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In the News

Why the dose matters


When used to manage infections, the drug itraconazole is generally given at a single, fixed dose to all patients. But determining the correct dosage of the drug to help treat cancer isn’t that simple, new research by UT Southwestern suggests.

“What this means going forward is that, in future studies of itraconazole for the treatment of cancer, it may be important to check each patient’s drug level and tailor the dose,” says David Gerber, M.D., a professor of internal medicine and population and data sciences at UTSW and first author of the new paper, published online in the journal Clinical Cancer Research. “In this context, there’s no one-size-fits-all dose,” notes Gerber, also Associate Director of Clinical Research in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Obesity could increase vulnerability to COVID-19


Conditions related to obesity, including inflammation and leaky gut, leave the lungs of obese patients more susceptible to COVID-19 and may explain why they are more likely to die from the disease, UTSW scientists say in a new article published online in eLife. They suggest that drugs used to lower inflammation in the lungs could prove beneficial to obese patients with the disease.

Several pre-existing conditions have been shown to increase the risk of COVID-19 severity, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes – two conditions that often go hand-in-hand, says Philipp Scherer, Ph.D., director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research and a professor of internal medicine and cell biology at UT Southwestern.

Scherer and his colleagues, including Manasi Shah, M.D., an endocrinology fellow at UTSW, and Ilja L. Kruglikov, Ph.D., Dr.Sci., a researcher at Wellcomet GmbH in Karlsruhe, Germany, explore this phenomenon in the new opinion piece.

Generic cholesterol drugs save Medicare billions of dollars


The switch from brand name to generic cholesterol medications that occurred between 2014 and 2018 has saved Medicare billions of dollars, even as the number of people on cholesterol-lowering drugs has increased, UT Southwestern scientists have calculated. Their data, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, suggest that policymakers and clinicians could help cut Medicare costs even further by switching more patients to generic drugs.

“One of the most important contributors to our health care costs is expenditure on prescription drugs,” says Ambarish Pandey, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UTSW. “The switch to generics is an effective strategy to cut the costs incurred by health systems.”

Best practices detailed for mail-in colon cancer screenings


A program that asks patients to mail in stool samples to screen for colon cancer is an effective way to expand screenings to underserved and underinsured communities and offers an alternative to in-person testing during the pandemic, according to a study conducted by UT Southwestern.

In an article published recently in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, UT Southwestern physicians identified nine best practices for effective mail-in screening campaigns, which can take the place of invasive, unpopular colonoscopies.

“This project is succeeding in making cancer screenings less invasive and more widely available. Serendipitously, it now has the added benefit of being yet another way to keep people out of hospitals and clinics during pandemic shutdowns,” says Amit Singal, M.D., an author of the study, professor of internal medicine and population and data sciences, medical director of the Liver Tumor Program, and clinical chief of hepatology at UT Southwestern.

Roger H. Unger, M.D., 1924-2020


Roger H. Unger, M.D., a longtime Professor of Internal Medicine, a preeminent authority on glucagon and the development of diabetes, and the founding Director of the Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research at UT Southwestern Medical Center, died Aug. 22. He was 96.

Over a 64-year career at UT Southwestern, Unger elucidated the role of glucagon and insulin in regulating blood glucose in both normal and diabetic individuals. His leadership helped to establish UT Southwestern as a leading clinical and research center for the accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of conditions related to the endocrine system.

“Dr. Unger was a visionary endocrinologist who helped shape research and clinical practice in the field for more than 60 years,” says Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., President of UT Southwestern. “His outstanding contributions in endocrinology and metabolism set the foundation for many of the important discoveries in these areas. He was at the forefront of identifying the essential role of glucagon in the pathogenesis of diabetes, and he introduced the concept of lipotoxicity, the process by which an overaccumulation of fat products causes tissue damage responsible for Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.”

Arterial plaque is better at predicting heart attack than stroke


The amount of calcified plaque in the heart’s arteries is a better predictor of future heart attacks than of strokes, with similar findings across sex and racial groups, according to new research from UT Southwestern.

