Vital Record Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center 2015-12-01T14:00:47Z Lauren Thompson <![CDATA[You Asked: Does melatonin really work?]]> 2015-11-30T22:44:45Z 2015-12-01T14:00:47Z Western society has long abandoned the days of rising and setting with the sun. Our daily habits translate into restless nights because our body clocks are completely out of sync—enter melatonin. Melatonin therapy may ease your sleep struggles and also body-hack your circadian rhythms to evade jet lag]]>

Western society has long abandoned the days of rising and setting with the sun. Our daily habits translate into restless nights because our body clocks are completely out of sync—enter melatonin. Melatonin therapy may ease your sleep struggles and also body-hack your circadian rhythms to evade jet lag.

“Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain,” said David J. Earnest, Ph.D., a professor in the department of neuroscience and experimental therapeutics at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who studies circadian rhythms—24-hour cycles that tell our bodies when to eat, sleep and perform certain processes. “At night, melatonin’s circulation in our bloodstream is high; this it is what signals nighttime and sleep to our body.”

“There are two mechanisms that regulate our sleep patterns,” he added. “The homeostatic response is based on sleep need. It begs the question, ‘how full is the tank?’ If our tank isn’t full, then our body tells us to sleep. Circadian rhythms are the second mechanism. This response is commonly known as your body’s internal clock and decides what time of day or night we need to sleep.”

Earnest noted melatonin therapy aligns with our circadian rhythms and works in two different ways. “At low doses, melatonin is considered a light hypnotic,” he said. “It doesn’t keep you asleep, but it will induce sleep. When taking a higher dosage, melatonin will actually reset your internal body clock—a useful tactic to avoid jet lag.”

Insomnia is a multi-faceted condition and unfortunately it’s often a self-induced problem. “Melatonin will only work if you’re promoting a healthy sleep environment,” he said. “Don’t drink caffeine in the evening or exercise late at night. By staring at your computer or watching TV right before bed you’re engaging in sleep sabotage. It’s important to establish a bedtime routine and axe your bad habits. Remember, melatonin won’t fix a problem you’re making worse.”

Earnest suggests taking melatonin 15 minutes before bedtime after your body has had a chance to settle down. “If you aren’t asleep after 30 to 40 minutes, chances are melatonin may not work. You may need to reassess your habits,” Earnest said.

According to Earnest—while melatonin is mainly known as a sleep inducer—it has another useful talent: combating jet lag. “Since melatonin times when sleep should occur, people who travel across multiple time zones can use melatonin to body-hack the unwelcome effects of jet lag,” Earnest said.

For example, let’s say you’re planning a trip from Texas to London and want to adjust to Europe’s time zone beforehand. You’ll need to simulate what your melatonin levels look like during London’s night prior to your departure.

Earnest suggests taking melatonin about five days before you leave at the local time that coincides with your destination’s nighttime. “This will make you sleepy during the day, but it will train your body clock to adjust to the new time zone and hopefully keep jet lag at bay,” he said.

It’s important to note that the melatonin dosage for jet lag will be much higher than the dosage for sleep troubles. “It really depends on the brand, but a light hypnotic dose of melatonin to combat insomnia is around .3 to .5 milligrams,” Earnest said. “The dose for jet lag will be closer to .5 or .8 milligrams.”

Before you begin taking any sort of supplement, even a natural one, it’s always smart to check with your health care provider. “Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone, but it can still cause adverse reactions if combined with certain medications. You should always consult with your physician about any supplements or medications to ensure this won’t happen,” Earnest said.

Christina Sumners <![CDATA[Our mothers told us to eat our vegetables: Now we know why]]> 2015-11-30T22:46:08Z 2015-11-30T22:46:08Z Researchers at Texas A&M pinpoint compound in broccoli and other vegetables that may help combat cancer]]>

A compound in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may be able to not only help prevent cancer but also help to treat it—a new approach researchers at Texas A&M Health Science Center are calling “from the table to the bedside.” Although no one is suggesting giving up traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer, compounds from food may actually help cancer drugs work more effectively.

