Vital Record » Medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 28 Aug 2015 14:01:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Biotech boot camp helps researchers move innovative discoveries to market http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=biotech-boot-camp-helps-researchers-move-innovative-discoveries-to-market http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=biotech-boot-camp-helps-researchers-move-innovative-discoveries-to-market#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 14:01:29 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24226 Texas A&M Health Science Center’s faculty members regularly pursue innovative translational research to find solutions to some of today’s most pressing health conditions. However, some of these groundbreaking discoveries do not successfully move from the bench to the bedside because researchers find they have limited training when it comes to commercialization]]>

Texas A&M Health Science Center’s (TAMHSC) faculty members regularly pursue innovative translational research to find solutions to some of today’s most pressing health conditions. However, some of these groundbreaking discoveries do not successfully move from the bench to the bedside because researchers find they have limited training when it comes to commercialization.

Robert C. Alaniz, Ph.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, offers his own situation as an example of the challenges faculty face when commercializing their research. “My research colleague and I are unashamed scientists. We think about science every day; we love doing science and we know how to do it very well,” he said. “However, we need to learn more about how to turn our science into a business.”

Researcher drawing on board.

Two TAMHSC research teams spent the summer participating in a Medical Technology Lean Start Up course, which is an innovative and intensive eight-week life sciences program offered through the National Science Foundation I-Corps program.

This challenge among researchers is common. “We have many faculty members who are interested but have not yet been through the process of commercializing a new technology,” said LauraLee Hughes, executive director of TAMHSC’s Office of Technology Translation . “They are not necessarily aware of all the different considerations that they’ll face from a technical, business, regulatory and legal perspective when commercializing a new technology. What we’re trying to do at the HSC is develop programs that help to educate and support our faculty on these different activities.”

Teaching the teachers: Bringing business concepts to researchers

To that end, two TAMHSC research teams spent the summer participating in a Medical Technology Lean Start Up course, which is an innovative and intensive eight-week life sciences program offered through the National Science Foundation I-Corps program. This particular program was offered regionally through a collective partnership between the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, the University of Texas-Austin, Rice University and Texas Tech University.

The I-Corps program provides researchers with real-world, hands-on learning so they can reduce commercialization risks during their company’s early stages. “The I-Corps program is really designed to train faculty members who have promising research on how to commercialize their technology,” Hughes said. “The program essentially provides them with the curriculum, mentors, and resources needed to understand their technology from a commercialization perspective, identify who their customer is and then ultimately map out their plan for commercialization before they actually go through it.”

The program requires each research team to talk to at least 70 primary and secondary customers to determine whether a market exists for their product. Participants also look at other elements of bringing their discovery to market, including assessing the regulatory challenges and identifying the process to begin clinical development and ultimately sale of their product.

Participation in the regional I-Corps program also serves as a launch pad for additional opportunities. For example, the TAMHSC teams can now apply for the national I-Corps program, which would provide additional opportunities to conduct customer research in another region in the United States. These teams also are eligible to receive $50,000 in seed funding for their companies.

Microbiota and chronic conditions

Alaniz and Arul Jayaraman, Ph.D., a Texas A&M professor of chemical engineering, took part in the I-Corps program to learn how to commercialize the discoveries based on their research on the microbiota found in the human gut. Their discoveries have great potential to lead to treatments for a wide range of conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and some forms of cancer.

The pair, who first collaborated in 2010, worked with TAMHSC to cofound Fortis Biosciences in 2013 in order to move their research to market. However, the researchers quickly found they needed more information about the commercialization process and specific customer segments so they applied for the I-Corps program. Other Fortis team members include Hughes, who serves as the industry mentor, and Rani Menon, Ph.D., who performs microbiota research as a post-doctoral fellow in Jayaraman’s lab and is the team’s entrepreneurial lead.

Jaw rehabilitation technology

The second TAMHSC team involved in the I-Corps program is developing a robotic solution for jaw rehabilitation. This device, which is the brain child of Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station graduate assistant Michael Young, performs diagnostics on jaw abnormalities such as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) and then provides targeted therapies.

Young previously worked with Start-Up Aggieland, which is offered through Mays Business School, to begin developing a business plan for his company, Life Motion Technologies. He received seed funding for the endeavor from Mays Business School’s Student Seed Fund and Maroon X Accelerator Program. The team’s participation in the I-Corps program helps drive the next steps for commercialization. The team includes: Lynne Opperman, Ph.D., a professor of biomedical science at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, who participates as the team’s industry mentor; Raktim Bhattacharya, Ph.D., a Texas A&M associate professor in aerospace engineering, who serves as the team’s principal investigator; and Ritesh Bhattacharjee, a graduate student in Texas A&M’s School of Public Health, who works with Young as the team’s entrepreneurial lead.

Learning on several levels

Both TAMHSC teams already see multiple benefits from participating in the program. In the near term, teams are uncovering critical information that can hamper their entrance into the marketplace. For instance, the Fortis team refined their plans several times based on the data coming from the I-Corp’s interviews. The researchers learned that their initially identified customer base was not interested in changing their medication, even though proven long-term side effects exist with the currently available drugs. However, these interviews also identified an unmet need in an emerging market of patients with a specific condition who don’t qualify for or can’t afford currently available therapies, thus opening up new avenues for commercialization.

