The Scoop: A Publication of the University of Texas Medical School at Houston

President Kaiser addresses Faculty Senate

Dr. Larry Kaiser

Dr. Larry Kaiser

President Larry Kaiser presented an overview of future priorities and took questions at the Aug. 21 Faculty Senate, which marked Senate Chair Dr. Jeffrey Actor’s last meeting.

Dean Giuseppe Colasurdo presented a plaque to Actor, associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, saying he had been “incredibly engaged and effective” as the Senate leader. Dr. James McCarthy, assistant professor of emergency medicine, takes over as Senate chair Sept. 1.

Dean Colasurdo said an announcement for an interim chair for the Department of Ophthalmology or the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation would be forthcoming. He also encouraged faculty to participate in student interviews, which began last week.

President Kaiser was the featured speaker of the meeting and said that the Medical School is “an exciting place to be right now.”

He said he was focused on two-way communication, being active in the philanthropic efforts of the institution, and building collaboration between the schools.

“We are establishing open lines of communication, and I want to hear from you – what we are doing right, and what we are doing wrong,” he said.

He talked about the Medical School’s relationship with its clinical partners.

 “Our relationships with Memorial Hermann and HCHD are extremely important, and these partnerships will help our identity,” he said.

President Kaiser said he is not a micromanager and believes in giving “talented people the authority and the responsibility” to get the job done.

As far as priorities for the Medical School, President Kaiser said he wants to build the philanthropic base and recruit investigators to build upon existing areas of research.

Building the academic enterprise using “great research space,” is another one of the president’s goals.

Other meeting updates included the creation of the Thomas Burks Merit Scholarship, which should be distributed this year, and the approval of the academy of educators, whose members will focus on innovative teaching.

The next Faculty Senate meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Sept. 18 and feature Sabrina Midkiff, vice president of governmental relations.

-D. Brown

Geriatrics division provides full-circle services for seniors

Dr. Carmel Dyer

Dr. Carmel Dyer

The Division of Geriatric and Palliative Medicine is offering a comprehensive approach to senior care, including new inpatient facilities at Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center, a house call program, and outpatient services at the UT Professional Building.

“We want to get back to basics,” said Dr. Carmel Dyer, director of the Division of Geriatrics and Palliative Care. “Seniors need high touch, good communication, and we want to provide education to families.”

The house call program is for UT Physician, Harris County Hospital District, and Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center patients who are over 65 years old and for those 50-64 years old with a geriatric syndrome, such as dementia, depression, chronic falls, and/or elder mistreatment. Homebound patients include those who cannot easily travel or who must travel by stretcher and are subject to long clinic stays.

The multidisciplinary program of care includes geriatricians, geriatric nurse practitioners, as well as physical therapists, social workers, dieticians, and pharmacists.

“In many instances, it is better to assess patients in their own environment. The house call program complements all of the components,” Dyer said.

Services include a complete geriatric assessment, screening and treatment for common geriatric illnesses, such as dementia, diabetes, heart problems, osteoporosis, arthritis, falls, malnutrition, and evaluation of medications.

For inpatient care, the ACE (acute care of the elderly) unit opened in Memorial Hermann – Texas Medical Center July 7.

“The ACE concept began in Akron, Ohio at Summa Health Care, where they noticed if they put together a special unit for the elderly they could have better outcomes,” Dyer said.

Dr. Nasiya Ahmed, assistant professor of geriatrics and medical director of the ACE unit, and Shannon Pearce, adult/geriatric nurse practitioner, went to Summa for training in advance of setting up the Memorial Hermann unit.

“The unit was created through the joint efforts of the administration of Memorial Hermann, the School of Nursing, the Medical School, and our division,” Dyer added.

The 14-bed, single occupancy unit is designed for elderly generally over 70 years of age with complex medical needs who are cared for by board-certified geriatricians and nurse practitioners on the unit.

“Ours is the first ACE unit in the Texas Medical Center,” Dyer said, adding that it has been at capacity since it opened.

Requests for outpatient or house call requests may be made through the UT Physicians number, 713.572.8122. For house call services, e-mail Susan Gorman, M.S.N., R.N, Referrals should include the patient’s name, medical record number and the purpose of the house call. For admittance to the ACE unit, existing patients receive preference, depending on bed availability.

