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Texas Public Radio Presents "Bioscience Breakthroughs" Sponsored in Part by BioMed SA
March 21, 2011

SAN ANTONIO, March 21, 2011 - Texas Public Radio's KSTX 89.1 FM presents "Bioscience Breakthroughs," a special series of news segments highlighting innovations from San Antonio's bioscience and medical community. The series, produced by TPR News Director David Martin Davies, will air throughout the day from March 21 to April 1. The upcoming focus on these industries is a follow-up to the inaugural cycle of "Bioscience Breakthroughs" that aired last fall.

The health care and bioscience sector is an economic engine for the Alamo City. According to the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, the industry infused the local economy with $24.5 billion in 2009. Currently it employs 1 of every 6 members of the San Antonio workforce. In total, nearly 150,000 employees are on the payrolls of area medical research institutions, companies and health care service providers.

But the impact of the region's bioscience community isn't solely economic, nor is its reach confined to the city's limits. San Antonio is the source of numerous cutting-edge innovations that are transforming how the medical community worldwide is fighting and curing disease. From the development of the revolutionary coronary stent, the wire-mesh device that changed the way doctors treat heart disease, to gene therapy trials that may lead to advancements in brain tumor treatments, San Antonio is home to advancements that are saving lives and improving our health and well-being. Still, the Alamo City's impact on healthcare worldwide often falls under the radar.

"Biotech research in San Antonio is creating jobs and growing the city's tax base. More importantly, researchers and medical professionals in San Antonio are working hard to save lives, and outside of their industry they frequently don't get the accolades they deserve," said Davies.

"Bioscience Breakthroughs" aims to raise awareness of the impact of San Antonio's bioscience and health care sectors by reporting on a range of homegrown medical advancements. Everyday, the series will highlight a specific innovation from a bioscience organization in San Antonio. The second series of "Bioscience Breakthroughs" news segments are scheduled to air weekdays at 5:50 a.m., 7:50 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 4:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. on KSTX 89.1 FM. They will also be available for download at Bioscience Breakthroughs is sponsored by BioMed SA; the Health Care and Life Sciences Practice Group of Oppenheimer, Blend, Harrison and Tate, Inc.; and Cappy and Suzy Lawton in support of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute.

About Texas Public Radio
Texas Public Radio (TPR) is a community of listener-supported, non-commercial radio stations in South Central Texas and the Hill Country. KSTX 89.1 FM is a regional source for in-depth news, information and entertainment programs, and the only local source for National Public Radio's flagship newsmagazines, Morning Edition and All Things Considered. KPAC 88.3 FM is the only source for 24/7 classical music in San Antonio. KTXI 90.1 FM offers a blend of classical music, news and information programming in the Hill Country. More information is available at

About BioMed SA
BioMed SA is a non-profit, membership-based organization, supported in part by the City of San Antonio. Its mission is to accelerate growth of the healthcare and bioscience sector, create regional economic benefit, and contribute to the health of San Antonio and beyond by establishing San Antonio as a leader in healthcare and bioscience. The city's healthcare and bioscience industry has added approximately 23,000 net new jobs over the past decade, significantly fueling San Antonio's growth and employing one out of every six members of the city's workforce. As America's seventh largest city, San Antonio is a community that embraces science and medicine. Its vibrant health care and bioscience industry, a dominant force in the city's economy with an annual economic impact of $24.5 billion, combines unique assets and a diversity of resources with a collaborative spirit that is making a global impact on science and health.

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes

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April 1, 2011 - Researchers in San Antonio have published a study that reports a pill taken once a day prevented type 2 diabetes in more that 70 percent of individuals with the highest risk for the disease.

"About one-third in the U.S. have this kind of condition called 'impaired glucose tolerance,' which of about a third of these individuals will eventually go on to develop diabetes," said Dr. Devjit Tripathy. He is one of the researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio that looked at the drug pioglitazone which is marketed as ACTOS.

The study published in the New England journal of Medicine highlights the importance of insulin resistance in the development of type 2 diabetes.

