Faculty in the News

Do breathing issues hamper exercise in overweight preteens?

July 10, 2017 – Do overweight children have more breathing limitations, intolerance for exercise, and breathlessness when exercising than normal weight children, leading to possible misdiagnosis for conditions such as asthma?

Investigators with the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, a joint program of UT Southwestern Medical Center and Texas Health Resources, received a 5-year, $2.7 million grant to find out and are seeking preteen volunteers.

“Excess fat on the chest can put an unfavorable burden on the respiratory system during exercise, but it’s unclear whether that burden reduces their tolerance for exercise, makes breathing more difficult – a condition known as dyspnea on exertion, or contributes to other respiratory symptoms,” said Dr. Tony G. Babb, Professor of Internal Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at UT Southwestern, and Director of Cardiopulmonary Laboratory at the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine.

Combo immunotherapy may herald new standard of care for kidney cancer

July 05, 2017 – Combination therapy with two immunotherapy drugs produces an unprecedented doubling of response rates from 20 percent to 40 percent, a new study shows.

The multicenter trial involving 100 patients showed that the addition of ipilimumab to nivolumab, which is currently FDA-approved for treatment of kidney cancer, leads to responses that can last beyond two years. Half of the patients in the study, which appears in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, had metastases that had grown while they were on previous therapy.

“For this group of patients, these are very significant results,” said lead author Dr. Hans Hammers, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and co-leader of the Kidney Cancer Program at the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center of UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Mildly obese fare better after major heart attack

June 22, 2017 – People who survive a major heart attack often do better in the years afterward if they’re mildly obese, a study by UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists showed.

“I think the message from this finding is that if you’ve had a heart attack and you’re overweight or mildly obese, you shouldn’t necessarily try to lose weight aggressively in the initial period after the heart attack. The finding does not suggest that heart attack patients should try to gain weight if they are of normal weight,” said cardiologist Dr. Ian Neeland, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and first author of the study. “Also, doctors should focus more on heart attack patients who are normal weight and not assume that just because they’re normal weight that they’re probably going to be better off.”

Hypertension in young adults shows long-term heart risks

May 19, 2017 – Otherwise healthy young people with high systolic blood pressure over 140 are at greater risk for future artery stiffening linked to an increased risk of stroke as well as possible damage to the kidneys and brain, new research shows.

This study – the largest ever conducted in the U.S. looking at whether young, otherwise healthy ISH patients actually have a cardiovascular problem – suggests the common approach of ignoring higher systolic blood pressure levels in younger adults may be wrong, said study author Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin, Director of UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Hypertension Program.

Hospital-acquired anemia more common, increases risks

May 17, 2017 – One in three patients hospitalized for medical problems experienced a drop in their red blood cell count due to the hospitalization – a concept called hospital-acquired anemia, new research showed.

“This study shines a spotlight on a very common but underappreciated risk of hospitalization, hospital-acquired anemia, which has traditionally been viewed as an incidental change in the red blood count of no significance. However, our results showed that hospital-acquired anemia was associated with worse clinical outcomes after leaving the hospital so it needs to be taken more seriously,” said senior author Dr. Ethan Halm, Director of UT Southwestern’s Center for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research and Chief of the William T. and Gay F. Solomon Division of General Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern.

Readmission penalties don’t correlate to heart attack outcomes

April 26, 2017 – A program that penalizes hospitals for high early readmission rates of heart attack patients may be unfairly penalizing hospitals that serve a large proportion of African-Americans and those with more severe illness, a study by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers suggests.

Dr. James de Lemos, Professor of Internal Medicine and senior author of the study, said the study suggests that socioeconomic status should be part of the ERR calculation.

These 5 tests better predict heart disease risk

March 30, 2017 – Five simple medical tests together provide a broader and more accurate assessment of heart-disease risk than currently used methods, cardiologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center found.

“This set of tests is really powerful in identifying unexpected risk among individuals with few traditional risk factors. These are people who would not be aware that they are at risk for heart disease and might not be targeted for preventive therapies,” said Dr. James de Lemos, Professor of Internal Medicine.

Researchers used data from two large population studies, including the Dallas Heart Study, that each followed a large group of healthy individuals for more than a decade. Their study, which appears in the journal Circulation, was partly funded by NASA to develop strategies for predicting heart disease in astronauts.

