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March 15, 2013

Three UT Health Northeast scientists awarded over $300,000 each for research into lung disease, blood clotting

September 9, 2013

Three biomedical researchers at UT Health Northeast recently received separate grants of more than $300,000 each to fund important studies in the areas of lung disease and blood clotting.

The grant recipients and the amounts of their three-year grants are Amir Shams, Ph.D., $325,500 from the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute (FAMRI); Sreerama Shetty, Ph.D., $325,500 from FAMRI; and Hema Kothari, Ph.D., $308,000 from the American Heart Association.

Amir Shams, Ph.D.

Amir Shams, Ph.D.

Dr. Shams, an associate professor of microbiology and immunology, is investigating if a naturally occurring substance that stimulates the lungs’ immune system can protect against deadly pneumonia caused by Staphylococcus aureus in people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD, which is primarily caused by years of cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, is the third-leading cause of death in the United States, the American Lung Association says. For people with COPD, preventing bacterial and viral respiratory infections helps them avoid serious flare-ups of the disease.

Dr. Shams and his team want to see if this substance will protect people with COPD from developing life-threatening infections of S. aureus bacteria.

He believes his research will show that, when a large amount of this substance is delivered to the lungs, it stimulates the immune system, thus protecting people from different strains of S. aureus.

Sreerama Shetty, Ph.D.

Sreerama Shetty, Ph.D.

Dr. Shetty and his team are exploring how secondhand cigarette smoke injures cells lining the lungs’ airways and air sacs, thus making the lungs more susceptible to infection by influenza viruses.

Dr. Shetty, a professor of medicine, is examining how a protein that causes cells lining the lungs to die regulates another protein involved in the blood-clotting process.

His goal is to understand how the interactions of these two proteins affect the health of the cells lining the lungs and their ability to fight off influenza.

Finally, Dr. Kothari is studying why blood clots often occur in concert with diseases such as hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), diabetes, and cancer.

Red blood cells move freely through an artery

Red blood cells move freely through an artery (illustration)

For the past seven years, Dr. Kothari has been involved in understanding how tissue factor (TF) is regulated. TF is the substance that starts blood clotting in the event of injury or infection.

Normal healthy cells lining the inside of blood vessels don’t activate the TF on their surfaces, so blood doesn’t clot and block blood flow. However, in diseases like diabetes and cancer, the TF in these cells becomes active, producing blood clots that can lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Dr. Kothari, an instructor of biochemistry, and her team are searching for what activates TF and how it regulates clot formation in a range of serious diseases.

For 65 years, UT Health Northeast has provided excellent patient care and cutting-edge treatment, specializing in pulmonary disease, cancer, heart disease, and primary care. Its annual budget of $150 million represents a major economic impact of over $350 million for Northeast Texas. Since 2004, scientists in the Biomedical Research Center have been awarded more than $122 million research dollars. As the university medical center for Northeast Texas, its graduate medical education programs – with residencies in family medicine and occupational medicine – provide doctors for many communities across the state and beyond. It also sponsors the residency program in internal medicine at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview. For more information, visit www.uthealth.org.

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