Vital Record Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:34:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 6 Important facts about choosing a sunscreen Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:31:30 +0000 The sun can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, it’s important to know what sunscreen is best for you]]>
Three people applying sunscreen in the summer sun.

Sun exposure can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. It’s important to apply and reapply your sunscreen as you spend time outside.

Summer is far from over—which means more sun exposure for the majority of us. But before you start working on your tan, keep in mind that the sun can cause skin damage in as little as 15 minutes. With skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the United States, it’s important to apply, apply and reapply your sunscreen.

“Sun exposure can also cause discolored blemishes or lesions that can become cancerous, instigate allergic reactions to medications, accelerate the aging process and even increase the risk of developing cataracts,” says Elaine B. Chow, Pharm. D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, who works with patients and students to help them understand which sun protection products to use under different circumstances.

So you can enjoy the remainder of your summer—and have healthy skin for life—Chow offers a few tips on how to choose and use the best sunscreen products for you:

1. How to read the label

When looking for a sunscreen keep an eye out for products with “broad-spectrum” on their label. The sun emits two kinds of UV radiation—both of which can be harmful—UVA and UVB. “A broad-spectrum sunscreen is formulated to protect your skin from both,” says Chow.

2. Which SPF to select

Not all sunscreens afford proportional protection. With SPFs ranging from 5 to100, it can be tricky discerning how much protection each value allows. According to Chow, a higher SPF doesn’t mean double the protection. For example, SPF 15 can block 93% of UVB radiation, SPF 30 will block 97%, but SPF 60 will only block 98%.

While higher SPFs will offer more protection, they won’t offer much more protection than SPF 30.

Chow suggests people with darker complexions use an SPF of at least 15, while fairer skinned people should use SPF 30 at minimum. In general, try to select SPF 15 or higher because SPFs lower than 15 will provide significantly less protection.

3. How often to apply

Sunscreen doesn’t last all day, so it’s important to apply and reapply your protection. How often you should reapply depends on the formulation of the product you use. Check the label and follow the application instructions as the product recommends. If there are no directions listed, the general rule is to apply your sunscreen every two hours.

4. What kind of product to use

If you want a quick, easy method of application, use a spray sunscreen but be aware that you will have to apply it more often. For people with already dry skin, a lotion might be a better option.

Summer fun usually includes spending long afternoons in or by water—remember to reapply your sunscreen and try to select a “water resistant” product. No products are completely “sweat-proof” or “water-proof,” so even with more resistant products, reapplication is necessary. Check the label for instructions on when to reapply.

5. Ingredients to avoid if you have sensitive skin

If you have sensitive skin or skin allergies, finding products that don’t irritate you can be difficult. Use sunscreen designed for children or specifically for people with sensitive skin. “Choose the sunscreens with ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which are less likely to irritate the skin,” suggests Chow.

If your skin is sensitive, try to avoid products with these potentially irritating ingredients:

  • para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)
  • dioxybenzone
  • oxybenzone
  • sulisobenzone


6. What to do if you get sunburned

Despite our best efforts, sunburns can still happen. If you develop a burn it’s important to treat it immediately so it won’t worsen. Avoid the sun and apply aloe to alleviate the burn. After the first 24-48 hours, use skin protectants, such as cocoa butter or Vaseline petroleum jelly to keep clothes from irritating the burn. Wear light, loose clothing to avoid discomfort. Consider taking anti-inflammatory medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to minimize your pain.

For more advice and information on sun safety, please visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.

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Managing medications: how to build a medication list Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:27:18 +0000 Emergencies can occur at any time or place—whether it’s a health emergency or a natural disaster. It’s often difficult to prepare for the unexpected, but keeping an updated list of medications could be a lifesaver during an emergency]]>
A pharmacist explaining a prescription to an associate.

Keeping an up-to-date medications list could be a lifesaver in the event of an emergency.

