Listen to Texas Public Radio’s Science & Medicine

Texas Public Radio’s Science & Medicine is a weekly podcast that explains how scientific discovery at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio advances the way medicine is practiced around the world. It is a collaboration between TPR and The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Episode 40: Developing new medications to manage cancer pain

Head and neck cancers are painful in a way many other cancers aren’t because they hurt almost immediately. Oral cancers, in particular, can cause excruciating pain created by the cancer and by the treatment, according to Shivani Ruparel, PhD, associate professor and director of research in the Department of Endodontics.

Currently, the only option to ease their pain is opioids, which are dangerous and addictive.

“That’s why my goal is to really understand how pain is produced in these cancer patients and how we can identify novel molecules that can then eventually be developed into novel analgesics,” she said.

Pain in these cancers can fuel growth, just as cancer growth causes pain. It’s bidirectional.

“What we’ve identified now is that this process actually is releasing or producing some compounds and some molecules that can be potentially targeted with a class of drugs that can mitigate pain, but we also hope that it can mitigate cancer,” Ruparel said.

So, if they could reduce the pain, they might also reduce the cancer’s growth.

“If we can do both,” she said, “that would be the ultimate outcome.”

Episode 39: Exercise affects men and women differently

Exercise impacts men and women differently. That’s one of the conclusions of a study published in early May in Nature that used data gathered at UT Health San Antonio. It’s part of a nationwide, multi-site study on exercise and the human body. Blake Rasmussen, PhD, heads the San Antonio site of the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, known as MoTrPAC. He is also the director of the Center for Metabolic Health with the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at UT Health San Antonio. He said one of the goals of MoTrPAC is to figure out exactly why exercise is good for you.

“We know a lot of the things that [it] benefits. Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, stronger heart…But we’re really interested in what’s happening at the genetic level,” he explained.

Rasmussen said this research should offer an unprecedented, comprehensive view of how and why moving your body improves your health and will ultimately lead to the development of a map that will show, in detail, how physical activity affects the human body.

UT Health San Antonio is looking for more people to participate in the MoTrPAC study. You can get more information about how to participate here.

Episode 38: Help for women’s pelvic health disorders


Incontinence, overactive bladder and pelvic organ prolapse are among the most common conditions of pelvic health disorder with effective treatments that too many women don’t know exist.

Many women experience issues related to incontinence, for example, when they are pregnant or after childbirth. The related issues of the disorder are many, and they are disruptive to a woman’s quality of life. But they often go unchecked.

“It’s really underserved, and it’s quality of life. So it’s the kind of stuff that you could overlook, if you will, if you’re too busy,” said Sylvia Botros-Brey, MD, MSCI, associate professor, departments of Medical Education and Urology. She is a urogynecologist and specialist in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery.

Botros-Brey is working to change that.

“So when a patient comes to see me or my colleagues, we’re going to really get down to what combination of things you have,” she said. “And we want to tailor our therapies to you, and since it is quality of life, there’s no right or wrong answer. So it’s a lot of personalized care.”

Episode 37: Bridging the rural health divide

Throughout much of our nation’s history, people who lived out in the country were healthier than those in urban areas.

“Something changed somewhere around in the 1980s. What started happening was in the rural areas, life expectancy started lagging behind,” said Vasan Ramachandran, MD, founding dean of The University of Texas School of Public Health San Antonio and leader of the RURAL Cohort Study, where they bring the lab right to the often isolated communities they want to research and get to know the people who live there and learn about medical and nonmedical challenges that may be impacting their health.

They plan to use what they learn, now and in years to come, to improve the health and well-being of those they are studying.

Episode 36: Plants-2-Plate

With 30-plus years of primary care experience, Paula Christianson-Silva, DNP, a nurse practitioner at UT Health San Antonio’s Wellness 360 clinic, saw that more medications didn’t stop her patients’ decline.

So she and two colleagues started the Green Wellness Program: Plants-2-Plate, a six-month program that helps people adopt a whole food, plant-based diet. Those who enroll become part of a group that meets weekly.

Participants have shown improvement in cholesterol, inflammatory markers and for those with diabetes, a decrease in hemoglobin A1C, Christianson-Silva said. Participants also lose weight — about five percent, on average — but Christianson-Silva said the goals of the program are about improved health and long-term lifestyle change.

More information about the program can be found here.

Episode 35: Bringing health innovation to market

UT Health San Antonio has added a team member to increase the impact of scientific discoveries made at the institution.

Anthony Francis, associate vice president of innovation and development, is not a scientist, but he is experienced in getting products and services to market.


