A new age in health
increasing quality of life, health during later years
by Catherine Duncan
Kenneth, age 26
a beautiful 22-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, came to the United States
with friends for a visit in the 1940s. These same friends found Kenneth, a
dashing 26-year-old college student, to serve as her escort for a dance.
the dance floor, Emma-Stina stole the heart of the young American who soon
proposed to this young woman with movie-star looks.
more than five decades later, the two have enjoyed a long and rich life
Kenneth and Emma-Stina Prescott raised two daughters, Tina and Trudy.
Having served in World War II and the Korean War, Dr. Prescott is a
retired captain in the United States Navy. After World War II, he earned
his master’s degree and Ph.D. During his career, he directed three
museums before joining the Ford Foundation as a program officer.
Prescotts moved to Austin where he served as chairman of the Department of
Art at The University of Texas at Austin for 10 years. At ages 75 and 79,
the Prescotts recently moved to a retirement community in San Antonio.
They now enjoy traveling around the world.
moving here, the first business to take care of was finding a new doctor.
Mrs. Prescott said friends referred her to
John P. Howe, III, M.D., Health Science Center
Emma-Stina, age 22
recommended Michael Lichtenstein, M.D., professor of medicine in the
Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology and a practicing geriatric
Lichtenstein called us himself to make sure we were the right patients for
him and he was the right doctor for us,” she said. “We went to his
office for our first appointment, and he did the most thorough job of
learning our medical history. We felt we needed to go to a physician who
specialized in geriatrics so we could get the best possible care.”
G. Richardson, Ph.D., director of the Aging Research and Education Center
(AREC) and professor of physiology, said more than 150 Health Science
Center researchers and physicians are dedicated to finding ways to provide
the aging population the highest quality of life and to help them maintain
independence as long as possible.
can’t be content with our current knowledge about aging. We must do
research and understand what genes do in regard to aging. We are truly in
the infancy stage regarding what we know about aging,” said Dr.
Richardson, holder of the Methodist Hospital Foundation Chair in Aging
Studies and a career scientist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care
the Health Science Center, Dr. Richardson and his colleagues are putting
experts together who can deliver quality health care to aging citizens
while also studying at the cellular and molecular level the causes and
effects of aging.
Prescott said he and his wife have always admired the Health Science
Center and its teaching and research facilities so it made perfect sense
that this would be the place to receive medical treatment.
is the opportunity to be treated by a highly respected doctor with
research interests. We feel very fortunate to have this opportunity to
enjoy such great medical treatment and services,” he added.
A place for coordinated care
the Prescotts are currently seeing Dr. Lichtenstein through the Clinical
Geriatric Program at The University Clinic, located next to University
Hospital, they and many
With daughters Tina and Trudy, the Prescotts in their
others will soon be able to go to a center
offering personalized, coordinated care.
Lichtenstein is leading a team of experts from the Health Science Center
and two other San Antonio universities in the creation of South Texas’
first Inter-disciplinary Geriatrics and Gerontology Program, a
collaborative effort of the University Health System and the Health
Science Center. Scheduled to open in the fall of 2000, the new center will be located at 302 West Rector Street. The
existing Clinical Geriatric Program will be folded into the new program.
new center will offer primary care, dental care, nursing, rehabilitation
and specialty care services to the elderly—in one location with
physicians and other specialists working together on behalf of each
patient. Law students will be able to identify legal issues and offer
suggestions on finding legal services.
addition to Dr. Lichtenstein serving as program leader, others involved in
the creation of this center are Toni Miles, M.D., Ph.D., School of
Medicine; Mary Ann Matteson, Ph.D., R.N., School of Nursing; Robert
Friberg, Ph.D., School of Allied Health Sciences; Michèle Saunders, D.M.D.,
M.P.H., and Eleonore Paunovich, D.D.S., Dental School; Ruth Bounous,
Ph.D., and Phil Hall, Ph.D., Worden School of Social Service, Our Lady of the Lake University; and Patty
St. Mary’s School of Law.
“The center will allow us to test better ways of delivering care
more effectively and efficiently to older people,” said Dr. Lichtenstein.
Rufe, vice president-operations for the University Health System, said
county officials hope the new center will be a model for interdisciplinary
care for seniors.
later hope to set up a network of these centers around Bexar County. This
truly is a one-stop shop to take care of seniors,” he added.
Lichtenstein said the center will have three priorities: providing medical
The Prescotts in their late 50s
services, offering educational opportunities to students, and
performing patient-oriented research that can benefit others. Dr.
Lichtenstein said the center, which will be available to those 65 and
older, will be unique because of the coordination of care that is
essential to providing quality care to older people.
seniors have complex health problems. It is important to have all of the
older person’s health care providers working together to create a
‘care plan.’ Having it in a single geographic location improves
communication,” he said.
Learning from research
addition to learning how to better care for the aging population, Health
Science Center faculty members are working on understanding the complex
biological causes and effects of aging. The Nathan Shock
President and Mrs. Harry Truman
host a goodbye party
for the Prescotts,
who are in their 50s
Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, which is overseen by Dr.
