The Catalyst Issue 21 | May 2015 - Page 33

If you would like to to make a gift in support of the GME program, please contact Stephen Maher at 254-724-0077 or sjmaher@sw.org. Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, Oregon, but looks forward to returning to Central Texas after completing that training. “When I first started my medical residency I didn’t know that I would be interested in research, but I fell into this opportunity and realized that here at Scott & White research is happening in whatever field you have a passion for—for me, it’s patient safety and quality,” she says. Tackling two GI diseases Scott & White first-year gastroenterology fellow Christopher Johnson, MD, PhD, completed a dual-doctoral degree at the University of Illinois in Champaign. Working with Gianfranco Alpini, PhD, and the Scott & White Digestive Disease Research Center, Dr. Johnson has conducted a basic research study on the alcoholic liver disease cirrhosis, and a study on the role that histamine plays in the biliary tract and in a rare but aggressive form of cancer in the bile ducts. The alcoholic liver disease study evaluates microRNAs (ribonucleic acid), cellular molecules that play a role in gene expression and may later trigger different diseases. MicroRNAs have given rise to a new generation of research that the medical community is just beginning to understand with regard to its significance for people with liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer. Dr. Johnson says, “We see alcoholic liver disease every day in our clinical practice. We believe microRNAs play a role in this condition. So, we believe that if we can manipulate important microRNAs with genetic techniques, we can slow the development of liver disease.” Fanyin Meng, PhD, also is part of this study. Dr. Johnson’s second study looks at the role of histamine, a neurotransmitter believed to be involved in normal cell turnover. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that relay signals from cells to neurons; they are believed to be involved in the rapid growth of bile duct cells and the development of bile duct (biliary) cancer. Bile ducts play an important role in digestion, and even though bile duct cancer is very rare, it’s very aggressive; often by the time it is diagnosed, the only treatment option is palliative care. Patients who have a type of inflammatory bowel disease called ulcerative colitis are particularly at risk for bile duct cancer, as well as patients with certain liver and bile duct infections, such as liver flukes. “As part of an ongoing study, we’re investigating what happens to the bile ducts during cholangitis—chronic bile duct inflammation—to understand histamine’s role,” says Dr. Johnson. Having a strong research training program available to him has been very valuable to Dr. Johnson as he charts a career path. “It’s always been my goal to have a patient practice and do clinically relevant research,” he says. “I have a passion for basic and translational research that I can apply to patients in my practice. It gives me great satisfaction asking how the body works and protects itself against microorganisms, and applying that knowledge directly to patient care.” GME funding is necessary Philanthropy enhances the medical education and research components of the GME program, as well as enhances the care of patients at Baylor Scott & White. “When we’re expanding clinical areas, such as neuroscience, we hire faculty and other clinical providers to expand our expertise and offer more care,” Dr. Wesson says. “Patient care is job one and to perform well in this most important job, we must recruit the best talent to not just provide care but also advance the research and education mission.” Philanthropy is vital to Scott & White’s success. “Investing in GME achieves the triple play: it provides first-class education, advances the research mission, and allows us to deliver better quality care,” says Dr. Wesson. n sw.org | May 15 THE CATALYST 33