Participants also leave the I-Corps program with important knowledge and tools that they can share in their classrooms and laboratories. “I wanted to participate in the program because I believe my students have an interesting technology,” Opperman said. “I also wanted to learn the I-Corp process for product development and commercialization so that I could mentor others at the Baylor College of Dentistry.”

Participation in the I-Corps program also helps researchers think about funding options for the work they do in the laboratory. “Understanding when one’s research has commercial potential and being able to participate in the intellectual property development and commercialization process makes faculty more valuable to their institutions and gives them opportunities to set up collaborations with industry,” Opperman said. “These collaborations can lead to alternate funding sources at a time when smaller and smaller numbers of grants submitted to regular federal funding agencies are being funded.”

Ultimately, the I-Corps program may help improve the quality of the research being produced by TAMHSC researchers. “Participating in this program has made us less naive and more aware of all aspects of product development, not just the creation of a device or drug,” Opperman said. “I believe this program has made our research approach more comprehensive and robust.”

The TAMHSC teams still have work to do after the I-Corps regional program ends. “Our expectation is that these teams will continue the customer discovery process and utilize that information to further develop the business model for their technology or start-up,” Hughes said. “Furthermore, we hope that the information they have gained from the I-Corps experience will position them to be more competitive when seeking funding to continue development of their respective technologies.”

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Dedicated to service: A path from military to medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dedicated-to-service-a-path-from-military-to-medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=dedicated-to-service-a-path-from-military-to-medicine#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 13:30:21 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24123 Texas A&M College of Medicine recognizes its first-ever Tillman Military Scholar, Michael Weipert, one of 60 U.S. active duty service members, veterans and military spouses honored for their service, leadership and academic excellence]]>

For the recent Tillman Scholar Michael Weipert, the path to medical school has been a long and winding road.

As a teenager, Weipert knew he wanted to be a doctor, but a sense of service led him to the military, and even further from applying to medical school. By the time he was able to apply, the process seemed muddy, especially since he was on the other side of the world.

As an Eagle Scout in high school, Weipert worked on a project for a local children’s hospital. He made thousands of wooden blocks for a specialized area of the hospital created for children with severe allergies to plastic and dyes – often found in many store-bought toys. He says spending time in the hospital and making a contribution to others’ lives was when he first realized he wanted to be a doctor.

During college, Weipert chose a pre-med major. He also joined the reserves. During a service mission to Russia he became fluent in Russian and volunteered at a children’s cancer hospital.

“While the children’s hospital back home certainly sparked my fire to become a doctor, the mission in Russia really lit a fire in me,” Weipert said. “These kids had nothing to do. The family was in charge of feeding them, so they’d drop off some bread for the week and then have to go back to work. The kids were left to spend their downtime in a big, empty auditorium with nothing but one small T.V. and no chairs. They just sat there, around that one small T.V. So we brought them board games and played with them, and I started juggling and performing magic tricks to entertain them. I just wanted to ease their suffering however we could.”

That trip to Russia did two things for Weipert: solidified his desire to give back and gave him the ability to speak Russian fluently.

Just before Weipert graduated college as a pre-med major, the Twin Towers fell on September 11th. He put everything on hold for graduation and medical school, and commissioned with the U.S. Army. Because he was fluent in Russian, Weipert was able to test out of course work, graduate early with a degree in Russian Studies and enter flight school with the Army, first for helicopters, then for fixed wing aircraft.

It was while flying for the Army that Weipert met Aaron Buzzard, M.D., a military intelligence aviation physician for the Army. It was a relationship that would ultimately help Weipert reignite that fire to become a doctor. Weipert and Buzzard deployed three times together in the Middle East. Weipert began shadowing Buzzard and volunteering in the medical units.

“He was shadowing with me one day while we were deployed and there was a suicide bombing,” Buzzard said. “As they brought in the soldiers, one came to us on a gurney and when we looked under the blanket, his leg had been blown up below the knee and he had a tourniquet on his upper leg.”

“I asked him to hold the leg as we took the tourniquet off,” added Buzzard. “We had to amputate the leg. Weipert continued to help us through other patients that day, and we didn’t lose anyone. Since that moment, he’s been dedicated to becoming a doctor.”

Buzzard retired from the military and is now an emergency physician and Regional EMS Medical Director at the St. Joseph Regional Health Center in Bryan, Texas, and clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

When Weipert set his mind on going to medical school after working with Buzzard, he applied to about 10 schools, mostly in Texas.

But he didn’t get in to any schools. He didn’t even get an interview.

“Weipert is a dedicated kind of guy,” Buzzard said. “But that’s who you want as a doctor – you want someone who will say ‘I’m going to fix this person’ – and he’s got that determination, he’s got all the personality traits of a great doctor.”

That determination caused Weipert to reapply and eventually led him to the office of Leila Diaz, assistant dean for admissions at the Texas A&M College of Medicine. He wanted to know what he needed to do to become a better applicant and hopefully get an interview. She walked him through the admissions process, gave him advice on what he could do to strengthen his application – how he could highlight the extraordinary experiences he had that set him apart from most other applicants.

“I didn’t want to give up, so I called A&M and asked to talk to someone,” Weipert explained. “Leila sat me down and explained everything I’d done wrong and the mistakes I made. She walked me through the correct process and helped me see how I could get my scores up. Things I never would have known if I hadn’t talked to her. I was deployed, so it was pretty tedious to get everything in order.”

