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August news tips from the UT Health Science Center

SEEING THE BLACKBOARD . . . As the first weeks of school unfold, parents of children in the primary grades should pay close attention for signs of vision problems. "Some children don't know they're not seeing well, because what they see is normal to them," said John Mumma, M.D., clinical professor of ophthalmology at the Health Science Center and ophthalmologist in private practice. "Ninety-five percent of schoolchildren don't need complete eye exams because they don't need any correction, but other children who pass a screening at school may be affected by farsightedness, astigmatism, nearsightedness or a muscle imbalance. Children who are farsighted can still see 20-20, but they have to work harder to do it. They may tire while reading. Astigmatism warps vision, causing children to see some letters and not others. Youngsters with astigmatism and nearsightedness can squint their eyes and see better. We rely on pediatricians, parents and teachers to pick up signs of eye problems. The clues include covering or shutting one eye while reading, or squinting."

MOLECULAR 'MOVIES' . . . The July 12 issue of Cell, the world's leading life science journal, includes an article by Rui Sousa, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry at the Health Science Center. Dr. Sousa's laboratory team is utilizing a new technique to make a movie of one of the most basic biological molecules, RNA polymerase, in action. "RNA polymerase copies our genetic blueprint, called DNA, for the carrying out of reactions throughout the body," he says. "This molecule is like a small machine that strings together letters following the instructions of the DNA template." Molecules act like machines or robots with moving parts. The frontier of modern biochemistry is to step beyond still pictures of molecules to dynamic movies of them. Understanding interactions between molecules, such as the way they bind to each other, could lead to effective new disease therapies.

THE SUN AND YOUR SKIN . . . The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that more than 1 million new cases of skin cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year, including 51,400 cases of the most dangerous type, melanoma. In sunny South Texas, an important counterattack is to use sunscreen. "Sunscreen provides a level of protection, but it is even better to avoid sun, particularly at midday," says Sharon Barthelette, M.D., dermatology resident at the Health Science Center. "Sunscreen may provide a false sense of security." At the swimming pool or lake, be sure to reapply it after coming out of the water. At a minimum, reapply every two hours to reduce the risk of sunburn. Skin types vary; if you have fair skin or a family history of skin cancer, it's a good idea to see a dermatologist regularly. If you see a suspicious spot on your skin, make an appointment. "Self-exam of your skin at home is key to early detection of these lesions," Dr. Barthelette says.

Contact: Will Sansom