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

CPRIT grant funds unique diagnostic instrument

Dr. Eva Sevick

Dr. Eva Sevick

Dr. Eva Sevick, professor and Cullen Chair in Molecular Medicine, received nearly $600,000 in shared instrumentation award funds from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT), which were granted March 24.

The grant provides researchers access to a new instrument equipped with six fiber-optic-linked solid-state lasers, including a highly specialized 785nm near-infrared laser, capable of detecting a total of 17 fluorescent signals. Housed in the UTHealth Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, the laser is the only one in the Texas Medical Center, and one of only four in the United States, according to UTHealth Flow Cytometry Program Manager Dr. Amy Hazen.

Cancer research involves unraveling the molecular mechanisms of how cancer cells arise, survive, and interact in order to discover new therapeutics and diagnostics, Sevick said. A cell type, such as a cancer stem cell, can have a number of different fluorescent features, requiring as many as 18 different colors of fluorescence in order to differentiate it for accurate sorting.

Cancer is the leading cause of death for Texans under 85, and more than 100,000 Texans were diagnosed with cancer in 2010, CPRIT reports. Cancer cost Texas $25.3 billion in direct medical costs and morbidity and mortality losses in 2010.

To date, UTHealth has received more than $20 million in funding from CPRIT. In 2007, Texas voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment establishing CPRIT and dedicating up to $3 billion to invest in groundbreaking cancer research and prevention programs and services in Texas. CPRIT focuses on expediting the innovation and commercialization of cancer research—in turn increasing the potential for a medical or scientific breakthrough—and enhancing access to evidence-based prevention programs and services.

Information on fees and service hours of the instrument is available by calling Hazen at 713.500.3612.

— Robert Cahill, Office of Advancement, Media Relations

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Postdocs translate complex science into plain English

KTRK Channel 13 news anchor Tom Koch helped judge the first Postdoctoral Oral Presentation Competition. From left are Dr. Ransome van der Hoeven, Koch, Dr. Regina Nobles, and Dr. Ching-On Wong.

KTRK Channel 13 news anchor Tom Koch helped judge the first Postdoctoral Oral Presentation Competition. From left are Dr. Ransome van der Hoeven, Koch, Dr. Regina Nobles, and Dr. Ching-On Wong.

Science seems to have a language of its own. But at the postdoctoral fellows contest April 12 at the Medical School, finalists competed to see who could do the best job of explaining intricate research in terms that were easy to understand.

The contest was the brainchild of UTHealth Postdoctoral Association President Dr. Alexander Hutchison, who said that being able to concisely describe research to a lay public is more important than ever. “Of late, there have been a number of different proposed budget cuts for research across the country,” Hutchison said. “In order to compete for an ever shrinking percentage of the budget, scientists need to be advocates for what they do.”

Twenty-five postdoctoral fellows submitted abstracts for the contest, and 10 were invited to give presentations to a screening committee. Six finalists were selected to compete in the final round. Postdocs are individuals with doctoral degrees engaged in mentored research and/or scholarly preparation.

“We asked the postdocs to pare the jargon and get rid of as many acronyms as possible,” Hutchison said. “We also asked them to show pictures. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.”

Finalists delivered 10-minute presentations to a panel of judges that included KTRK Channel 13 news anchor Tom Koch. The postdoctoral fellows addressed topics ranging from the use of a fruit fly model in brain research to an insight into a new role of glucose in cell signaling. Afterward, contestants took questions from judges and audience members.

“We were able to get researchers from several different scientific backgrounds to show videos, animations, and pictures that described exactly what they were doing and how it related to a real-world individual,” Hutchison said.

Participants were scored on the quality of the presentation, oratory skills, use of technology, and ability to clearly answer questions. Dr. Ching-On Wong, took first place; Dr. Ransome van der Hoeven, second place; and Dr. Regina Nobles, third place. Receiving honorable mentions were Dr. Rodrigo Fernandez-Valdivia, Dr. Chioniso Patience Masamha, and Dr. Nadine Matthias.

