Vital Record Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Fri, 27 Mar 2015 19:23:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Texas A&M Biocorridor offers veterans an opportunity to continue serving and protecting the nation Thu, 26 Mar 2015 20:47:32 +0000 Workforce development is essential for continued growth of the Texas A&M Biocorridor. The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM) is providing a specialized training program to transition veterans into the skilled biotechnology workforce]]>

Bryan-College Station has long been known for its deep-seated roots in military tradition, and more recently the area has earned a reputation as the epicenter of Texas’ emerging biotechnology industry. Now through a specialized training program aimed at transitioning veterans into the skilled biotechnology workforce, Texas A&M is bringing together these two seemingly disparate points of distinction to advance the collaborative vision of academic, community, and industry partners.

NCTM workforce training program

Workforce development is essential for continued growth of the Texas A&M Biocorridor. The National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing is providing a specialized training program to transition veterans into the skilled biotechnology workforce.

“This region presents a unique opportunity borne from an area rich with leading scientific innovators in combination with an outstanding workforce pool comprised of Texas A&M graduates and veterans drawn to the area’s reputation as a military friendly community with an outstanding quality of life,” said Brett Giroir, M.D., CEO of Texas A&M Health Science Center.

The most significant accelerator of the Texas A&M Biocorridor – a sector of land anchored by the Texas A&M Health Science Center Bryan campus – is the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing (CIADM), one of only three such national biosecurity centers in the United States and the only one led by an academic institution. Designed to enhance the nation’s preparedness and response against emerging infectious diseases, the center is expected to have a $42 billion impact on the State of Texas and will lead to the creation of an estimated 6,000 jobs over its 25-year term.

A major component in the CIADM is the National Center for Therapeutics Manufacturing (NCTM), which is not only a first-in-class, flexible biopharmaceutical manufacturing facility, but also headquarters for a set of distinctive workforce training programs funded by the CIADM and implemented by multiple A&M System entities. To ensure biotechnology training that is second to none, the NCTM provides some of the most interactive and realistic pharmaceutical manufacturing training environments available anywhere, combined with highly tailorable on-line and in-person courses.

In May 2015, the NCTM will graduate its first cohort of a dozen military veterans from the Military Veterans Manufacturing Vaccines (MVMV) training program, which was made possible by a Wagner-Peyser grant from the Office of the Governor.

“Through the new military workforce training program, NCTM is building upon veterans’ strong sense of responsibility, professionalism and dedication to accomplishing a mission, as well as their ability to work in challenging and demanding environments – all characteristics that will make them ideal additions to the biotech industry,” said Giroir, who chairs a federally enacted Blue Ribbon Panel recently appointed to ensure that Veterans Affairs medical facilities are optimized to deliver quality health care to U.S. veterans. “This program allows us to come full circle by training former service men and women to protect our country in a new way as biomanufacturing technicians and process development and quality specialists in facilities that are the nation’s first line of defense from biothreats.”

Veterans will complete NCTM’s Biomanufacturing Technical Certification (BTC), a blended learning program comprised of online curricula followed by four weeks of intensive hands-on technical training in upstream and downstream manufacturing processes, sterile environment protocol, bioprocess equipment operations, quality unit operations, documentation practices, and standard operating most common in the pharmaceutical industry.

In late 2015 when the CIADM’s next major milestone is complete – an approximately 100,000 square foot influenza-vaccine manufacturing facility that will be able to supply 50 million doses of pandemic influenza vaccine within four months of an outbreak – the ready-made workforce pipeline will offer a win-win for the local and statewide economy. In the meantime, the state’s continued growth in the biotechnology sector provides a prime opportunity for graduates of NCTM’s latest program to continue their service in the Lone Star State, and ideally in or near the Brazos Valley.

“We’d obviously like to have many of the graduates of NCTM’s workforce training programs working at Texas facilities, but we know that this training is so specialized and in demand at pharmaceutical companies around the world that they will be marketable across the nation,” Giroir said. “This workforce program is essential to continuing the growth of new biotechnology companies and relocation of existing companies to the area, which make the job and economic outlook of the Texas A&M Biocorridor and Bryan-College Station extremely bright for employers and employees, alike.”

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Study finds Texas Cancer Plan serves as a good model for other states Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:29:00 +0000 A study led by the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health has the potential to significantly improve the ways that state cancer control programs are developed and implemented around the country]]>
People forming cancer ribbon

Community capacity building and sustainability are key to successful state cancer control plans. Community members demonstrate their commitment to cancer prevention by forming the cancer ribbon.

A study lead by the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health has the potential to significantly improve the ways that state cancer control programs are developed and implemented around the country.

Researchers affiliated with the Cancer Prevention and Control Research Network (CPCRN) analyzed 40 different state cancer prevention plans funded by the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control in order to determine how they incorporated community capacity building and sustainability into their plan. Research findings published this month in Frontiers in Public Health demonstrate the importance of including detailed methods for obtaining and implementing funding as well as proposed strategies for increased community involvement in state plans for cancer prevention programs.

