$1 million from Barker Foundation to fund neuroscience research
By Rosanne Fohn
The UT Health Science Center San Antonio has received $1 million from the J.M.R. Barker Foundation. The gift will be used to further groundbreaking research in the areas of pain management and aging, and to support the Health Science Center’s amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) clinic.
Ben Barker, a member of the Health Science Center’s Development Board, explained, “The Health Science Center is an outstanding gem. The neurosciences research being conducted here has the potential to yield a future Nobel Prize. I am proud to have helped in arranging the foundation’s support for these projects and anticipate that efforts such as these will help to attract the next generation of bright, aspiring doctors and researchers to the Health Science Center.”
Eliminating acute and chronic pain
According to the Institute of Medicine report, “Relieving Pain in America: A Blueprint for Transforming Prevention, Care, Education and Research,” more Americans suffer from chronic pain than those with diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined.
By studying chemicals that give chili peppers their burning sensation, Dr. Hargreaves and his team have discovered a major class of pain mediators released when an injury occurs. The mediators are the “go-betweens,” communicating the pain message from the site of an injury through the nervous system to the brain.
The researchers have identified the molecule that is released at the site of the injury. They understand how the pain signal is transmitted and the mechanism of how to block the signal to the brain.
Dr. Hargreaves’ team will use the Barker Foundation funds to create a screening method to develop and optimize new drugs that can be used to alleviate pain at its source.
Dr. Hargreaves holds The USAA Foundation President’s Distinguished University Chair in Neurosciences, and is professor and chair of the Department of Endondontics in the Dental School. He also is a professor in the departments of Pharmacology, Physiology and Surgery in the School of Medicine.
Providing hope for those with neurodegenerative diseases
ALS is a progressive disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. As these nerve cells die, patients have difficulty controlling muscle movement and eventually become paralyzed. There is no cure.
According to the ALS Association, approximately 5,600 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year and 30,000 Americans may have the disease at any given time.
Dr. Jackson leads the South Texas ALS Clinic, part of UT Medicine San Antonio, the clinical practice of the School of Medicine. She also is a professor in the departments of Neurology and Otolaryngology, assistant dean for ambulatory services in the School of Medicine, and chief medical officer at UT Medicine.
“We offer treatment, education and opportunities to participate in clinical trials, but the most important thing we may offer our patients is hope. My patients, and the hope that through our work here we can make their lives better in the future, are what drive me every day,” Dr. Jackson said.
Offering 10 different disciplines to treat patients, the ALS Clinic is accredited by the National ALS Association and has an ALS Association Certified Center of Excellence. Patients are seen at the Medical Arts & Research Center.
In 2010, the worldwide cost of dementia was $604 billion — almost matching the costs of cancer, heart disease and stroke combined. The World Alzheimer’s Report 2010 also notes that the number of people affected by dementia was 35.6 million. The number of people affected by dementia is expected to rise by 85 percent by 2030 and another 75 percent by 2050, making this a critical area of neuroscience to address.
Dr. Curiel, a professor of medicine, has received National Institutes of Health funding for more than 25 years and has extensive experience in the field of human immunology. He is collaborating on a clinical trial headed by Dean Kellogg, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine, involving rapamycin, immunity and older patients.
Dr. Galvan, an assistant professor in physiology at the Health Science Center’s Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, is a neuroscientist with 14 years of experience in Alzheimer’s disease research. Her laboratory performed the studies that demonstrated rapamycin can help slow the aging process in the brain and improve memory in mice modeling the disease.
Rapamycin is approved by the FDA as an anti-rejection drug for organ transplants, but has shown promise as an “anti-aging drug” that can increase healthy life span in mice.
Funding from the Barker Foundation will permit Drs. Galvan and Curiel to collaborate in studies that will evaluate whether rapamycin could be a useful and safe treatment for Alzheimer’s disease or other age-related neurological diseases in humans.
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