This cancer-fighting compound is called sulforaphane, and it is found in vegetables like Brussels sprouts, kale, cauliflower and cabbage, but its highest concentrations are in the young sprouts of broccoli. Sulforaphane can also be found in a dietary supplement called broccoli sprout extract, or BSE.

Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center Institute of Biosciences and Technology (IBT) in Houston, along with collaborators in Oregon, had previously found that sulforaphane could inhibit colon and prostate cancer cells in the laboratory. They’ve now shown that it seems to help humans as well.

Roderick H. Dashwood, professor and director of the Center for Epigenetics & Disease Prevention at the Texas A&M IBT, takes a “field-to-clinic” approach to cancer prevention. He and a collaborator, Praveen Rajendran, Ph.D., assistant professor at the center, published a new study in the journal Clinical Epigenetics that indicates a BSE supplement may help prevent or even treat colon cancer and hints at the biological pathways involved.

The BSE supplement seems to be generally safe. “We have not seen any serious adverse events in healthy volunteers who consumed BSE pills for seven days,” Rajendran said, although some people did experience mild abdominal discomfort. He cautions, however, that not all broccoli supplements are necessarily as effective as the one tested. “We have used a standardized broccoli extract in our study provided by Johns Hopkins University,” Rajendran said. “This BSE supplement is being evaluated in several other clinical trials around the country, but I’m not sure other, similar supplements available to the public have the same level of active ingredients, including sulforaphane.”

In a separate clinical study, 28 human volunteers over the age of 50, who were undergoing routine colonoscopies, were surveyed for their cruciferous vegetable-eating habits. When their colon biopsies were examined, those who ate more servings were found to have higher levels of expression of the tumor suppressor gene p16 than those who ate few or no cruciferous vegetables. This effect on p16 held even for people who didn’t eat these vegetables every single day, which may seem strange, as a single serving of sulforaphane is generally cleared from the body in less than 24 hours. “This hints at the possibility that epigenetic mechanisms are initially triggered by sulforaphane and its metabolites, and downstream mechanisms could be sustained, at least in the short-term, even after compounds are eliminated from the body.” In other words, eating vegetables containing sulforaphane can actually change your genes to make your body better able to prevent tumor growth.

However, it’s not all good news. In animal models, sulforaphane was shown to generally inhibit the development of colon cancer, but it’s a bit of a two-edged sword. Sulforaphane induces a protein called Nrf2, which has beneficial antioxidant and detoxifying effects—and is obviously good for fighting cancer. Later in the development of cancer, though, Nrf2 can also have a role in tumor growth and can even enhance the buildup of plaque in the arteries. “Because of all this, we believe that Nrf2 status is worthy of further investigation,” Rajendran said, “not just for cancer treatment but for its role in modulating cardiovascular disease.”

“Our work provides comprehensive proof-of-principle using cell-based, animal and human studies that dietary compounds like sulforaphane can be chemopreventive,” or able to help prevent cancer, Rajendran said. “However, we’re not quite ready to recommend everyone take a BSE supplement, and it’s certainly worth reiterating what nutritionists have said for years: eat your vegetables.”

Katherine Hancock <![CDATA[Students excel during Aggies Invent: Pediatric Medical Applications]]> 2015-11-30T21:41:03Z 2015-11-25T17:45:20Z Dehydration is the second leading cause of death in infants, but what if a simple pacifier could prevent it? Student team DeHydraTect developed a dehydration-detecting pacifier during Aggies Invent: Pediatric Medical Applications]]>

Dehydration is the second leading cause of death in infants, but what if a simple pacifier could prevent it? Student team DeHydraTect developed a dehydration-detecting pacifier during Aggies Invent: Pediatric Medical Applications.

Aggies Invent promotes an innovation and entrepreneurial mindset among students at Texas A&M University. It gathers invited students for a 48 hour challenge, provides them with the needs statements submitted by sponsors, allows them to self-select teams, gives them access to industry mentors and support from the Engineering Innovation Center (EIC) to create solutions and prototypes.

