Vital Record » Medicine http://news.tamhsc.edu Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Thu, 18 Dec 2014 20:47:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Prockop named National Academy of Inventors Fellow http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=prockop-named-national-academy-of-inventors-fellow http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=prockop-named-national-academy-of-inventors-fellow#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 17:27:23 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=22170 Darwin J. Prockop, M.D., Ph.D., the Stearman Chair in Genomic Medicine and a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, has been named a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow]]>

Darwin J. Prockop, M.D., Ph.D., the Stearman Chair in Genomic Medicine and a professor in the Department of Internal Medicine at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, has been named a National Academy of Inventors (NAI) Fellow. Prockop will be among 170 new Fellows to be inducted during the NAI’s 4th Annual Conference on March 20 at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

Darwin Prockop

Darwin J. Prockop, M.D., Ph.D.

NAI Fellows are academic inventors and innovators who are named on U.S. patents and were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation.

“The award recognizes that basic biomedical research is increasingly making discoveries that have important practical consequences in terms of their commercial value and the benefits they can bring to patients,” Prockop said. “My research group has for years worked on both the basic biology of adult stem cells and their potential use to treat patients with devastating diseases such as parkinsonism, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and brain trauma. The two lines of research are closely interconnected in that the more we learn about the basic biology of the cells, the more we discover ways the cells can be used to treat patients. The award and the multiple patent applications we have filed helps document our progress and encourages us to continue.”

Prockop directs the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s Institute for Regenerative Medicine at Scott & White Hospital in Temple, Texas. He holds 20 U.S. patents and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Institute of Medicine.

The NAI was founded in 2010 to recognize and encourage inventors with patents issued from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, enhance the visibility of academic technology and innovation, encourage the disclosure of intellectual property, educate and mentor innovative students, and translate the inventions of its members to benefit society.

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Texas A&M’s new environmental research center awards stimulating research at Texas A&M and across the Texas Medical Center http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-ams-new-environmental-research-center-awards-stimulating-research-at-texas-am-and-across-the-texas-medical-center http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=texas-ams-new-environmental-research-center-awards-stimulating-research-at-texas-am-and-across-the-texas-medical-center#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:33:16 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=22161 The Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), headquartered at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute for Biosciences and Technology in Houston, has awarded its first five pilot program grants]]>

The Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR), headquartered at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute for Biosciences and Technology in Houston, has awarded its first five pilot program grants, each intended to fund “high-risk, high-reward” science to better understand the effects of the environment on human health – with most recipients also receiving matching funds from their own organizations.

Researchers in lab

The Center for Translational Environmental Health Research (CTEHR) awarded its first five pilot program grants to researchers across The Texas A&M University System and University of Houston.

Named by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in April as the newest National Center of Excellence in Environmental Health Science, the CTEHR – a cross-institutional initiative which includes collaborators from across The Texas A&M University System, Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Houston – serves as the cornerstone for integrated environmental health research, translation of research advances into practice and community outreach and engagement aimed at improving human health.

The Pilot Project Program, an integral component of the CTEHR, is designed to enhance the overall mission of the center by advancing and promoting early-stage environmental health research, the hardest to fund via traditional funding sources, but the most important for launching “high-risk, high-reward” science.

Texas A&M researchers receiving CTEHR pilot program grants include Clinton D. Allred, associate professor, Department of Nutrition and Food Science; Leslie Cizmas, assistant professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health; Gerard L. Cote, department head, Biomedical Engineering and the Charles H. & Bettye Barclay Professor of Biomedical Engineering; and, receiving a joint grant, Robin Fuchs-Young, professor, College of Medicine and Mick Deutz, director of the Center for Translational Research in Aging and Longevity. Funding was also awarded to Maria Bondesson Bolin, research assistant professor in the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling at the University of Houston.

Allred, along with co-principal investigator Arul Jayaraman, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, will receive a $25,000 grant to support their project titled, “The role of estrogenic compounds and their metabolites in colonic inflammation” which will be matched by the College of Engineering and Department of Nutrition and Food Science for a total project budget of $50,000.

Cizmas’ project, “A multi-step approach to assessing the toxicity of drinking water disinfection by­ products following chlorination, chloramination or a novel fen·ate disinfection process,” will receive $25,000 from CTEHR to support this research and Virender Sharma, interim department head of the Texas A&M School of Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, has committed $25,789 in matching funds.

Cote’s project, “Blood-based point-of-care system to measure radiation exposure using citrulline as a biomarker,” has a total budget of $50,000. CTEHR will provide $25,000 to support this research and Dr. Costas Georghiades has committed $25,000 in matching funds from the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station/College of Engineering.

Fuchs-Young and Deutz applied jointly for their project, “A quantifiable biological endpoint to assess the impact of an educational intervention on control of childhood asthma in the Rio Grande Valley.” CTEHR will provide $25,000 to support this research and the College of Medicine and Department of Molecular and Cellular Medicine has committed matching funds to support the total project budget of $50,000.

Bondesson Bolin will receive $25,000 to support her project titled “Modes of action of vascular disrupting compounds” and the Center for Nuclear Receptors and Cell Signaling has committed matching funds, to total $50,000.

As pilot project award recipients and center members, all grant recipients will also have access to the center’s facility cores and qualify for subsidies to further leverage their research

“Through a unique team science approach, members of the CTEHR are unlocking the mysteries of environmental health through new discoveries aimed at improving human health,” said Cheryl Lyn Walker, Ph.D., director of the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology and director of the CTEHR. “The center aims to accelerate innovative scientific discoveries and move them from bench-to-bedside, across translational boundaries, and from the laboratory to the clinic and ultimately to communities to improve human environmental health.”

