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

Produced by the Office of Communications // May 3, 2012

Emergency medicine resident wins coveted global scholarship

Mind Games team

Dr. Mary Chang vaccinates a child in Thailand.

Dr. Mary Chang, a PGY 2 resident in the Department of Emergency Medicine, has been selected as one 12 residents and career physicians named Yale/Stanford Johnson & Johnson Global Health Scholars.

The program has five established global rotation sites where its fellows will work and teach in underserved regions, and Chang will spend six weeks in Liberia starting in November. The other international sites are in South Africa, Uganda, Indonesia, and Rwanda.

“She is the first one from any Texas institution to ever have received this coveted award,” said Dr. Rohith Malya, assistant professor of emergency medicine and director of the Department of Emergency Medicine’s Division of Global Health.

“This program will broaden my experience with global health and build my knowledge in tropical medicine in a different part of the world that has pathology uncommon in the United States,” Chang said.

It was during college that Chang said she was inspired to incorporate international relief into her career, but it was traveling to the Thailand-Burma border during her elective month this past March that gave her global health experience.

“This gave me invaluable perspective on the practice of medicine in a resource-limited environment and the medical needs of a specific population,” she explained. “Because of my experiences in Thailand, I have developed a keen interest in refugee health and am considering a global health fellowship to equip me for my future work abroad.”

Chang, who completed her undergraduate degree at Rice University and her medical degree at Texas A&M Health Science Center, said she plans to return to the Thailand-Burma region.

“Tension among ethnic groups and governments in this area has displaced hundreds of thousands of people in this region over the past 50 years,” she explained. “During my time there, I was also able to build rapport with regional leaders and anticipate the future medical needs of the border areas. This rotation was generously supported by the UT-Houston Emergency Medicine residency program and would not have been possible without the efforts of our chairman Dr. Brent King, program director Dr. Samuel Luber, and global health director Dr. Rohith Malya.”

Chang said she would encourage all residents to consider participating in international work at some point in their careers.

“It is a great opportunity to expand your medical knowledge base with rare pathology, and think about improvised and alternate therapies when your hands are tied in a resource-limited environment.”

— Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School

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Bentsen Stroke Center awards research grants

Lan Bentsen, from left, B.A. Bentsen, and Dr. Sean Savitz discuss the progress of the Stroke Center.

Lan Bentsen, from left, B.A. Bentsen, and Dr. Sean Savitz discuss the progress of the Stroke Center.

Every year, approximately 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke, and the late U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was one of them. As the senator and his wife, B.A., dealt with the challenges of stroke, they developed the idea for a stroke research center.

The couple’s efforts led to the creation of the Senator Lloyd and B.A. Bentsen Center for Stroke Research at The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases.

In April, B.A. Bentsen and one of the couple’s sons, Lan, visited the stroke center for updates.

“The primary focus of the Bentsen Stroke Center is to develop cell-based therapeutics, including the use of certain populations of stem cells, to reduce secondary brain injury and enhance recovery,” said Dr. Brian Davis, interim director of Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine, which is the academic and administrative home of the Bentsen Stroke Center. Davis is the Annie and Bob Graham Distinguished Chair in Stem Cell Biology.

In 2011 and 2012, Bentsen Stroke Center grants were awarded to following Medical School faculty members Drs. Jaroslaw Aronowski, Qi Lin Cao, Charles Cox, Pramod Dash, Ying Liu, Sean Savitz, and Jiaqian Wu.

Lessen injury progression

When a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, pooling blood accumulates in brain matter and can cause additional if not more serious problems. Aronowski, professor of neurology and director of cerebrovascular research, is exploring a natural way to speed up blood cleanup to prevent further brain injury.

This cleanup is normally done by specialized cells called phagocytes. Unfortunately, this process takes weeks, thus allowing blood, which is now outside of the vessel, to continue to damage the brain. Aronowski proposes to speed up the process by modifying the phagocytes.

“We identified components of machinery phagocytes used to scavenge and clean up blood debris. Now, we will isolate them from blood, modify their function, and reinject them back to see if they do a better cleanup job,” Aronowski said. He plans to conduct a preclinical trial.

