The Scoop: A Publication of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston

Summer Research Program crowns Webber Prize winner

Alan Blankenship, flanked by his mentors Dr. Catherine Ambrose and Dr. Heidi Kaplan, receives the 2008 Webber Prize.

Alan Blankenship, flanked by his mentors Dr. Catherine Ambrose and
Dr. Heidi Kaplan, receives the 2008 Webber Prize.

Alan Blankenship bested the largest-ever number of competitors at the annual Summer Research Program Forum and Webber Prize Competition Oct. 23.

A record number 55 students participated in the research mentorship program, and 30 of those chose to compete for the Webber Prize.

The Webber Prize for Student Research is awarded for outstanding student research and was established in memory of Dr. C. Frank Webber, former dean of the Medical School.

The forum marks the culmination of the research projects taken on by first-year medical students during the 2008 Summer Research Program. The program is sponsored by Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo and Dr. Patricia Butler, associate dean for educational programs. Dr. Gary Rosenfeld, assistant dean for educational programs, is the director of the program.

Each participant works with a mentor on a research project. Blankenship worked with Dr. Catherine Ambrose, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, and Dr. Heidi Kaplan, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics; second-place winner Stephanie Martin worked with Dr. Rosemary Kozar, professor of surgery; and third-place winner Michael Trakhtenbroit’s mentor was Dr. Heinrich Taegtmeyer, professor of internal medicine.

In addition to the student winners, four faculty members were cited by the program for their continued support of the Summer Research Program. They were Taegtmeyer, Kozar, Dr. Jeff Actor, and Dr. Anil Kulkarni.

-D. Brown

UT researchers to study massive transfusion at major trauma centers

Dr. John Holcomb

Dr. John Holcomb

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston a $9.2 million grant to conduct a multi-center clinical trial that could lead to an improved survival rate for trauma patients – both soldiers and civilians -- who require massive blood transfusions.

The university’s Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences (CCTS) is contracting with the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research to serve as the data coordination center for a Prospective, Observational, Multi-center Massive Transfusion Trial (PROMMTT). Clinical trial sites for the two-year study will include Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center and at least nine other trauma centers.

“Those first few hours after injury are critical, and we’ll be looking at what happens minute-to-minute that determines whether these patients live or die,” said Dr. John Holcomb, co-investigator, director of the Center for Translational Injury Research (CeTIR) and professor in the Department of Surgery .

“This has never been done before. With these data, we’ll eventually be able to pinpoint what works and what doesn’t, develop standards for transfusion ratios and greatly improve the mortality rate, which currently is as high as 40 to 70 percent, depending on the trauma center. We will be able to design prospective randomized trials with quality data,” Holcomb said. “Finally, what we learn in the civilian population will also benefit the military.”

From the time a trauma patient is admitted to the hospital to the time of discharge or death, health care providers will be logging data on vital signs, units of packed red blood cells, fresh frozen plasma and platelets, as well as medications and other health care information.

Dr. Jiajie Zhang, co-investigator, holder of the Dr. Doris L. Ross Professorship and the associate dean for research at the School of Health Information Sciences, is leading the effort to design a secure, Web-based informatics system that will make it possible to collect these data by the patient’s bedside. The system also will allow for subsequent data management and analysis for clinical and translational research.

Dr. Mohammad Hossein Rahbar, director of the CCTS’s Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design (BERD) Component, is the principal investigator who will establish and manage the consortium of trauma centers and coordinate the data collection, data management and statistical analysis. Dr. Deborah Del Junco, associate professor at the CCTS-BERD, is among the co-investigators with whom he will work on the project.

“It is a very ambitious, meaningful project that draws upon the talents of those who are part of the CCTS,” said Rahbar, who also holds a faculty appointment at the School of Public Health. “The findings of this study could have long-term global implications, and it will set the stage for future studies.”

Dr. Peter Davies, the university’s executive vice president of research, said, “We are delighted with the success of Dr. Rahbar and his colleagues, particularly Dr. Del Junco, in competing for this very important award. It is an outstanding example of the ways that our grant to establish the CCTS is allowing us to transform clinical and translational research at our university. In addition, with the very recent recruitment of Dr. John Holcomb to our campus and the formation of the new Center for Translational Injury Research, this PROMMTT award can serve as the foundation for an enormously exciting program of trauma research at the UT Health Science Center at Houston.”

Other UT Health Science Center at Houston faculty and staff who will be a part of PROMMTT include Kari Bloom, Melita Lindsey, Ruby Benjamin-Garner, Paula Knudson, Robert Nobles; Dr. Noriaki Aoki, Dr. Orieji Illoh, M.D. Dr. Rosemary Kozar, Dr. Ernest Gonzalez, and Jeannette Podbielski.

The CCTS is a collaboration among the UT Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, and the Memorial Hermann Healthcare System. It is funded with a five-year, $36 million Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Institutes of Health.