Unraveling the mysteries behind America’s No. 1 cause of acute liver failure

March 28, 2017 – Twenty years ago, the federal government funded the study of a condition quietly killing hundreds of Americans a year – acute liver failure, or ALF. Growing evidence had linked ALF to overdoses of acetaminophen, the popular over-the-counter pain medication many viewed as harmless at the time.

The Acute Liver Failure Study Group’s research led to an understanding of how acetaminophen poisoning became the No. 1 cause of ALF in the United States. It’s now responsible for 46 percent of all cases and for approximately 500 deaths and 50,000 emergency room visits each year, said Dr. William M. Lee, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, founder of the study group, and an internationally renowned expert in liver disease.

Fat cells step in to help liver during fasting

March 16, 2017 – How do mammals keep two biologically crucial metabolites in balance during times when they are feeding, sleeping, and fasting? The answer may require rewriting some textbooks.

“Like glucose, every cell in the body needs uridine to stay alive. Glucose is needed for energy, particularly in the brain’s neurons. Uridine is a basic building block for a lot of things inside the cell,” said Dr. Philipp Scherer, senior author of the study and Director of UT Southwestern’s Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.

Cardiologist seeks to end blow-to-chest deaths in teen athletes

March 14, 2017 – It’s a rare, but tragic, event that occurs less than 20 times a year: Teen athletes who are struck in the chest by a ball, causing their heart to stop. And it can be instantly fatal.

But as another baseball season gets underway, new standards for chest protectors will come into play designed to stop this rare phenomenon – called commotio cordis – based on findings by Dr. Mark Link, a UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologist who has searched for answers for the past two decades.

Lung cancer may go undetected in kidney cancer patients

March 7, 2017 – Could lung cancer be hiding in kidney cancer patients? Researchers with the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Kidney Cancer Program studied patients with metastatic kidney cancer to the lungs and found that 3.5 percent of the group had a primary lung cancer tumor that had gone undiagnosed. This distinction can affect treatment choices and rates of survival.

“Kidney cancer spreads primarily to the lungs making the detection of a primary lung cancer difficult. Lung cancer is typically more aggressive than kidney cancer. Undetected, lung cancer may spread and eventually kill the patient,” said Dr. James Brugarolas, Director of the Kidney Cancer Program and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Inactivity, excess weight linked to hard-to-treat heart failures

February 27, 2017 – Lack of exercise and excessive weight are strongly associated with a type of heart failure that has a particularly poor prognosis, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers determined in an analysis of data from three large studies.

“Previous studies have consistently found an association between low levels of physical activity, high BMI, and overall risk of heart failure, but this study shows that the association is more pronounced for heart failure with preserved ejection fraction, the type of heart failure that is the most challenging to treat,” said preventive cardiologist Dr. Jarett Berry, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, and the study’s senior author.

Researchers identify ion channel necessary for hormone and anti-obesity drug to suppress eating

February 6, 2017 – UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified an ion channel required for brain cells to suppress eating behavior in response to the hormone leptin or to the anti-obesity drug lorcaserin.

A deeper understanding of this brain-metabolism relationship could someday lead to new, better targeted treatments for obesity or diabetes, said lead author Dr. Kevin Williams, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study, published recently in Cell Reports.

Researchers urge use of evidence-based medicine to avoid overtreatment of type 2 diabetes

January 31, 2017 – UT Southwestern Medical Center research supports an evidence-based medicine (EBM) approach that embraces individualized care to prevent overtreatment, specifically for patients with type 2 diabetes.

This recommended strategy is outlined in a review article published recently in Circulation.

“Evidence-based medicine is a powerful tool to provide person-centered care to individuals with type 2 diabetes, as well as for patients with other diseases,” said Dr. Anil Makam, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and lead author of the article. “When applied to type 2 diabetes, EBM calls for a paradigm shift in our treatment approach.”

“EBM is often misunderstood as a call for universal, cookie-cutter medicine, which has led to an epidemic of overtreatment in type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Oanh Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences, and senior author of the article. “Instead, EBM is a critical tool in the physician’s arsenal to provide individualized and person-centered care.”

Researchers discover BRCA1 gene is key for blood forming stem cells

January 24, 2017 – Researchers at from the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center have found that the BRCA1 gene is required for the survival of blood forming stem cells, which could explain why patients with BRCA1 mutations do not have an elevated risk for leukemia. The stem cells die before they have an opportunity to transform into a blood cancer.

