A blast of ultrasound waves could rejuvenate aging cells

Low-frequency ultrasound appears to have rejuvenating effects on animals. As well as restarting cell division in aging human cells, it has reinvigorated old mice, improving their physical performance in tests such as running on a treadmill and making one old mouse with a hunched back move around normally again. “‘Is this too good to be true?’ is the question I often ask,” says Michael Sheetz at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Clinical trial to test wearable device to treat chronic pain, opioid withdrawal

A multi-year clinical trial at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Medical University of South Carolina will examine the use of a wearable device thought to stimulate nerves near the ear to change signals in the brain as a treatment for chronic pain and opioid tapering. The opioid crisis has spawned untold deaths and chronic disabilities with a major impact on global health care,” said Dr. Kathryn Cunningham, a translational pharmacologist and director of UTMB’s Center for Addiction Research. Many other online news organizations and TV stations shared this news.

Can Texas lawmakers ban minors from social media?

House Bill 896 would ban minors from using social media. On this week's episode of Texas Wants to Know, host Baylee Friday asks if it is possible for lawmakers to ban all minors from social media. Dr. Jeff Temple, a professor and licensed psychologist at UTMB, was one of the guests on the podcast.

Scientists work to improve efficiency of embryo formation

Two recent reports in the journals Cell and Nature describe research that started with single cells and provided the right conditions to stimulate the cells to grow into embryos. Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel explored the possibilities in their latest Medical Discovery News column.

What are benefits of weight training?

Research has shown that our muscle mass worsens as we age, wrote Dr. Samuel Mathis in his newspaper column. “This causes us to naturally weaken if we don’t actively work to maintain our muscle tone. By lifting heavy things, we help keep our muscle mass.”

So, exactly how worried should we be about the XBB.1.5 Variant? An infectious disease expert explains

The XBB variants are derived from the recombination of two strains of the BA.2 lineage of omicron (an earlier dominant strain), Dr. Vineet Menachery, assistant professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, explains. Get ready for some scientific jargon: XBB.1.5 has many of the same spike mutations and immune evasion as other omicron strains, according to Dr. Menachery. However, a mutation at position 486 in XBB.1.5 spike is predicted to improve binding to the human ACE2 receptor and is thought to be driving XBB.1.5 emergence through increased transmission.

US inks $25 Million deal to fight Ebola with Moderna technology

Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, in partnership with Moderna, were awarded $13.5 million over three years to design, manufacture and test mRNA vaccines for Ebola. UTMB could receive an additional $11.1 million to study alternative ways of administering the vaccines. The contract is part of a broader push by the US to protect military personnel using technology that enabled the quick development of COVID-19 vaccines early in the pandemic. Many international and regional news organizations also reported this story.

What to know about the ‘most transmissible’ COVID-19 variant

Some experts worry XBB.1.5 could drive a surge in cases in the coming weeks. The speed of its increase is reminiscent of other variants that previously caused high numbers of cases, said Vineet Menachery, who studies coronaviruses at the University of Texas Medical Branch. “This seems like the next big wave,” he said. “I don’t know that it’ll be as big as previous waves, but I do think we’re looking at a high rate of infection, and that’s what the experience of the last couple years suggests is going to happen.” Many other online news sites reprinted this article.

Galveston County likely near top for fentanyl overdoses

Kathryn Cunningham, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch’s Center for Addiction Research, said Galveston County and Texas are in a fentanyl crisis and there’s no clear evidence the problem is improving. “Texas, which is the second most populous state in the country, has seen a 70 percent increase in overdoses between 2020 and 2022,” Cunningham said. “If you look per capita, the overdose deaths here are more than Harris County,” she said, referring to Galveston County and noting the data was two years old.

Researchers test private wells near Jones Road Superfund Site after EPA report finds groundwater contamination is still a concern

One of the organizations that is pushing for more testing and information is the Texas Health and Environment Alliance, or THEA. They’ve teamed up with researchers from the University of Texas Medical Branch, UTMB, to test the water and air at 55 properties – both inside and outside the EPA’s official boundaries. Lance Hallberg with UTMB said the goal is to have data for the community. “The purpose of whatever we find whether good or bad is for them to be able to utilize that in requesting any additional services from EPA if necessary,” he said.

An expert's warning: ‘No street drug is safe right now'

Dr. Kathryn A. Cunningham, a professor of Pharmacology, vice chairman in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology and director of the Center for Addiction Research at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said she was worried more people were going to die during the hard partying on New Year’s Eve. Cunningham had this message: “No street drug is safe right now,” she said. “None.”

‘Maintain equanimity under duress’

Dr. Charles Mouton, interim president at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, discussed leadership, women’s health and health disparities on this podcast episode.

Medical love story: A Texas couple both had liver transplants. Now she is a transplant surgeon.

Dr. Trine Engebretsen was born with a genetic condition that caused her to need a liver transplant when she was 2 years old. She later married Ryan Labbe, a fellow liver transplant recipient, and they are believed to be the first pair of liver transplant recipients to have children together. Today Engebretsen is an abdominal transplant surgeon at the University of Texas Medical Branch.

