Horchow Symposium examines 'science of growing stronger'

By Jan Jarvis 

A walnut tucked inside an organza bag and placed atop each program at the 2013 Carolyn P. Horchow Women’s Health Symposium left guests asking what it could possibly mean.

By the end of the Feb. 5 event, titled “The Science of Growing Stronger,” they had their answer.

“The walnut is about the same size as a baby’s heart,” explained Dr. Kristine Guleserian, Associate Professor of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Surgical Director of Pediatric Cardiac Transplantation at Children’s Medical Center Dallas.

UTSW faculty who spoke at the 2013 Carolyn P. Horchow Women’s Health Symposium included Dr. Sean Morrison (left), Dr. Benjamin Levine (center), and Dr. Kristine Guleserian (right). The event at UT Southwestern, co-chaired by Nancy Cain Marcus (second from left) and Nelda Cain Pickens (second from right), featured presentations on stem cells, vitamin D, exercise, cancer, and pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries.
UTSW faculty who spoke at the 2013 Carolyn P. Horchow Women’s Health Symposium included Dr. Sean Morrison (left), Dr. Benjamin Levine (center), and Dr. Kristine Guleserian (right). The event at UT Southwestern, co-chaired by Nancy Cain Marcus (second from left) and Nelda Cain Pickens (second from right), featured presentations on stem cells, vitamin D, exercise, cancer, and pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries. (David Gresham Photo)

The nut offered a graphic reminder of how far pediatric heart transplantation and cardiac care have come over the last few decades.

As Dr. Guleserian reminded the audience, it was not so long ago that the first baboon-to-human heart transplant was performed in 1984. Today, heart transplants are successfully performed on babies as small as 5 pounds. Mechanical pumps keep infants alive until a transplant becomes available, and fetal interventions on hearts smaller than a walnut are correcting birth defects.

While Dr. Guleserian’s stories about her young patients brought tears to the eyes of many in the audience, the event also covered fascinating research topics ranging from stem cells to vitamin D.

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, welcomed the audience and spoke of the role that research plays in changing health care, not only in Dallas, but across the country.

Dr. Sean Morrison, Director of the Children’s Medical Center Research Institute at UT Southwestern, spoke about stem cells, melanoma, and the quest for answers as to why some cancers are more aggressive than others.

Research on mice injected with a single cell from an individual with melanoma has led to a better ability to predict which patients will have tumors that metastasize and which will not, said Dr. Morrison, also Professor of Pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator. This insight could lead to new drugs and targeted therapies that improve the treatment of melanoma, he said.

The role of stem cells in the brain and how they help or hinder depression, autism, and glioma was presented by Dr. Luis Parada, Director of the Kent Waldrep Center for Basic Research on Nerve Growth and Regeneration and Chair of Developmental Biology.

While antidepressants such as Prozac produce immediate chemical activity in the brain, it takes weeks to months for the patient to feel less depressed, Dr. Parada said. Research on mice given Prozac provides some clues as to why it takes so long. Stem cells are required to have an effect on chronic depression.

“It takes months to stimulate the appearance of new stem cells,” Dr. Parada said.

Vitamin D deficiency is big news these days, but there’s a lot of confusion about the epidemic, said Dr. Jaime Almandoz, Fellow in Nutrition and Metabolism in the Center for Human Nutrition. Studies have found that 80 percent of African-Americans, 75 percent of Hispanics, and 30 percent of Caucasians are deficient in vitamin D for reasons that include less sun exposure, aging, obesity, and malabsorption related to weight-loss surgery, Dr. Almandoz said.

What most men and women need more of is exercise, said Dr. Benjamin Levine, Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern.

Just three weeks of bed rest is worse than 30 years of aging, he told the audience.

“When we put people to bed, their hearts get smaller,” said Dr. Levine, Medical Director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine, a joint collaboration between UT Southwestern and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas.

Couch potatoes who want to live longer need to get moving on a regular basis, said Dr. Levine, who ended his presentation with a simple question that the audience was quick to respond to with applause.

“If you could take a pill that would increase your strength and endurance; reduce your risk of diabetes, heart attack, and stroke; and prevent cognitive decline and the development of Alzheimer’s disease, with little or no side effects, would you take it?” he asked.

No such pill exists, but exercise provides the same benefits, he said.

Nancy Cain Marcus and Nelda Cain Pickens co-chaired the 2013 Horchow Women’s Health Symposium, named for the longtime Dallas resident who served on the Board of Visitors of UT South-western University Hospitals and Clinics. Stacey Kivowitz was an underwriter for the event.

Mrs. Marcus, an Adjunct Professor of Literature at the University of Dallas and Southern Methodist University, serves on the boards of several charitable organizations and in 2001 was appointed a Public Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly.

Mrs. Pickens serves on boards of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts. 

Pediatrician Dr. Carol Podolsky was Medical Advisor for the event. Dr. Karen Bradshaw, Medical Director of the Lowe Foundation Center for Women’s Preventative Health Care and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Surgery, served as Faculty Liaison.

Dr. Bradshaw holds the Helen J. and Robert S. Strauss and Diana K. and Richard C. Strauss Chair in Women’s Health.

Dr. Levine holds the Distinguished Professorship in Exercise Sciences.

Dr. Morrison holds the Mary McDermott Cook Chair in Pediatric Genetics.

Dr. Parada holds the Southwestern Ball Distinguished Chair in Nerve Regeneration Research, and the Diana K. and Richard C. Strauss Distinguished Chair in Developmental Biology.

Dr. Daniel Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

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