And while the drug shows outstanding results in preventing type 2 diabetes it still has side effects.

"The most common side effect that we have seen is the weight gain and the swelling of the feet," said Tripathy.

The weight gain that comes with the drug isn't beer belly fat it's evenly distributed across the body which makes it easier for the body to manage.

ACTOS has not yet been approved by the FDA to be prescribed for type 2 diabetes prevention. And it still doesn't beat the preferred prescription for diabetes prevention a health diets and regular exercise.


Grooming the Next Generation of Bioscience Entrepreneurs

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March 31, 2011 - Taking a medical breakthrough from the lab to the marketplace is art and science unto itself.

Cory Hallam, Director of UTSA’s Cite Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship, is teaching how it is done.

“Our students are going through programs and being trained to create new technologies and companies, and as part of that, they work with faculty who are inventors of new technologies in our research labs.”

UTSA’s company incubator program is brand new and already has a commercial breakthrough to its credit. UTSA’s researchers developed a synthetic bone graft material. Hallam says this is only the beginning.

“There is a lot in the pipeline both at the faculty level and at the student level. In fact, we’ve done some great teaming with the Health Science Center now in town where faculty and researchers over there want to develop new devices. Our engineering students build the prototype to test them, and our business students put together the business plan.”

UTSA's Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) will host a competition on April 23, looking for the best ideas. The 100K Student Technology Venture Competition is a business plan competition that awards over $100,000 in start-up packages to the best pitch.

With all the ideas and energy focused on developing new bioscience innovations, the San Antonio area could possibly be the Silicone Valley for biotechnology.


Engineering Innovations are Launched in San Antonio

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March 30, 2011 - Three recent engineering graduates from UTSA are already making their mark in the competitive world of medical technology.

Daniel Mendez is part of the trio that makes up Invictus Engineering. They have developed a neonatal cranial support device that could prevent skull defects in prematurely born infants.

“What this device does is, it helps distributes the pressure around a premature-born infant's head to help prevent head molding called plagiocephaly,” he said.

Their invention won this year's top prize at the Beta Summit of InnoTech San Antonio, a business and technology innovation conference and expo.

“I can not imagine a better place to launch a project like this because San Antonio is a very strong medical community,” Mendez said.

The device stands to help more than half-a-million infants in the United States each year. It is a relatively low cost solution to a medical condition; the alternative could be eventual corrective surgery.

“In the United States, of all those children who are born prematurely, about 20% of them experience head molding that’s sufficient enough to require recorrective measures,” said Mendez.

Mendez says that Invictus Engineering is receiving attention from venture capitalists, and they are looking forward to getting their device approved and on the market.


Project Strong Star Combats PTSD

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March 29, 2011 - Years after the military leaves Iraq and Afghanistan the men and women who were deployed there will still be dealing with the psychological effects of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dr. Alan Peterson is the director of Project Strong Star, a Department of Defense funded effort researching ways to beat combat related PTSD.

He says even today PTSD is increasing for Vietnam War veterans.

"It costs our government $5 billion each year just in disability payments for chronic PTSD payments in Vietnam veterans," said Peterson.

Peterson is leading the project from the University of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio, but he's working with local VA, military bases and Ft. Hood.

"San Antonio really is the ideal location. Between Wilford Hall Medical Center, Brook Army Medical Center ? what we are describing as SAMC ? the San Antonio Medical Center ? it will be the largest military medical center in the world," said Peterson.

Peterson who was deployed in Iraq as a military psychologist is working with civilian PTSD experts who have developed treatments, but they don't understand how this translates to the combat related PTSD and the military culture.

To date no clinical trials of treatment for combat related PTSD in active duty military personnel have been published, leaving questions as to how best to use the evidence based therapies for the treatment of PTSD in military personnel.


Tooth Regeneration Using Stem Cells

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March 28, 2011 - Inside every tooth there's a bank of stem cells. They can be turned on to repair and re-grow a damaged tooth.