The focus of the most recent Aggies Invent was Pediatric Medical Applications. Texas Children’s Hospital, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and Accenture sponsored the weekend’s event. Partnering with doctors and researchers from each of the sponsors, students were presented with needs statements related to medical equipment, patient comfort and diagnosing and correcting health problems. Teams were tasked with enhancing the effectiveness of care and comfort for infant and child patients.

More than 130 students applied for Aggies Invent: Pediatric Medical Applications and 62 were selected to participate. The students ranged from freshmen to doctoral candidates. Most participants were engineering students, but the group included 13 medical students and a variety of other majors from across the university. Engaging different disciplines fosters development of solutions that are truly innovative and creative.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for medical students with young, energetic and innovative minds to interact with engineering students and others to work towards the common goal of providing better patient care,” said Ruth Bush, M.D., J.D, M.P.H., vice dean for academic affairs and vice dean for the Texas A&M College of Medicine in Bryan-College Station.

The winning team, DeHydraTect, was comprised of Scott Herting, Magy Avedissian, Jose Wippold, Grace Fletcher and Nga Tang (College of Medicine). The pacifier they created contains a saliva analysis channel using biometric sensors to detect dehydration through detection of the variation in salinity. The pacifier relays data to a mobile or computer application for parents and doctors to analyze.

Second place went to the team of Tessa Bronez, Clayton Kruger (College of Medicine), Robert Hunt and Sima Amin (College of Medicine) for its product, iCare, a screening device to better detect retinopathy of prematurity in infants. Retinopathy of prematurity is an abnormal blood vessel that can lead to detached retinas and blindness. The team’s product captures images of the eye to aid in the diagnosis and improve patient comfort during the process.

LiteAlert came in third place with an infant movement detector. Sensors are placed on infants in the NICU and integrated with an alarm system algorithm. The detector will prevent false alarms from infant movement; therefore allowing caretakers to respond more efficiently when real health alarms are sounded. Team members included Jessica Brezicha, Jessica Hanson, Kristen Calhoun (College of Medicine), Abi Subramanian (College of Medicine) and Maximiliano Ortiz.

This Aggies Invent was judged by Kristen Banks, managing director for Accenture; Balakrishna Haridas, Ph.D., professor of practice and head of entrepreneurship programs for the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station; Jon Mogford, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research at Texas A&M; Mark Sicilio, M.D., interim department chair Humanities in Medicine and assistant professor of pediatrics at Texas College of Medicine and Neal Spears, M.D., pediatrics specialist for St. Joseph Health System.

“Having students come out of the university and be able to apply this innovation experience immediately is an important skill,” said Banks. “It makes them so valuable to any organization.”

The judging panel was so impressed with the results of the competition that Mogford decided to award each team a $250 prize. The top three teams received $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively, for their awards.

The innovation does not stop with awards. All teams are invited to continue working on their project and will have access to the EIC and mentors to help them improve their idea and create more advanced prototypes. Rodney Boehm, event organizer, director of Aggies Invent and associate professor of practice, continues to provide guidance to each team throughout this process. They also have the opportunity to work with Startup Aggieland for additional assistance.

Sicilio said he hopes these ideas will be presented at the College of Medicine Grand Rounds and at medical conferences.

“I’m amazed and honored to help with the collaboration between engineering and medicine,” Sicilio stated. “This was amazing.”

Lauren Rouse <![CDATA[A history of influenza pandemics]]> 2015-11-25T15:39:12Z 2015-11-25T15:39:12Z Influenza is responsible for some of the deadliest pandemics of the 20th century and early 21st century. This infographic details statistics from four of the biggest influenza pandemics in recent history]]>

Infographic about the major flu pandemics , including the 1918-1919 pandemic, the 1957*1958 pandemic, the 1968-1969 pandemic and the 2009-2010 pandemic.

Holly Shive <![CDATA[Health Science Center announces latest regents and emerita faculty designations]]> 2015-11-25T15:42:12Z 2015-11-25T13:21:38Z James Samuel, Ph.D., and Lynne Opperman, Ph.D., are the latest recipients of the Regents Professor Award. Jean Brender, Ph.D., RN, was also formally awarded the Professor Emerita status. ]]>

James Samuel, Ph.D., professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and Wofford Cain Endowed Chair in Infectious Disease, and Lynne Opperman, Ph.D., professor in the department of biomedical sciences at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, are the latest recipients of the prestigious Regents Professor Award. Jean Brender, Ph.D., RN, who served as both professor of epidemiology and associate dean for research at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, was also formally awarded the Professor Emerita status. The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents granted these designations during its November 12 meeting.