Replace damaged nerve cells

When a person suffers a stroke, nerve cells or neurons can begin to die. Regenerative medicine researchers would like to create replacement cells. Cao, associate professor at The Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery, is conducting a preclinical study to select the best neural cell types to treat stroke.

His goals are to determine the therapeutic efficacy and long-term safety of neural stem cells and to identify the optimal cells for stroke therapy. He plans to use a technique that allows scientists to turn the clock back on adult cells so they can be fashioned into other specialized types of cells. Cao is a member of the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center and the Mischer Neuroscience Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Baby heart surgery can lead to stroke-like problem

A treatment for babies born with congenital heart disease can sometimes lead to a stroke-like problem. That is because a surgical procedure can reduce blood flow to the brain, which in turn can lead to neurological injury. The incidence of this issue varies from 20 to 50 percent.

Cox is exploring the use of a stem cell therapy to alleviate this side effect of surgery. He is conducting a preclinical test to see if stem cells derived from amniotic fluid can lessen the neurological damage.

If this study proves successful, doctors could one day extract amniotic fluid while the baby is still in the womb, use it to create a supply of stem cells, and then administer the cells when the heart problem is being repaired.

“The advantage of this is that by using the patient’s own stem cells, there is no concern of rejection,” said Cox, professor of pediatric surgery, Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center faculty member, director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at the Medical School/Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, and The Children’s Fund Inc. Distinguished Professor in Pediatric Surgery.

Reducing brain damage by controlling inflammation

The inflammation caused by stroke and traumatic brain injury can lead to additional neurological injury. Dash, professor of neurobiology and anatomy and scientific director of Mission Connect, a project of TIRR Foundation, believes that if he can control the inflammation, he can reduce secondary injury.

He plans to conduct a preclinical test to evaluate the protective powers of adult stem cell therapy in mitigating post incident inflammation.

Enhance stroke recovery

When you think, your thoughts are transmitted by nerve cells in the brain called neurons. These cells can be destroyed during a stroke and impair the ability to talk, process information, and get around. But, the process of regenerating neurons is time consuming and relatively inefficient.

With their grant, Liu and Wu hope to identify the genetic switches needed to more efficiently create these replacement neurons. To do that, they plan to convert adult skin cells into replacement neurons.

While much work remains to be done, the goal of the investigators is to develop replacement cells that could be used to reverse the debilitating effects of stroke. Liu and Wu are assistant professors with The Vivian L. Smith Department of Neurosurgery, the Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Center, and the Mischer Neuroscience Institute.

Learn more about cell therapy

Researchers in Savitz’s laboratory were among the first to explore the use of stem cells to treat stroke.

“Animal studies from our laboratory and others have discovered that some types of stem cells improve functional outcome after stroke by reducing stroke damage and repairing white matter injury in the brain,” said Savitz, associate professor of neurology and director of the Vascular Neurology Program.

In an effort to determine the impact of the stem cells on stroke injury, he plans to compare magnetic resonance imaging of the brain tissue of stroke patients receiving stem cells to those who did not receive the cell therapy.

“These studies will identify important targets of stem cell therapy and allow us to progress to more advanced stages of clinical trials testing the efficacy of stem cells for stroke,” Savitz said.

— Robert Cahill, Office of Advancement, Media Relations

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Interdisciplinary student competition focuses on aging issues

Children’s Learning Institute logo

Dr. Viraj Ransing, of the School of Public Health, leads a group of seniors in a video bowling game.

The bright, airy room at the J.W. Peavy Center in the Fifth Ward was a far cry from a bowling alley. But the cheers that resounded every time one of the seniors mowed down a strike sounded just the same.

The video bowling game was part of the Houston Geriatric Education Center Annual Geriatric Interdisciplinary Student Competition. For students in the Elder Avengers, the game was proof they could initiate an activity that would get senior body and brains engaged in a fun way.

The competition, in its fifth year, is sponsored by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Five teams also included students from the University of Houston, Texas Women’s University, and the American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine. Disciplines among the 45 students were medicine, nursing, pharmacology, dentistry, biomedical informatics, dental hygiene, occupational therapy, physical therapy, public health, social work, communication science/disorders, and acupuncture/Oriental medicine.