Richardson, is playing a major role in such studies.
by the National Institute on Aging, the San Antonio center is one of five
national centers. The Shock Center is a joint effort with the South Texas
Veterans Health Care System. Some of the research cores of the Shock
Center are housed in the VA.
for Nathan W. Shock, known in the scientific community as the “father of
gerontology,” the center’s research is based on the use of rodent
models to study aging and age-related diseases. The Health Science Center
was awarded the honor of receiving a Shock Center in 1995 because of its
international reputation for transgenic rodent research.
systems are very similar to the human system. Eighty percent to 90 percent
of the things that you see change with age in rodents, you also see in
humans,” said Dr. Richardson. “Examples of these similarities are the
changes in the immune system and hormonal systems as well as the responses
of the main functions of the Shock Center is to provide special services
to investigators who are performing research on aging using rodent models,
Richardson explained the Shock Center offers its researchers three types
core: Assists researchers in enhancing or suppressing a specific gene in
mice that they can use in studying the aging and disease processes.
core: Maintains Shock Center rodents throughout their lifespans. This
means a colony of rodents can be maintained for three years and remain
free of disease.
core: Screens the animals to determine the cause of death and other related information.
areas of research emphasized by the Shock Center involve studying the role
of DNA damage in aging and cancer, the role of oxidative damage in aging,
and the role of the metabolic and hormonal systems in aging.
Richardson, who is performing research on oxidative damage, said cells use
Now in their 70s, Emma-Stina
and Dr. Kenneth Prescott
have put their health care
in the hands of
a geriatric physician
generate energy. As one ages, there is a high likelihood of
oxidated damage to these molecules.
liken it to rusting. In time, oxidative damage leads to aging. It reduces
the function of the organs. This accumulation of oxidative damage means
the cells won’t function as well as they used to,” he said. “But, not only do the cells lose their
normal functions, they also become abnormal, which can result in disease.
Research is showing that oxidative damage is related to cataracts.”
have created mice with alterations in their oxidative defense systems, he
said. By either increasing or decreasing the defense system, researchers
can see how it affects the aging process. This knowledge can lead to
learning how to prevent or better treat age-related ailments and
researchers at the Shock Center study a wide range of diseases related to
aging, another group at the Health Science Center is preoccupied with
cancer in the elderly.
Vijg, Ph.D., an internationally respected expert in the molecular genetics
of aging and cancer, is a professor in the Department of Physiology and an
AREC researcher. He also serves as program leader of the Geriatric
Oncology Program, sponsored by the San Antonio Cancer Institute (SACI).
SACI is the working partnership between the Health Science Center and the
Cancer Therapy & Research Center (CTRC).
Dutch-born scientist left Harvard Medical School to come to San Antonio,
where he also serves as director of basic research at the CTRC’s
Institute for Drug Development.
type of research is imperative because cancer in the elderly is different
than cancer in younger people,” Dr. Vijg said. “Something about aging
changes how we respond to cancer—our susceptibility to cancer, the way
cancer grows, and how it responds to treatment. We are now trying to
tailor current prevention and treatment to the elderly.”
oncology researchers are studying several methods of improving the
prevention and treatment of cancer in the older population. These include
learning how nutritional and hormonal manipulation can be used against
cancer; understanding how damage to DNA causes breakdowns in the cellular
defense system; learning how to control gene deregulation, which means the
genes stop doing what they are supposed to do; figuring out how to tailor
treatment (A certain amount of one drug would be appropriate for someone
age 50 but toxic for a 75-year-old.); and gaining a better understanding
of the aging of cells (some of which originally protect against cancer but
later stop providing this function).
with numerous National Institutes of Health-supported grants, Dr. Vijg
said the first priority for the team of scientists is performing basic
research that will give additional insights into the causes of cancer in
the aging. The next priority is treating cancer in the elderly. This
Dr. Michael Lichtenstein discusses
health care with Mrs. Irene Wilson
and her daughter, Theresa
diagnosis and promising new interventions, he said.
are studying vaccine therapy for cancer. When you know how the cancer cell
is different, then you will know what therapy to put in. Immunotherapy is
much more subtle and easier on the body,” he added.
basic facts about cancer and aging put the importance of the Geriatric
Oncology Program’s work into perspective.
incidence increases with age. It is so much more frequent that cancer is a
disease of the elderly. Why does it increase with age? Certain defense
systems protect your body. Aging is a slow, gradual accumulation of damage
to these systems,” he said.
from cancer also increases with age until 85 years when the risk goes
down, Dr. Vijg said.
a person has reached 85 without having cancer, he has very strong defense
systems thanks to genetics.”
this knowledge in mind, the researchers can determine drug treatments to
help those who do not have strong DNA, he said.
the researchers continue to work daily to find answers to these daunting
questions, Dr. Vijg offered this advice: Caloric restriction, which is the
only intervention that retards aging, also retards or reduces the
incidence of most types of cancer.