Episode 34: Cognitive deficits from concussions can linger

People with concussions get checked out pretty thoroughly by their doctors, but for some, there are cognitive changes and deficits that doctors don’t pick up.

“They focus on being able to walk and being able to move around, being able to do the activities that you need to do. But something like cognition and communication, those are a little bit more nuanced,” said Rocío Norman, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders.

Norman has studied cognition and communication after concussion, and said communication deficits can linger and leave people isolated. It can hold them back at work and can lead to anxiety and depression.

“I think if you have any suspicion of having any kind of language or cognitive problem, a referral to speech language pathology is more than appropriate,” she said. “If there’s not a speech language pathologist, occupational therapy or neuropsychology would also be appropriate.”

Episode 33: Hope for patients with the deadliest cancers

Getting a diagnosis of a gastrointestinal cancer like stomach, colon or pancreatic cancer is hard news.

“So once patients have peritoneal carcinomatosis, or spread to the abdominal cavity, they’re pretty much told they only have a few months to live,” said Mio Kitano, MD, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery and a surgical oncologist at the Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center. Her research focuses on gastrointestinal tumors and malignancies.

“Most people think carcinomatosis is a death sentence, but there are different treatment modalities that I offer to patients. And that’s something that is pretty unique to UT Health San Antonio,” Kitano said.

One of them is cytoreductive surgery, which she calls the big surgery. It targets cancer on the surface of the abdominal organs.

“So the whole idea is to remove everything. But then anything that I cannot remove — any microscopic cells that can be left behind — is that the heated chemo, sterilizes or takes care of those microscopic cells,” she said. “So it is a pretty dramatic surgery.

Episode 32: Caring for veteran caregivers

Roxana Delgado, PhD, a professor at the School of Nursing and director of Caring for the Caregiver, was a caregiver for her Iraq war veteran husband for years until he regained his independence.

“And I want to make sure that those coming behind understand that there’s hope and that there’s a future, and that being a caregiver may be challenging, but it should not be the end of life of anyone,” Delgado said.

Her research led to the creation of the Military and Veteran Caregiver Portfolio, which explores health outcomes in military caregivers.

Her research has also led to the development of resources to help caregivers feel less hopeless and isolated, including the Academy for Inclusive Care, which trains health care providers on how best to include caregivers in the creation of treatment plans.

Episode 31: Be Well, Texas

Jennifer Sharpe Potter, PhD, MPH, wants UT Health San Antonio’s Be Well Institute on Substance Use and Related Disorders to be the best substance use disorder institute in the world. The institute includes the Be Well, Texas initiative of UT Health San Antonio, which is revolutionizing how substance use disorder is treated in Texas by providing outpatient and virtual services, making them accessible to more people in every corner of the state.

“For something that can be so stigmatizing, the privacy and the safety that’s afforded to you when you’re doing a telehealth visit or a video visit is actually lowering the barrier to entry into treatment,” Potter said.

UT Health San Antonio is now testing an app it hopes to improve outcomes for those in treatment for opioid use disorder.

“We use science to anchor, and then we act practically and locally, and we try to understand people’s struggles and lower the barriers for them to get the help they need,” she said.

Episode 30: Improving trauma care on the battlefield and at home

San Antonio — a health research hub for the military — is an ideal place for research by the Trauma Research and Combat Casualty Care Collaborative (TRC4), an initiative at UT Health San Antonio in partnership with the Department of Defense and the entire UT System to address an urgent need for improved trauma care both on the battlefield and at home.

TRC4 was created to do the kind of cutting-edge research that will improve the care, survival rate and ultimate quality of life for trauma injuries, like traumatic brain injuries and burns.

James Bynum, PhD, TRC4 executive chair and vice chair of research for the department of surgery, said TRC4 provides a major opportunity to try to make a difference for those needing trauma care, as traumatic injuries are the leading cause of death among people ages 45 years old and under.

Episode 29: Revolutionizing prostate cancer treatment

Christien Kluwe, MD, PhD, assistant professor, department of radiation oncology, Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, is studying radiation techniques like stereotactic body radiation therapy, which is so powerful and precise that it’s really changed the game for prostate cancer patients.

“So we’re able to take that entire eight weeks of treatment and squeeze it down into five days with these really high doses, because we’re able to see things precisely down to millimeter precision,” Kluwe said.

Tiny pellets the size of grains of rice deliver radiation directly to the cancer, sparing surrounding healthy tissue — in five days.

Episode 28: Improving knee replacement outcomes

Gustavo Almeida, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of physical therapy, is studying blood flow restriction exercise to see if it will improve outcomes for people awaiting total knee replacements.