If your daily ritual includes taking medication, keeping an up-to-date list of medications could be a lifesaver during an emergency. “Having a medicine list can act as a safety net,” says Bree Watzak, Pharm.D., BCPS, assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy’s College Station campus. “A lot of medication errors that occur at the hospital are because we don’t have access to an updated list of what our patients are already taking when they arrive,” says Watzak, who works with St. Joseph’s Hospital’s trauma team and has formal training in emergency preparedness and patient-drug education.

So how do you build this list?

There are many websites and apps that contain free medication forms. Utilizing these tools, such as My Medications, MedTraker or CareZone Meds, can help you manage your medications and provide you with a format so you know what to include. “The apps can even set reminders for when you need to take your next dose, or if you have a doctor’s appointment coming up,” says Watzak.

Here are some suggestions for creating and maintaining a medication list:

What to include

A typical medication form asks you to include:

  • Allergies and reactions
  • Doctors, dentists and other prescribers’ names and numbers
  • Pharmacy name and phone number
  • Medication name (brand and generic)
  • Dosage
  • Doctor’s instructions for use*
  • Reason for taking the medication
  • Date started
  • Date stopped
  • Doctor who prescribed the medicine

*If the instructions on the label differ from your doctor’s instructions, be sure to list your usage as the doctor prescribed.

Remember to include any vitamins, herbal supplements, investigational drugs, sample medications from a doctor or borrowed medications you use, along with your prescribed medications. These could cause an interaction or negative side effects of which your physician needs to be aware of.

In order to provide the best possible care, it is important that your care providers know everything you are currently taking or have already tried.

How often to update

For the most current information, Watzak recommends updating your list every time you visit a doctor or go to the pharmacy. This strategy will also ensure all of your caretakers have the most recent copy of your list, so they can check for any relevant information that could affect their treatment plan.

Where to keep the list

Since emergencies can strike at any time, it is crucial to keep a copy of your medication list with you. Carry a copy of your medicine form in your purse or wallet to be sure you have it at all times. Another, more space-conscious, option is to use an app on your phone. Paramedics usually check your phone for an emergency contact and will see the app.

In general, Watzak suggests keeping a copy of your list in a central location in your house, such as attached to the refrigerator. This will allow everyone within your household to have access to it, and it will be easy for emergency responders to locate.

Who should have access

While keeping a list of medications with you is extremely important, sometimes it’s not enough. You may find yourself in a predicament where you are unconscious or otherwise unable to communicate with your attending physician. Should such a situation arise, it is important to have your current list available to all your physicians, friends and family. Watzak recommends that you have an “in case of emergency” (ICE) contact, and that he or she has your medication list, because that will be the first person the hospital contacts.

With families and friends becoming dispersed across the nation, Watzak also suggests leaving a list with a neighbor, or a nearby person who can check in on you regularly and notice any potential issues. Your medication list should be available to people you trust in emergency situations.

Above all, Watzak encourages keeping up with your medications. Share your list with your physician and the hospital. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact your primary caregiver.

For a downloadable copy of a medication list, please visit the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

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Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry utilizes federal program to bring much-needed dental care to North Texas Tue, 08 Jul 2014 18:11:47 +0000 Dallas residents lacking adequate access to dental care are benefiting from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry’s community-based clinical training program. Since January, the dental school has formed partnerships with three area nonprofits]]>

vitalrecord-ndsm.jpgDallas residents lacking adequate access to dental care are benefiting from Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry’s community-based clinical training program. Since January, the dental school has formed partnerships with three area nonprofits: Healing Hands Ministries in Lake Highlands, North Dallas Shared Ministries and Irving Community Clinic.

A trend was apparent at each of the three clinics: Need among patients far surpassed the hours volunteer dentists were available to provide care.

Now, the partnerships have resulted in an influx of fourth-year dental students at two of the three locations, where they perform extractions, fillings and cleanings. Clinical rotations will begin at the Irving location later this summer.

“We’re basically able to do two things at once,” says Dr. Daniel Jones, professor and chair of the dental school’s public health sciences department, which oversees the community-based training program. “We are increasing access to care, because we are expanding the hours that these clinics are open. We’re expanding them by sending the students out there, which means they get more community-based clinical training. That’s going to be a big push for us in the next couple of years.”

