UT Health Northeast researchers bring in almost $1M in grants

Published on Saturday, 14 September 2013 21:17 - Written by From Staff Reports

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

Grant recipients and the amounts of their three-year grants are Amir Shams, Ph.D., $325,500 from the Flight Attendants Medical Research Institute;

Sreerama Shetty, Ph.D., $325,500 also from the institute; and Hema Kothari, Ph.D., $308,000 from the American Heart Association.

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, or 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.

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.

In Shetty’s research, he 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.

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.

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

For the past seven years, Dr. Kothari has been involved in understanding how tissue factor 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 such as 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.