-D. Brown

Fourth-year student wins TMLT Memorial Scholarship

Michael Merrick, a fourth-year medical student.

Michael Merrick

Michael Merrick, a fourth-year medical student, is one of eight medical students in Texas to receive a $5,000 scholarship from the Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT).

Merrick, who is from The Woodlands and went to Rice University on a football scholarship, said the timing of the scholarship was just perfect.

“I was overjoyed to find out that I was awarded the scholarship. My wife and I have a 7-month-old little boy, and our finances were getting tight, so this was a huge blessing!” he said.

For the past four years, TMLT, a physician-owned, health care liability claim trust offering medical liability insurance products to Texas physicians, has awarded a $5,000 scholarship to one student at each Texas medical school that participated in an essay competition. Scholarship recipients are chosen based on their financial need and written essay. The scholarships recognize Texas medical students who are interested in finding creative ways to enhance patient safety and who can communicate their ideas in a short essay.

This year applicants were asked to write risk management considerations for a closed claim study concerning physicians who were held liable for failure to treat septic joint in an 8-year-old patient, who died.

Winning essays are available on TMLT Web site ( and will be published in TMLT’s newsletter, the Reporter.

Merrick plans to pursue a career in orthopaedic surgery. “This fall I am spending four months at out-of-town programs to visit their orthopaedic surgery programs. My family and I would love to stay at UT-Houston, but mostly I want to match to a good orthopaedic program,” he said.

-D. Brown

New lunchtime lecture series debuts: “Issues in Global Health”

Global Health Initiative

Sponsored by the Global Health Initiative and the John P. McGovern, M.D. Center for Health, Humanity, and the Human Spirit, Dr. Stanley Schultz is spearheading a new lecture series on global health.

“In the broadest sense, global health refers to the status of all life on the planet,” said Schultz, associate dean for institutional advancement. “Colloquially, however, this broad sense is narrowed to refer to human life and, in particular, the unique challenges confronted by adults and children in the ‘developing’ or ‘third’ world; challenges that stem not so much from the diseases themselves but, also, from socio-economic, cultural, religious, demographic, and geographic factors that impact on the incidence, manifestations, and outcomes of these afflictions.”

The course will focus on the major preventable and treatable diseases that are, nonetheless, major causes of death and disability. It will meet noon-12:50 p.m. Thursdays in MSB 2.006; pizza will be available for the first 50 students. Students who wish to obtain credit must enroll (preferably on Blackboard) and sign-in during attendance. There will also be a brief questionnaire on Blackboard for final feedback.

The courses are as scheduled:

  • Sept. 4 Dr. Stanley Schultz will present an overview of the course.
  • Sept. 11 Dr. Charles Ericsson will present “Diarrheal Disease in the Developing World”
  • Sept. 18 Dr. Stanley Schultz will present “Oral Rehydration Therapy and Recent Approaches to the Treatment of Secretory Diarrhea”
  • Oct. 2 Dr. Charles Ericsson will present “Malaria and other Mosquito-Borne Diseases”

For any questions, contact


Biochemists manipulate fruit flavor enzymes

Working on more flavorful fruits from left to right are: Drs. Dong-Sun Lee and C.S. Raman both with the Medical School; and Dr. Pierre Nioche, Universite´ Paris Descartes.

Working on more flavorful fruits from left to right are:
Drs. Dong-Sun Lee and C.S. Raman both with the Medical
School; and Dr. Pierre Nioche, Universite´ Paris Descartes.

Would you like a lemony watermelon? How about a strawberry-flavored banana? Biochemists at the Medical School say the day may be coming when scientists will be able to fine tune enzymes responsible for flavors in fruits and vegetables. In addition, it could lead to environmentally-friendly pest control.

In the advance online publication of Nature on Aug. 20, Medical School assistant professor Dr. C.S. Raman and his colleagues report that they were able to manipulate flavor enzymes found in a popular plant model, Arabidopsis thaliana, by genetic means. The enzymes—allene oxide synthase (AOS) and hydroperoxide lyase (HPL)—produce jasmonate (responsible for the unique scent of jasmine flowers) and green leaf volatiles (GLV) respectively. GLVs confer characteristic aromas to fruits and vegetables.