Established in 1996, the Regents Professor Award is bestowed annually in recognition of employees who have made exemplary contributions to their university or agency and to the people of Texas. The designation of emeritus/emerita recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the university and the system through their dedicated service, upon retirement. The title is added to each faculty member’s current designation or rank.

Samuel has been an integral part of the College of Medicine faculty since 1994 and has led the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis and Immunology as Department Chair down a productive and innovative path since 2010.

Samuel received his undergraduate degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Washington State University in Pullman, Wash.  He received post-doctoral training at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md., and worked in the Biotechnology arena for Battelle Memorial Institute and MicroCarb, Inc., prior to joining the College of Medicine.  He has authored more than 92 peer-reviewed manuscripts and is a national and international expert on Q fever.

Also receiving the Regents Professor Award is Lynne Opperman, professor in the department of biomedical sciences at Texas A&M Health Science Center. Throughout her career, Opperman has maintained leadership roles outside the dental school, including a two-year term as president of the American Association of Anatomists that concluded in April 2015. Locally, Opperman has served as president of the Bioengineering Interest Group of Dallas-Fort Worth, seeking and receiving grants to fund team research awards for the organization.

While Opperman concentrates her research on prenatal craniofacial development and craniofacial anomalies in children, as director of technology development at Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, she utilizes a team approach to usher potential dental therapies from the research lab to market. In addition, at the predoctoral level, Opperman serves as a mentor for dental students as they conduct predoctoral research and as course director of general histology. She also is course director of the graduate student colloquium.

Before joining the Texas A&M faculty, Opperman’s education spanned continents, including a doctoral degree in developmental biology with undergraduate training in zoology and psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Jean Brender, Ph.D., RN, who previously served as both professor of epidemiology and associate dean for research at the Texas A&M School of Public Health, was also formally awarded the Professor Emerita status.

For over 30 years, Brender’s areas of research interest and expertise focused on women’s and children’s health issues, such as the epidemiology of birth defects; prenatal environmental/occupational exposures and adverse reproductive outcomes; and adverse health effects associated with residential proximity to industrial emissions and hazardous waste sites. She has served as lead investigator on research projects focusing on these areas including the groundbreaking Nitrates, Nitrates, and Nitrosatable Drugs and Risk of Birth Defects Project that was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. This study found an association between higher nitrates in drinking water and some types of birth defects.

Brender served on the National Research Council (of the National Academies) Committee on Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations Near Nuclear Facilities. She also served for ten years on the Texas Department of Health’s Institutional Review Board and continues to serve as a member of the Texas A&M University’s Institutional Review Board.

Brender is a Fellow in the American College of Epidemiology. She holds both a bachelor’s and master’s of nursing and a Ph.D. in epidemiology.

Since retirement, Brender has focused on volunteering her time to help the indigent and homeless through teaching English as a second language and assisting Austin Street Youth Ministry.

“Drs. Samuel, Opperman and Brender are all worthy of this distinguished honor for their respective contributions to medicine, dentistry and public health,” said Paul Ogden, M.D., interim senior vice president of Texas A&M Health Science Center. “It is our privilege to call them colleagues and we congratulate them on this outstanding accomplishment.”


Lauren Thompson <![CDATA[Fast Facts: What you should know about Chagas disease]]> 2015-11-25T15:26:16Z 2015-11-24T23:05:05Z Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a potentially life-threatening condition transmitted by triatomine bugs, or “kissing bugs.” While Chagas disease is more prevalent in the tropics and Latin America, Texas state health officials are concerned about its recent emergence in Texas]]>

Chagas disease, also known as American trypanosomiasis, is a potentially life-threatening condition transmitted by triatomine bugs, or “kissing bugs.” While Chagas disease is more prevalent in the tropics and Latin America, Texas state health officials are concerned about its recent emergence in Texas.

