Research Briefs - August

Aug 17, 2016, 13:56 PM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Brain copy
Rakez Kayed, PhD,
was recently awarded $1.9 million from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging to study the formation and propagation of tau oligomeric strains in Alzheimer’s disease. Brain cells depend on tau protein to form highways for the cells to receive nutrients and get rid of waste. In Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, the tau protein changes into a toxic tau oligomer. When this happens, molecular nutrients can no longer move to where they are needed and the brain cells eventually die. Tau oligomers are an important drug target because of their toxicity, seeding potency and the ability to propagate a specific abnormal tau conformation and initiate widespread tau pathology. The funding will be used to further explore how tau oligomers form and move throughout the brain. The results of these studies will yield useful results with great potential to advance the development of diagnostic and therapeutic applications to target toxic tau oligomers in Alzheimer’s and identification of useful approaches for screening the best drug candidates.
In collaboration with colleagues from Mexico, UTMB researchers were the first to directly connect the Aedes aegypti mosquito with Zika transmission in the Americas, during an outbreak in southern Mexico. The findings are available in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Scott Weaver, PhD, director of UTMB’s Institute for Human Infections and Immunity, said the researchers completed a house-to-house survey to identify patients who met the World Health Organization case definition of Zika virus infection in several locations in the state of Chiapas. One hundred nineteen blood samples were collected with permission from people suspected of Zika virus infection. Zika virus was confirmed in 21 percent of the blood samples using a PCR-based test. The researchers also gathered adult mosquitoes in and around 69 homes of suspected Zika patients using backpack aspirators, and identified Zika virus in several samples of A. aegypti but not in other mosquito species. Weaver said that the study indicates that A. aegypti was the principal carrier of Zika virus in the Tapachula area of Chiapas State, based on the detection of virus in several mosquito pools and the prior demonstrated transmission competence of this species of mosquito. He also stressed that it’s important to note that Zika was not found in Culex quinquefasciatus, another common urban tropical mosquito discussed as a potential Zika vector.
Heart House
Following certain injuries, illnesses or surgeries, patients are often sent to an inpatient rehabilitation facility (IRF) before they return home. Zakkoyya Lewis, a doctoral student in UTMB’s Department of Rehabilitation Services, has found that patients with strong social support from family and friends recover more quickly and spend less time in an IRF. This study is currently available in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Lewis said that the social support of family and friends is associated with likelihood of returning to a community rather than being alone. People seem to recover better and have a better quality of life when they know that they have loved ones to depend on. This study was the first to look at how level of social support impacts how long patients need to spend in a rehab facility. For 119,439 Medicare beneficiaries who spent time in an IRF in 2012, the researchers compared the amount of time that Medicare determined patients would need to spend in rehab with the actual length of their stay. They also analyzed social support based on information that the patients provided. The study showed that having strong social support influences how long patients need to spend in rehab when leaving the hospital. Compared with patients that have strong support from family or friends, those with little social support were more likely to need extra time than predicted by Medicare.
Gabrielle Rudenko, PhDZhou Jia02 (2)
Gabrielle Rudenko, PhD, and Jia Zhou, PhD, in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and the Sealy Center for Structural Biology and Molecular Biophysics, together with Eric J. Nestler at Mt. Sinai Medical School, received a five-year R01 grant of $3 million from the National Institutes of Health to develop and optimize new chemical probes that target delta-FosB, a substance which accumulates in highly specific regions of the brain in response to cocaine or other drugs of abuse. The new probes will enable researchers to test the functions and therapeutic potential of deltaFosB as a viable drug target for treating drug addiction. The researchers hope to exploit the structures and functions of deltaFosB to strategically regulate key genes and overcome harmful brain and behavioral adaptations induced by repeated drug use.

Compiled from press releases written by Donna Ramirez and Christopher Smith Gonzalez. Find out more at