Ways the Health Science Center helps you


Better images, lower costs

CommCAT imaging device A new imaging system in the Dental School's Department of Dental Diagnostic Science is saving patients hundreds of dollars and providing clinicians with state-of-the-art tomography. Conventional radiographs (x-rays) show the width and height of teeth and bone. With tomographic images from the department's CommCAT/IS-2000e Tomographic and Panoramic System, the clinician can determine the thickness (depth) of these structures in addition to their widths and heights. "It's a great system for the big gap between the heavily advanced and expensive imaging systems, like CT scans and MRIs, and just plain radiography," said Marden E. Alder, D.D.S., associate professor of dental diagnostic science and head of the Division of Maxillofacial Radiology. "With this equipment's 'slice through' imaging capabilities--where we see structures at different angles and at slice thicknesses as small as 1 millimeter--we can get clearer pictures of the head, sinuses and teeth than we can get with radiographs." Typically, Dr. Alder explained, an MRI of the head would cost about $1,000. A CT scan of the same region would be in the $600 to $700 range. The cost of similar CommCAT images is in the $200 range. The system is the only one of its kind in South Texas.

Poison experts

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Expert advice from nationally accredited poison information specialists is just a phone call away. The South Texas Poison Center at the Health Science Center has been designated a certified regional poison center by the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the national certifying body based in Washington, D.C. The designation reflects the center's capability to provide the highest level of poison information and education to the public and to health professionals, and to undertake research activities. The full, five-year certification is effective until 2003. The South Texas Poison Center is one of 59 centers certified nationwide. The poison center's toll-free number is 1-800-POISON-1 (1-800-764-7661). The center received approximately 34,000 calls in 1997 and the number of calls is increasing, staff said. The center is part of the Texas Poison Center Network, which is supported by the Texas Department of Health and the Advisory Commission on State Emergency Communications.

Learning to care for seniors


With the rapid growth of the senior citizen ranks, the need for physicians skilled in treating this segment of the population is high. Thanks to the Medical School's new, aggressive curriculum, Health Science Center students are gaining clinical experience with senior citizens very early in their education and training. The school's future physicians are being placed in the private homes and independent living facilities of senior citizens where they learn from senior "professors" who share their life situations. Interviewing seniors about their health history and life events helps make the abstract classroom learning of the first years of Medical School more relevant.

"We are devoting ourselves to developing the next generation of academic geriatricians," said David V. Espino, M.D., associate professor in the Department of Family Practice and director of the Hartford Center for Excellence in Geriatrics Education. The San Antonio center, established in January 1998 with a $525,000 grant from the John A. Hartford Foundation in New York, is one of only 25 nationwide.

The fastest growing segment of the U.S. population is 84 and older, said Cynthia L. Alford, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family Practice. "All doctors need to be comfortable with, and skilled at, taking care of geriatric patients. We also need to recruit doctors into this area as a specialty. There are not enough geriatricians trained to meet the projected demands."

By the year 2020, 30 percent of all outpatient practice and 60 percent of the hospital practice is expected to be 65 and older, according to "The Importance of Geriatrics to Family Medicine," a position paper printed in the Journal of Family Medicine in 1995.

Better dental implants

Ongoing research in the Dental School's Department of Periodontics is resulting in better and easier dental implantation. The team, led by David L. Cochran, D.D.S., Ph.D., professor and chairman, has discovered that the surface of an implant is a factor contributing to the time it takes a dental implant site to heal. By using a rougher-surfaced implant, the body can heal in six weeks as opposed to the recommended three months with a smoother implant, said Dr. Cochran. "We have also developed a tighter bond between the bone and the new implant surface."

The researchers also have been able to show that slightly more marginal bone loss occurs with the submerged-type implant than with the non-submerged type. With the submerged type, a titanium post is implanted in the jawbone. When the implant site heals, in three to six months, a second surgery is performed to uncover the implant, and a crown is attached to the post. With the non-submerged type, the implant extends above and across the gum line, and a second surgical procedure to uncover the implant is not necessary.

New wound-measuring device


A new wound-measuring device may help physicians optimize wound care strategies, ultimately preventing some occurrences of amputations in diabetics. The Three-Dimensional Laser Imaging System for Measuring Wound Geometry, called the Wound Imager, was invented by Bill Rogers, instructor of rehabilitation medicine, and Leon Bunegin, associate professor of anesthesiology at the Health Science Center. "The system is technically a structured lighting system," Rogers said. "The laser projects a plane of light and that light intersects a surface, the wound, producing a line. By viewing the line at an angle, we can determine the position of the line space, and by measuring the position of a number of lines, we can reconstruct the shape of the wound." For diabetics, a tiny wound can turn into a huge one in little time because of poor blood circulation. Before the laser, keeping close tabs on such a wound proved to be challenging, with some patients having to undergo "casting." This uncomfortable procedure involves putting a gel-like substance into the wound to get an idea of the wound's depth. The laser measures wounds more accurately than other standard methods. "It's non-contact, and it takes no more than a few seconds to scan the wound with the laser," said Bunegin. "The laser not only is faster, but it provides a more reproducible measurement of the wound." The inventors expect the laser to be manufactured for widespread use within a few years.

Exploring future careers

future careers

The Health Science Center is helping high school students learn about biosciences and health care careers. (L-R) Ray Montes de Oca, Vanessa Moreno, Mercy Edionwe and Jennifer Aguilar from the Rio Grande Valley examine a heart model in a Health Science Center laboratory during a recent visit of participants and leaders from the MED-ED Program. Ninety-three students, including these teens, are enrolled in the program from high schools throughout the Valley. MED-ED, established in 1996 and coordinated by Yvonne May-Kautsch, provides educational programming for students with interest in the biosciences. About 450 students have already completed the program, and 90 percent of them have gone on to college with majors in the biosciences. MED-ED is one of many programs that foster the educational "pipeline" of young South Texans from their high schools to careers as physicians, nurses, dentists, allied health professionals and basic scientists.

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