 1. What is Chagas disease?

 Kissing bugs (or the triatomine bug)—aptly named for the region they bite (around the eyes and mouth)—carry the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi (T.cruzi), which causes Chagas. The disease is known as a “silent killer” because the infection can remain dormant in the bloodstream for decades. However, around 30 percent of people with the disease may eventually suffer from serious cardiac or intestinal complications.

2. How is it contracted?

 Transmission is mostly due to a bite from the triatomine bug or “kissing bug.” Kissing bugs become a vector for Chagas after they feed on an animal or person infected with the T. cruzi parasite. At night, they become active and feed on human blood. Kissing bugs normally bite an exposed area of skin, such as the face and then defecate close to the bite. T.cruzi parasites enter the body when a person instinctively smears the bug feces into the bite, the eyes, the mouth or into any skin break. T.cruzi can also be spread through:

  • consumption of food contaminated with T. cruzi through contact with infected triatomine bug feces,
  • blood transfusion from infected donors,
  • passage from an infected mother to her newborn during pregnancy or childbirth,
  • organ transplants using organs from infected donors, and
  • laboratory accidents

3. What are the symptoms of Chagas disease?

 Chagas disease presents in two phases: the acute phase and the chronic phase. Both phases can be symptom free or life threatening.

The acute phase lasts for the first few weeks or months of infection. It usually goes unnoticed because it is symptom free or exhibits only mild symptoms and signs that are not unique to Chagas disease. The symptoms can include:

  • fever
  • fatigue,
  • body aches,
  • headache,
  • rash,
  • loss of appetite,
  • diarrhea,
  • and vomiting.

The signs on physical examination can include mild enlargement of the liver or spleen, swollen glands, and local swelling (a chagoma) where the parasite entered the body. The most recognized marker of acute Chagas disease is called Romaña’s sign, which includes swelling of the eyelids on the side of the face near the bite wound, or where the bug feces were deposited or accidentally rubbed into the eye. Even if symptoms develop during the acute phase, they usually fade away on their own, within a few weeks or months. Although the symptoms resolve, the infection will persist if left untreated.

During the chronic phase, the infection may remain silent. However, some people develop:

  • cardiac complications, which can include an enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, altered heart rate or rhythm, and cardiac arrest (sudden death); and/or
  • intestinal complications, which can include an enlarged esophagus (megaesophagus) or colon (megacolon) and can lead to difficulties with eating or with passing stool.

The average life-time risk of developing one or more of these complications is about 30 percent.

4. Can it be treated?

There are two approaches to therapy, both of which can be life-saving:

  • antiparasitic treatment, to kill the parasite; and
  • symptomatic treatment, to manage the symptoms and signs of infection.

 Antiparasitic treatment is most effective early in the course of infection but is not limited to cases in the acute phase. In the United States, this type of treatment is available through Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Your health care provider can talk with CDC staff about whether and how you should be treated. Most people do not need to be hospitalized during treatment.

 Symptomatic treatment may help people who have cardiac or intestinal problems from Chagas disease. For example, pacemakers and medications for irregular heartbeats may be life saving for some patients with chronic cardiac disease.

5. What should I do if I think I have Chagas disease?

You should discuss your concerns with your health care provider, who will examine you and ask you questions (for example, about your health and where you have lived). Chagas disease is diagnosed by blood tests. If you are found to have Chagas disease, you should have a heart tracing test (electrocardiogram), even if you feel fine. You might be referred to a specialist for more tests and for treatment.

6. How do I keep kissing bugs out of my home?

 Kissing bugs typically live in the cracks of poorly constructed homes in rural or suburban areas, but they are also found beneath porches, between rocky structures, in wood or brush piles, and in outdoor dog houses and kennels or chicken coops.

 Long lasting insecticide treated bednets and curtains have been show to kill these bugs. In the United States, a licensed pest-control operator should be consulted if considering the use of insecticides around the home. Roach motels or other “bait” traps do not work against kissing bugs.

Experts stress if a kissing bug is found in your home you should never handle it with your bare hands.