In his current study, Almeida found that nine of 13 patients doing exercise while their blood flow was restricted gained function before surgery and maintained those gains afterward.

“So that’s really like a wow moment for me,” he said.

Almeida noted that this type of exercise also has potential beyond those getting knee replacements.

Episode 27: Whole blood ambulances

For the last five years, first responders all over the world have been watching San Antonio.

“San Antonio was one of the first and still is the only metropolitan EMS system to carry blood in America,” said C.J. Winckler, MD, associate clinical professor, department of emergency health sciences.

He said eight city EMS vehicles carry whole blood that can be transfused into people who might otherwise bleed to death before they get to the hospital.

“The rest of the country, actually, the rest of the world is looking at us for guidance,” he said.

Episode 26: APOBECs and the fight against cancer

An enzyme called apolipoprotein B mRNA-editing enzyme, catalytic polypeptide — better known as APOBEC — typically protects against viruses. But in cases with cancer, these enzymes can destroy genomes instead of viruses.

Reuben Harris, PhD, chair, department of biochemistry and structural biology, is dedicated to understanding these enzymes.

Harris and his team propose that after an APOBEC-positive tumor is removed, if these enzymes can be shut off, the risk of cancer returning, spreading or becoming resistant to medication can be reduced.

Episode 25: Targeting lung cancer

Josephine Taverna, MD, oncologist, Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, envisions a revolution in lung cancer treatment.

Cancer cells can spread by enlisting other types of cells to a tumor using signals from two specific proteins. But Taverna says we can disrupt those signals.

“What we’ve found is that the tumor cell cannot recruit in the supportive host cells in the tumor microenvironment, when you block both signals with drugs,” she said.

Taverna will lead a clinical trial of two drugs later this year that will target the tumor microenvironment and hopes they dramatically improve the prognosis of those with lung cancer.

Episode 24: Fighting Alzheimer’s at the eye doctor

Margaret Flanagan, MD, department of pathology and laboratory medicine, is a neuropathologist — an expert in brain tissue and how it changes in the presence of diseases like Alzheimer’s. Flanagan is working on a test to help detect dementia early at the eye doctor’s office.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota developed a retina scanner they suspected might pick up amyloid beta in the eye that could signal changes in the brain. Flanagan was able to validate the findings.

The end goal is to eventually have a scan like this available to patients getting their eyes checked to let them know if there is something there that may result in dementia. If so, people can begin treatment before irreversible changes start to occur.

Episode 23: Tooth pain with a purpose

Anibal Diogenes, DDS, PhD, department of endodontics, studies the tooth’s pulp which contains a connective tissue inside of the tooth with “immunological, reparative functions.”

The nerves inside the tooth pulp cause pain with a purpose. They talk with other cells, “like a surveillance system, and they’re trying to tell the tissue to repair itself,” Diogenes said. He is studying this communication in a condition called apical periodontitis to determine how the nerves might send out that repair signal without the pain and says understanding that communication will have implications for whole-body health.

Episode 22: Strengthening your teeth

Bennett Amaechi, PhD, BDS, professor of cariology, department of comprehensive dentistry, is focused on discovering products that will prevent dental caries — a disease of the teeth that leads to demineralization and eventually cavities. Amaechi is also developing products that will protect the teeth of people who can’t create saliva because of medication that causes dry mouth or disease, like oral cancer.

Episode 21: Taking on America’s number one killer

Allen Anderson, MD, FACC, department of medicine, chief, cardiology division, has a passion for diagnosing and treating people with heart failure. He has cared for patients with advanced heart failure, patients needing transplants and patients needing mechanical pumps. That is why Anderson is excited about all that is being learned about America’s number one killer, cardiovascular disease, at UT Health San Antonio.

Episode 20: Cancer’s silver tsunami

With a large patient population needing cancer care and a shortage of people to provide that care, Lee Song, PhD, RN, vice dean for research and scholarship, is studying an eHealth symptom and complication management program for cancer patients that attempts to recreate the clinical process at home to help ease the burden on caregivers.

Episode 19: Eat your pain away

Feeling pain? Adjusting your diet might help, said Ken Hargreaves, DDS, PhD, professor in the Department of Endodontics, who has spent nearly 40 years studying pain mechanisms and how to better treat patients.

Episode 18: A crisis of loneliness

Loneliness and social isolation can make you as sick as obesity or 15 cigarettes a day. So Jason Rosenfeld, DrPH, director of global health education at the Cheever Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics, is working a crisis of loneliness in the U.S. by adapting a community health model from Africa.

