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UTHSCT scientists get $4.4M
Around Texas

August, 2009

Seven scientists at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler have been awarded a total of $4.4 million in competitive biomedical research grants. They are Dong-Ming Su, Ph.D.; Zhenhua Dai, MD, Ph.D.; Buka Samten, MD; Murty Madiraju, Ph.D.; Hong-Long “James” Ji, Ph.D.; Hua Tang, Ph.D.; and Pierre, Neuenschwander, Ph.D.

Investigating the aging process
Dr. Su, assistant professor of biochemistry, currently has three grants from the National Institutes of Health totaling more than $2.3 million to fund his research into the aging process.

He is the first UTHSCT biomedical researcher to be principal investigator of three NIH grants at the same time.

The largest is a five-year, $1.6 million grant to investigate molecular changes in the thymus, a gland located in the front of the neck that is involved in the immune system.

The thymus plays a role in the aging of T cells, white blood cells that attack cells infected by bacteria, viruses or other disease-causing organisms.

Dr. Su received a two-year, $317,955 grant to study changes in thymus cells with the goal of understanding how to combat the aging-related decline of T cells.

He was also awarded a two-year, $387,750 grant to examine defects in thymus development that cause deficiencies in the immune system.

Research by Dr. Su and his team could lead to development of therapies that improve the immune system of older adults and protect them from disease.

Deciphering transplant rejection
Dr. Dai, associate professor of immunology, received three grants totaling $960,000 from private foundations to explore how to modify the immune system and prevent it from rejecting transplanted organs.

A three-year, $495,000 grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation supports Dr. Dai’s investigation into how to alter the immune system so that insulin-producing cells – called islet cells – can be successfully transplanted into children with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone that helps convert food into the energy needed for daily life.

When islet cells from a donor are successfully transplanted into someone with type 1 diabetes, these new cells produce insulin, thus eliminating the need for daily injections of the hormone.

Dr. Dai’s research could lead to better ways to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted cells and increase the length of time that they produce insulin.

He is also examining the role of T cells in rejecting transplanted heart tissue with funding from a two-year, $140,000 grant from the American Heart Association.

In addition, Dr. Dai has a three-year, $325,500 grant from the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute to analyze how second-hand smoke affects the immune system and the rejection of transplanted organs.

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