In “Promoting Public Health through State Cancer Control Plans: A Review of Capacity and Sustainability,” researchers indicated community capacity was addressed in just over half the plans with few specifics on roles and responsibilities, timelines for action, and measurements for evaluation. Almost all 40 state cancer prevention plans addressed sustainability on a least a cursory level, but with few details on how these strategies would be implemented.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

Marcia Ory, Ph.D.

In contrast, the Texas Cancer Plan was selected as a case study of how to incorporate capacity and sustainability, which included highly detailed plans for increasing community participation, capital, and resources as well as plans for gaining and implementing continued funding.

“It is essential that state cancer control plans specifically identify how states will incorporate community involvement, allocate organizational resources, and leverage existing community capital to establish credibility and legitimacy,“ said lead author Regents and Distinguished Professor Marcia Ory, Ph.D., of the Texas A&M School of Public Health. “Plans must address both community capacity building and sustainability in a concrete and realistic manner to assure the success of the important work being undertaken by cancer control and prevention agencies.”

“The initial Texas Cancer Plan was published in 1986, making Texas one of the first states to have a state cancer plan. Texas’ plans are designed to engage stakeholders and their communities from plan initiation through implementation of goals and objectives for cancer control,” said Deborah Vollmer Dahlke, Dr.P.H., co-author and Cancer Alliance of Texas member.

With the release of these findings, study investigators are hopeful that there will be greater attention to these key concepts as they are critical to plans intended to better serve communities. When local cancer prevention programs work together to combine their collective community resources, they increase participation, reinforce a strong chain of leadership, and increase gained capital.

Additional researchers include Cathy Melvin, Ph.D., who was affiliated with the University of North Carolina CPCRN, and Brigid Sanner, who reviewed all of the plans.

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U.S. News ranks Texas A&M School of Public Health among the top 25 Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:15:29 +0000 U.S. News & World Report has recognized the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health as one of the top 25 graduate schools of public health. The 2016 Best Graduate Schools rankings were released recently and also recognized the school’s Master of Health Administration program, ranked 33 among best graduate health care management programs]]>

U.S. News & World Report has recognized the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health as one of the top 25 graduate schools of public health. The 2016 Best Graduate Schools rankings were released recently and also recognized the school’s Master of Health Administration program, ranked 33 among best graduate health care management programs.

“This ranking confirms our place as one of America’s best schools of public health. The high quality of our research and educational programs continues to improve the health of all Texans,” said Jay Maddock, Ph.D., dean of the School of Public Health.

The Texas A&M School of Public Health educates and trains health care professionals at campuses in Bryan-College Station and McAllen – and soon to include Houston – through a variety of undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Through novel research initiatives that incorporate population health investigations across diverse global communities, the School of Public Health is advancing disease prevention and health improvement throughout Texas and beyond.

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Being healthy is about more than just food Wed, 25 Mar 2015 13:00:42 +0000 Becoming healthier requires a little more than just putting the right food on your plate. The government has recommended 10 basic lifestyle changes that will help your "diet" become more than just a meal-time decision]]>


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Finding the right match: Medical students learn where they will do their residencies Tue, 24 Mar 2015 13:32:44 +0000 Fourth-year medical students from the Texas A&M College of Medicine recently found out where they will be doing their residencies – the next step on their path to becoming physicians. Soon-to-be graduates "matched" with some of the most prestigious residency programs in Texas and across the nation. ]]>

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

DSC_7565 Kia Ousley-reduced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_1205 Casey Roth-web

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

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

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

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

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Don’t let the word “diet” overwhelm you Mon, 23 Mar 2015 19:49:24 +0000 Changing up your eating habits can sometimes be overwhelming. New government dietary guidelines show what we are eating too much of—and what we need to eat more of]]>


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Not all strokes are created equal: College of Medicine researcher studies how age and sex affect recovery from stroke Tue, 17 Mar 2015 15:19:41 +0000 Strokes affect men and women much differently. Farida Sohrabji, Ph.D., is trying to learn why this is - and whether understanding gender and age differences in stroke could lead to better treatments]]>
photo of woman in wheelchair

Stroke-related deaths have declined over the past 25 years for men, but not for women. Stroke is currently the 3rd leading cause of death in women.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why can’t I sleep? Common barriers to catching your Z’s Mon, 16 Mar 2015 18:41:40 +0000 Daylight savings has officially arrived, which means most of us are struggling with getting up in complete darkness and going to bed an hour earlier. But for many, sleep never comes easy, no matter the time of the year. There are many reasons why you might be having restless nights, but we sat down with Dr. David Earnest to find out what the most common causes are and how you can address them]]>
There could be many reasons why it's difficult to fall asleep at night. Assess your sleep environment and habits to see if any changes might help you sleep better or longer.

There could be many reasons why it’s difficult to fall asleep at night. Assess your sleep environment and habits to see if any changes might help you sleep better or longer.

Daylight savings has officially arrived, which means most of us are struggling with getting up in complete darkness and going to bed an hour earlier. But for many, sleep never comes easy, no matter the time of the year. For those who constantly find themselves staring at the clock in the wee hours of the night, or even worse, counting sheep, a few extra cups of coffee throughout the morning might be necessary.