“I’ve worked several times with active duty applicants,” Diaz said. “It’s a particularly challenging situation for them since they are often in different places every few years or deployed. It isn’t always easy for them to obtain advising or address the changes they need to make from so far away. They have to be particularly dedicated to the process, but I have seen them make great strides in a reapplication, like Mike [Weipert] did. Helping all applicants is what we do, but it is especially an honor to do what we can to help men and women in the military fulfill their dreams of becoming physicians.”

To improve his application, Weipert studied for the MCAT during and in between flights, and made up about 100 course credits at night to increase his GPA. Weipert worked with Diaz for over a year, getting her advice and expertise on the application process.

“I took classes in Arizona, statistics online while in Iraq – by the time I applied I had credit from about nine different colleges,” Weipert added.

Weipert applied to Texas A&M College of Medicine again, and this time he was invited to interview. But Weipert was deployed, and interviews were conducted in-person on one of the college campuses across Texas. He couldn’t attend.

“I didn’t know what to do, and after I explained my situation and talked with Leila, A&M let me interview by phone,” Weipert explained. “No other school let me do that. I was in the Middle East serving my country, and they understood my situation. I feel like they really took the time to get to know me.”

The hard work paid off and after his interviews, Weipert was accepted to the Texas A&M College of Medicine. But because of his deployment, he had to defer for another year.

It was during that time that Diaz received a package at her office. It was an American flag with a certificate from the U.S. Army. One night while on a mission, Weipert told the story of how Diaz was instrumental in his efforts to apply to medical school to his commanding officer. The officer was so moved by her efforts to help one of his soldiers that he flew a flag in her honor the next day during a reconnaissance mission to find one of the United States’ most wanted fugitives in Iraq. The mission was successful, and the flag was officially named in her honor.

“It’s the most powerful expression of ‘thank you’ that I’ve received,” Diaz said. “It was a complete surprise and helped me see just how much helping someone accomplish their dreams and goals can mean. I worked with Mike [Weipert] for almost two years, much of that time while he was deployed, and we still keep in touch now that he attends school here – it is so humbling to know that I can help someone in this way. Working with applicants like Mike [Weipert] make my career so fulfilling.”

At the Texas A&M College of Medicine, Weipert is now in his third year of medical school and working toward his goal to become a Military Emergency Medicine Physician to provide casualty care for wounded troops on the front lines.

“My ambition in life is to ease suffering and help as many people as I possibly can,” Weipert said.

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You Asked: Why can’t I get pregnant? http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-asked-why-cant-i-get-pregnant http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-asked-why-cant-i-get-pregnant#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 16:20:26 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24171 Three minutes. You can easily spend this seemingly insignificant amount of time hitting the snooze button or scrolling through your phone. But for a couple trying to get pregnant, the three-minute wait for a positive or negative reading on a pregnancy test is agonizing]]>

Woman lying on bed hugging her knees to her chest.Three minutes. You can easily spend this seemingly insignificant amount of time hitting the snooze button or scrolling through your phone. But for a couple trying to get pregnant, the three-minute wait for a positive or negative reading on a pregnancy test is agonizing.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 7.5 percent of men will see a fertility doctor in their lifetime–and at least 12 percent of women will struggle with fertility problems that impact conception and carrying a pregnancy to term.

Jeanne Ruiz, Ph.D., women’s health practitioner for the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing and Academy of Nursing Fellow, breaks down many common (and a few surprising) reasons why couples have trouble getting pregnant.

Infertility–not just a “woman’s condition”

 A frequent misconception about infertility is that the problem always starts with the woman. “It takes more than just a female to conceive,” Ruiz said. In fact, infertility in men is quite prevalent. In approximately 40 percent of infertile couples, males are either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility.

“It’s much easier to start with the males and rule out problems from there,” Ruiz said. “Males should begin testing first because they may have motility issues or not enough sperm. It’s always easiest to start with the less expensive, less painful treatment.”

Numbers matter: Especially your age and weight

For women, there are a variety of reasons that determine normal hormonal function. A woman is born with the exact number of eggs she needs for the rest of her life. With every year that passes, more eggs are used, and your ovaries become less able to release eggs.

“Age is an important factor to look at when determining potential fertility problems for women,” Ruiz said. “High blood pressure and diabetes are a risk for pregnancies and for women in general. Unfortunately the risk for these conditions increases with age. You have also have more eggs when you are younger compared to when you’re older.”

As a woman ages, her metabolism slows considerably which contributes to weight gain. “As you age you tend to gain more weight. This is a big issue. To increase your chances of conception you need to be an average weight.” Ruiz said.

Ruiz also emphasized the importance of a healthy BMI (body mass index).“BMI is a huge indicator of over-nutrition and under-nutrition. Both are important to keep in mind when maintaining a pregnancy or trying to conceive,” she said.

Around 12 percent of infertility cases result from a woman weighing too little or too much. But, there is hope. Women who have BMIs that are too high or too low can reverse their infertility by attaining and maintaining a healthy weight.