The study, published today in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, is the first to examine the predictive value of recently recommended coronary artery calcium (CAC) score categories for heart attacks and strokes. Using two population-based, multiethnic cohorts, the researchers evaluated how well the amount of calcium detected by a CT scan of the heart predicted whether white, Black, and Hispanic men and women would have a stroke or a heart attack in the next 10 years.

“In our study, there was a twofold greater risk of heart attack than stroke at CAC levels at or above 100,” a score indicating moderate to high levels of calcified plaque, says Parag Joshi, M.D., a cardiologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and senior author of the study. “That held true for Black, white, and Hispanic men and women.”

Remembering Dr. Beth Levine


Dr. Beth Levine, UT Southwestern Professor of Internal Medicine and Microbiology, Director of the Center for Autophagy Research, and holder of the Charles Cameron Sprague Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Science, died Sunday after a battle with breast cancer

An Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 2008 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Levine was a widely recognized leader in research on autophagy, a housekeeping process in which cells rid themselves of damaged constituents in order to maintain cellular health.

Dr. Levine was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1960. After graduating magna cum laude from Brown University in 1981, she received her medical degree from Cornell University Medical College in 1986, followed by a residency in internal medicine at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. She was a postdoctoral fellow in infectious diseases and virology at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine from 1989 through 1992 and worked as an Assistant Professor and then as an Associate Professor at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (now the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons) until 2004. That year she was recruited by UT Southwestern to become Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Jay P. Sanford Professor in Infectious Diseases. Seven years later, Dr. Levine became Director of UTSW’s Center for Autophagy Research.

Dr. Almandoz publishes recent study in Clinical Obesity


Shelter-in-place orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19 put unusual strains on people with obesity, making it more difficult for them to eat properly and manage their weight, according to a UT Southwestern study.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Obesity, surveyed 123 weight management patients at the UT Southwestern Weight Wellness Program and a community bariatric surgery practice. In addition to less exercise and more stress eating, most patients also reported increased anxiety and depression.

“You don’t have to contract the virus to be adversely affected by it. The major strength of this study is that it is one of the first data-driven snapshots into how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced health behaviors for patients with obesity,” says Jaime Almandoz, M.D., MBA, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern who authored the study. Almandoz is also medical director for the UT Southwestern Weight Wellness Program, a multidisciplinary weight management and post-bariatric care clinic.

Drug combination could eliminate side effects of once-popular diabetes treatment


A new UT Southwestern study shows how an effective but largely abandoned treatment for Type 2 diabetes could be used again in combination with another drug to eliminate problematic side effects.>

In a study published this month in Cell Metabolism, researchers show how adding a second, experimental drug referred to as Compound A activates a receptor in fat cells and certain immune system cells called the G protein-coupled receptor 120 (GPR120) to complement the effects of rosiglitazone and allow a lower dose to be used.

“The very low dose we used in this study showed no side effects – no weight gain, no fluid retention – in mouse models,” says Dayoung Oh, Ph.D., senior author of the study, assistant professor of internal medicine, and a researcher in UT Southwestern’s Touchstone Center for Diabetes Research.

Three approved drugs can curb COVID-19 virus replication


Three drugs that are already approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other international agencies can block the production of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 in human cells, according to computational and pharmaceutical studies performed by UT Southwestern scientists.

Developing new pharmaceuticals could take months, even with rapid approval, according to study leaders Hesham Sadek, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of internal medicine, molecular biology, and biophysics; John W. Schoggins, Ph.D., an associate professor of microbiology; and Mahmoud Ahmed, Ph.D., an instructor of internal medicine. Thus, the UTSW researchers are testing drugs that are already approved by the FDA or other international agencies to see if they can attack this virus.

Recently, Sadek and his colleagues published a study in the same preprint server that used computer modeling to screen thousands of FDA-approved drugs for their ability to fit into the binding pocket of SARS-CoV-2’s main protease, an enzyme that the virus uses to chop up long strands of viral proteins.