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Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D.
Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D., examines live cells using an inverted fluorescence microscope, which was purchased with funds from the Kleberg Foundation grant. The technology allows researchers to closely observe pulmonary pathogens, and better understand how these infectious agents invade human cells and grow and multiply in the body. Their goal is to develop innovative treatments to prevent asthma and other acute and chronic airway diseases.

Kleberg Foundation grants
$3.2 million to fund respiratory disease research


March 2009

by Natalie Gutierrez

The mission of the Health Science Center to provide the best in health careers education, biomedical research, patient care and community service to San Antonio and the South Texas/Border Region is being met because of the generous support of longtime visionary donors such as Helen Kleberg Groves and the Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation. For almost three decades, the Kleberg Foundation has supported the Health Science Center with approximately $8 million in funding that is helping shape the future of health care education, research and clinical care in South Texas.

Most recently, the Kleberg Foundation provided a $3.2 million grant to fund the research of Joel B. Baseman, Ph.D., professor and chair of microbiology and immunology. The grant, awarded in 2007, is allowing Dr. Baseman to advance the development of new strategies to diagnose and reduce airway disease in infants, children and adults. His discovery of the Community-Acquired Respiratory Distress Syndrome Toxin (CARDS TX) is the most important finding in this field since the discovery decades ago of the toxins of diphtheria and pertussis.

According to the American Lung Association, lung disease is the third-leading killer in America, responsible for 1 in 6 deaths. Lung disease and other breathing problems constitute one of the leading causes of death in children younger than 1 year old. Today, more than 35 million Americans are living with chronic lung disease such as asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) otherwise known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Dr. Baseman said the grant has allowed his research team to make considerable progress toward developing new therapies for these debilitating diseases.

"Our findings indicate that the environment of the lung triggers toxin production. Because of the Kleberg Foundation grant, we have been able to develop state-of-the-art systems to observe infection and toxin production using live cell and whole animal imaging," Dr. Baseman said. Funding recently provided for three postdoctoral fellows to be hired to work on live cell and animal imaging of CARDS TX. The researchers are also examining the connection between encephalitis in children and CARDS TX. They plan to test potential vaccines within the next two years.

"We believe CARDS TX is a most important virulence factor of airway diseases, and these key studies, propelled by the Kleberg Foundation, will lead to innovative treatments of serious acute and chronic pulmonary pathologies," Dr. Baseman said.

Dr. Baseman has already published his findings in the journals Infection and Immunity and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and has presented them at the American Thoracic Society in San Francisco, the Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology in Philadelphia and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in Virginia.

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The Robert J. Kleberg, Jr. and Helen C. Kleberg Foundation supports Health Science Center programs

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