Green leaf volatiles and jasmonates emitted by plants also serve to ward off predators. “Mind you plants can’t run away from bugs and other pests. They need to deal with them. One of the things they do is to release volatile substances into the air so as to attract predators of the bugs,” Raman said.

“Genetic engineering/modification of green leaf volatile production holds significant potential toward formulating environmentally friendly pest-control strategies. It also has important implications for manipulating food flavor,” said Raman, the senior author. “For example, the aroma of virgin olive oil stems from the volatiles synthesized by olives. By modifying the activity of enzymes that generate these substances, it may be possible to alter the flavor of the resulting oils.”

According to Raman, “Our work shows how you can convert one enzyme to another and, more importantly, provides the needed information for modifying the GLV production in plants.” The scientists made 3-D images of the enzymes, which allowed them to make a small, but specific, genetic change in AOS, leading to the generation of HPL.

AOS and HPL are part of a super family of enzymes called cytochrome P450. P450 family enzymes are found in most bacteria and all known plants and animals. Although AOS or HPL are not found in humans, there are related P450 family members that help metabolize nearly half of the pharmaceuticals currently in use. In plants, AOS and HPL break down naturally-occurring, organic peroxides into GLV and jasmonate molecules. “Each flavor has a different chemical profile,” Raman said.

“A notable strength of this manuscript is the combined use of structural and evolutionary biology to draw new insights regarding enzyme function. These insights led to the striking demonstration that a single amino acid substitution converts one enzyme into another, thereby showing how a single point mutation can contribute to the evolution of different biosynthetic pathways. This begins to answer the long-standing question as to how the same starting molecule can be converted into different products by enzymes that look strikingly similar,” said Dr. Rodney Kellems, professor and chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The study dispels the earlier view that these flavor-producing enzymes are only found in plants, Raman said. “We have discovered that they are also present in marine animals, such as sea anemone and corals. However, we do not know what they do in these organisms."

The study is titled “Structural insights into the evolutionary paths of oxylipin biosynthetic enzymes.” The lead authors were Dr. Dong-Sun Lee, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Dr. Pierre Nioche, an assistant professor at the Université Paris Descartes. Dr. Mats Hamberg, professor of medical chemistry in the Division of Physiological Chemistry, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, collaborated on the research.

The research is supported by Pew Charitable Trusts through a Pew Scholar Award, The Robert A. Welch Foundation, The National Institutes of Health, a Beginning Grant in Aid from the American Heart Association, and an INSERM Avenir Grant sponsored by La Fondation pour la Recherche Medicale.

-R. Cahill


Save the Date: 2008 Fun Fest

The 2008 Fun Fest will be held 2–6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 7 in a new location – the Texas Medical Center’s Grant Fay Park, which fronts UT School of Nursing and UT School of Public Health (between Holcombe and Pressler).

All UT Health Science Center staff, faculty, and students are invited to dust off their leather jackets and fluff up their poodle skirts as we join in with this year’s theme, Rockin’ and Rollin’ to the ‘50s. Admission is free to anyone with a university ID badge, and dressing up to fit the 1950s theme is optional but encouraged!
Come out and enjoy:

  • James Coney Island hot dogs with all the fixin’s
  • The annual chili and salsa cook-off competition
  • A silent auction organized by the University Classified Staff Council to benefit the UCSC scholarship fund
  • A hip DJ, who will play non-stop music
  • Door prizes galore and
  • more!

For more information, contact, 713.500.3209.



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Events to Know

September 3

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Nan Wang, assistant professor of ophthalmology, presents “Red Eye.” 1-2 p.m. MSB 2.135.

September 10

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Marc Criden, assistant professor of ophthalmology, presents “Ocular Emergencies.” 1-2 p.m. MSB 2.135.

September 11

Medical School annual blood drive to commemorate Sept. 11. 9 a.m.

September 17

Family & Community Medicine Grand Rounds: Dr. Robert Feldman, professor of ophthalmology, presents “Glaucoma for the Non-Ophthalmologist.” 1-2 p.m. MSB 2.135.

September 25

Ninth annual Medical School Research Retreat. 8 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. Sarofim Research Building of the Institute for Molecular Medicine.



Dr. Theresa Koehler, holder of the Herbert L. and Margaret W. DuPont Professorship in Biomedical Science, was featured in DBIO, the official blog of the BioMedical & Life Sciences Division of the 11,000+ member Special Libraries Association:

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