Expansion of the college’s clinical rotation sites would not have been possible without utilization of the 1115 Healthcare Transformation waiver.

Established in fall 2011, the waiver works as an incentive for hospitals and other providers to transform their service delivery practices to improve quality, health status, patient experience, coordination and cost effectiveness, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission website.

Hospitals and health care providers were given the opportunity to apply for funding from a pool worth $29 billion. Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry administrators seized the opportunity, submitting a proposal in 2012 that was met with approval from the commission, making it one of only a handful of dental projects like it across the state.

Now in the third year of a five-year funding period, the waiver has enabled the college to provide new equipment, operatories and electronic health records software at the community clinics, as well as faculty supervision and dental assistants.

“That way, they meet the standards for our students to be there,” says Jones. “This probably would not have happened without the waiver.”

In addition to the community-based clinical training, two other college programs — the senior preceptorship, in which dental students shadow private practitioners and treat patients in community clinics, as well as the school-based sealant program, which provides dental sealants for 10,000 Dallas schoolchildren — opened the door for additional funding through Delivery System Reform Incentive Payments, also a part of the health care waiver.  In total, the value of the college’s three programs approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services tops $28 million.

“This federal program came at a really fortunate time because we were looking to expand students’ training, and this gave us the wherewithal to do it,” says Jones. “The waiver is about improving access to care, but it’s also serving our training needs for the students, which is one of the main goals of the school.”

The clinics

While copay amounts vary among the clinics, applicable third-party insurance coverage, Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP will be collected, as the three locations must be sustainable before the healthcare transformation waiver funding ends, so that off-campus patient care and training can continue in perpetuity.

Healing Hands Ministries

Since January 2014, fourth-year dental students have rotated to the site in groups of four for a week at a time, treating approximately 25 patients a day. With five operatories and the potential for another to be added, Paul Hoffmann, TAMBCD’s administrative director for extramural clinics, says the goal is to provide comprehensive dental care for the entire family.

“There’s such a void for adult care. Inevitably what happens is the adult care comes first, and the children follow,” Hoffmann says.

The clinic’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

North Dallas Shared Ministries

Fourth-year dental students began clinical rotations at the nonprofit on June 11, treating approximately 25 patients per day in the center’s four operatories. Previously, the all-volunteer clinic was limited to four days a month; now with help from Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry students and faculty, patients are seen Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Judy Rorrie, executive director of the nonprofit, says the dental school’s presence will expand the clinic’s reach exponentially.

“To be able to have our clinic open for eight hours a day, five days a week, for 40 weeks a year is going to provide dental care for a population that is sorely in need of its services,” Rorrie says.

Irving Community Clinic

Clinical rotations will begin at this site in late summer 2014. Close proximity to the emergency room at Baylor Medical Center at Irving means patients with urgent dental needs can be redirected to Irving Community Clinic. Two dental students will work at the clinic for a week at a time, performing extractions, fillings and cleanings. Plans are in the works to provide additional treatment, such as endodontics and fixed prosthodontics.

“What has happened with all of these locations is the initial surge seems to be adults, particularly adults with chronic disease,” says Hoffmann. “We anticipate over time they will bring children and siblings.”

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Behavioral health interventions: The importance of communication and new technology Thu, 03 Jul 2014 19:16:11 +0000 As we move toward a more patient-centered form of health care and physicians begin to focus more on specific patient behaviors it has become all the more evident that patient lifestyle choices contribute significantly to our overall health. ]]>
Behavioral Health Feature

Recent studies show mobile devices as a positive means of collecting information from patients and improving communication between provider and patient.

As we move toward a more patient-centered form of health care, physicians now are beginning to focus more on specific patient behaviors and how their lifestyle contributes to their overall health. This makes transparency and effective communication between patients and physicians an essential component to a doctor’s ability to provide quality care.

“Unfortunately, patients as well as doctors can be leery of discussing particular topics they are either uncomfortable with or that are of a sensitive nature,” says Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health. “Some topics may even cause patients to become defensive when questioned about them, such as substance abuse, eating disorders, or mental health.”