“If we can let people know what we do and why it is important for human health, it will help to get support from the government and private foundations, which ultimately can help in our efforts to define molecular mechanisms implicated in disease development. This is important because this is where diseases originate,” said Fernandez-Valdivia.

Dr. Nancy McNiel, associate dean for administrative affairs, said, “It was billed as a competition to see how well our postdoctoral fellows could present complex material in a manner that is both educational and interesting to a lay public. I think they did a fantastic job.”

In addition to Koch and McNiel, the judging panel for the first annual Postdoctoral Oral Presentation Competition included Dr. Sandeep Agarwal, assistant professor of medicine; Dr. Perry Bickel, associate professor of medicine; and Dr. Rachna Sadana, assistant professor of biology and biochemistry at the University of Houston-Downtown.

— Robert Cahill, Office of Advancement, Media Relations

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Diabetes surgery studied as potential treatment for Type 2

Exploring a bold surgical approach for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes in people with moderate weight problems are, from left, Drs. Erik Wilson, Kelly Wirfel, Brad Snyder, and Philip Orlander.

Exploring a bold surgical approach for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes in people with moderate weight problems are, from left, Drs. Erik Wilson, Kelly Wirfel, Brad Snyder, and Philip Orlander.

Medical School surgeons have begun enrollment for a pilot study on a promising surgical approach for the management of Type 2 diabetes.

The procedure being tested is designed for adults who have Type 2 diabetes and who are overweight or obese but not morbidly obese. Millions of Americans have Type 2 diabetes, and most are overweight.

Involving surgery to the small intestine and stomach, the procedure, which is called an ileal transposition with sleeve gastrectomy, is intended to improve or resolve Type 2 diabetes. It will be performed at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center.

Type 2 diabetes is a serious health problem and can lead to blindness, limb amputation, and heart disease. It is characterized by an elevated blood sugar level associated with the body’s inability to produce enough insulin and/or to use it properly. Many with Type 2 diabetes must take medication on a daily basis to keep sugar levels in check.

“No one has compared this surgery directly to medical therapy in a randomized, prospective study like this,” said Dr. Brad Snyder, principal investigator of the study and an assistant professor of surgery.

The researchers’ goal is to enhance the ability of a person with Type 2 diabetes to maintain a normal blood sugar level by moving a section of intestine closer to the stomach and reducing the size of the stomach. The objectives of the study include evaluating the safety of the procedure and determining its effectiveness compared to dietary and medical management of Type 2 diabetes.

The physicians plan to treat 10 people with Type 2 diabetes surgically and 10 medically. Participants will be followed over a two-year period.

“If we can get patients into remission and off their medications, then we could open the door for people who want to pursue careers as firefighters, police officers and commercial pilots who may at times be limited by this disease,” Snyder said.

The procedure is similar to a treatment for morbid obesity—metabolic and bariatric surgery, which can involve surgery on the stomach and intestines. Research shows that oftentimes Type 2 diabetes improves or resolves in morbidly obese patient following gastric bypass surgery.

“We’re not completely sure why people with morbid obesity and Type 2 diabetes experience this improvement following surgery,” Snyder said. “This research will help us find some answers and could lead to future treatments.”

This pilot study for the surgical management of Type 2 diabetes is restricted to those with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 to 34 kg/m2. Participants must be between 21 and 55 years of age and currently being treated for Type 2 diabetes.

The clinical trial team includes Dr. Philip Orlander, professor of medicine and director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. When treating patients, Orlander often begins by recommending they lose weight through conventional means such as restricting their calories and exercising more, as well as taking commonly used medications for diabetes. If that fails and they are eligible for bariatric surgery, Orlander will recommend bariatric surgery as a way to control their Type 2 diabetes.

“The average person with Type 2 diabetes may be on 10 different medications to control their blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure,” Orlander said. “When we send people to bariatric surgery, a significant portion may be able to stop all of their diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure medications.”

