Health Science Center
Three inventors from the Health Science Center have
patented a device that increases circulation to the
hand, making it easier for blood samples to be drawn.
The apparatus already is being used with diabetic
patients who have poor circulation to their
extremities. It applies heat in a safe manner to allow
blood vessels to dilate before blood drawing. The
patient puts a hand inside the box and is exposed to
warm air (136 degrees Fahrenheit) circulated by a fan.
Veins stand out within 30 to 60 seconds.
"It sounds hot, but really it's a nice, warm
wind. It is pleasant," says Mary K. Crowley, one
of the inventors from the department of
instrumentation services. Co-inventors are John M.
Prokopchak and Frank A. Quijano.
Right care at right time
Respiratory care students in the School of Allied
Health Sciences are evaluating patients receiving
respiratory care at the South Texas Veterans Health
Care System, Audie Murphy Division, as part of a
quality assurance program. The collaborative project
gain a better understanding of how
and when to deliver respiratory care.
David C. Shelledy, PhD, associate
professor and chairman of the respiratory care
department, said, "Teaching students to evaluate
care, to ensure that the right patient gets the right
care at the right time, will result in cost-effective,
high-quality care to patients."
Baby tooth decay
Fifteen percent of children under 5 years old in South
Texas suffer from bottle caries,
which is rampant decay of the baby
teeth. Poor oral health habits, including sleeping
with a bottle of milk or other sugary liquid, cause
bottle caries. The Health Science Center's Infant Oral
Health Clinic counsels parents regarding the best diet
for children, gives instruction in proper tooth
cleaning, evaluates and recommends an optimal fluoride
program, tests bacteria in the mouths of children and
their parents, and develops individualized prevention
programs. The clinic may be reached at 210-567-6931.
Color vision genes
Basic research at the Health Science Center is
shedding important new light on
color perception. Working with
colleagues in Boston, molecular biologists at the
Health Science Center's Institute of Biotechnology
cloned two genes that are responsible for color vision
in honeybees and transferred them to fruit flies. The
flies, bred to be blind, were light-responsive
following the transfer, showing that the genes
transferred encode pigments needed to see blue and
ultraviolet light. Though a long way from simulating
human vision, this is a model system for studying such
genes and gaining better understanding of the
mechanisms of color vision. Information gained may one
day help human sight research.
A nicotine-based compound might
prove useful in treating pain,
said Christopher M. Flores, PhD,
assistant professor of endodontics and pharmacology.
He is working on cellular and molecular studies with
the goal of better understanding pain and its
transmission, and on research of the pain-relieving
effects of nicotine with an eye to development of new
The Health Science Center's Diabetes Prevention
Program (DPP) in the department of medicine is working
with volunteers to test a variety of
approaches for preventing or
delaying the onset of diabetes and
its devastating side effects. Volunteers are asked to
exercise, eat healthy food and visit the DPP office on
a regular basis for three to six years to have blood
sugar, weight and blood pressure checks. Some study
group participants receive medication to lower blood
sugar. The program is novel because it looks at
preventing Type II diabetes in people who are not yet
diagnosed. Most of the persons currently enrolled are
Hispanic, one of the ethnic groups at increased risk
for the disease.
Health Science Center studies showed that
a new drug, when given with
estrogen, protects the hearts of older women
by raising levels of HDL-C,
referred to as "good cholesterol."
The drug, Prometrium®, also protects women from
overgrowth of the uterine lining, a side effect
associated with estrogen use. Many women who are past
menopause receive estrogen, a female hormone, to
prevent heart disease, osteoporosis and other health
problems. The Health Science Center served as one of
the core research centers for a study of
Prometrium®, which recently was approved by the
U.S. Food & Drug Administration as an alternative
for women on hormone replacement therapy.
Health Science Center infectious
disease specialists identified the presence of a
species of yeast which, although
noted previously in Australia, Europe and South
America, had never been seen in the United States.
The yeast, Candida dubliniensis, was found in oral
samples from 17 percent of HIV-infected patients
participating in a study group. The yeast is
associated with oral thrush, a fungus found in
the mouth. Patients in the study received care at the
Health Science Center and the South Texas Veterans
Health Care System.
Expectant mothers and their babies could
benefit from recent studies of
group B streptococcus (GBS), a
type of bacteria found in the vagina and/or lower
intestine of 10 percent to 35 percent of all healthy
women. Stephen J. Mattingly, PhD, professor of
microbiology, is working on a diagnostic test to
identify the highly virulent form of GBS. He believes
the test will be available by 1999. About 8,000 U.S.
babies contract serious GBS infections each year and
800 die from them. Babies exposed to the bacteria
during birth could develop one or more of the
following symptoms: problems with temperature
regulation, grunting sounds, fever, seizures,
breathing problems, unusual changes in behavior,
stiffness or extreme limpness.
Understanding cancer migration
Endocrinologists at the Health Science Center seek to
better understand why breast and
prostate cancers often migrate to bone.
"Perhaps breast and prostate
cancer possess inherent capabilities which not only
direct them to bone but enable them to survive,
proliferate and colonize in bone, " said
Toshiyuki Yoneda, DDS, PhD, professor of medicine.
"One goal of our research is to identify these
capabilities at the molecular level." After the
lungs and the liver, bone is the third most common
site for cancer to metastasize. Once cancer has
colonized bone it is extremely difficult to treat
with currently available therapies, according to Dr.
Medicine from the garden
A Health Science Center scientist has spent 14 years
zeroing in on the healing
effects of the aloe vera plant.
Wendell D. Winters, PhD, associate
professor of microbiology, and his colleagues showed
that the rate of growth of human cells in vitro
could be increased as much as 50 percent with the
addition of crude extracts of aloe. The researchers
also helped compare species of aloe to find the ones
with the most healing potential. Other findings: aloe
stimulates human immune cells in the test tube, and it
contains powerful antibodies that cause clumping of
red blood cells.
Cardiovascular disease factors
Colleen S. Keller, PhD, professor of family nursing
care in the School of Nursing, studies
factors that impact
cardiovascular disease risk in Mexican American
One is abdominal fat
concentration, which has been shown to be higher in
Mexican American women than non-Hispanic white women.
Dr. Keller compared external caliper measurements of
abdominal fat with CT scans and found that the
external measurements were reliable estimates of
abdominal fat concentration. She is now studying the
effects of exercise intensity on lowering fat and
lipid levels (fatlike substances) in the blood.
Laboratory studies at the Health Science Center and
the South Texas Veterans Health Care System are
aiding in the war against fungi,
a group of organisms that are
showing increasing resistance to existing medications.
Fungus expert Michael G. Rinaldi, PhD, professor of
pathology, who supervises the two world-renowned labs
in San Antonio, works with scientists and caregivers
around the globe to help identify and control fungi in
the body and develop new drugs to combat them. A crew
of 12 people examines between 30,000 and 40,000
specimens each year. The AIDS epidemic and other
factors have made this work even more urgent.
Doctoral nursing student R. Jeanne Ruiz, MSN, RN, a
nurse practitioner who specializes in high-risk
obstetric patients, is studying
factors that predict early and
preterm delivery. Few reliable
indicators exist to warn caregivers that mothers are
at risk. Ruiz's work is identifying predictive
biomarkers as well as psychosocial stressors that may
trigger the problem. She is examining the levels of a
fetal gene present in vaginal secretions preceding