Ory notes that clinicians are sometimes reluctant to bring up emotional health issues for fear that they won’t have time to respond. In reality, not dealing with such issues is often counterproductive because anxious or depressed patients often have more trouble managing their health conditions and end up taking more of a clinician’s time.

So how do clinicians bring up need-to-alter behaviors in a way that is motivating and non-judgmental?

This is the question behind new research regarding strategies health care providers can implement to encourage open communication and collaboration with patients.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Recent studies have emphasized the use of mobile devices as a means of collecting information from patients. As mobile devices have flooded daily use, they have become increasingly popular as a way to increase patient-physician communication. With the help of new research, these innovative technologies are now being used as a way to collect and analyze patient data securely, define patient goals, create support networks, and monitor health improvement progress.

Recently, Ory, Yan Hong, Ph.D., associate professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and several other researchers at Baylor Scott and White HealthCare published an article online in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mhealth and Uhealth on the use of mobile devices by primary care physicians and their patients. This particular study examined the usability of mobile devices to promote healthy behaviors and chronic disease prevention for such health issues as diabetes and obesity.

In “Using the iPod touch for Patient Health Behavior Assessment and Health Promotion in Primary Care,” researchers concluded that patients were able to complete a health behavior assessment from their doctor’s office using the iPod touch with relative ease. In addition, researchers found that when physicians engaged their patients on the report generated by the assessment, patients were much more likely to put into practice the behavioral changes suggested by their physicians than those who did not. This method provided patients with the opportunity to engage with their physician in a one-on-one setting, while receiving individualized healthcare suggestions that facilitate effective behavioral change.

“The vast majority of patients found the device extremely user-friendly,” said Samuel N. Forjuoh, Dr.P.H., M.D., Ph.D., the principal investigator of the project. “In addition, the iPod touch minimizes survey response error, is reliable in eliciting sensitive data in a private and confidential manner, provides easy data storage and transportation, and is a promising device to assist behavioral change within a diverse population of varying age groups, genders, ethnicities, and health status.”

As the ways through which physicians and clinicians practice health care continues to change, knowing a patient’s behavior patterns and emotional state may help to create better informed physicians and allow for more individualized care. Whether through one-on-one discussion or through mobile technology, it is important for health care providers to find ways to help patients address their emotional concerns and lifestyle behaviors that can act as barriers to good health.



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Low-cost TB test means quicker, more reliable diagnosis for patients Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:47:06 +0000 A new test for tuberculosis (TB) could dramatically improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis for one of the world’s deadliest diseases, enabling health care providers to report results to patients within minutes]]>

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Supporting digestion: 4 ways to help gut bacteria thrive Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:39:56 +0000 There are trillions of microbes living in our digestive system, producing compounds that support our overall health. These natural compounds in our GI tract help prevent chronic inflammation and obesity, keeping potentially fatal bacterial spores from germinating within our body and much more. ]]>

Probiotics—it’s a term you probably recognize and associate with cups of yogurt—but what exactly does it mean? How do probiotics help you maintain your digestive health?

In layman’s terms, probiotics are microorganisms—usually strains of bacteria—normally present in fermented foods that help promote a healthy gastrointestinal (GI) tract. There are trillions of microbes living in our digestive system, producing compounds that support our overall health. Like these microbes—collectively referred to as the microbiota—probiotics help us digest food, produce chemicals and perform other functions that benefit us. Unlike our inherent gut microbiota, probiotics may not stably colonize our GI tract, so their benefits are likely temporary.

“Microbiota—the community of organisms present throughout our body, and in our digestive systems—are all the symbiotic microbes that have coevolved with us,” states Robert C. Alaniz, Ph.D., assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine. Alaniz, director of the newly established Center for Integrated Microbiota Research (CIMR) at Texas A&M University, is conducting extensive research on the beneficial compounds produced by gut bacteria with Arul Jayaraman, Ph.D., a professor at Texas A&M’s College of Engineering.

