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Home | Tag Archives: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso)

Tag Archives: Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso)

TTUHSC El Paso to Host 4th Annual Red Raider Reels Starting Friday

Red Raider Reels, a free movie series hosted by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), returns to the campus starting Friday night

Red Raider Reels will kick off at sundown Friday, Aug. 31 with a screening of “Ready Player One.” The movie screenings will continue every Friday evening until the final showing Sept. 28.

Attendees are encouraged to bring blankets, picnic chairs, snacks and drinks. Free pizza will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, and popcorn will be available for a small donation that will benefit the university’s Student Excellence Fund.

Glass containers, alcohol and pets are prohibited. Parking is available at the lot east of the lawn.

What: Free outdoor movie series

When: Fridays at sundown, Aug. 31-Sept. 28

Where: 5001 El Paso Drive (lawn between the Medical Education and Medical Sciences Buildings)

2018 Red Raider Reels Schedule

Video: TTUHSC El Paso – Tech Talk for Week Ending March 9

Jay Koester has a look at all the news and events from TTUHSC El Paso, including the visit of Texas Tech University System Board of Regents. They met with community leaders and got a look at the construction progress of the new Medical Sciences Building (MSB) II.

Video: Tech Talk for February 5

 TTUHSC El Paso’s Jay Koester brings you the latest in this week’s Tech Talk including a TTUHSC El Paso professor earns the Distinguished Teaching Award, and more than 150 medical, nursing and pharmacy students participate in an interprofessional education session about team communication.

TTUHSC El Paso Professor Named Laureate by American College of Physicians

Richard McCallum, M.D., professor and founding chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso), was recently named a 2017 Laureate by the Texas Chapter of the American College of Physicians (ACP).

The Laureate Award is given to Texas physicians “who have demonstrated by their example and conduct an abiding commitment to excellence in medical care, education or research, and in service to their community, their chapter and the American College of Physicians,” said George Crawford, M.D., the Texas Southern ACP governor.

Dr. McCallum, who has been a member of different state chapters of the ACP since 1975, has made major advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the digestive disorder gastroparesis. In patients with gastroparesis, food moves through the stomach much slower than normal.

Dr. McCallum has researched the interactions between the brain and stomach to understand the causes of associated nausea and vomiting, and more effectively treat the disease.

Dr. McCallum holds three patents and is the inventor of a gastric pacemaker to help patients who cannot digest food properly. His findings have appeared in more than 450 peer-reviewed scientific articles and 120 textbook chapters. He has also edited 14 scientific textbooks on gastroenterology.

“As a leader in the Texas medical community; teacher of students, residents and gastroenterology fellows; prodigious investigator; nationally and internationally recognized contributor to the field of gastroenterology; clinician; researcher and chair of departments and societies, Dr. McCallum exemplifies the best aspects of our profession and was unanimously selected by the Texas ACP nomination committee for the Laureate Award,” Dr. Crawford said.

In his acceptance speech, Dr. McCallum noted that he was the second TTUHSC El Paso faculty member to receive the Laureate Award from the ACP, which has been awarded annually since 1985. Harry Davis II, M.D., associate professor and vice chair for education in the Department of Internal Medicine, received the award in 2011.

“The list of prior recipients of this honor includes some of the most well-known and productive physicians from the state of Texas,” Dr. Davis said. “I was deeply honored to be included among those who had received this lifetime pinnacle award.”

Dr. McCallum said he was proud of TTUHSC El Paso’s evolution since his arrival in 2009. He said he has had great mentors in his career, and is dedicated to mentoring medical students, residents, fellows and junior faculty.

“This award is indeed an honor for my career, as well as for the school,” Dr. McCallum said. “It is a recognition of my body of work focused on diagnosing and treating patients, while at the same time incorporating a teaching environment and a research culture to help produce the future leaders in clinical and academic gastroenterology.”

