoza had the privilege of meeting Clarence Sasser at a scholarship award ceremony held on the Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus this summer.

“It was a real honor to meet a living recipient of the Medal of Honor,” he said. “I hope if I am ever in Mr. Sasser’s situation that I will have the courage and fortitude to press forward and assist my patients as he assisted those with whom he served.”

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Stepping away from the textbook: A team-based approach to medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=stepping-away-from-the-textbook-a-team-based-approach-to-medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=stepping-away-from-the-textbook-a-team-based-approach-to-medicine#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 17:29:02 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21132 As our health care system is transforming, it is important that the way we teach our future health care professionals transforms as well. Interprofessional education and team-based medicine are at the center of a growing movement of collaborative training among health professions students]]>
Teaching health professions students how to work and communicate together is a vital part of preparing them for real world experiences.

Teaching health professions students how to work and communicate together is a vital part of preparing them for real world experiences.

A mother rushes into the emergency department (ED), panic stricken by her infant’s high fever. Nurses console her, gathering what information she is able to relay, triage the child and order necessary testing. Pending those results, the ED physician wastes no time prescribing the necessary medication to stabilize the infant, the dosage of which a pharmacist calculates quickly and with precision—knowing that every milligram is crucial and too much can have potentially fatal consequences.

At every point, these professionals have to be cognizant of what the others are doing. Communication between the nurses, physicians and pharmacists has to be clear and efficient, because every second matters and any mistake could have severe repercussions.

Just reading about this scene would likely cause any parent’s pulse to race, but the good news is that this particular case resulted in a positive outcome for everyone involved. Featuring pharmacy, nursing and medical students, the neonatal sepsis simulation mentioned above is just one of the carefully staged scenarios conducted in the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s Clinical Learning Resource Center, a 27,000-square-foot, realistic hospital setting equipped with the latest tools and technology to enhance learning. The idea behind such multi-disciplinary simulations is simple, but vital: incorporate a team medicine approach to learning so health professions students are amply prepared for the realities of today’s health care setting.

“Team medicine is a concept that everyone—nurses, physicians and pharmacists—must employ in this day and age. Each health professional brings all of their knowledge, their specific understanding and training to the table, for the care of the patient,” said Jim Donovan, M.D., vice dean at the Texas A&M College of Medicine in Round Rock.

As research continues to show that issues with communication have a direct correlation with medical errors, interprofessional education, which is the method behind the team medicine approach to learning, is evolving as a medical education trend across the nation.

“Interprofessional education brings more of the ‘real world experiences’ into students’ training. It allows them to learn more about different disciplines so that they can work together efficiently and appreciate one another’s skills,” said Mary Chavez, Pharm.D., interim vice dean and chair of pharmacy practice at Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy. “With this newfound perspective on the bigger picture of patient care, providers can leverage collaborative knowledge to enhance outcomes.”

Traditionally, health professions curricula were taught in a fairly siloed approach, where students learned the fundamentals of a specific discipline, but gained limited knowledge of other’s functions in a real-world health care setting. Collaborative learning is aimed at breaking down those barriers and providing students with an understanding of the different training each profession undergoes, while simultaneously teaching students how to communicate clearly with one another.

“Before the idea of interprofessional education emerged, the first time that nurses, pharmacists and physicians interacted with each other was in the field—and they had no previous experience to draw upon as they quickly tried to learn how best to work together,” said Jerry Livingston, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing. Livingston helps coordinate Texas A&M Health Science Center’s annual Disaster Day, an event that brings together nursing, medical and pharmacy students in a simulated disaster.

Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment

Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment.

Similar to staged simulation sessions in the Clinical Learning Resource Center, Disaster Day provides students with a realistic disaster that will broaden their scope of training. While extreme, the yearly event prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment.

Kept secret until the day of the event, the disaster scenario is almost exclusively selected and prepared for by students. While faculty members are present during the event, they take more of an observatory role, allowing students to evaluate and care for patients on their own.

“It allows students from different disciplines to become comfortable communicating with each other, because ultimately that is what they’ll have to do in their future careers,” Livingston stated. “If one student is concerned about the safety of a patient, they need to be able to communicate that concern in an effective manner to both the patient and the other health professionals who are onsite.”

While mock emergency simulations are obvious examples of interdisciplinary education, they are far from the only efforts to promote collaborative learning among disciplines. The Texas A&M College of Nursing offers a TeamSTEPPS elective, which stands for Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety. Developed by the military, TeamSTEPPS teaches students effective and efficient ways to remember common hospital procedures, such as transferring a patient, and tactics for effectively communicating with others.

There is no doubt that interprofessional education and team medicine will play a greater role in the future of health care. “Interprofessional training is a trend of the future that needs to happen,” Chavez stated. “Many institutions are recognizing the importance and benefit of training students of various professions together from early on and there has been a greater push for including more collaborative learning opportunities in curricula. In fact, many licensing boards are now encouraging schools to implement interprofessional education.”

Some lessons simply can’t be taught in the textbooks, like how to work together to improve patient outcomes.  Future Aggie health care professionals are being taught the collaborative real-world skills they need to excel before entering the workforce. “Frankly, medicine has always been a team sport,” said Donovan. “And the most effective physicians, nurses and pharmacists have always recognized the importance of working together. If they can’t practice as a team during education, how can we expect them to do that on real-world playing fields—hospitals and clinics around the nation?”

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Medical students participate in inaugural Aggies Invent http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=medical-students-participate-in-inaugural-aggies-invent http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=medical-students-participate-in-inaugural-aggies-invent#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 21:07:20 +0000 https://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=21083 Medical students recently participated in the inaugural Aggies Invent, which promotes innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset among engineering and medical students at Texas A&M University. ]]>

The Engineering Academic and Student Affairs (EASA) office, with the help of several sponsors, recently hosted the inaugural Aggies Invent, a program that promotes innovation and an entrepreneurial mindset among students at Texas A&M University. The concept is to gather interested students, provide them with potential needs (medical, energy, or others), allow them to self-select teams, give them access to and support from the EIC, and have them create prototypes in 48 hours. The focus of this particular Aggies Invent was medical needs and wearable electronics.

There were 42 engineering students and five medical students who participated in the event. This diversity allowed teams to collaborate with one another in order to successfully create a prototype. Participating medical students included: Cara Buskmiller, Yusuf Chauhan, Andrew Davis, Yen-Nan Lin and Cullen Soares.

Photo of the first place team from Aggies Invent

The first place team, Under Control, consisting of Cara Buskmiller, fourth-year medical student, Walter Pospick, computer science sophomore, Nicholas Taluzek, aerospace engineering senior from Illinois Institute of Technology who had previously participated in the summer Texas A&M Undergraduate Research program, Amy Li, mechanical engineering sophomore, and John Gonzalez, mechanical engineering junior, received the top prize of $750 for creating a wearable device based on a need statement provided by Baylor Scott & White to help people successfully exercise their pelvic floor muscle in order to prevent incontinence.

Photo of the second place team from Aggies Invent

Team Good Baby consisting of Yusuf Chauhan, first-year medical student, Sean Whitney, aerospace engineering junior, Duanduan Han, chemical engineering graduate student, Gabriel Aguilar, aerospace engineering junior, and Daniel Whitten, mechanical engineering senior, was given a $500 check for second place for their project that uses geo-fencing in order to let people know that an infant has been left in a hot car. This project also focused on a need statement furnished by Baylor Scott and White.

For more information on the event, visit the Texas A&M College of Engineering’s website.

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