These natural compounds in our GI tract help prevent chronic inflammation and obesity, keeping potentially fatal bacterial spores from germinating within our body and much more. So what can you do to support your microbiota and their natural compounds that help your digestive system thrive?

Alaniz provides the following suggestions on how to support your gut microbiota:

Photo of a red apple being washed in sink.

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables help your microbiota thrive and produce beneficial chemical compounds.

1.    Eat your vegetables

Although we cannot digest fiber, our microbiota can. Fiber is food for our gut bacteria, and the compounds they produce from metabolizing fiber are beneficial to us. Eating healthy, fiber-rich foods supports our microbiota and allows them to produce short-chain fatty acids, which provide us with energy and promotes digestive health.

In combination with a healthy diet, avoid greasy, fatty foods. Diets rich in vegetables and fruits allow healthy gut bacteria to thrive, but excessively fatty foods will have the opposite effect. A poor diet may also prevent your microbiota from producing the chemicals that benefit your overall health.

2.    Don’t be so germaphobic

Of course, you should wash your hands after sneezing or cooking with raw chicken, but not washing your hands after touching a doorknob or the floor could actually be beneficial. Over the course of millions of years, our immune system has evolved to accept our microbiota and fight off infectious diseases. “Hyper-hygiene” may actually impair our immune system; without pathogens to target, our immune system can begin to attack our microbiota and our own tissues.

While hygiene is certainly important, try not to overcompensate. By being exposed to bacteria and other pathogens, we are allowing our immune system to do its job and preventing it from attacking the healthy bacteria in our GI tract.

3.    Don’t overuse antibiotics

Consult with your physician and don’t panic if you are not given a prescription for every illness—it can actually be a positive thing to allow your body to naturally fight off some infectious diseases. This will help bolster your immune system and will keep your microbiota balanced so they can better support your health.

With the advent of modern science, antibiotics have become commonly prescribed, but are not always the best option for treating all ailments. Of course, you should follow the instructions of your physician, but keep in mind that overuse of antibiotics is detrimental to our digestive health because the antibiotics attack the beneficial bacteria in our GI tract and other body sites. “Every time antibiotics are used, it impacts our microbiota,” states Alaniz.

4.    Take your probiotics

Probiotics, in addition with a healthy diet, promote digestive health. By consuming probiotics, you can help maintain a balanced microbiota that may produce more chemical compounds to benefit you.

Foods that usually contain probiotics are fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir. But if yogurt isn’t your thing, fermented cabbage products, like sauerkraut and kimchi, also contain strains of probiotics. Probiotic supplements can also be used, but with the limitation that they don’t contain the complex nutrients found in many food forms.

Introducing probiotics into your regular diet is reported to be beneficial overall and may help you reduce the severity of chronic diseases like inflammation and type 2 diabetes, allowing you to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

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Ferdinand finds laws restricting texting while driving save lives Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:30:17 +0000 Although not all states have laws restricting texting while driving, a recent study by Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, indicates if they did, it would save lives]]>

Texting and Driving Image Although not all states have laws restricting texting while driving, a recent study by Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D., assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, indicates if they did, it would save lives.

Ferdinand, who is in the Department of Health Policy and Management, used a panel study design that examined the effects of different types of texting bans on motor vehicular fatalities. She and her co-researchers used the Fatality Analysis Reporting System—a nationwide census providing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Congress, and the public with data regarding fatal injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes. A difference-in-differences empirical approach was used to examine the incidence of fatal crashes between 2000 through 2010 in 48 U.S. states with and without texting bans. Age cohorts were constructed to examine the impact of these bans on age-specific traffic fatalities.

Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D.

Alva Ferdinand, Dr.P.H., J.D.

Results indicated that primarily enforced texting bans (i.e., a police officer can stop a driver for texting while driving without having another reason) were significantly associated with a 3 percent reduction in traffic fatalities among all age groups. This equates to an average of 19 deaths prevented per year in states with such bans. Further, primarily enforced texting laws that banned only young drivers were the most effective at reducing deaths among the 15-21 year old cohort. Secondarily enforced texting restrictions (i.e., a police officer can only cite a driver for texting after stopping them for some other violation, such as speeding, driving while intoxicated, etc.) were not associated with traffic fatality reductions in any of their analyses.