Dr. Frank Moody, professor of surgery with a longtime interest in the surgical treatment of digestive system diseases, is assisting the research team and said the study could shed light on hormones involved in the metabolic process. “The team will be looking at the impact of surgery on the processing of sugars by the diabetic subjects with an expectation of fixing the break in their metabolism,” Moody said.

If successful, the next step could involve a large clinical trial, Snyder said. “Our intention is to gather this primary data in a small group to show the safety and likely significance as well.”

Snyder, Wilson, and Orlander are collaborating on the study with Dr. Kelly Wirfel, an assistant professor of medicine. Snyder and Dr. Erik Wilson are members of a UT Specialty Surgery Center called Minimally Invasive Surgeons of Texas (MIST) and are on the medical staff of Memorial Hermann-TMC. Wilson is the director of MIST, chief of Elective General Surgery for the Medical School, and medical director of Bariatric Surgery for Memorial Hermann-TMC.

The study is titled “A Surgical Approach to the Management of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus in Patients with a BMI between 25-34 kg/m2.” Approved by the UTHealth Committee for the Protection of Human Subjects, the study is anticipated to take about three years to complete.

Read information on the clinical trial protocol.

To learn more about the eligibility requirements for the study, contact Anna Tenorio, 713.486,1350.

— Robert Cahill, Office of Advancement, Media Relations

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Research Committee hosts workshop May 5

The Research Committee is sponsoring a series of collaborative workshops designed to promote research interactions across campus. The fourth and final workshop in the series will be held 9–11 a.m., May 5 in MSB 2.135.

Dr. Zhiqiang An of the Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases will chair the Drug Discovery Workshop, which will focus on the discovery, development, and translation of drugs ranging from small molecule to drugs for the treatment of lung and neurodegenerative diseases. Dr. Qingyun Liu, Dr. Michael Blackburn, Dr. Claudio Soto, and Dr. Clifford Stephan also will be featured.

Previous workshops in the series were the Injury Workshop chaired by Dr. John Holcomb; the Comparative Effectiveness Workshop, chaired by Dr. Eric Thomas; and the Early Detection Workshop, chaired by Dr. David Gorenstein. The series has created a forum to help synergize research across the UTHealth campuses.

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Smythe lecture

Dr. Giuseppe Colasurdo, president ad interim of UTHealth, speaks from the Medical School during a Town Hall meeting April 14.

Dr. Giuseppe Colasurdo, dean of the Medical School, from left, Dr. Carmel Dyer, Dr. David Sinclair, and Dr. Cheves Smythe take a moment before Sinclair speaks during the annual Cheves Smythe Distinguished Lecture April 13. Sinclair addressed the myths and reality of the development of drugs to slow the aging process.
— Dwight C. Andrews, Office of Communications, Medical School





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Events to know

April 28

Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Seminar Series: Dr. James Bardwell (University of Michigan) presents, “Optimization of in vivo protein folding.”
4 p.m., MSB 2.103.
Reception to follow in MSB 1.180.

April 29

Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine Seminar Series: Dr. Patrick Hwu (MD Anderson Cancer Center) presents, “T-Cell Therapy of Melanoma: Getting Killer Cells to the Battlefield.”
11 a.m.–noon, SRB, Beth Robertson Auditorium.

April 30

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Second Annual UT Psychiatry Update.
8 a.m.–5:30 p.m., Memorial Hermann Conference Center.
Fax registration form and credit card payment to 409.772.9333, or for online registration, please visit For questions, call 713.486.2507.

May 2

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Amita Sehgal-Field (University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine) presents, “Coordination of behavior and physiology by circadian clocks.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 4

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Ron Karni, assistant professor of otorhinolaryngology, presents, “ENT Emergencies.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 5

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Thomas Smith, III, assistant professor of surgery, presents, “Urologic Trauma: An Update for 2011.”
7 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME credit is available.