Dr. McCallum joined TTUHSC El Paso in 2009 as professor and founding chair of the Department of Internal Medicine. In 2014, he established the RotaCare Clinic in El Paso in partnership with the Rotary Club. This clinic is a resource for individuals with no other access to health care services, and provides first- and second-year medical students with one of their initial clinical experiences, under the supervision of licensed physicians.

In addition to his appointment at TTUHSC El Paso, Dr. McCallum is the director of gastroenterology research and the Center for Neurogastroenterology and GI Motility, and an honorary professor in the Departments of Medicine and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Queensland Australia. He has also served on the gastroenterology faculty at the Yale University School of Medicine, and as chief of gastroenterology and the GI fellowship program at the University of Virginia and the University of Kansas Medical Center.

Texas Tech UHSC El Paso Set For Annual Cookies, Cocoa and Holiday Cheer Event

Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso will again kick off the holiday season with their annual Cookies, Cocoa and Holiday Cheer celebration.

The event, held at the Medical Education Building (MEB) lawn at 5001 El Paso Drive, will offer a free light show, food and festivities for El Paso families.

The light show — presented by the same team behind the famous Fred Loya holiday light show — will wow the crowd. Soon after, TTUHSC El Paso’s seasonal campus lights will be turned on for the first time.

Special guests will include Santa Claus, Mrs. Claus, the Grinch, Cindy Lou Who and the Snowflake Princesses from the movie “Frozen.”

Photo booths will provide free photos with Santa Claus and all the other special guests.

Crave Kitchen and Bar and Hillside Donuts will provide treats and apple cider. All activities will be free, including parking in campus lots.

What: Cookies, Cocoa and Holiday Cheer

When: 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1  |  Note: Light show will begin about 7 p.m.

Where: Medical Education Building (MEB) lawn, 5001 El Paso Drive

TTUHSC El Paso Awarded $3.7 Million Colorectal Cancer Prevention Grant

Navkiran Shokar, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., has received $3.7 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to reduce the impact of colorectal cancer in West Texas.

Doctors recommend adults ages 50 and older get tested for colon cancer, but many West Texans are not following these guidelines. Only 54 percent of qualifying El Pasoans get tested for the cancer, compared to 69 percent of the rest of the U.S. Rural West Texas counties fare far worse, with screening rates falling as low as 28 percent.

“In West Texas, colorectal cancer cases and mortality rates are significant,” Dr. Shokar explained. “The lack of knowledge about the importance of colorectal cancer screening, coupled with a lack of access to screening services, has created a barrier to health care in our region.”

Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand the reach of the Southwest Coalition for Colorectal Cancer Screening (SuCCCeS), a collaboration among public, private, non-profit, and for-profit health service providers led by Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). SuCCCeS’ goal is to increase the number of El Pasoans who are getting screened for colon cancer.

The new CPRIT funds will help SuCCCeS expand its service area to an additional 25 West Texas counties, encompassing an area with a combined population of nearly 2.9 million residents.

These counties, which stretch from Big Bend Country to the Panhandle Plains, have high rates of poverty, low educational attainment, low rates of health care coverage, are predominantly Hispanic, and are critically medically underserved. In fact, several of the target counties do not have a single physician.

Dr. Shokar and the coalition will begin the effort by integrating services into health care organizations in El Paso, as well as within clinics in the over 40,000-square-mile region. The team will offer free colorectal cancer screening services to eligible men and women; in-person and video colon cancer prevention education that is bilingual; and navigation to timely treatment for participants who have been diagnosed with cancer.

SuCCCeS will also train health care providers to promote colon cancer screening, to reduce patient barriers to screening, and to enhance potential resources for their patients, such as insurance coverage options for colonoscopies.

Dr. Shokar’s ultimate goal is not only to have more adults screened, but also to educate West Texans of all ethnic backgrounds about the importance of regular screening for early diagnosis — when colon cancer is most curable.

Over the course of the three-year grant, SuCCCeS is expected to provide 11,100 screening and diagnostic tests, 16,000 educational services, and 600 professional education services.