Episode 17: Go to the dentist

Healthy teeth and gums are important for overall health, said Peter Loomer, DDS, PhD, dean of the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. His goal is for oral health care to be accessible to everyone, and that is why the school launched the Center for Global and Community Oral Health in November. Its purpose is to offer opportunities to study and develop solutions to pressing dental challenges facing the global population.

Ginnie AbarbanellEpisode 16: When you clamp the cord matters

Ginnie Abarbanell, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology, is involved in a study to determine whether when a newborn’s umbilical cord matters in babies with congenital heart disease. Waiting before clamping the cord may improve both surgical outcomes and neurodevelopment in babies with congenital heart disease.

Episode 15: Communicating with aphasia

Cathy Torrington Eaton, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders is an expert in aphasia, which can quickly seize a person’s independence and identity. “Aphasia is specific to language. So your ability to express yourself with the words that you want to find, sentences that you need to put together, those types of impairments can also affect your ability to understand language,” she said.

Episode 14: The Avanzando Caminos Hispanic cancer survivor study

“No study had been funded to really look at the needs of our Latino cancer survivors. We’re the first study to be doing this,” said Amelie Ramirez, DrPH, MPH, chair of Population Health Sciences at UT Health San Antonio. “And they are so grateful to us because they said, ‘nobody’s bothered to ask me about my cancer journey.’”

Professor Giselle Carnaby

Episode 13: Swallowing ‘workout’ for people with early Parkinson’s

Giselle Carnaby, CCC-SLP, MPH, PhD, a speech pathologist and public health scientist who directs the PhD in Health Sciences program, founded the Swallowing and Upper Aerodigestive Research Laboratory, where she’s working to determine whether an exercise-based program focused on swallowing could help people with early Parkinson’s disease maintain their abilities for longer.

Selina Morgan, PT, DPTEpisode 12: Spinal cord injury and walking again

Selina Morgan, DPT, PT, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy, believes that there are thousands of people in wheelchairs who don’t have to be.

Ginnie AbarbanellEpisode 11: Thriving with congenital heart disease

Ginnie Abarbanell, MD, chief of pediatric cardiology, treats everything from heart murmurs to congenital heart disease in children – which is more common than most may think.

Episode 10: Early screening to prevent congenital heart disease

Congenital heart disease can often be detected at the mid-pregnancy ultrasound, which dramatically improves outcomes. But Aaron Abarbanell, MD, MSCR, chief of pediatric cardiac surgery at UT Health San Antonio, said adequate prenatal care is essential.

Episode 9: Alzheimer’s and the inflammatory trigger

Bess Frost, PhD, an associate professor in Cell Systems and Anatomy, and her team recently discovered that an inflammatory trigger, like one present during viral infections, is elevated in Alzheimer’s — but this inflammatory trigger isn’t from our time.

Carolina Solis-Herrera, MD

Episode 8: The next Ozempic?

Ozempic isn’t the only exciting diabetes medication out there on the market. Sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors have a multitude of potential health benefits, said Carolina Solis-Herrera, MD, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Endocrinology. She also serves as medical director of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolic Health.

Carolina Solis-Herrera, MD

Episode 7: Treating pre-diabetes

One out of three people in the U.S. has pre-diabetes, said Carolina Solis-Herrera, MD, associate professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Endocrinology. She also serves as medical director of Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolic Health.

Kevin Bieniek, Ph.D.

Episode 6: The Brain Bank

Brain donations provide families with answers and closure while providing key resources for research, said Kevin Bieniek, PhD, director of the Brain Bank at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Episode 5: Counter long COVID with pacing

Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, MD, professor and chair in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, teaches techniques to conserve energy to patients experiencing long COVID.

Photo of Dr. Claudia Satizabal

Episode 4: Omega 3 fatty acids to fight Alzheimer’s

People in their 40s and 50s may be able to fight Alzheimer’s disease with Omega 3 fatty acids found in fatty fish and fish oils, according to Claudia Satizabal, Ph.D, assistant professor of population health sciences with the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health San Antonio.

Episode 3: Using AI for brain health diagnoses

Artificial intelligence may be somewhat unsettling, but it also has the potential to improve and even save lives, according to Mohamad Habes, PhD, assistant professor of radiology and director of the neuroimaging core at the Glenn Biggs Institute for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases at UT Health Science Center San Antonio.

Photo of Debora Melo van Lent, PhD

Episode 2: Brain healthy diets

Researchers have suspected that foods that cause inflammation speed up brain aging and cognitive decline, but nutrition scientist and epidemiologist Debora Melo van Lent, PhD, wanted evidence.

Episode 1: Long COVID and the road to recovery

Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, MD, professor and chair in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, has been running two long COVID clinics since early in the pandemic. Every case is different, she said.


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