“One of the great mysteries in cancer research is why inherited mutations, such as those in BRCA1, cause cancer only in specific tissues such as the breast and ovaries, rather than in all tissues. Our data suggest a ‘die or transform’ hypothesis, which could explain this tissue specificity,” said Dr. Theodora Ross, Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Cancer Genetics Program at UT Southwestern.

Researchers find likely cause – and potential way to prevent – vision deterioration in space

January 16, 2017 – Vision deterioration in astronauts who spend a long time in space is likely due to the lack of a day-night cycle in intracranial pressure. But using a vacuum device to lower pressure for part of each day might prevent the problem, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers said. Their study appears in the Journal of Physiology.

“These challenging experiments were among the most ambitious human studies ever attempted as part of the Flight Operations parabolic flight program, and changed the way we think about the effect of gravity – and its absence – on pressure inside the brain,” said senior author Dr. Benjamin Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine (IEEM), jointly run by UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources.

Scientists identify protein central to immune response against tuberculosis bacteria

Jan. 11, 2017 – UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers have identified a protein that is central to the immune system’s ability to recognize and destroy the bacterium responsible for the global tuberculosis (TB) epidemic.

The new finding, reported recently in Cell Host & Microbe, could someday lead to the development of immunity-based therapies to treat tuberculosis – which typically takes months to eradicate and has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics – by strengthening this immune pathway, said Dr. Michael Shiloh, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology.

“The protein Smurf1 functions in specialized white blood cells called macrophages in both mice and humans, thereby suggesting a conserved evolutionary pathway,” said Dr. Shiloh, co-senior author of the study along with Dr. Beth Levine, Director of the University’s Center for Autophagy Research.

Researchers identify process cells use to destroy damaged organelles with links to cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and aging

Dec. 22, 2016 – Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have uncovered the mechanism cells use to find and destroy an organelle called mitochondria that, when damaged, may lead to genetic problems, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, inflammatory disease, and aging.

Understanding how this process works could potentially lead to new treatments to prevent certain illnesses and even some aspects of aging, said Dr. Beth Levine, Director of the Center for Autophagy Research at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study, published today in Cell. The Center for Autophagy Research – the only one of its kind in the nation – investigates the process called autophagy in which cells rid themselves of damaged or unnecessary components.

Adrenaline rush: Delaying epinephrine shots after cardiac arrest cuts survival rates

Dec. 01, 2016 – Hospitals in which the administration of epinephrine to patients whose hearts have stopped is delayed beyond five minutes have significantly lower survival rates of those patients, a new study led by a cardiologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center finds.

“That is a 20 percent better survival rate for patients at hospitals where epinephrine is given quickly, which is a big difference,” said Dr. Rohan Khera, a Cardiology Division fellow at UT Southwestern and the first author on the study published online in the journal Circulation.

Study seeks answer to whether mechanical pump can regenerate heart muscle

Nov. 30, 2016 – Could heart muscle that’s been damaged by a heart attack be prompted to repair itself?

Researchers with UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Hamon Center for Regenerative Science and Medicine are launching clinical trials to find out. The trials will look at whether a type of mechanical pump called a ventricular assist device can create an environment that results in regeneration of heart cells.

Outreach to cirrhosis patients doubles early screening rates for deadly liver cancer on the rise

November 18, 2016 – Proactive outreach to cirrhosis patients in a safety net health system successfully doubled their screening rates for liver cancer, UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers found.

“Finding ways to reach patients at high risk of liver cancer is critical. Liver cancer has the fastest increasing mortality rate among solid tumors in the U.S.,” said first author Dr. Amit G. Singal, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences, and a member of the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. “This high mortality is primarily due to low rates of liver cancer screening and high rates of late-stage diagnosis.”

20-year cancer survivor is beating a second diagnosis: pancreatic cancer

November 15, 2016 – Ken Abernathy is very familiar with cancer. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1996 and managed his slow-growing disease until 2013, when he started having pains in the side of his abdomen. A closer look revealed a devastating diagnosis – stage 4 pancreatic cancer – a diagnosis he is handling remarkably well three years later.

“We worked very closely with Dr. Collins to develop an individualized plan focused on his complex disease course with two ongoing cancers,” said Dr. Muhammad Beg, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine, co-Director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Team and leader for multiple pancreatic cancer trials.