Use birth control shots? They have extended effects

According to Ruiz, women who take injectable birth control like Depo-Provera could have trouble conceiving. Injectables release a large amount of progesterone (the hormone released during pregnancy) to override a woman’s normal cycle and “trick” her body into thinking it’s pregnant.

“Unlike oral medication, which is a systematic release into the system, injectable birth control is designed to be long-lasting,” Ruiz said. “I would encourage women to stop taking injectable birth control at least six months before trying to conceive, since it takes the body a longer time to flush it from the system.”

Do your lifestyle choices put you at risk?

Smoking is bad in general, but it’s also worse for baby. Up to 13 percent of female infertility is caused by smoking. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine also found both men and women who smoked cigarettes had decreased fertility.

Stopping at your favorite coffee shop to grab a caffeine fix is a daily staple in American life. Ruiz stressed that women need to watch their caffeine intake when trying to conceive a baby. “You should have no more than one cup of caffeine a day when trying to conceive,” she said. “Caffeine increases your heart rate and adrenaline which will impact normal ovulation and hormonal function.”

A surprising culprit to blame for infertility problems are common household chemicals used for cleaning. “Bleach is just terrible,” Ruiz said. “Pesticides are dangerous, too; and chemicals like Round-Up are extremely toxic and bad for your health. Any chemical that could modify your cellular makeup should be avoided.”

Breastfeeding will release pregnancy hormones

Even women who have already had multiple pregnancies can be plagued by detours on the road to their next baby bump. “Breastfeeding mothers will often have trouble becoming pregnant again soon after giving birth, as prolactin and oxytocin – the hormones that stimulate milk letdown – are high. Women who are breastfeeding don’t have normal cycles and it can stop ovulation or cause a woman to not ovulate regularly,” Ruiz said.

Infertility is not an inconvenience, it’s a disease

 There are many diseases of the reproductive system that impair the ovaries, fallopian tubes and uterus. To improve your chances of getting pregnant, it is essential that these organs are healthy and treated for any underlying conditions.

The Mayo Clinic detailed a few of the most common conditions that contribute to infertility:

  • Ovulation disorders, which hinder or prevent the ovaries from releasing eggs. Examples include hormonal disorders such as polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that might relate to your ovaries producing too much of the male hormone testosterone. Other underlying causes may include excessive exercise, eating disorders, injury or tumors.
  • Fallopian tube damage or blockage, which usually results from inflammation of the fallopian tube (salpingitis). This can result from pelvic inflammatory disease, usually caused by sexually transmitted infection, endometriosis or adhesions.
  • Endometriosis, which occurs when endometrial tissue implants and grows outside of the uterus — often affecting the function of the ovaries, uterus and fallopian tubes.
  • Primary ovarian insufficiency, also called early menopause, when the ovaries stop working and menstruation ends before age 40. Although the cause is often unknown, certain conditions are associated with early menopause, including immune system diseases, radiation or chemotherapy treatment, and smoking.
  • Pelvic adhesions, bands of scar tissue that bind organs after pelvic infection, appendicitis, or abdominal or pelvic surgery.

What else should you expect when you’re trying to expect? Ruiz said if future parents could pre-conceptionally tackle many of these issues they would already have a better start when trying for a baby.

“It’s imperative couples consult with a health care provider and take measures to treat many of these conditions as early as possible,” she said. “It’s always better to be proactive than reactive when it comes to your health and your baby’s health.”

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You Asked: What causes hemorrhoids? http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-asked-what-causes-hemorrhoids http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=you-asked-what-causes-hemorrhoids#comments Thu, 20 Aug 2015 13:05:20 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24152 “We live in a constipated society.” This isn’t a topic you might broach at the dinner table with family, but unfortunately, someone you know is probably struggling with a symptom this unpleasant truth causes: Hemorrhoids]]>

Adult man sitting on toilet bowl using phone in hands“We live in a constipated society.” This isn’t a topic you might broach at the dinner table with family, but unfortunately, someone you know is probably struggling with a symptom this unpleasant truth causes: Hemorrhoids.

Hemorrhoids are normal anatomic structures made of blood vessels and connective tissue located in the anal canal. When they are working properly, they fill with blood and help a person maintain continence control–the ability to exercise voluntary control over the urge to use the bathroom.

“Hemorrhoids act as the ‘weather stripping’ that seals the gap the sphincter muscle doesn’t close,” said J. Scott Thomas, M.D., a colorectal surgeon, associate professor of surgery and program director of the general surgery residency at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple.

According to Thomas, hemorrhoids are actually completely normal. “It’s when they become enlarged, inflamed and symptomatic that most problems arise. Engorgement of the blood vessels may cause irritation and as they become bigger and protrude, they bring discomfort, bleeding and hygiene issues.”

Symptoms of hemorrhoids may include:

  • Painless or painful bleeding during bowel movements
  • Itching or irritation in your anal region
  • Swelling around your anus
  • A lump near your anus, which may be sensitive or painful
  • Feeling of poor hygiene or leakage of fecal matter

Swollen hemorrhoids are often the result of applying too much pressure or excessive straining on the rectum and lower pelvic area. This can happen when you’re straining to have a bowel movement, sitting for long periods of time on the toilet, or experiencing chronic diarrhea. Hemorrhoids can also become enlarged during pregnancy.