"That's what we are doing in the clinic now-a-days. We are using bio-engineering concepts to allow those cells to repopulate. We need to give the right scaffold, the right growth factors to allow them to go back into that previous tissue that was present there and repopulate that space," said Dr. Anibal Diogenes of the University of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio.

In February, Diogenes was featured on the cover of the Journal of Endodontics with his research into using the stem cells present in teeth. This is particular problem for children whose permanent teeth are growing in and they take a hard hit to the mouth.

"Those teeth will not grow. They are going to remain very thin walls ? very fragile small little teeth."

But a year after the stem cell activating treatment what might have been considered a dead tooth restores itsself into a living healthy and growing tooth.

Diogenes says this is only the beginning of tapping into the power of stem cells in tooth regeneration. He says this is actually a cheaper way to treat teeth than traditional root canals, which will help impoverished children all over the world.


Sounding the Alarm About the Silent Epidemic

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March 25, 2011 - Many people are not even aware that they have hepatitis C, and it's like living with a time bomb waiting to go off.

"Today the most rapidly increasing death due to cancer in the United States is hepatitis C-related liver cancer," said Dr. Robert E. Lanford.

At San Antonio's Texas Biomedical Research Institute, Lanford is looking for ways to slow down and stop the hepatitis C Virus infection.

Texas Biomedical Research Institute is the new name for the Southwest foundation for Biomedical Research.

"In the United States, about two percent of the population is chronically infected with hepatitis C. In the adult population that ranges up to four percent. And all of these people are slowly progressing to advanced liver disease, which includes cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and cancer."

Lanford is testing a promising new DNA-based drug that opens up a new front on beating hepatitis C. The medication knocks out an RNA element in the liver that the virus depends on.

"Unlike most anti-virals that directly targets a virus - and the virus will find a way to mutate around the drug and be resistant - in this case we took away a host function that the virus was absolutely required to have for replication, so there's no way for the virus to develop resistance."

The technology behind this DNA based drug could also be used for cancer and inflammatory diseases.


Catching a Cold to Cure a Brain Tumor

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March 24, 2011 - At the Cancer Therapy & Research Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center, groundbreaking work is underway using gene therapy.

Dr. Andrew Brenner is running a study using a genetically altered cold virus to beat life threatening primary brain tumors.

"We are the only place in the country that has this study right now. We use the cold virus to deliver our gene so this gene specifically is expressed in blood vessel cells, but it is only activated near the tumor so it specifically knocks out near the tumor."

Gene Therapy was first developed in the 1970's and has held lots of promise. But there was a major setback in 1999 with a clinical trial that resulted in the death of a patient.

Research was halted and some argued if gene therapy was unethical or too risky. Dr. Brenner says his research takes that into account.

"Some of the initial attempts at gene therapy were more at chronic diseases -- things like diabetes or deficiencies that people would have for a long period of time. And so for people that have available therapies and don't have immediately life threatening conditions like a tumor in the brain you have a higher level of risk to benefit. Whereas somebody who has a primary brain tumor -- and they are going to die in 14 months on average if they don't receive some other form of therapy."

The Cancer Therapy & Research Center is one of the leaders in finding ways to recapture the promise of gene therapy, and it is offering a promising cure for those facing an otherwise fatal brain tumor.

This study is enrolling patients right now. They're looking for about 25 more patients who have glioblastoma, a type of brain tumor that originates in the brain.

If you're interested in joining the study, call (210) 450-5798.


Unlocking the Secrets of the Naked Mole Rat

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March 23, 2011 - At the UTHSC's Barshop Institute for Aging Studies, hundreds of naked mole rats are scampering through a maze of tubes and plastic tubs.

"It's the largest colony in the world now ? I have nearly 2,000 animals."

Dr. Rochell Buffenstein is a professor of physiology and a specialist in comparative biology.

In nature, naked mole rats live their entire lives 8 feet underground in the sandy soil of east Africa. In this San Antonio lab the pink buck-toothed, sausage-looking mammals are treated like royalty. Researchers want to unlock the mole rats secrets.