Other precautions to prevent a house infestation include:

  • Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
  • Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
  • Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
  • If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
  • Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
  • Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
  • Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs

To learn more about how to safely identify kissing bugs visit This site features an interactive map on their whereabouts in Texas and posts updates and precautions associated with kissing bugs and Chagas disease.

For more information about Chagas disease, visit these fact pages from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The World Health Organization (information above obtained from these sites).

Scott Lillibridge, M.D., is a professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Public Health and deputy principal investigator and chief scientist for the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. Dr. Lillibridge is a 30-year veteran in medical and public health preparedness who previously served as founding director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Program and also worked as Special Assistant to the Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dr. Lillibridge served as Medical Director of the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. He currently serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Health Threats Resilience Sub-Committee, offering expertise in refugee health and civil conflict, biodefense and bioterrorism, public health preparedness and response, and global health and development. He also serves on the Texas Task Force on Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response, which was created in response to the Ebola outbreak in the U.S.

Featured image credit: Gabriel L. Hamer

Lauren Thompson <![CDATA[8 things you should be cleaning more often]]> 2015-11-24T22:41:06Z 2015-11-24T22:41:06Z As we head into cold and flu season, good hygiene is crucial. Viruses and bacteria can breed and multiply in the most unusual places. Staving off sickness this winter could be as simple as cleaning the following items a little more often]]>

As we head into cold and flu season, good hygiene is crucial. Viruses and bacteria can breed and multiply in the most unusual places. Staving off sickness this winter could be as simple as cleaning the following items a little more often.

Computer Keyboard: Your keyboard may actually be dirtier than your toilet. While this sounds like a great excuse to take a personal day away from the office, researchers say you shouldn’t be surprised that the keys and spaces of keyboards are a haven for microbes and bacteria. Practice good desktop hygiene by wiping your keyboard daily with disinfectant towelettes tailored for electronic use.



Toothbrush holder: Did you know your toothbrush holder is the third most germ-infected object in the home? It’s easy to feel queasy when wondering how much bacteria is living so near to an item we put in our mouth daily. Avoid this scenario by following these instructions on a weekly basis:

Begin by rinsing your toothbrush holder out with hot water and wiping down the outside with a clean cloth. Then, using a pipe cleaner, reach inside the slots to remove any hidden grime. Next, fill the toothbrush holder with antibacterial mouthwash and allow it to sit for two minutes. Finally, rinse out the mouthwash, run the holder under water and let it air dry.


Steering Wheel/Interior of Car: You may want to re-think dining and driving. Around 700 harmful bugs may inhabit a car’s interior, especially if you leave food or trash in the seats or floorboards. While the steering wheel and gear shifts are the easiest places for germs to breed, they are found everywhere. Experts recommend cleaning your car interior regularly and running disinfectant wipes across your steering wheel, dashboard and cup holders to fight the spread of illness.


Steering wheel


Remote Control: While it’s probably a safe bet that hotel remote controls are crawling with microbes, even your household remote can harbor unwelcome guests. The majority of Americans eat dinner in front of the television while channel surfing—a practice that promotes bacteria growth. Give your remote a weekly wipedown with an alcohol-based electronics cleanser.

Remote control


Doorknobs: Whether you’re at home or in the office, doorknobs get tons of play all day—they’re one of the most popular spots for bacteria to breed and multiply. It’s impossible to know if your co-workers and family members are practicing good hygiene 24/7, and, if they’re not, you’re at risk for sickness. The transmissibility of diseases by our hands is an important threat to combat. Do your part by rubbing a disinfectant wipe on your doorknob at least once a week.

Door knob


Light Switches: Similar to doorknobs, the light switches in your home are another object hands are touching, at least a few times per day. Don’t forget to include wiping these with a disinfectant wipe or cleaner during your weekly cleaning regimen.

Light switch


Purse: Take time to think about all the dirty places your purse has been. Remember putting it down on that public restroom floor, or under the table at a restaurant? The purse is a regular germ vehicle. By forgetting to clean it regularly, you run the risk of spreading contagions to yourself and your family members. Spray or wipe your purse daily with a fabric-safe sanitizing spray to kill unwanted germs.



