Research: Local Efforts with Global Reach

Meet Dr. George Jackson on any given day and it is obvious that he is singularly focused—on finding a way to stop the ravages of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. He and his team are determined to translate their research within 10 years into therapy, perhaps a vaccine that stops the advance of these devastating neurodegenerative diseases.

Since Jackson arrived at UTMB in 2008 to head up the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, his team has done groundbreaking research into the role played by a specific type of toxic protein found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. Their discoveries are paving the way for life-altering vaccines.

What Jackson’s team has in common with other UTMB researchers is an inquisitive, innovative spirit and a remarkably collaborative and interdisciplinary approach to achieving breakthroughs that will make real differences in patients’ lives in the near term.

Collaboration, for example, among our cardiology researchers and oncology clinical trials teams focuses on a visionary pairing of expertise in bone marrow stem cells and cardiac rehabilitation. These scientists will embark on human clinical trials this summer in which patients who have had heart attacks will have bone 10 marrow stem cells injected into their coronary arteries to stimulate a whole new kind of repair.

UTMB’s islet cell transplant program is one way our researchers are seeking to combat diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

UTMB’s islet cell transplant program is one way our researchers are seeking to combat diabetes and other metabolic disorders.

UTMB’s world-renowned research opportunities attract some of the finest scientific minds around. One area that has gained UTMB international recognition is our pioneering research on the transplantation of islets—clusters of cells in the pancreas that produce insulin—to the liver, where they secrete insulin into the bloodstream. The procedure, which enables 70 percent of the patients who receive it to abandon insulin injections, is considered a revolutionary step in the quest to eliminate Type 1 diabetes. Yet another researcher is working with colleagues in UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development on a universal flu vaccine—one that would only be needed once or twice in a lifetime and could eliminate the need for an annual flu shot. Recent clinical research trials demonstrated that the vaccine is safe for humans. If approved for general use, the vaccine would be a public health breakthrough not only in preventing influenza in the U.S. but most importantly in the developing world, where the virus can have much more devastating effects due to the challenge of vaccinating these populations every year.

A uniquely collaborative environment and sophisticated core facilities help advance UTMB’s research mission.

A uniquely collaborative environment and sophisticated core facilities help advance UTMB’s research mission.

New human lungs? Another interdisciplinary team of researchers is working on the development of a human bone marrow analog, the first step in the generation of a human self-perpetuating bone marrow culture system. These doctors, tissue engineers, immunologists, stem cell experts, nanoparticle scientists and transplant surgeons also are developing a technique that would grow new human lungs using stem cell/ tissue engineering research.

Within UTMB’s Institute for Translational Sciences, a team recently developed the first accurate predictive model to differentiate between dengue fever and its more severe form, dengue hemorrhagic fever.

Approximately 2.5 billion people—more than 40 percent of the world’s population —are at risk for dengue infection, mostly in tropical and subtropical regions; recently, there was an alarming re-emergence in the Americas. Our researchers’ discovery could vastly reduce the disease’s mortality rate.

A colorized image of the influenza virus that caused the 1968 global epidemic. Micrograph courtesy of UTMB’s F.A. Murphy.

A colorized image of the influenza virus that caused the 1968 global epidemic. Micrograph courtesy of UTMB’s F.A. Murphy.

UTMB is committed to rapidly translating such advances into realworld practice, and the Institute for Translational Sciences, funded by a five-year, $21.5 million NIH award, is working to make more of these interdisciplinary “bench to bedside” collaborations a reality.

With clinical and research experts working together, UTMB will contribute greatly to national and global efforts to combat chronic diseases of aging, infectious diseases, burns, inflammation, organ failure, and diabetes and obesity. Through strategic investment in these and other worldclass programs, in core facilities to advance this important work and foster collaboration, and in a proposed new research facility, UTMB will realize its vision of a healthier state, nation and world.

UTMB has the first cryo-electron microscopy lab in the world to be equipped to provide biosafety level 3 protection, allowing our researchers to safely produce 3D portraits of viruses that can cause serious or lethal disease if inhaled.

UTMB has the first cryo-electron microscopy lab in the world to be equipped to provide biosafety level 3 protection, allowing our researchers to safely produce 3D portraits of viruses that can cause serious or lethal disease if inhaled.