Research Briefs

Jul 17, 2017, 09:22 AM by KirstiAnn Clifford
Researchers at UTMB may hold the answer to preventing premature cell death. According to Dr. Ken Fujise, head of UTMB’s cardiology division, the key finding of new research is that the protein fortilin plays a role in the death of cells that could help fight cancer or help preserve an organ that will be used in a transplant. The research found that just like a person, a stressed cell will do what it can to deal with the stress. First, the cell mounts responses to repair stress-induced damages. When the damage is beyond repair, the cell commits suicide through a process called apoptosis. However, when apoptosis occurs prematurely, the cell loses the opportunity to repair itself, leading to excessive organ damage. The study, recently published in Nature Communications, reports for the first time that fortilin protects stressed cells against premature apoptosis, providing the cells ample time to repair themselves. “By increasing fortilin in normal cells, we could strengthen an organ’s resistance against stress,” said Fujise. “For example, we could better preserve an organ being harvested for transplant against stress from the lack of oxygen and nutrition.” There could also be advantages to decreasing fortilin in cancerous cells, leaving cancer cells more susceptible to the stress of chemo and radiation therapies. Other authors include UTMB’s Decha Pinkaew, Abhijnan Chattopadhyay, Heather L. Stevenson, Yanjie Chen, Patuma Sinthujaroen, Zhihe Liu, Preedakorn Chunhacha and Matthew D. King, and Owen McDougal from Boise State University in Idaho.

MosquitoPei-Yong Shi, PhD, a professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UTMB, along with a team of researchers from the U.S. and China, have found the Zika virus may have undergone a genetic mutation that enabled it to become the serious public health concern we are battling today. In a paper published in Nature, the researchers explain that Zika virus isolates from the recent outbreak in the Americas were much more infectious in mosquitoes than Zika virus isolates collected in Cambodia in 2010. The increase in the virus’s infectivity in mosquitoes was likely due to a genetic mutation found in a particular non-structural protein. The current study used well-adapted laboratory mosquito strains. Shi says the next step is to examine whether field mosquitoes could produce the same results. The researchers who participated in this work included scientists from UTMB and Tsinghua University in China, and other participants from the Shenzhen Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology, the Southern University of Science and Technology, and the New York Medical College.

A range of technologies and devices, such as artificial limbs, hearing aids andWheelchair wheelchairs, can make it easier for people with disabilities to work. However, lack of access to appropriate assistive devices make this harder and need to be taken into consideration, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Kenneth Ottenbacher, PhD, professor and director of UTMB’s Division of Rehabilitation Sciences in the School of Health Professions, served on a committee that studied how many and which people have access to and actually use assistive devices. In addition, the panel studied how much the devices contributed to a person being successful at work. According to 2010 Census Bureau data, of the 56.7 million Americans who had some type of disability, only 41 percent of working-age individuals reported being employed, compared with 79.1 percent for working-age people without a disability. The report found many socio-economic factors have a big impact on access to assistive products and technologies and to health care providers who can properly outfit and train people in their use. In addition, which assistive products are available to people often depends more on their insurance policy than which device is their best option.

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