Cell phone: If you’ve ever thought about putting your cell-phone under a black light: Don’t. It won’t encourage you to pick it back up .We handle our cell phones with food-laden fingers and trap it against our sweaty or makeup-covered faces. It’s crying out to be cleansed weekly with an alcohol-based cleaner meant for digital devices.

Mobile phone

Jennifer Fuentes <![CDATA[The alarming connection between eating disorders and acid erosion ]]> 2015-11-24T15:29:38Z 2015-11-24T15:29:38Z One Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry alumna has developed a neutralizing mouthwash to help an underdiagnosed — and often undertreated — patient population.  ]]>

A year after her dental school graduation in 1990, Mojdeh Dehghan, D.D.S., an alumna of Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry, moved from Dallas to Memphis, Tennessee, where she joined a group practice. It wasn’t long before psychologists at the office a few doors down started referring patients. One in particular would influence a sizable portion of Dehghan’s career. The patient, a young woman, had recovered from bulimia. She had struggled with the eating disorder for six years, but the toll it took on her teeth — in large part due to repeated exposure to stomach acid — would last much longer.

“At the time I was 26 years old, and she was 24, and I could really relate to her,” Dehghan says. “But the devastation in her mouth was astounding. It struck a note with me. It was hard for me to imagine someone in their early 20s having that much erosion on their teeth, someone who could have been my best friend.”

The patient was intelligent, professional and involved in the community, but in private she suffered from pervasive tooth pain and sensitivity. The end result: full mouth restoration, when all of the teeth must be rebuilt.

As is often the case in dentistry, once Dehghan started to treat members of this patient population, the referrals kept coming. For the better part of her career to date, which has involved a mix of private practice and dental academia, she has treated patients in similar situations. She noticed a trend that, more often than not, left her with more questions than she had answers.

“Some of my patients had just been engaging in bulimia for a couple years and had devastating results, with the entire enamel washed off,” Dehghan says. “Then I’d meet other patients in their 40s and 50s who had engaged in bulimic behavior on and off for years, with far less destruction. It was confusing to me.”

She wondered: What are the common agents, what makes this happen faster? And most importantly, what products can my patients use to prevent this?

Developing a solution

The quest to find those answers accelerated several years ago, when Dehghan accepted a full-time faculty position at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Dentistry. Her role as an associate professor in restorative dentistry forged connections, including those with colleague Daranee Versluis-Tantbirojn, D.D.S., Ph.D. Together, they searched for existing products to help these patients.

They conducted in vitro studies, exposing extracted molars to hydrochloric acid and then various mouthwashes and rinses, comparing which were most effective at hardening enamel. That process led to the creation of a two-step mouthwash, designed to curtail acid erosion. The result of a clinical pilot study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Investigative and Clinical Dentistry, carries a powerful one-two punch: first neutralizing acidic saliva and then remineralizing enamel.

Several patient groups, including those suffering from acid reflux, severe morning sickness and side effects from chemotherapy, stand to benefit from the mouthwash.

The two-step regimen is now part of a new clinical study, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the American Association of Women Dentists Gillette Hayden Memorial Foundation, in conjunction with funding from Procter & Gamble Co. The grant has given Dehghan and colleagues the capability to collaborate with a multidisciplinary group of experts at UTHSC. These include restorative dentistry department chair Janet Harrison, D.D.S., the Bioscience Research Department, College of Pharmacy and AAWD dental student volunteers.

The group has partnered with The Transformation Center, a rehabilitation and treatment center for patients with eating disorders in Cordova, Tennessee, to gather basic information about patients with eating disorders and test the mouthwash on its patients. While there, they capture intraoral photos, analyze salivary flow and enzyme buffering, and ask patients about their purging behaviors and oral hygiene habits. While Dehghan plans to have findings published by summer 2016, she presented a summary of the project to the AAWD during an awards ceremony on Nov. 6 in Washington, D.C., which coincided with the American Dental Association annual meeting.

Fostering dialogue 

Eating disorders are a pervasive oral health concern. In the U.S., 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. When one considers the secrecy associated with eating disorders and, says Dehghan, that dentists tend to shy away from discussing the topic with patients, the condition can go unchecked until it reaches advanced stages.