“Our results indicate that states that have not enacted any primarily enforced texting bans are missing out on opportunities to prevent avoidable roadway deaths,” said Ferdinand.

“Impact of Texting Laws on Motor Vehicular Fatalities in the United States,” was published online in June in the American Journal of Public Health.

Additional authors include Nir Menachemi, Ph.D., M.P.H.; Bisakha Sen, Ph.D., Justin Blackburn, Ph.D., Michael Morrisey, Ph.D., and Leonard Nelson III, J.D., LLM.

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Houston Methodist and Texas A&M join forces to enhance physician education and research innovation Tue, 01 Jul 2014 15:00:24 +0000 Houston Methodist and Texas A&M Health Science Center are partnering to bring more innovative research and medical education to the state through new health professions degree programs in the Texas Medical Center]]>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Research to Reality: Researcher identifies effective chemical intervention for liver cancer Mon, 30 Jun 2014 18:35:59 +0000 Natalie Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published findings from a new study using a chemical intervention approach to prevent carcinogen-induced liver cancer. ]]>
Natalie Johnson, Ph.D.

Natalie Johnson, Ph.D.

Every single day people are exposed to harmful environmental stressors that have the ability to damage or alter our body’s natural processes. In many developing countries and low resource populations, people are exposed to even more environmental hazards considering their lack of reliable access to proper nutrition and care.

Environmental and occupational factors play a major role in the health of populations. Due to chronic exposure to high levels of heat or radiation, natural and synthetic chemicals, as well as various food and nutrients we eat every day, these external stressors can cause major health problems including many forms of cancer.

Natalie Johnson, Ph.D., assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health, recently published findings from a new study using a chemical intervention approach to prevent carcinogen-induced liver cancer. This study examined the effectiveness of using a synthetic chemical intervention to prevent carcinogen-induced hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC).

“HCC, the most common form of primary liver cancer, is now the second leading cause of cancer mortality worldwide,” said Johnson.

“However, the use of chemical or dietary interventions to block, retard, or reverse carcinogenesis, an approach known as chemoprevention, represents a promising strategy for the reduction HCC.”

HCC is multifactorial, and the major causes include chronic infection with the hepatitis B or C (HBV and HCV) virus, cirrhosis, or exposure to aflatoxin B1 (AFB1). AFB1 is a naturally occurring toxin produced by the fungus Aspergillus flavus that often contaminates grains before they are harvested or if they are improperly stored. AFB1 is currently estimated to account for approximately a quarter of all human HCC cases worldwide. Furthermore, co-infection with the hepatitis virus greatly synergizes the risk of developing HCC.

“Most HCC cancers occur in parts of Southeast Asia and Africa due to chronic infection with HBV or HCV and ingestion of AFB1 through mold grains,” said Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Center for Environmental Assessment, in a perspective published in relation to Johnson’s recent work.

In this study researchers examined the effectiveness of chemoprevention using a synthetic oleanane triterpenoid (CDDO-Im) to protect against AFB1-induced HCC. Using a lifetime cancer bioassay in a rat model, they measured and tracked DNA biomarkers in animals that were exposed to the AFB1 that either did or did not progress to develop HCC.

Findings showed that none of the animals that were treated with the CDDO-Im intervention developed HCC as opposed to the 22 out of 23 animals that were not treated with the intervention that presented with multiple HCC’s.

“The overwhelming positive impact of our chemical intervention on prevention of HCC and survival against a large exposure to AFB1 is unparalleled,” said Johnson.

“The complete risk reduction potential found in this model allows us to probe tenets of importance to the broader discipline of risk assessment.”

Using this complete risk reduction method, Johnson’s findings from this study provide a model for the future development of effective chemopreventive agents. This approach not only serves as the foundation for the development of new strategies of prevention in liver cancers, but could potentially expand our knowledge of carcinogenesis, enhance our ability to develop preventive therapies, and reduce overall cancer mortality around the world.


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