“We know that how much you sleep and the quality of your sleep can have a tremendous impact on your overall health,” said David J. Earnest, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who studies circadian rhythms – the human body’s master clock that tells us when to sleep and maintains important physiological processes.

There are many reasons why you might be having restless nights, but we sat down with Earnest to find out what the most common causes are and how you can address them.

Assess your sleep environment

“If you’re finding it difficult to fall asleep, make sure that your bedroom is a conducive environment,” Earnest suggested. Your bedroom should be cool, dark and quiet. While it may not be easy, avoid placing a television or computer in your room, as the light and sound close to bedtime could make it difficult to fall asleep.  If possible, keep your cell phone in another room throughout the night.

If you live on a brightly lit street, consider investing in heavy blinds or curtains that can block the light at night. For noisy areas, white noise machines or fans can help drown out any external sound that might keep you from falling asleep or having a restful sleep.

Establish a bedtime routine

Your bedtime habits might be to blame for restless nights. If part of your wind-down after work or dinner is sitting down with a cup of coffee, or hitting the gym, you might be doing your body a disservice. Avoid consuming caffeine six to eight hours before you plan to sleep and try not to exercise at least three hours before bedtime, as they can delay sleep onset. Meals, especially with foods high in saturated fats or sugar, should be eaten at least a few hours before you plan to sleep. In addition to avoiding caffeine, exercise and late night meals, do not watch television or use your computer, tablet or phone for an hour before bed.

Try to establish a relaxing bedtime routine like reading or taking a bath to signal to your body that it’s time to sleep. Keeping a regular sleep and wake schedule – even during the weekends – is important for regulating your body’s circadian rhythms.

Cut out unnecessary naps

Who doesn’t like the occasional catnap? However, if your naps last longer than an hour, they could be cutting into your sleep time. “Your internal clock regulates many of your body’s functions, including when and how much you sleep. Frequent or long naps can disrupt your internal rhythms and make it difficult to get a full and restful night’s sleep,” Earnest cautioned.

Take time to relax

“One cause of insomnia is anxiety; when the brain centers that control anxiety become over-active, people can find it difficult to fall asleep,” Earnest explained. Depression can also cause irregular sleep patterns, such as insomnia, early awakening or excessive sleep.

Sleep disorders are closely related to anxiety and depression; anxiety and depression can either be a contributing factor or result of sleep disorders. After a particularly stressful day, try to find ways to relax and calm yourself before you go to sleep. If your anxiety or depression is chronic or interfering with your daily life, talk to your physician or consider speaking to a therapist to help you manage your condition.

“We’re starting to recognize is that sleep deprivation and disorders are more prevalent than any other health disorder that affects Americans,” Earnest said. If you feel like there’s a deeper cause to your sleep woes, you may be like one in 10 Americans who suffer from insomnia or other sleep disorders, including:

  • Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD) – This disorder is characterized by a tendency to go to bed later (around two or four in the morning) and to sleep until the early afternoon. This kind of disorder can interfere with a normal work or school schedule.
  • Advanced Sleep Phase Disorder (ASPD) – In contrast with DSPD, ASPD is the tendency to go to bed earlier (six or eight in the afternoon) and to wake earlier than most people (around three or five in the morning). While this kind of disorder doesn’t typically interfere with a normal work or school schedule, it can pose a challenge for social activities or events that occur later in the evening.
  • Non-24-Hour Sleep-Wake Syndrome – This disorder is characterized by a circadian rhythm that is 25 hours or longer, which leads to sleep and wake times becoming gradually later.
  • Jet Lag – Jet lag is one of the most common, and usually non-chronic sleep disorders that occurs when your internal clock is out of synch with a new time zone. After traveling to a new time zone, people may find it difficult to fall and stay asleep during the appropriate times.
  • Shift Work – A significant portion of the workforce are shift workers. With constantly changing shifts, it can be difficult for workers to adjust to their new sleep schedules. Shift work has been associated with a higher risk of developing metabolic or cardiovascular diseases.
  • Sleep Apnea – Sleep apnea occurs when breathing temporarily stops due to a blockage of the upper airways during sleep. Most people with sleep apnea are unaware that they have it, but experience daytime sleepiness, irritability, depression and fatigue the next day, because their sleep lacks quality.
  • Narcolepsy – This disorder is characterized by extreme sleepiness during the day, usually resulting in suddenly falling asleep. It’s caused by a dysfunction in the brain mechanism that controls sleeping and waking.
  • Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS) – RLS symptoms include itching, tingling or burning in the lower legs, making it difficult to become comfortable and fall asleep.

If you think you might have an underlying sleep disorder, discuss your symptoms with your primary care physician or a sleep specialist.

“When we’re pressed for time or have other obligations, sleep is usually the first thing we compromise,” Earnest said. When possible, try not to sacrifice your sleep and overall health.

Maintaining a normal bedtime and getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night can help boost your immune system, improve your mood and increase your productivity during the day. Your family – and co-workers – will appreciate a more rested (less sleep-deprived) you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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