-M. Raine


Peptide research may lead to heart disease drugs

Dr. Sudha Veeraraghavan

Dr. Sudha Veeraraghavan

What if a drug could help fight heart diseases by increasing blood vessels and fighting inflammation and could also fight bacterial infections? The results of ongoing research in the lab of Dr. Sudha Veeraraghavan, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, may one day lead to such a treatment.

Using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and mutational studies, Veeraraghavan and her colleagues have discovered the structural features and inhibition activities of PR39, a proline- and arginine-rich peptide with angiogenic and antibacterial properties. Angiogenesis is the body’s process of making new blood vessels, and the process is controlled through switches that turn on or off.

The Journal of Molecular Biology published the study, “Molecular basis for proline- and arginine-rich peptide inhibition of proteasome” in its online version Sept. 16, 2008. A related patent was filed based on this research.

Veeraraghavan, lead author of the paper, and members of her laboratory are working on this research with collaborators from Yale University Medical School, including Dr. Michael Simons, chief of cardiology, and Dr. Daniela Tirziu, instructor.

“Dr. Simons already had a patent for PR39. He had shown it was important for angiogenesis. Our current study establishes the contributions of different components in the 11-amino acids long fragment, PR11, toward its action on proteasomes,” she said, adding that originally an emergency provisional patent was filed to enable her to disclose their findings at the ‘Third International Conference on Ubiquitin, Ubiquitin-Like Proteins and Cancer’ in 2006. In 2007, this was converted to a utility patent.

Veeraraghavan said she was interested in exploring the structural aspects of the PR39 peptide and also how the peptide interacts with the 20S proteasome. “Not only did we look at what’s going on with regard to structure by NMR, we looked at the peptide’s ability to inhibit the 20S proteasome,” she said.

“Understanding structural aspects of PR39/proteasome interactions may open novel avenues for design of a new class of drugs that can selectively target proteasome functions,” Simons said.

According to Dr. Rodney Kellems, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, “Dr. Veeraraghavan was able to apply her skills as an NMR spectroscopist to gain detailed structural information regarding an eleven amino acid polypeptide, PR11 that binds to the proteasome. The result is valuable information that may be of use in the design of specific inhibitors of proteasome activity that may influence the process of blood vessel formation.”

Proteasomes are like the cell’s garbage disposal. They chew up proteins that are either not needed or not made properly, helping maintain cellular health. When PR39, or its fragments, bind to the proteasome, some of the proteins do not get chewed up – this changes responses in the cell and helps grow new blood vessels or reduces inflammation. Recent years have seen a lot of interest in targeting proteasomes, the most visible recent example being the anti-cancer drug Velcade™ (bortezomib).

The researchers knew the PR39 peptide binds to the 20S proteasome, but they didn’t know which amino acids in the peptide were important for its activity.

Veeraraghavan explained their process of determining structure-activity correlation. “PR39 selectively inhibits proteasomal degradation of some polypeptide chains,” she said. “One of these polypeptide chains regulates the expression of genes that are required for angiogenesis. The other is NFkappaB, which plays a key role in inflammation.”

Her collaborators looked at the effect on the NFkappaB pathway by using microarray experiments. “What we know now is what’s going on with the peptide by itself in terms of structure,” she said. “We know how that correlates with activity both in terms of proteasome inhibition, as well as in the NFkappaB pathway. We hope that a major drug company will be interested in licensing this technology to develop drugs, which may be helpful in treating not only heart diseases but also stroke.”

With Veeraraghavan’s guidance, Dr. Asokan Anbanandam, a postdoctoral fellow in Veeraraghavan’s lab, carried out the NMR experiments, and Diana Albarado, a research assistant, worked on the activity assays of the 20S proteasome. Anbanandam is now the director of biomolecular NMR facility at the University of Kansas.

The research was sponsored in part by the American Heart Association’s Beginning-Grant-in-Aid awarded to Veeraraghavan.

-D. Brown

Senate to focus on faculty priorities during upcoming year

The Faculty Senate held its first meeting with a new chair, Dr. Jamie McCarthy, Oct. 16.

The report by Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo centered on how external financial changes are affecting the UT Health Science Center and Medical School.

“The UT Health Science Center has lost $30 million in investment income on paper due to the market fluctuations,” Dean Colasurdo said, adding that losses due to Hurricane Ike still were being calculated.

Two trips are planned in conjunction with Memorial Hermann to review academic teaching center structures and relationships, Dean Colasurdo said.

McCarthy said that the Senate will be focused upon specific goals during the upcoming year and suggested subcommittees be formed to address any issues that come before the Senate in a more timely fashion. The three standing subcommittees will be Faculty Rights and Responsibilities; Administration; and Finance.

Dr. Don Molony, professor of internal medicine, was unanimously elected chair-elect.

The next meeting of the Faculty Senate will feature Sabrina Midkiff, vice president of governmental affairs, as the speaker Nov. 20.

