Produced by the Office of Communications // June 7, 2012
Strobel honored by Capital Medical University, Beijing
After 26 years of bringing fourth-year students to China for an international elective they will never forget, Dr. Henry Strobel, associate dean for faculty affairs and alumni relations, was honored by the university that has been a gracious host for the UT visitors.
Capital Medical University, Beijing, China, bestowed its Honorary Professorship Award upon Strobel, which is the highest honor it gives professors who have offered great contributions to its university in areas of academics, faculty training, and collaboration. With only six recipients of the prestigious award, Strobel joins the company of Nobel laureates and the former Chancellor of Germany, Gerhard Schroeder.
“It was a surprise to receive the award,” Strobel said. “It’s not something that I had any clue about. My role in this trip to China has been just as a tour guide.
“Our hosts spend a great attention to detail—they put together slides of all of the major lectures and gave a copy to each student and me. They do a big job to make it a meaningful learning experience for the students, and that has been true historically. Their portion of this has been enormous.”
Strobel started taking fourth-year students to China as an elective program back in 1986 with eight students. He had attended a meeting in Tokyo a couple of years prior and was invited to give a lecture in Beijing. The program blossomed from there, beginning as a student exchange.
“Every year since 1986, we have had a group of students go—even during Tiananmen Square incident and the SARS crisis,” he said. “The lowest number was eight, and the highest number was 29. We had a 15-year reunion in China in 2000 for students who had participated.”
Students, and Strobel, have had to finance the four-week trip themselves—which now costs about $1,800. “Some have been very clever about it, moving out of their apartments in March—we are in China during April—and then coming back to find a new place to stay,” he explained.
Strobel said that the program has never had to turn anyone away who wanted to go.
“I’m always amazed how the students have been willing to go—they spread their wings and try new things,” he said.
Although this was his last trip leading the group, Strobel said it will not be his last trip to China, and the fourth-year elective will go on.
“I may go for a week next year to get the students settled into their routine and then come back in time to celebrate my grandson’s birthday,” Strobel said. ‘The Medical School has an agreement in place, and the Capital Medical University will ensure that this program continues.”
— Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School
Cell signaling discovery could help melanoma fight
The human body does a great job of generating new cells to replace dead ones, but it is not perfect. Cells need to communicate with or signal to each other to decide when to generate new cells. Communication, or signaling, errors in cells lead to uncontrolled cell growth and are the basis of many cancers.
Medical School scientists have made a key discovery in cell signaling that is relevant to the fight against melanoma skin cancer and certain other fast-spreading tumors.
The scientists report that they have discovered why a class of drug called BRaf inhibitors that are widely used to treat melanomas do not always work and, most importantly, how these drugs may potentially accelerate cancer growth in certain patients. Melanoma, according to the American Cancer Society, accounts for almost 9,000 deaths each year.
“This information may aid the development of more effective anti-cancer drugs and better inform the choice of new combinations of drugs,” said Dr. John Hancock, the study’s senior author and chair of the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology.
Growth signals are transmitted from a cell’s surface to the nucleus by a chain of proteins that form a signaling pathway. The command for cells to divide to generate new cells is relayed by a chain of four proteins (Ras → BRaf → MEK → ERK). All cells have this pathway, and it does an effective job of generating new cells most of time.
Problems happen when a mutation occurs in one of the first two proteins in the chain—both of which lock the signaling pathway in the “on” position. The good news is that doctors have drugs that block signaling from the second protein known as BRaf. These are the BRaf inhibitors, which are successful at treating melanomas with mutant BRaf proteins.
The not-so-good news is that doctors cannot block the signal from the first protein called Ras. Researchers therefore studied in vivo what happens when BRaf inhibitors are applied to human cancer tissues with Ra mutations.
“Surprisingly, recent studies found that BRaf inhibitors do not block signaling in melanoma cells with Ras mutations. In fact, the drugs actually enhance the abnormal signaling activity. Our work now describes the mechanism for this seemingly paradoxical enhanced signaling activity,” said Dr. Kwang-jin Cho, the study’s lead author and research fellow in the Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology.
Most melanomas isolated from patients turn out to have either a BRaf or Ras mutation but rarely have both. Ras mutations cause an otherwise normal BRaf protein to stay switched on.