8 tips to help you control your drinking (if you don’t want to quit), according to psychologists

One tip is to make a plan. Your approach can also include doing your best to avoid any negative consequences of drinking, said Dr. Jeff Temple with UTMB. “Plan your drinking so it doesn't affect your work or relationships,” such as only drinking on weekends and limiting alcohol to only special occasions. “The first and necessary tip is harm reduction. If you tend to become aggressive when you drink, then don't drink in front of your partner or others.”

Our Microbiome: Whose side are they on?

The microbiome has been shown to play a role in many diseases like depression, autism spectrum disorders, some cancers and in the process of human development. We are constantly uncovering new information about how the microbiome works. Recent research has shed some light on the effect of artificial sweeteners. Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel discussed that research in their recent Medical Discovery News column.

Odds are your holiday meal was vaccinated

“Unless you are vegan, odds are that your holiday meal was vaccinated,” wrote Drs. Megan Berman and Richard Rupp in their recent Vaccine Smarts column. “Whether you had prime rib, a Christmas ham or a turkey with all its fixings, vaccination was involved.”

Taking a break from (social) media

“Every January, I do not engage in social media,” wrote Dr. Sam Mathis is his newspaper column. “I invite you to consider joining me.” You could read a book or go for a walk instead. Mathis also invited readers to walk with him. “I’d like to invite you to come take a walk with me and some UTMB students on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 10 a.m. across the street from the UTMB fieldhouse as part of our inaugural Walk with a Doc Program.”

New COVID subvariants are ‘the most immune evasive yet.’ Here’s what that means

BQ and XBB present “serious threats to the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines,” according to a Columbia study. A University of Texas Medical Branch study came to similar conclusions, finding “low” neutralization of BQ.1.1 and XBB from the updated booster. The new shot is an enhanced version of the COVID-19 vaccine that targets both the original virus and omicron. But compared to its protection against the omicron BA.5 subvariant, the bivalent booster is four times less effective against the BQ.1.1 subvariant and eight times less effective against the XBB subvariant, said Chaitanya Kurhade, an author of the study.

Help Wanted: Texas’ physician growth strong, but recruitment, diversity still needed

One of the keys to increasing diversity is a strong pipeline for young students to reach medical school in Texas, says Charles Mouton, MD, executive vice president, provost, and dean of The University of Texas Medical Branch John Sealy School of Medicine at Galveston. For the school, that engagement starts as young as middle school and creates relationships that encourage qualified young people to pursue a career in medicine. Keeping students in the pipeline requires a variety of tactics like educating families about the requirements of medical school, helping students with standardized test preparation, and providing mentorship. The cost of medical school frequently discourages young people from pursuing a career as a physician, but Texas has an advantage in that area. “Texas compared to the rest of the nation has some of the best tuition rates of any state in the nation for health professionals’ education,” he said.

Coping with the holiday blues

Town Square with Ernie Manouse featured Dr. Jeff Temple for the full hour discussing how to deal with holiday stress and depression. He also answered questions about his research on how the pandemic affected adolescents’ mental health.

Virus expert warns of heightened risk from mosquitoes in Galveston County

Eastern equine encephalitis is a rare virus that has a death rate of 30 percent among infected people, said Scott Weaver, director of the University of Texas Medical Branch Institute of Human Infections and Immunity. Although the virus has been detected in Galveston County before, people should be especially vigilant now because Aedes sollicitans, also known as the eastern saltmarsh mosquito, is especially prevalent among the recent swarms, Weaver said.

UTMB researchers examining pandemic’s impact on teens’ mental health

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston are looking into the effects of the pandemic on young people's mental health. Jeff Temple, founder of the UTMB Center For Violence Prevention, said a mental health crisis among young people already existed before the pandemic. Students are growing up in a world with a climate crisis, school shootings, geopolitical strife, toxic social media, "and these kids aren’t stupid, they see that," Temple said.

Be aware: COVID is not done with us yet

“People are sick of hearing about COVID. So are we!” Drs. Megan Berman and Richard Rupp wrote in the latest Vaccine Smarts column. “But the truth is, the virus is not sick of us, and it’s not going anywhere. There has been nearly a 30 percent increase in COVID hospitalizations among elderly adults in the past two weeks. You should be aware of new information.”

The risk of a COVID reinfection

“There is a dangerous misconception out there concerning repeat infections with COVID,” wrote Drs. Norbert Herzog and David Niesel in their Medical Discovery News column.

Exercise snacks are key to a healthier life

A couple of recent studies support the health benefits of short bursts of exercise reducing cardiovascular and cancer risk up to 40 to 50 percent. You might think of them as exercise snacks, Dr. Victor Sierpina suggested.

Omicron boosters are weaker against BQ.1.1 subvariant that is rising in U.S., study finds

COVID shots designed to protect against the omicron variant trigger a weaker immune response against the rapidly emerging BQ.1.1 subvariant than the previously dominant strain, according to a new lab study. Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch, in a study published online Tuesday in Nature Medicine, found that the booster shots performed well against the BA.5 subvariant they were designed to target. But the boosters did not trigger a robust response when faced with BQ.1.1, the scientists found. Antibodies were about four times lower against BQ.1.1 compared with BA.5. These neutralizing antibodies prevent the virus that causes COVID-19 from invading human cells. Many other media organizations reported this news.

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