We all probably know a person who seems to take forever in the bathroom. Many people read newspapers and magazines, or even take their cell phones with them while doing their business. While this might not seem like a big deal, it can be harmful. If you sit on the toilet too long, your anus relaxes and allows the veins around it to fill with blood. This causes unwanted pressure and increased swelling around the pelvic region.

Who is most at risk for hemorrhoid problems? Thomas said half of his patients are over 50, but that doesn’t mean young healthy people are exempt. In fact, if you’re a weightlifter you may experience hemorrhoid troubles. “Weightlifters are especially prone to swollen hemorrhoids if not using a proper technique,” Thomas said. “Bending down, heavy squatting and other lifts that put pressure on the pelvis/anus could contribute to problems in the future.”

According to Thomas, the largest factor that causes symptomatic hemorrhoids is lifestyle and diet. “The typical Westernized high-fat, low fiber diet of processed foods combined with a sedentary lifestyle certainly doesn’t help prevent them,” he said. “Busy schedules don’t always allow you to answer the call of nature, and because of this, we live in a constipated society.”

Thomas emphasized some of the best ways to prevent hemorrhoids are to eat a balanced diet and ensure your fiber and water intake are adequate. Exercise is also key. “Exercise stimulates bowel function and is important to maintaining normal bowel habits,” he said.

Hemorrhoids symptoms are awkward and undesirable, but that doesn’t mean you should write them off as insignificant. “Hemorrhoids are very common, but I would caution people to see a physician if they’re having any complaint regarding bleeding or other perianal symptoms. About 90 percent of the time it’s going to be hemorrhoids, but symptoms associated with the condition can be a possible sign of bigger problems. We definitely don’t want people to walk away without being evaluated appropriately,” Thomas said.

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The doctor will see you now: Why men should take an active role in health care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=the-doctor-will-see-you-now-why-men-should-take-an-active-role-in-health-care http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=the-doctor-will-see-you-now-why-men-should-take-an-active-role-in-health-care#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 13:00:11 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24080 Gender stereotypes about men and the idea of masculinity can range from stubbornness to the ever-popular tough-guy attitude. Any one of these mindsets could be used to explain why men often don’t go to the doctor to address worrisome symptoms as frequently as women do]]>
A nurse takes a man's blood pressure.

Going in for regular check ups is an important part of preventative heath care and can help catch diseases early on.

Gender stereotypes about men and the idea of masculinity can range from stubbornness to the ever-popular tough-guy attitude. Any one of these mindsets could be used to explain why men often don’t go to the doctor to address worrisome symptoms as frequently as women do.

“Getting men under the age of 40 to go to the doctor when there isn’t anything visibly wrong with them is virtually impossible,” explained Timothy Boone, M.D., Ph.D., vice dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine Houston campus. No matter the reason for the phenomenon, Boone encourages male patients to rethink their aversions to health care.

Men under 40

Most men in this age category do not consider it important to go to the doctor unless there is something wrong with them. However, Boone says that establishing a relationship with a family doctor is important so the provider can learn about your personal and family medical history, which will make future appointments move along much faster than starting from scratch with someone new. The best way to start this relationship is to make an appointment with your doctor when something goes wrong instead of just visiting a walk-in clinic, even though this may be a more convenient option.

“People are more likely to make healthier lifestyle choices when they have a good relationship with their primary physician, who can help explain how different choices can affect your long-term health,” Boone said.

He suggests that healthy, active men under 40 should visit the doctor every three to five years. However, Boone warns not to overlook a mass, or blood in urine or stool, as these can be signs of a serious illness.

“Following the guidelines for screenings can catch diseases or illnesses before damage has been done and lowers the risk for developing a more serious disease,” Boone said.

The following health screenings are important for men under 40 to pay close attention to:

Testicular Cancer. The most common serious disease for men under 40 is testicular cancer. Self-exams are important because men that have this type of cancer often do not feel sick and in some cases don’t experience pain at all, Boone explains. Look out for lumps and changes in size.

Blood Pressure. Adults 18 and older should have their blood pressure checked regularly. Blood pressure can tell you if you have hypertension (high blood pressure), hypotension (low blood pressure), heart disease and other conditions.

The two important numbers included in blood pressure readings are systolic, the top number and diastolic, the bottom number. The systolic number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats and the diastolic number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats. Normal blood pressure is considered to be below 120/80. Any higher and you may be at risk for hypertension.

Cholesterol. Men around the age of 35 should consider getting a cholesterol test, also called a lipid panel or profile. If you are at increased risk for coronary heart disease based on genetic, lifestyle or related fitness and health factors, start these checks at age 20.

Cholesterol is part of a larger category of fats in the blood called lipids.  A cholesterol test can determine the risk of buildup of plaque in the arteries throughout the body, which puts you at risk for high cholesterol and therefore heart disease.  High cholesterol does not generally present with any symptoms on its own and so it is important to have this test done every five years. There are four different calculations of lipids that the test checks for: total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and triglycerides.

Men over 40

At 40 men should start going in for a regular, yearly checkup with their primary care physician, paying close attention to the following screenings:

Diabetes. Men with sustained blood pressure greater than 135/80 should be screened for type 2 diabetes. Most people who develop diabetes first exhibit pre-diabetes, which means that blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be considered diabetes.