Having these conversations with patients early on is crucial, not just to provide referrals but also to address misinformation. This is especially important considering there is no quick fix for eating disorders; recovery can often take several years.

“We may think that it is common knowledge that you are not supposed to brush immediately after a purging episode, but it really isn’t,” says Dehghan. “There’s so much misinformation about what to do and which products to use, it can actually worsen the situation.

“It’s about more than just the mouthwash for us; we want to bring more awareness within the dental community about early detection and appropriate home care for patients with acid erosion caused by recurrent intrinsic acid exposure. As dentists and dental hygienists, we can play a key role in detecting early signs of acid erosion and referring these patients to the appropriate health care providers.

“If we are compassionate, if we are accepting, and if we show that we are there not to judge, but to help, that can create a trusting relationship with this patient population.”

Rae Lynn Mitchell <![CDATA[Innovative colorectal cancer screening program meets quality standards]]> 2015-11-24T21:17:58Z 2015-11-24T14:43:13Z New research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center indicates that colonoscopy in a family medicine residency met or exceeded recommended quality standards set forth by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and was therefore, comparable to those of specialists]]>
Providing colonoscopy training to family medicine resident physicians increases access while maintaining quality care

New research from the Texas A&M Health Science Center indicates that colonoscopy in a family medicine residency met or exceeded recommended quality standards set forth by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy and was therefore, comparable to those of specialists.

In the U.S., relatively few primary care physicians perform colonoscopies, and only a fraction of family medicine residencies train residents to conduct colonoscopies, though trust in a primary care physician is associated with patients adhering to Colorectal Cancer (CRC) screening compliance. CRC usually results from malignant transformation of polyps, unwanted growths that over time, develop into cancerous cells. Approximately 28 million Americans are not up to date on colorectal screenings though CRC remains the second most common cause of cancer mortality for both men and women combined.

Through an innovative partnership between the Texas A&M College of Medicine’s family medicine residency program and the Texas A&M School of Public Health, with funding from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), increased access to affordable colonoscopies for underinsured or uninsured residents was made available while providing colonoscopy training to family medicine resident physicians. Targeting seven counties in central Texas, six of which are rural, a total of 1155 colonoscopies were performed over a 3-year period supervised by four board-certified family physicians. Polyps were discovered in 275 people and 11 cases of cancer were found, nine of which were rural residents.

CPRIT funding enabled the Texas A&M Family Medicine residency program to purchase equipment needed for training. The Texas A&M School of Public Health was responsible for grant administrative requirements and outreach to inform community members and health care providers about the available services. The partnership resulted in about 50 clinical partners who keep an eye out for patients who might need colorectal screenings. Over 200 community partners such as churches and social service agencies helped get the word out about the availability of the free colorectal screenings and bilingual community health workers were employed to provide culturally relevant community outreach and patient navigation services.

Expanding Access to Colorectal Cancer Screening: Benchmarking Quality Indicators in a Primary Care Colonoscopy Program,” published this month in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, reports quality indicators from colonoscopy procedures performed by family medicine physicians met or exceed the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy standards.

“It is our hope that this program will serve as a national model for reducing the incidence of colon cancer, as well as incorporating cancer prevention, screening and education into family medicine residency training programs,” said David McClellan, M.D., an assistant professor of family and community medicine in the Texas A&M College of Medicine and co-PI on the project.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that CRC-related mortality can be reduced by 60 percent if age-eligible adults adhere to screening recommendations.

“Since primary care physicians are more likely to practice in rural and less affluent areas than their specialist counterparts, training and equipping primary care physicians to perform colonoscopies should be explored as means of increasing colonoscopy capacity, especially among underserved populations,” said Jane Bolin, Ph.D., J.D., B.S., professor at the Texas A&M School of Public Health and co-PI on the project.

Other members of the Texas A&M research team include Chinedum Ojinnaka, M.B.B.S., M.P.H., Robert Pope, M.D., Katie Pekarek, D.O., Andrew Richardson, M.D., Janet Helduser, M.A., and Marcia Ory, Ph.D., M.P.H.