Dr. Shokar already has a strong history of leading successful cancer prevention programs. This is her sixth award from CPRIT as a principal investigator. Thus far, her grants have brought $15 million to the El Paso community for cancer prevention and early detection services and research.

SuCCCeS coalition members include nine hospitals, 26 clinics, and 150 community partners.

TTUHSC El Paso Hosts Online Sports Medicine Q&A Friday

An upcoming Facebook Live Q&A will invite the community to listen in and pose health questions to a physician from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).

Justin Wright, M.D., a physician in the Department of Family Medicine, will host the session to discuss sports injuries, physical therapy and prevention strategies. Dr. Wright will take questions from viewers about a wide range of topics, including sports medicine trends, like cryotherapy, dietary supplements and fitness trackers.

Dr. Wright specializes in sports medicine, concussion management and musculoskeletal examination. He also directs the TTUHSC El Paso sports medicine fellowship program, which works with athletes at The University of Texas at El Paso and local high school sports teams and serves at on-site athletics events like the El Paso Marathon.

Dr. Wright received his M.D. from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas, and later completed a family medicine residency and sports medicine fellowship at the Crozer-Keystone Health System in Pennsylvania.

Participants are encouraged to submit their questions to Dr. Wright in advance and RSVP on TTUHSC El Paso’s Facebook Live Q&A event page.  The live will also be shared on the Herald-Post facebook page.

What: Live public health care Q&A

When: 11 a.m. Friday, July 21

Where: Online at

TTUHSC El Paso Physician Hosts Online Mental Health Q&A Friday Morning

An upcoming Facebook Live Q&A will invite the community to listen in and pose health questions to a physician from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).

In honor of Mental Health Month, Peter Thompson, M.D., a physician and researcher in the Department of Psychiatry, will host the session. Dr. Thompson, who specializes in bipolar disorder, treatment-resistant depression and the biology of brain disorders, will take questions from viewers about a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and schizophrenia.

Dr. Thompson will also discuss El Paso’s first Brain Bank — a TTUHSC El Paso laboratory that conducts postmortem research to understand the biological underpinnings behind mental illness.

Dr. Thompson received his Doctor of Medicine and residency training from Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. He went on to complete a fellowship at the University of California, San Diego and the Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Thompson is director of the Southwest Brain Bank; he joined TTUHSC El Paso in 2016.

Participants are encouraged to submit their questions to Dr. Thompson in advance and RSVP on TTUHSC El Paso’s Facebook Live Q&A on Mental Health and the Biology of Brain Disorders event page.

This Q&A session is part of a new TTUHSC El Paso initiative called The Exam Room. The Exam Room encourages the El Paso community to engage with expert health care professionals at TTUHSC El Paso.

Each month, The Exam Room will hold one or more public Q&As, each focusing on a different health-related topic and highlighting a TTUHSC El Paso health care specialist who has volunteered to answer questions on the subject.

What: Live health care Q&A open to the El Paso community

When: 11 a.m. Friday, May 12

Where: Online via Herald-Post’s Facebook page or TTUHSC El Paso’s Page

New TTUHSC El Paso Degree Positions Nurses for Leadership Roles

The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) has approved a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.) at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). The degree will prepare nurses for positions in management and administration in the health care field.

The seven-semester program will be offered by the Gayle Greve Hunt School of Nursing (GGHSON) and is set to begin in spring 2018. The part-time program will provide students a unique combination of online courses with on-campus intensive experiences. This differs from a similar M.S.N. at The University of Texas at El Paso that is in a completely online format.

“Traditional on-campus programs may be difficult for working nurses and while entirely online programs are flexible, they are not always effective in fully engaging students,” says Penny Cooper, D.N.P., R.N., assistant dean for graduate programs at the  GGHSON. “That’s why we’re going to offer a hybrid of the two formats, giving students the opportunity to experience and benefit from both learning environments.”