There are three types of tests to help diagnose pre-diabetes and diabetes: A1C, or glycosylated hemoglobin test, fasting plasma glucose test and oral glucose test.  The  fasting plasma glucose test is said to be the easiest to access and likely to be covered by your health insurance.

Colorectal Cancer.  This type of cancer is the third most common cancer in men. Boone recommends getting a colonoscopy at the age of 50 and every ten years after, if the results are normal. If results show a cause for potential concern, follow up recommendations will vary depending on what is found.

Prostate Cancer. While this is the second most common cancer for men after skin cancer, some experts disagree on the necessity of screenings. Talk to your doctor about your family’s history of prostate cancer, and the risks and benefits of prostate cancer screening to determine what is right for you.

It’s time to drop the age-old stereotype. At every stage of life – and not just when they’re sick – men should be seen for regular health screenings and checkups.

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Combating deadly antibiotic-resistant infections: CDC says teamwork is key http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=combating-deadly-antibiotic-resistant-infections-cdc-says-teamwork-is-key http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=combating-deadly-antibiotic-resistant-infections-cdc-says-teamwork-is-key#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 18:36:38 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24084 Superbugs - germs that have evolved to become resistant to antibiotics and other medical treatments - are on the loose, infecting more than 2 million people in the U.S. every year. ]]>

Superbugs – or deadly bacteria that can’t be killed, even with standard antibiotics – infect more than two million Americans and cause at least 23,000 deaths every year. But a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests the U.S. could save 37,000 lives over the next five years through refocused efforts.

According to the report, the U.S. is at a tipping point: an increasing number of germs no longer respond to the drugs designed to kill them. Inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics and lack of proper infection prevention and control measures can contribute to drug resistance and put patients at risk for deadly infection.

The report calls for a coordinated approach, in which health facilities in a region share data with a central public health authority that disseminates information to area facilities. Essentially, such coordination would alert receiving facilities when transferring patients who have drug-resistant germs so that the receiving facility can use appropriate antibiotics and implement adequate infection control actions to better-protect patients.

Germ infested light switch

The U.S. could save 37,000 lives over the next five years by improving the way it fights health care associated infections.

While individual hospitals already take actions to control infections, such as washing hands and wearing disposable gowns, these actions aren’t enough.

“Even if one facility is following recommended infection control measures, germs can be spread between health care facilities – from nursing home to hospital, or hospital to hospital,” said Chetan Jinadatha, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System in Temple. “If there are no proper communications channels in place, superbugs can easily run rampant.”

And run rampant they will. Based on the CDC’s analysis, the number of infections caused by four of the most dangerous bacteria – CRE, multidrug-resistant Psuedomonas aeruginosa, invasive methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and C. difficile – is likely to increase 10 percent over the next five years, climbing from 310,000 in 2011 to an estimated 340,000 per year. According to the report, with immediate implementation of nationwide interventions, medical facilities could prevent more than half a million hospital-acquired infections over the same five-year period. They also estimate the approach would save the health care system $7.7 billion in treatment costs.

The CDC looked at one nightmare bacteria, in particular, CRE – a group of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that usually strike people in hospitals, nursing homes and other health care settings – and found infection rates of CRE could be drastically cut with coordinated efforts. In fact, in a simulated introduction of CRE into 10 health care facilities, they found that CRE spread to 12.2 percent of patients after five years; and if facilities made individual efforts, the cases fell to about 8.6 percent. When facilities coordinated extensively, prevalence was reduced to only 2.1 percent of the population after five years.

“When facilities worked together, through a centralized public health agency, the facilities were able to take faster action to curb the deadly bacterium’s spread,” Jinadatha noted.

But it’s not just about hospital infection control measures.

The superbug issue also stems from overprescribing of antibiotics, drugs designed to kill bacteria. According to the CDC, up to 50 percent of all antibiotic prescriptions are unnecessary.

“When physicians overprescribe or incorrectly use them to treat viruses, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics,” Jinadatha noted. “As a result, superbugs simply can’t be controlled with antibiotics. It’s a deadly combination.”

The CDC report recommends physicians practice “antimicrobial stewardship.”

“Antibiotic stewardship is essentially being a good steward of antibiotics – using the right kind of antibiotics, in the right dosage, for the right reasons,” Jinadatha said.

According to the CDC, support from Congress is needed to implement such plans.

“Antibiotic resistance is a public health problem,” Jinadatha said. “Fighting superbug infections is possible, but we must all work together to protect patients and thus save tens of thousands of lives.”

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Meeting the needs of today’s – and tomorrow’s – patients: Preparing medical students for an ever-changing world http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=meeting-the-needs-of-todays-and-tomorrows-patients-preparing-medical-students-for-an-ever-changing-world http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=meeting-the-needs-of-todays-and-tomorrows-patients-preparing-medical-students-for-an-ever-changing-world#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 14:00:32 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24011 Texas A&M College of Medicine has launched a new medical curriculum aimed at allowing more time, and diverse opportunities, in clinical training to ensure Aggie physicians are amply prepared to lead Texas' future health care workforce. ]]>

The way doctors are trained is shifting in the wake of health care reform. A predicted shortage of 90,000 doctors by 2025 and an influx of patients who recently gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have made medical education more important than ever.

“A continually evolving health care landscape has spurred many medical schools to close the widening gap between how students are traditionally trained and the future needs of the nation’s health care system,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine.