Why do they live so long? Naked mole rats live up to 30 years. Compare that to the lifespan of a field mouse, which is about three years.

They do not go through menopause, and they don't suffer mental decline, such as Alzheimer's and other conditions commonly associated with aging.

"So in every aspect of their biology, they seem very much more resilient in maintaining their genome stability and their protein stability, and they have multiple uses not just in aging studies," said Buffenstein.

Buffenstein has found that mole rats have an internal "disposal system" that enables them to get rid of damaged proteins more efficiently than other animals. Also the naked mole rats' proteins can take a lot more abuse before they are damaged.

And naked mole rats never get cancer.

"We do quite a few studies to understand why they are resistant to cancer. We've taken their cells and infected them with oncogenes which should turn cell cultures into tumor regenic cells and even those cells don't have the characteristic cancer properties. We are trying to figure out what it is that protects them against cancer," said Buffenstein.

And if that weren't enough, they don't feel pain. The skin cells of naked mole rats lack certain pain-related signaling molecules. They are undisturbed by acid and a hot-pepper irritant that bother people. They could hold a clue about pain management for humans.

The hope is that scientists will one day be able to develop new kinds of preventive medicine that gives humans the biological immunity of naked mole rats.


Extending the Life of Transplant Organs

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March 22, 2011 - Last year about 30,000 people received a transplanted organ. The number could have been higher but for the shortage of available organs.

What's the go-to device when it comes to transporting a transplant organ across town or across country? An ice chest.

"Our current technology for organ preservation is similar to the technology we use to transport fish from the gulf," said Leon Bunegin, an associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio School of Medicine.

Bunegin is the co-inventor of an apparatus that greatly improves on the organ ice chest.

"From the moment the organ is harvested ? the organ begins to die," he said.

The organ needs oxygen, and it can only survive a few hours without it. Bunegin's device supplies the transplant heart, liver or kidney with the needed oxygen while also keeping it cold.

With his device, the organ stays viable for transplant 4 to 5 times longer. And because the organ didn't suffer oxygen deprivation during transit, the patient's recover time is sped up.

"I like to think of it as a heart-lung machine for an organ," he said.

Bunegin says the U.S. military is interested in the device. It could be used to save limbs and later surgically restore them to a wounded warrior.

The organ transporter is now moving towards commercial application. South Texas Technology Management, a regional technology transfer office that serves the Univeristy of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio negotiated the licensing agreement. Bunegin says in just a few years the device will be widely available.

It won't be as cheap as a Styrofoam ice chest, but it's it will save a lot more lives.


San Antonio the Birthplace of the Balloon-Expandable Stent

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March 21, 2011 - “San Antonio, the University of Texas there, really gave me a tremendous opportunity and wide-open doors, really, to develop what I wanted to develop so the opportunity was great for me,” said Dr. Julio Palmaz.

Palmez is the inventor of the balloon-expandable stent, which he developed while at the University of Texas Health Science Center - San Antonio.

The stent is a tiny tube-shaped cage that is placed in the body to re-open clogged arteries. At least 10 million people in the U.S. are using stents to combat heart disease, including Palmaz himself.

“It was surprising to me. I felt no discomfort. I thoroughly enjoyed the procedure, of course, as a physician watching this device being installed in my coronary artery. I was walking around the following day with no discomfort of any kind, and I was running actually a week later.”

Palmaz said his firsthand experience did give him ideas on how to improve the stent, which he continues to work on. He is trying to learn why coronary stents sometimes provide varying results on patients. The answer is likely in genetics.

“We are trying to approach making stents the same way we make drugs ? understanding the intimate molecular mechanisms of the drug and receptors and the cells and the proteins in our body and essentially design surfaces according to that. So this is the direction that we are going in today, and we’ve got a lot of work to do yet.”

What is now known as the Palmaz-Schatz Stent was recognized in Intellectual Property International Magazine as one of the “Ten Patents that Changed the World” in the last century.







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