Major artery more rigid in African-Americans, which may explain high rates of hypertension and heart disease

November 9, 2016 – African-Americans have more rigidity of the aorta, the major artery supplying oxygen-rich blood to the body, than Caucasians and Hispanics, according to a study by UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists.

“Our demonstration of ethnic differences in arterial stiffness is an important step in understanding the mechanisms that mediate ethnic differences in cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Wanpen Vongpatanasin, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and co-senior author of the study, which appears online in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging.

Low-oxygen environment leads to heart regeneration in mice, UTSW research shows

Oct. 31, 2016 – Normal, healthy heart muscle is well-supplied with oxygen-rich blood. But UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists have been able to regenerate heart muscle by placing mice in an extremely low-oxygen environment.

“The adult human heart is not capable of any meaningful repair following a heart attack, which is why heart attacks have such a devastating impact,” said Dr. Hesham Sadek, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and with the Hamon Center. “Though counterintuitive, we’ve shown that severely lowering oxygen exposure can sidestep damage to cells caused by oxygen and turn cell division back on, leading to heart regrowth.”

Back pain led to kidney cancer diagnosis for survivor turned advocate

Oct. 26, 2016 – Four years ago, Merlinda Chelette was a hardworking ER nurse who suffered from excruciating back pain. When it became too painful to bear, she initially sought chiropractic care, but the pain got worse. Her search for relief eventually led to a radiologist, who found the surprising cause of her back pain was kidney cancer.

“She has done quite well on sunitinib for 15 months. Her cancer remains contained, she has not required additional surgeries, and she is enjoying a reasonably good quality of life,” said her physician, Dr. James Brugarolas, Kidney Cancer Program leader at the Simmons Cancer Center and Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern. Ms. Chelette was helped by an active volunteer program “and now she is helping others.”

Fat cells that amplify nerve signals in response to cold also affect blood sugar metabolism

Sept. 30, 2016 – When exposed to cold, clusters of cells within the body’s white fat become beige – a color change that reflects the creation of more energy-producing mitochondria, cellular components that enable cells to burn calories and give off heat. But since white fat cells have very few nerves, how do beige fat cells get the message that it’s cold outside?

“The data here show how white fat cells can make maximal use of their limited number of nerves to allow a single nerve fiber to spread the ‘message’ about cold temperatures amongst the connected cells,” explained Dr. Philipp Scherer, lead author of the study and Director of UT Southwestern’s Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.

Study to examine value of ECG testing for high school athletes

Sept. 29, 2016 – Researchers working in four labs at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found a chink in a so-called “undruggable” lung cancer’s armor – and located an existing drug that might provide a treatment.

Cancers caused by the KRAS mutation have been a target for researchers since the mutation was discovered in humans in 1982. But, due in part to this oncogene’s almost impervious spherical shape, no one was able to find an opening for attack, said Dr. Pier Scaglioni, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and a contributing author to the study.

Examining mitochondrial DNA may help identify unknown ancestry that influences breast cancer risk

Sept. 20, 2016 – Genetic testing of mitochondrial DNA could reveal otherwise unknown ancestry that can influence a person’s risk for certain types of breast cancer, a new study finds.

“This study is the first to perform mtDNA testing for self-described African-Americans, Caucasians and Hispanics with triple negative breast cancer and to identify unexpected mtDNA patterns,” said senior author Dr. Barbara Haley, Professor of Internal Medicine, who holds the Charles Cameron Sprague, M.D. Chair in Clinical Oncology. “It is estimated that 10 to 30 percent of Americans may not be aware of their mixed ancestry. This type of assessment has the potential to be informative for other cancers where we see ethnic differences in frequency without understanding the cause.”

Scientists enhance ability of antibiotics to defeat resistant types of bacteria using molecules called PPMOs

Sept. 16, 2016 – Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have developed a strategy to overcome a key defense that drug-resistant bacteria use to fend off antibiotic attack.

This is the first time researchers have tailored one of these synthetic compounds, part of a class called PPMOs or peptide-conjugated phosphorodiamidate morpholino oligomers, to target a specific efflux pump found in bacterial cell walls, said Dr. David Greenberg, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology at UT Southwestern and a senior author of the study.

Study to examine value of ECG testing for high school athletes

Sept. 6, 2016 – UT Southwestern Medical Center heart specialists will study whether electrocardiograms (ECGs) are useful in identifying Texas high school student athletes who are at risk of suffering sudden cardiac death.

