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July news tips from the UT Health Science Center

MY METABOLISM AND ME . . . Does a low-calorie diet extend life by reducing the brain's energy metabolism? A new neuro-imaging study seeks the answer. Metabolism is the term describing all the processes that produce and maintain new living substance and that make energy available for bodily needs. Roger McCarter, Ph.D., professor of physiology at the Health Science Center, received a $1 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study rodents in a small-animal positron emission tomography (PET) system. The university's Research Imaging Center (RIC) is one of the few places in the country to have the small-animal PET. "Preliminary evidence from in vitro studies of muscle tissues supports the concept that metabolism may be reduced in animals on low-calorie diets," Dr. McCarter said. "A study of this type has never been done, and we are excited about it." Peter Fox, M.D., director of the RIC, is a project co-investigator.

IRON MAN . . . Hemochromatosis is a long word for a dangerous problem: too much iron in our organs. July is Hemochromatosis Screening Awareness Month. "Iron is vital to health, but excessive amounts can cause serious illnesses," said Anastacio Hoyumpa, M.D., professor of medicine at the Health Science Center. "Hemochromatosis is a hereditary form of excessive iron in the body. There may be too much iron in the liver, pancreas, adrenals, testes, pituitary and kidneys. This can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer, diabetes, heart disease and endocrine abnormalities." Hemochromatosis can be detected by checking iron and sugar levels and by liver tests. Treatment consists of reducing the excessive iron levels by periodic removal of blood from the body.

LETHAL LEAD . . . July 20-26 is National Lead Poison Control Week. This type of poisoning continues to be a significant issue, primarily in young children, says Bill Watson, Pharm.D., division chief of the South Texas Poison Center at the Health Science Center. Dangers include lead-based paints on the walls of older houses and apartments, and lead-glazed ceramics imported from Mexico and other countries. "Pediatricians should talk to parents of infants and toddlers about potential risks and prevention strategies," adds Janet Williams, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Health Science Center. "Very high lead levels can cause anemia, abdominal pain and a range of neurologic dysfunctions, while lower blood levels have been associated with decreased intelligence and neurobehavioral development." Prevention of lead exposure and environmental abatement are mainstays of treatment.

Contact: Will Sansom