“Our study also emphasizes the importance of genetic testing of melanomas before using BRaf inhibitors. Our study may also help design a better drug,” Cho said.
The study, “Raf inhibitors target Ras spatiotemporal dynamics,” was supported by the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas.
Medical School co-authors are Jin-Hee Park, senior research assistant; Sravanthi Chigurupati, senior research assistant; Dr. Dharini van der Hoeven, research fellow; and Dr. Sarah Plowman, assistant professor.
Other collaborators include Drs. Rinshi Kasai and Akihiro Kusumi, Kyoto University, Japan; and Drs. Sonja Heidorn and Richard Marais, Institute for Cancer Research, London.
–Rob Cahill, Office of Advancement, Media Relations
Emergency ultrasound team wins second place
Thirty-eight teams competed in the three rounds to demonstrate their skill and knowledge of point-of-care ultrasound, with Boston Medical Center winning first place by three questions.
Coached by Ultrasound Fellowship director Dr. Sara Miller, who also is a Medical School alumna, the Medical School team was comprised of Dr. Francis “Cullen” Averill, Dr. Daniel De Los Santos, and Dr. Justin Mazzillo.
“I am incredibly proud of Sara, Cullen, Daniel, and Justin and also very proud of our Ultrasound Director and UT Houston alumnus Dr. Greg Press, whose work over the past several years made all of this possible,” said Dr. Brent King, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine. “Even more remarkable is the fact that we had the youngest team in the competition.”
Out of the 100 competitors, there were only five program-year one residents, and two of them, Averill and De Los Santos, were on the Medical School team.
Founded in 1989, the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine is dedicated to the improvement of care of the acutely ill and injured patient by improving research and education.
–Darla Brown, Office of Communications, Medical School
Otorhinolaryngology hosts annual CME conference
The Department of Otorhinolaryngology will host its annual continuing medical education course June 23.
The 2012 Otorhinolaryngology Frontiers continuing medical education meeting highlights research endeavors and emerging technology in the diagnosis and management of common otolaryngologic clinical problems. This year’s meeting will be held at The Brown Foundation Institute for Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases.
Guest speaker for this year’s event is Dr. Brian Nussenbaum, Christy J. and Richard S. Hawes III Professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery vice chair for clinical affairs, and patient safety officer. Nussenbaum is a nationally recognized head and neck surgeon with specific expertise in the emerging area of robotic surgery applications within otorhinolaryngology.
Course directors of the program are Dr. Amber Luong, assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology, and Dr. Ron Karni, assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology.
For more information, or to register, visit the Otorhinolaryngology Frontiers website.
Recognizing teaching excellence
Medical School faculty were honored with 2012 teaching awards in the Fifth Floor Gallery.
— Dwight C. Andrews, Office of Communications, Medical School
Events to know
Spine Study Group: Dr. John France (West Virginia University) and Dr. Rex Marco, associate professor of orthopaedic surgery, present, “Adult Scoliosis” and “Leaving the OR: Are You Really Happy?”
Hotel ZaZa, 5701 Main Street.
Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Charles Ericsson, professor of internal medicine, presents, “Travel Medicine.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135
Update in Obstetrics and Gynecology 2012.
Houstonian Hotel, Club and Spa.
First Annual LoneStar LEND Conference: Leadership Education in Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities.
Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Luis Otrosky, professor of internal medicine, presents, “Factitious Diseases.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Alliance’s 34th Annual Lewis A. Leavitt, M.D., Memorial Lectureship presented by Dr. Donald Gajewski (Brooke Army Medical Center) and John Fergason, CPO (Brooke Army Medical Center).
Noon–1 p.m., MSB 2.006.
TMC Library blood drive
11 a.m.–5 p.m. library first floor.
Schedule an appointment.
Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Special Seminar: Dr. Wenhan Chang (University of California, San Francisco) presents, “Diverse Actions of the Extracellular Ca2+-Sensing Receptor in Health and Diseases: Studies of Conditional Gene Knockout Mice.”
10:30 a.m., MSB 2.135.
Medical School Annual Faculty Meeting
Noon–1:30 p.m. MSB 3.001.
Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Jojet Zara, PGY III, presents, “Case Presentation.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135
The TMC Library is currently conducting a brief, five-question survey on its physical library facilities. Access the survey until June 30.
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