Department of Neurosurgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Claudia Robertson (Baylor) presents, “Erythropoietin Neuroprotection After Traumatic Brain Injury.”
8 a.m., MSB G.100.
CME credit is available.

Free Varicose Vein Screenings.
8:30–11:30 a.m., UT Dermatology, 6655 Travis, Suite 600.
Call 713.500.8260 for appointments.

Drug Development Workshop: Drs. Qingyun (Jim) Liu, Michael Blackburn, Claudio Soto, and Clifford Stephan will focus on the discovery, development and translation of various drugs ranging from small molecule to drugs for the treatment of lung and neurodegenerative diseases.
9 a.m.–noon, MSB 2.135.
All students, faculty, fellows, and staff invited.

May 9

Department of Integrative Biology and Pharmacology Seminar Series: Dr. Jeffrey Frost, associate professor of integrative biology and pharmacology, presents, “Regulation of cancer cell motility and mitosis by the RhoA activating protein Net1.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 10

Madelene Ottosen, Clinical Trials Resource Center, presents, “Clinical Trial Budgeting and Billing.”
8:30–11 a.m., UT Professional Building, Suite 1100.55.
This course reviews the mechanics, tools, and policies of developing a clinical trial budget and ensuring appropriate clinical trial billing. Register here.

May 11

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. Ricardo Delcid, resident, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, presents, “The Construct of Cognition Within the Field of Psychiatry.”
Noon–1 p.m., HCPC Auditorium.

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Soham Roy, visiting professor of otorhinolaryngology, presents, “Pediatric Sinusitis & Otitis Media.”
1–2 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 12

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Martin Schreiber (Oregon Health and Science University) presents, “The Joint Theater Trauma System: The Greatest Trauma System Ever Created.”
7 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME credit is available.

May 16

Cell & Regulatory Biology Seminar: Dr. Eric Wagner, assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, presents, “Integrator Proteins and their Role in Gene Expression and Nuclear Architecture.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 17

Demystifying the Clinical Research Process: Sylvia Romo, Office of Research, presents, “Human Subjects Protection Training: Encountering Unanticipated Problems in Your Research.”
11:30 a.m.–1 p.m., MSB B.100.
This session will examine case studies, discuss how to develop an effective corrective action plan, and define key terms. Registration is required.
Lunch is provided for the first 25 attendees.

May 18

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. Fahd Rawra, resident, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, presents, “Atypical Antipsychotics: A Closer Look at the Study Trials.”
Noon–1 p.m., HCPC Auditorium.

Family & Community Medicine Withers Lecture: Dr. Carlos Jaén (UT San Antonio) presents, “Lessons from the first patient-centered medical home national demonstration project: the work that remains.”
4–5 p.m., MSB 2.135.

May 19

Department of Surgery Grand Rounds: Dr. Krista Turner (Weill Cornell Medical College) presents, “Aspiration Syndromes in the Surgical Patient: Prevalent, Fatal, Preventable.”
7 a.m., MSB 3.001.
CME credit is available.

May 24

Research Coordinator Forum: Jodi Ogden, Sponsored Projects Administration, presents, “Contracting Differences in Investigator Initiated Trials.”
11:30 a.m.–1 p.m., MSB 2.135.
Lunch is provided for the first 50 attendees.

May 25

Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences Grand Rounds: Dr. Sanjay Mathew (Baylor College of Medicine) presents, “Oxidative Stress and Mood Disorders: A New Target for Intervention.”
Noon–1 p.m., HCPC Auditorium.


Dr. Min Li, visiting associate professor of neurosurgery, has been invited to serve as a member of the National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services Developmental Therapeutics Study Section, Center for Scientific Review for the term beginning July 1, 2011, and ending June 30, 2014. Members are selected on the basis of their demonstrated competence and achievement in their scientific discipline as evidenced by the quality of research accomplishments, publications in scientific journals, and other significant scientific activities, achievements, and honors.

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