And the Texas A&M College of Medicine is doing just that, taking a step forward to close this gap with a revamped medical curriculum. According to Ogden, the curriculum creates a more flexible and individualized approach to a traditional medical education, with a renewed emphasis on research, scholarship and the skills needed to foster lifelong medical learning.

“We want to create an educational program that trains physicians to meet the needs of today’s patients, while anticipating future changes to the system as a whole,” Ogden said.

The college introduced its new curriculum to 206 incoming medical students this summer, all of which started at the institution’s Bryan-College Station campus.

“The new curriculum will leverage our unique, multi-campus model to train a more diverse physician population to address the state’s varying patient needs,” Ogden said. “All first year students will begin their schooling in Bryan-College Station to bond as a class, learn important foundational material and develop important lifelong learning skills. The remaining three years will be conducted at one of the five clinical campuses throughout the state.” Clinical campus locations include Bryan-College Station, Round Rock, Dallas, Temple and Houston.

A recent push from the American Medical Association calls for transforming the teaching of medicine to shift focus on education toward real-world practice and competency assessment, and that’s just what the college has in store for future medical students.

Resident learning with faculty physician.

Texas A&M College of Medicine has launched a new medical curriculum aimed at allowing more time, and diverse opportunities, in clinical training to ensure Aggie physicians are amply prepared to lead Texas’ future health care workforce.

The new curriculum will accelerate clinical training within the curriculum, affording students the opportunity to gain clinical experience as early as their second year of medical school, blending basic science with hands-on practice for an optimal learning experience.  Traditionally, this hands-on component of medical education begins in the third year of medical school.

“It’s about taking that basic science knowledge and putting it into the context of a clinical setting – helping them see how it fits into treating patients,” explained Diane Chico, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “It’s about making the basic science components realistic and practical for treating patients.”

Additionally, the new curriculum will shorten the basic science content to 18 months (this component was previously two years with breaks) in order to move students into the clinical setting earlier in their educational career. The strong basic science foundation will be integral for lifeline learning and clinical education.

“Students learn differently than they did 20 years ago,” said Ruth Bush, M.D., J.D, M.P.H., vice dean for academic affairs and vice dean for the Bryan/College Station Campus. “Students want to see patients earlier in their education and get more hands-on, more quickly. These are active learners.”

Rather than faculty asking “what do I need to tell students?” students are asking “what should I be able to do?” The new curriculum will take medical education past teaching facts to creating active, adult learners who can learn from experience through a competency-based approach.

“We believe that this will not only create lifelong learners, but this will improve the efficiency and retention of medical knowledge,” Chico said.

To foster more individualism for students, the new curriculum will allow for more specialization during the fourth year of education. M4s will be able to choose “majors” to help refine and enhance their experience as they prepare to enter residency. Certifications may also be incorporated for this portion of students’ educational careers.

“By introducing majors in the fourth year, students not only get a better education, but this will produce more competitive graduates and increase their probability of going on to more prestigious residencies and careers,” Chico said.

A longitudinal track is available through the Aggie Integrated Medicine (AIM) program on the Bryan-College Station campus for third year students. Instead of concentrating on one type of clinical experience at a time, students will experience all six of the clinical experiences – family medicine, obstetrics, surgery, psychiatry, pediatrics and internal medicine – and follow patients for a year, rather than a few weeks.

According to Ogden, the goals of the new curriculum are twofold: the immediate consequence is to make graduates more competitive as they are matched with their residency assignments and then enter the job force. But long term, it’s about providing the best physicians possible.

“Of course we want our graduates to be as competitive and marketable as possible,” Ogden said. “But in the end, the most important skill we can instill in future Aggie physicians is the ability to adapt to an ever-evolving health care landscape while remaining steadfast in what matters most: providing the best care possible to our patients.”

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Arthritis 101: What you should know http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=arthritis-101-what-you-should-know http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=arthritis-101-what-you-should-know#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 22:25:50 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=24089 Think arthritis is just the inevitable pain that comes with age? Think again. Arthritis is a complex family of more than 100 types of musculoskeletal disorders with many causes and no definite cure. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the disease strikes 53 million adults in the U.S. (one in five), 300,000 children and is the nation's leading cause of disability]]>
Holding hands

Types of arthritis include osteoarthritis (progressive degenerative joint disease affecting cartilage and underlying bone), rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of membrane lining the joint), and gout (build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints).

Think arthritis is just the inevitable pain that comes with age? Think again.

Arthritis is a complex family of more than 100 types of musculoskeletal disorders with many causes and no definite cure. According to the Arthritis Foundation, the disease strikes 53 million adults in the U.S. (one in five), 300,000 children and is the nation’s leading cause of disability.

“Symptoms of arthritis include pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased range of motion of the joints,” said Priya Nair, M.D., clinical assistant professor of rheumatology at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Dallas. “Fatigue, depression and therefore decreased productivity can be part of the disease.”

Symptoms can also come and go – sometimes staying the same for years, and then progressing or getting worse over time. Some types of arthritis can cause additional issues, including inflammation involving the eyes, skin, bowels, lungs or kidneys.

