SAN ANTONIO (Aug. 18, 2014) — New funding of $900,000 from the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund is accelerating the research of two outstanding rising scientists in the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, the university announced today.
The 2014 Voelcker Fund Young Investigator Awards are enabling new directions in cardiovascular disease research conducted by Jean C. Bopassa, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Physiology, and cancer research conducted by Edward Medina, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology.
“Voelcker Fund support is absolutely essential to our efforts to recruit and retain the best and brightest faculty in biomedical research,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the Health Science Center. “Support of their innovative ideas leads, ultimately, to solutions for patients. Young Investigator Awards also provide leverage for these young scientists to compete for National Institutes of Health grants and other awards, cementing their careers in science.”
Dr. Jean Bopassa’s research
Dr. Bopassa is studying the mechanisms by which acute estrogen treatment reduces ischemic reperfusion injury. Ischemia is a state of low oxygen, and reperfusion is the restoration of oxygen. This type of injury is seen in stroke, cardiac bypass and heart transplant patients.
As a postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Bopassa discovered the G Protein Coupled Estrogen Receptor 1 (GPER 1), one of three receptors (portals into cells) for the hormone estrogen. He published a paper showing that GPER 1 activation protects the heart against ischemic reperfusion injury.
“We have three mouse models, each of which has one of the estrogen receptors deleted,” Dr. Bopassa said. “When we occlude an artery inside the heart, we find that only GPER 1, not the other receptors, is activated by acute estrogen treatment to reopen the artery and improve heart function. Understanding this is the basis of my Voelcker grant.”
Dr. Edward Medina’s research
Dr. Medina is discovering mechanisms by which obesity increases the risk of developing multiple myeloma, a cancer of plasma cells in bone marrow. “We found that synthesis of fatty acids is vital to the cancer cells,” he said. “If you decrease their supply, they die. The problem in obesity is the fatty acid levels are elevated, which might be helping those cancer cells to survive.”
Dr. Medina’s goal is to test the possibility of lowering fatty acid levels to decrease the survival of cancer cells in an obese mouse model of multiple myeloma. “The Voelcker Fund will help me to establish this animal model and to test the idea,” he said.
To date, 16 Voelcker Fund Young Investigator Awards have provided approximately $8.2 million to outstanding recently recruited investigators at the Health Science Center since 2009.
Voelcker Fund support of all programs of the institution now totals $14.4 million since 2007, including Voelcker Fund Scholar Awards for senior faculty; summer preparation of high school students for health science careers through the Voelcker Biomedical Research Academy; and enrichment activities for K-12 science, math and health teachers through the Voelcker Biosciences Teacher Academy.
Among the $14.4 million in total giving, the Voelcker Fund has supported a pair of $2 million endowments, one in targeted cancer therapy and the other in cancer health disparities and outreach.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, one of the country’s leading health sciences universities, ranks in the top 3 percent of all institutions worldwide receiving National Institutes of Health funding. The university’s schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, health professions and graduate biomedical sciences have produced more than 29,000 graduates. The $765 million operating budget supports eight campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. For more information on the many ways “We make lives better®,” visit www.uthscsa.edu.