“It is a tragedy when a young person dies of sudden cardiac death, and physicians want to do everything possible to prevent such occurrences. But it is a rare event and there are costs, both social and financial, to ECG screening,” said Dr. Benjamin Levine, Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, a joint operation of Texas Health Resources and UT Southwestern.

Electric fans may exacerbate heat issues for seniors, study finds

Sept. 6, 2016 – Using electric fans to relieve high levels of heat and humidity may, surprisingly, have the opposite effect for seniors, a study by UT Southwestern Medical Center heart specialists suggests.

“Although differences were small, the cumulative effect could become clinically important during prolonged heat exposure, such as during extreme heat waves,” said Dr. Craig Crandall, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and with the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, a joint operation of Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and UT Southwestern.

Regents recognize 6 faculty members with Outstanding Teaching Awards

Sept. 1, 2016 – The UT System Board of Regents has honored six faculty members at UT Southwestern Medical Center among the 60 UT System educators who received 2016 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Awards (ROTA).

Research identifies protein that promotes the breakdown of fat, potentially leading to new diabetes treatments

Aug. 24, 2016 – Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have found that a protein often located on the surface of fat droplets within cells – and especially abundant in the muscles of endurance athletes – can kick-start the more efficient and healthful breakdown of fat.

The findings could have significant implications for development of new ways to treat obesity and type 2 diabetes, said Dr. Perry Bickel, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study published online today in Nature Communications.

CPRIT awards $9.6 million for UTSW projects in cancer treatments, screening, and genetics research

August 24, 2016 – Six new cancer research projects involving treatment, prevention, outreach, and genetics recently received a total of $9.6 million in support from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).

UT Southwestern researchers have been awarded a cumulative total of more than $331 million from CPRIT, including the latest awards, which have helped attract additional awards in basic science research, translational research and outreach and prevention programs.

Blocking release of the hormone ghrelin may mediate low blood sugar effect in children taking beta blockers

Aug. 22, 2016 – Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a previously unknown role of a cellular signaling molecule involved in release of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin, a finding that could have implications for optimal treatment of children taking beta blockers.

“When beta 1 adrenergic receptors are removed from the ghrelin-producing cells of laboratory mice, the animals exhibit a marked reduction in circulating ghrelin levels,” said study senior author Dr. Jeffrey Zigman, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Psychiatry at UT Southwestern. “The effects of this reduction become apparent when the mice are placed on a calorie-restricted diet and include severe hypoglycemia and, as a result, reduced survival.”

1 in 5 are discharged from hospital with unstable vital signs, and experience higher readmission and death rates

August 9, 2016 – Twenty percent of people hospitalized are released before all vital signs are stable, a pattern that is associated with an increased risk of death and hospital readmission, a new study by UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers shows.

“We found that nearly 1 in 5 hospitalized adults is discharged with one or more vital sign instabilities such as an elevated heart rate or low blood pressure,” said lead author, Dr. Oanh Nguyen, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Clinical Sciences. “This finding is an important patient safety issue because patients who had vital sign abnormalities on the day of discharge had higher rates of hospital readmission and death within 30 days even after adjusting for many other risk factors.”

UT Southwestern targets rising rates of kidney cancer with four-pronged attack funded by National Cancer Institute

August 1, 2016 – Bolstering its progress in addressing the rising threat of kidney cancer, the Kidney Cancer Program at UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center has received $11 million in funding from the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Kidney cancer currently has no method of early detection and is particularly challenging to treat.

“We are translating seminal discoveries and technological innovation at UT Southwestern to expand treatment options for both adult and pediatric kidney cancer patients,” said Principal Investigator Dr. James Brugarolas, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, and Virginia Murchison Linthicum Scholar in Medical Research. “These funds will support a variety of new and ongoing activities including the development of a new drug, studies of kidney cancer subtypes in adults and children, and a novel approach to determine what small tumors may be deadly.”

Researchers identify new mechanism of tuberculosis infection

July 21 2016 – Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have identified a new way that tuberculosis bacteria get into the body, revealing a potential therapeutic angle to explore.

The research team, led by Dr. Michael Shiloh, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology at UT Southwestern, found that microfold cell (M-cell) translocation is a new and previously unknown mechanism by which Mtb enters the body. M-cells are specialized epithelial cells that transport particles from the airway or mucosal surface to the compartment below the cell.