Types of arthritis include osteoarthritis (progressive degenerative joint disease affecting cartilage and underlying bone), rheumatoid arthritis (inflammation of membrane lining the joint), and gout (build-up of uric acid crystals in the joints). Each type of arthritis can lead to joint damage and deformity.

Arthritis is also part of the systemic rheumatic diseases that cause chronic inflammation and can affect multiple organs; examples of systemic autoimmune rheumatic diseases are Systemic Lupus Erythematosis, Sjogren’s syndrome and Systemic Sclerosis. Each has its own symptoms and treatment.

While there is no cure, there are medications that can not only treat the arthritis symptoms effectively but also keep the immune dysfunction under control.

Lifestyle changes can also help to improve the overall health of an arthritic patient. Healthy eating habits such as avoiding alcohol and certain foods high in purines can reduce flare-ups of gout.

“Exercise helps in many ways, such as weight control, improved support of the affected joints, greater flexibility, improved quality of sleep, increased energy and decreased stress,” Nair said. “Strengthening and stretching exercises are helpful in reducing joint pain such as from Osteoarthritis of the knees and pain of fibromyalgia syndrome.”

Nair warns to be wary of myths about diet cures. There are food components that may help reduce inflammation such as omega 3 fatty acids, but the effects are fairly mild.

“While diagnostic tests and treatments have improved a great deal for several types of arthritis, there are many types that have continued to be challenging,” Nair said. That’s why an accurate diagnosis and early initiation of treatment are crucial.

Make an appointment with your primary care provider if you feel arthritis may be the culprit of your unusual aches and pains. They can assess your symptoms and perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of motion. If necessary, blood tests and X-rays can confirm the diagnosis and even distinguish the type of arthritis you may have.

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Transforming health care by broadening the perspective of future physicians http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=transforming-health-care-by-broadening-the-prospective-of-future-physicians http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=transforming-health-care-by-broadening-the-prospective-of-future-physicians#comments Thu, 06 Aug 2015 14:00:53 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=23984 A new graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University provides an enhanced educational experience for future Aggie physicians]]>
Cecilia Benz, M.D., received her Doctor of Medicine degree, and also a graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

A new graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University provides an enhanced educational experience for future Aggie physicians.

Cecilia Benz, M.D., just graduated from the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and is packing up to begin her general surgery residency training at the University of North Dakota. She says she’s not just leaving A&M with a degree, but with a new perspective.

This May, Benz received her Doctor of Medicine degree, and also a graduate certificate in Advanced International Affairs from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University.

Benz is the first student to complete the graduate certificate program at the College of Medicine, but certainly won’t be the last. The partnership with the Bush School is one of many the College of Medicine is cultivating across The Texas A&M University System to provide the best and most well-rounded educational experience possible for its graduating physicians.

The college has been working to provide customizable education for its students, which places their medical education in a larger content – which in turn, makes the best doctors for patients and creates physician activists within the health care system.

Benz explained that she “absolutely recommends” the program to other students. And while she may not be able to apply her knowledge of international affairs until after residency, she plans to stay involved with the politics of medicine and hopes to continue to work toward “sustaining health care founded on a good education to broaden the perspectives of other physicians, here and outside of the US.”

“This experience enhanced my medical education and gave me a new perspective,” Benz said. “I know these additional courses have made me a better-informed health care provider by allowing me to delve into understanding the larger global structure of medicine. I’ll also be able to better relate to my patients, particularly those from an immigrant background.”

Ruth Bush, M.D., J.D, M.P.H., vice dean for academic affairs and vice dean for the Texas A&M College of Medicine Bryan campus, explained that the courses fit well with the new curriculum being introduced with the incoming Class of 2019, which allows for Areas of Concentration (or AOC’s) during the fourth year. She adds that the new curriculum and the certificate program help to “round out” the educational experience at the College of Medicine.

“This is such an added value for our students and we hope to see many more explore this option,” Bush said. “Not only does it place medicine in another context and expose them to thoughts and information they may have never seen before, but it has a direct added value as our students compete for residency matches during their fourth year. This is another step toward making students as competitive as possible.”

The graduate certificate courses are online and led by faculty who are actively engaged in research and located across the United States to give a multi-faceted experience.

Benz completed the certificate courses during her final semester of medical school. While Benz chose the Advanced International Affairs concentration, the Bush School also offers certificates in Nonprofit Management and Homeland Security.

Lisa Brown, director of Extended Education at the Bush School, explained that 80 percent of the students who take the graduate certificate course credits are full-time professionals and about 20 percent are active or former military.

“Many of these students are already engaged in public service, which brings a wealth of experience to share among themselves, enriching the course conversations and allowing students to be exposed to and absorb a wealth of knowledge,” Brown said. “Such an interprofessional group of students really enhances the discussion-based portions. They’re learning to be critical consumers of information and interpretations.”

When asked about how her education through the program will influence her as a doctor, Benz said, “The College of Medicine and the Bush School showed me the importance of my role in providing care, but also in catalyzing change by educating my peers and patients. It also reinforced the importance of taking the initiative to make changes in health care that will directly impact my practice – as well as the lives of those that I may never treat first-hand.” 

Learn more about the online graduate certificate programs at http://bush.tamu.edu/certificate/Prospective certificate students may contact the Bush School Advising Center at 1-866-988-2874 or by email at bushschoolonline@tamu.edu for more information.

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