-D. Brown

Crafters Needed for annual fair

Plans are under way for the upcoming 22nd Annual Medical School Employee Relations Committee Holiday Arts & Craft Fair. This year, the fair is 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 18, in the Medical School Building Leather Lounge.

Crafters are needed to participate in the Arts & Craft Fair. Each rental space is $50, plus extra costs if you need tables. Vendors are encouraged to bring their own tables. A nicely decorated poster with your name and/or business name on it will be provided free of charge. Contact for more information, regulations, and forms.

Play about America’s first female doctor presented Nov. 6

“A Lady Alone” Elizabeth Blackwell: First American Woman Doctor, a one-act play, will be performed by Linda Gray Kelley noon-1 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 6 in MSB 3.001.

The program is sponsored by the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the American Medical Women’s Association.

Food will be provided to the first 100 participants.

Spooktacular turnout

Please install Flash® and turn on Javascript.

Nearly 200 faculty, staff, and students attended the Office of Communications’ Open House Spooktacular last week to learn about the office’s services and grab some treats.




Comments will be moderated and relate to this issue of Scoop only

Subscribe to Scoop

Events to Know


The TMA/AMA chapter continues its drive for textbooks, notecards, and basic medical equipment continues for UTMB students. Boxes are located in the Leather Lounge, in front of MSB 1.006 and MSB 2.006 and in the Learning Resource Center. Details: Beth McKinnon, Elizabeth.a.mckinnon

October 30

Seminars on Applying Emerging Technologies to Your Research: Dr. Paul Simmons, professor of molecular medicine, presents “Stem Cell Research: Charting a Course between Hype and Hope.” Noon-1 p.m. UT Professional Building Suite 1100.55. Lunch provided for first 20.

UT Physicians Open House. 5-7:30 p.m. 6700 West Loop South. Details: 713.572.8122.

November 1

Proposals for Faculty Development Leave are due in the Office of Faculty Affairs, G.300 MSB.  Proposals can be submitted twice a year--November  and April.  The guidelines can be found at:
.  For questions, call Faye Viola, 713.500.5101.

November 3

Biochemistry Seminar: Welch Lecture Tour, Dr. Ronald Raines (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presents “Enzymes as Chemotherapeutic Agents: Ribonuclease A as a Paradigm.”  1 p.m. MSB 2.135.

November 5

Family and Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Philip Orlander, professor of Internal Medicine, presents “Endocrine Emergencies.” 1-2 p.m. MSB 2.135.

November 6

Issues in Global Health blue book elective: Dr. Susan Wootton, assistant professor of pediatrics, presents “The Influenzas.” Noon MSB 2.006. Sponsored by the “Global Health Initiative” and the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Katy Kao (Texas A&M University) presents “Molecular characterization of adaptive evolution in Saccharomyces cerevisiae.” 4 p.m., MSB 2.103. Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.

November 7

2008 Fun Fest. 2-6 p.m. TMC’s Grant Faye Park. Details:,

November 10

Biochemistry Seminar: Dr. Paul Anderson (Harvard Medical School) presents, “ Identification of Signaling Pathways that Regulate the Assembly of Stress Granules and Processing Bodies.” Noon MSB 2.135.

November 12

Family and Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Shahla Nader, professor of internal Medicine, presents “PCOS/Metabolic Syndrome.” 1-2 p.m. MSB 2.135.

November 13

Issues in Global Health blue book elective: Dr. Christopher Greeley, associate professor of pediatrics, presents “Malnutrition and other Childhood Threats.” Noon MSB 2.006. Sponsored by the “Global Health Initiative” and the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit.

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Deborah Hogan (Dartmouth Medical School) presents “Pseudomonas-Candida interactions: A model, a problem and a solution.” 4 p.m., MSB 2.103. Reception to follow in 1.180 MSB.

November 20

Issues in Global Health blue book elective: Dr. Cathy Flaitz, dean of the Dental Branch,presents “Oral Disease in the Developing World.” Noon MSB 2.006. Sponsored by the “Global Health Initiative” and the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit.

December 2

Issues in Global Health blue book elective: Dr. Philip Johnson, professor of internal medicine, presents “HIV/AIDS & Tuberculosis” Noon MSB 2.006. Sponsored by the “Global Health Initiative” and the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanities, and the Human Spirit.

December 11

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. Alison O’Brien (Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences) presents “Shiga toxins: Potent poisons and pathogenicity determinants.” 4 p.m., MSB 2.103. Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.


Scoop is a weekly electronic newsletter providing timely information to the Medical School.

Submit event items or news tips for Scoop by noon on Thursday preceding the week of publication in which you would like your event or news to appear (seven days in advance).

To submit content for Scoop, send an e-mail to

Giuseppe N. Colasurdo, M.D.

Darla Brown
Director of Communications

Carlos Gonzalez
Web Developer II