One of only 21 centers of excellence in the country, the CTEHR is poised to lead the state and nation in better understanding the effects of the environment on human health. The center’s members are focused on translating research advances in environmental causes of disease to improve detection, prevention and management of diseases induced or worsened by environmental exposures.

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Erwin elected to lead Texas chapter of the American College of Cardiology http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=erwin-elected-to-lead-texas-chapter-of-the-american-college-of-cardiology http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=erwin-elected-to-lead-texas-chapter-of-the-american-college-of-cardiology#comments Tue, 16 Dec 2014 22:06:03 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=22155 John P. Erwin, III, M.D., FACC, assistant dean for continuing medical education at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple and a cardiologist with Baylor Scott & White Health, was recently elected to serve on the Board of Governors of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) as the ACC Governor for Texas. ]]>

John P. Erwin, III, M.D., FACC, assistant dean for continuing medical education at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine in Temple and a cardiologist with Baylor Scott & White Health, was recently elected to serve on the Board of Governors of the American College of Cardiology (ACC) as the ACC Governor for Texas. Erwin’s term will run until 2019. He will concurrently serve as the President of the Texas Chapter of the American College of Cardiology.John Erwin

In his position as a member of the Board of Governors, Erwin will join other elected Governors from across the country to facilitate communication between College leaders and their members in the state they represent. Erwin will provide input from the Texas cardiology community to the College on issues related to legislative and regulatory concerns, practice needs, and needs to help members improve patient care.

As the Texas Chapter President, he will also serve as the voice of the Texas cardiology community when advising local and state government officials, media and other professional organizations on issues related to cardiovascular disease. Erwin will also work with the Texas Chapter members to provide education, quality improvement activities, and avenues to influence legislative and regulatory issues affecting the practice of cardiology and quality patient care.

“I feel honored and privileged to represent the patients and the great cardiologists and cardiovascular professionals of the State of Texas,” Erwin said. “Texas has had a rich history of medical leadership and of pioneering cardiac innovations that have improved and saved countless numbers of lives. I look forward to carrying that torch and working alongside the many wonderful thought leaders that constitute the American College of Cardiology.”

Erwin is a graduate of the Texas A&M College of Medicine and performed his Internal Medicine residency and his Cardiovascular Fellowship training at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.

 

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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 Thu, 11 Dec 2014 20:28:02 +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 piece was originally published on October 20, 2014.

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College of Medicine announces new department to bridge gap between clinical excellence and scientific discovery http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=college-of-medicine-announces-new-department-to-bridge-gap-between-clinical-excellence-and-scientific-discovery http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post=college-of-medicine-announces-new-department-to-bridge-gap-between-clinical-excellence-and-scientific-discovery#comments Thu, 04 Dec 2014 14:15:48 +0000 http://news.tamhsc.edu/?post_type=post&p=22100 Approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a new Department of Clinical Translational Medicine will serve as an academic home for clinical teaching and physician-scientist faculty within the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and will provide the infrastructure for new degree programs as the college continues to expand]]>
Faculty member mentors medical student

Approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a new Department of Clinical Translational Medicine will serve as an academic home for clinical teaching and physician-scientist faculty within the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and will provide the infrastructure for new degree programs as the college continues to expand.

Through a new Department of Clinical Translational Medicine, Texas A&M Health Science Center is cultivating physician scientists who are intent on transforming health from bench to bedside. Approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the new department will serve as an academic home for clinical teaching and physician-scientist faculty within the Texas A&M College of Medicine, and will provide the infrastructure for new degree programs as the college continues to expand.

Clinical faculty members are currently housed within community-based hospitals across the state. The move will allow cross-disciplinary medical faculty that do not have a designated clinical affiliation to call Texas A&M Health Science Center home, where they will focus medical education and academic mentorship of students in the clinical realm, as well as clinical translational research in the lab. The newly formed department will allow these interdisciplinary physician scientists greater access to researchers in a number of disciplines across Texas A&M University, including chemists and engineers, enhancing collaborative cutting-edge research opportunities that will transform the future of 21st Century health care through novel discoveries taken from bench to bedside for the care of patients.

“A new department in clinical translational medicine will allow us to recruit the best of the best physician scientists with multifaceted specialties into one academic home to mentor young physicians, while advancing research that has the potential to save lives across the globe,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Medicine. “A department of this nature will open new doors at Texas A&M for research that leverages scientific expertise within both the health science center and university.”

One such faculty member that will be a perfect fit in the new model is Carolyn Cannon, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric pulmonologist and eminent scientific leader known for her work developing novel treatments for the most challenging childhood respiratory diseases. Cannon, one of the most recent faculty recruits for the Texas A&M College of Medicine, is a practicing physician training Texas A&M medical and M.D./Ph.D. students in the Texas Medical Center in Houston. In addition to her academic role, Cannon is involved in multidisciplinary research with scientists at the Texas A&M Department of Chemistry, focused on discovering new ways to deliver therapeutics to fight lung infections in children living with cystic fibrosis.

“A true physician scientist with a passion for patients and students, combined with a dedication to the discovery of novel life-saving treatments, Cannon exemplifies the new breed of faculty members this new department will cultivate,” Ogden said.

The department will initially house 16 current clinical faculty members in Bryan-College Station and Round Rock, with plans to hire an additional 45 faculty members over the next five years.

 

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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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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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