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November news tips from the UT Health Science Center

SMOKING OUT NICOTINE GENES . . . Is there a gene that makes it harder to stop smoking? Researchers at the Health Science Center suspect there is more than just one. "Nobody knows which genes control tobacco dependence," says Ming Li, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the university's Southwest Texas Addiction Research and Technology (START) Center. "We have been searching the whole human genome (the full complement of human genes) for susceptibility regions/genes for nicotine dependence. We have found several regions that look very promising, but we need to confirm our results. Many years of genetics studies suggest that nicotine dependence is influenced by multiple genes." Dr. Li, whose work has been cited by other scientists and in publications nationwide, has one of the country's largest collections of DNA samples from smokers and their families. "It represents a great resource for future genetic study on tobacco dependence," he says. "We can look for biological markers that may distinguish the genetic profiles of smokers. The bottom line is we can try to find out why some people are smokers and examine genetic variations among smokers." The American Cancer Society's annual Great American Smokeout is Nov. 21.

TURKEY DAY REFLUX . . . People who suffer with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) have a real challenge at the holidays, starting with Thanksgiving. Glenn Gross, M.D., associate professor of medicine and surgery at the Health Science Center and interim chief of the gastroenterology and nutrition division, says GERD patients should avoid fatty, greasy foods, minimize alcohol intake, avoid foods with high acid content, and not drink caffeinated or carbonated beverages. "Over Thanksgiving, the orange relish, fatty portions of the turkey or ham, alcohol consumption and overeating in general are the big problems," he says. Nov. 24-30 is National GERD Awareness Week.

THE EYES MAY HAVE IT . . . November is Diabetic Eye Disease Month — a great time to point out that diabetes is the No. 1 cause of blindness nationwide. In San Antonio alone, 300 persons every year become legally blind as a result of diabetes and many more develop lesser visual impairment that deprives them of their independence, says Carlos Rosende, M.D., F.A.C.S., assistant professor of ophthalmology at the Health Science Center. He also directs the eye clinic at the Texas Diabetes Institute, University Health System, and the UTHSC ophthalmology residency program. Dr. Rosende notes that no "magic bullet" treatment is available to prevent or slow development of diabetic eye disease. "The best way for a diabetic to keep his or her vision is to control the diabetes," he says. "Maintaining normal blood sugar levels prevents the ocular damage that leads to blindness." Periodic eye exams also are necessary to identify when laser treatments can be performed to decrease the risk of further vision loss. Dr. Rosende cautions that laser treatments do not cure or reverse the damage that has occurred. In most cases, the eye complications of diabetes are not symptomatic until it is too late. Dr. Rosende's advice is first, control your sugar, and second, see your eye doctor.

Contact: Will Sansom