“Preventative health is my major interest, especially doing mental health research in the areas of Alzheimer’s and dementia,” said Dr. Viraj Ransing, who is working on his masters’ degree at The University of Texas School of Public Health and led the Elder Avengers at J.W. Peavy. “We know from studies that mental activity can delay Alzheimer’s. As people age, they need to keep the brain going by finding more activities, things like gardening, dancing, and exercising.”

Ransing and another team member, George Zemanek, said they loved the challenge of the competition while working out in the field with seniors.

“This has been the most enjoyable project I’ve ever done in earning my masters’ degree,” said Zemanek, an occupational therapist enrolled at Texas Woman’s University. “Working with the other disciplines makes it fun because you see how they tackle the project from their point of view.”

The team chose the Nintendo game after researching the seniors’ wants and assessing where they could make an impact.

“We created avatars for all the seniors, which makes it personalized. It gives them something to look forward to,” Ransing said. “Their attention span is less, so they need something short in length. We tried some of the other Wii sports, but the existing games took too long for them, so we settled on bowling.”

Team AARP (Astute Alliance of Respectable Practitioners) went a different route. At the Third Ward Multi-Service Center, they concentrated on giving seniors important information about their health care in an easily digestible format.

“We’re passing on the same information that they have heard before, but in a different package—one that’s focused on them,” said Stephen Powell, a student at The University of Texas School of Nursing at Houston. “We’re teaching the basic things for health. In the Third Ward, cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer, so it’s critical for us to talk about this topic.”

On a recent Thursday, Donald Lefeber, a student at the College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine, talked to the seniors about the importance of whole-body health. Brandon Bailey, a pharmacy student at the University of Houston, educated them about medications.

One resident told Bailey that if she misses a dose of her cholesterol medication, she will double up on it when she takes the next dose and asked him if that was OK. He explained gently that it may not be a good idea and suggested that she talk to her physician about it.

Along with the J.W. Peavy Center and the Third Ward center, other Neighborhood Centers Inc. sites included the West End Multi-Service Center, Ripley House Neighborhood Center, and the Kashmere Multi-Service Center.

After a night of presentations last Tuesday, the competition’s winning team was Team CHANGE (Changing, Honoring, Advocating, Noble Geriatric Educators). Elder Avengers placed second.

The Houston Geriatric Education Center is one of 45 Geriatric Education Centers in the United States funded through the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of the center is to reduce health disparities, address causes of vulnerability, and meet the social and healthcare needs of older Americans.

Dr. Carmel Dyer, professor and chair of the Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine, is the principal investigator. Co-principal investigator is Dr. Sharon Ostwald, professor and the Isla Carroll Turner Chair in Gerontological Nursing.

As she finished her turn at video bowling at the J.W. Peavy Center, Elnora Walker was smiling. “I like it. I used to bowl,” the Fifth Ward resident said. “We need something like this.”

— Deborah Mann Lake, Office of Advancement, Media Relations

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Reunion set for June 22–23

Alumni Association logo

All alumni of The University of Texas Medical School at Houston are invited to attend the 2012 Reunion Weekend, which will celebrate the classes of 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002, and 2007.

“The University of Texas of Medical School at Houston and the Alumni Association are excited to welcome alumni back for Alumni Reunion Weekend to reconnect with their classmates, celebrate their accomplishments, and experience the incredible progress the Medical School has made over the years,” said Derrick Miller, director of alumni relations.

The events will kick off at 6 p.m. Friday, June 22 at the Armadillo Palace on Kirby. The daylong activities get under way Saturday, June 23 with afternoon tours of the Medical School, followed by an Alumni Association Board Meeting. The reunion reception is at 6 p.m. that evening, followed by dinner—both at the Houston Hyatt Regency.

For more information, view the flier, or contact Miller.

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JAMP it up!

More than 20 high school students from the Greater Houston area visit the Medical School April 20 for tours and demonstrations by faculty, staff, residents, and medical students during the Pre-JAMP Symposium.

— Dwight C. Andrews, Office of Communications, Medical School






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Events to know

May 7

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Irina Seryshev (UT Health Science Center at San Antonio) presents, “Insights into Intracellular Ca2+ Release by Cryo-EM.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 8

Faculty Promotion & Tenure Process.
9–10 a.m., MSB 2.135.
Presented by the Office of Faculty Affairs.

Special Dean’s Lecture: Dr. Herbert Fred, professor of internal medicine, presents, “Medical Education on the Brink: 62 Years of Front-line Observations and Opinions.”.
4 p.m., MSB 3.001.
All UTHealth faculty, students, and fellows are invited to attend. For more information, please email or contact 713.500.5605.

Women Leading the Way Spring Lecture: Dr. Mary Estes (Baylor College of Medicine) presents, “A Passion for Questions and Gastrointestinal Viral Pathogens.”.
4 p.m., MD Anderson, FCT/ Pickens 3rd Floor, Rooms 3–6.

May 9

Henry W. Withers Lectureship in Family Practice: Dr. Joshua Freeman, Professor and Chair, University of Kansas School of Medicine, presents, “Social Justice and Health.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 10

Medical School Research Committee Workshop: “Infectious Disease”, chaired by Dr. Steve Norris, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine.
9 a.m.–noon, MSB 2.135.
Read details.

Neurobiology and Anatomy Seminar Series: Dr. Thomas Reeves (Virginia Commonwealth University) presents, “New Approaches to Axonal Protection after Traumatic Brain Injury.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 11

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Paul Dawson, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, presents, “Molecular Mechanisms of Altered Bile Acid Homeostasis and Intestinal Function in Organic solute Transporter-Alpha Knockout Mice.”
1 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 14

Curriculum Vitae workshop.
10–11 a.m., MSB 2.135.
Presented by the Office of Faculty Affairs.

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Karen Uray, assistant professor of pediatric surgery, presents, “The Role of PAK in Regulating MLC Phosphorylation in Intestinal Smooth Muscle.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 15

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Karen Guillemin (University of Oregon) presents, “Molecular dialogues with the microbiota: Insights from the zebrafish intestine.”
10:30 a.m., MSB 2.135.

Faculty Promotion & Tenure Process.
5:15–6:15 p.m., MSB B.500.
Presented by the Office of Faculty Affairs.

May 16

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. David Kupfer (University of Pittsburgh) presents The Cooper Lectureship, “On the Road to DSM-5.”
Noon–1 p.m., Cooley Conference Center, 7440 Cambridge.

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Larissa Meyer, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, presents, “Update on Cervical Cancer.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 18

Clergy/Physician Colloquium: Dr. Kenneth Pargament (Bowling Green) presents, “Vital Signs: Spiritual Assessment and Spiritually Integrated Interventions.”
8 a.m.–3 p.m., Dun Rio Grande Conference Room, The Methodist Hospital.
Register by May 14.

May 23

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. Sanjay Adhia, resident, presents, “Treatment Resistant Depression.”
Noon–1 p.m., HCPC Auditorium.

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Andres Pardo, PGY III, presents, “Case Presentation.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 25

Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Grand Rounds: Lex Frieden, professor of Biomedical Informatics and Rehabilitation, presents, “Texas Disability Technology Initiative: Raising the Bar.”
Noon, MSB B.605.

May 28

Memorial Day Holiday
School closure.

May 30

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. Huiping Xu, resident, presents, “A Complicated Case.”
Noon–1 p.m., HCPC Auditorium.

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Kate Wilson, genetic counselor, presents, “Genetic Counseling.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 31

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Shahid Shafi (Baylor University Medical Center, Dallas) presents, “Measuring Quality of Care in Trauma.”
7 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME credit is available.

Neurobiology and Anatomy Seminar Series: Dr. Constance Cepko (Harvard Medical School) presents, “Teaching an Old Virus a New Trick: VSV as a Tracer of Connected Neurons.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.135.


Dr. Carmel Dyer and Dr. Cheves Smythe were honored by the Houston Gerontological Society on March 6 at their Gala Anniversary Event. The event honored past, present, and future leaders in the fields of gerontology and geriatrics as well as contributions of individuals mentored by leaders who have become the field's next generation of pioneers.

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