The program, which focuses on producing the nursing leaders of the future, was developed in response toseveral national reports, including the 2010 report issued by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). The reportemphasized the importance of nurses being full partners alongside physicians and other health careprofessionals, encouraging nurses to achieve higher levels of education.

To help achieve this national goal, the M.S.N. program will include leadership-focused courses to learn about business, finance, and policy, among others. This knowledge will ultimately prepare graduates to become decision-makers who can influence health care delivery in complex health care systems.

The degree will also provide unique interdisciplinary experiences not found anywhere else in the Paso del Norte region. Nursing students will learn from faculties of the nursing, medical and biomedical science schools. This inter-professional approach will prepare students to communicate effectively with a variety of professionals in future health care settings — an opportunity that can only be provided at a health sciences center.

“The GGHSON is the only school of nursing on the U.S.-Mexico border that resides in an academic health sciences center,” explains GGHSON Dean Jeanne Novotny, Ph.D., R.N., FAAN. “That means we provide our graduate students with a unique environment in which to study, and a framework for our graduates to be valuable contributors to any community or health care system, no matter where they decide to practice.”

Successful completion of the M.S.N. degree will lead to professional growth and employment opportunities. Graduates may seek positions such as charge nurse, manager, administrator, or chief nursing officer (CNO).

The degree was officially approved by the THECB April 20.

TTUHSC El Paso Receives $1.5 Million to Prevent Cervical Cancer in West Texas

Navkiran Shokar, M.A., M.P.H, M.D., has received nearly $1.5 million from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) to reduce the burden of cervical cancer in West Texas.

“Hispanic women in our region have a 30 percent higher risk of dying from cervical cancer,” says Dr. Shokar, a physician and professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso). “They also have a higher incidence of cervical cancer and are typically diagnosed at later stages.”

De Casa en Casa’s reach is possible thanks to a community-wide partnership that consists of over 150 organizations, including TTUHSC El Paso, the West Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Texas Department of State Health Services, and multiple food pantries and community centers across the region. Photo by Tommie Morelos / TTUHSC El Paso.
De Casa en Casa’s reach is possible thanks to a community-wide partnership that consists of over 150 organizations. Photo by Tommie Morelos / TTUHSC El Paso.

Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand De Casa en Casa, a program that helps uninsured or underinsured Latinas access free cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears. Since its establishment in 2013, De Casa En Casa has provided more than 1,500 pap smears to women in El Paso and Hudspeth Counties.

The new CPRIT funds will help the program expand its service area to 105 additional rural U.S.-Mexico border counties in Texas, stretching from as far away as Big Bend country to the Panhandle plains. Cervical cancer test rates in the region lag far behind the national average of 82 percent; only 63 to 71 percent of qualifying residents in these counties have been screened.

“This area we’ve targeted has a population of about 2.8 million,” says Dr. Shokar. “The region has high rates of poverty, low education, and low rates of health care coverage — making it the ideal location for health education and free diagnostic screenings to save more lives.”

Dr. Shokar and her team will begin the effort by organizing a convoy to visit a 19-county area between now and December. The TTUHSC El Paso team will offer cervical cancer prevention education, including a bilingual educational video, and free cervical cancer screenings to

Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand De Casa en Casa, a program that helps uninsured or underinsured Latinas access free cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears. Photo by Tommie Morelos / TTUHSC El Paso
Dr. Shokar will use the grant to expand De Casa en Casa, a program that helps uninsured or underinsured Latinas access free cervical cancer screenings, or pap smears. Photo by Tommie Morelos / TTUHSC El Paso

qualifying residents. During the visit, the team will also provide training for local nurses and community health workers to increase awareness of cervical cancer, its symptoms, and common barriers that women in these communities face to get access to cancer screening and care.

Dr. Shokar’s ultimate goal is not only to have more women screened, but also to educate Hispanics about the importance of regular pap smears for early diagnosis — when cervical cancer is most curable — and thus, saving more lives.

De Casa en Casa’s reach is possible thanks to a community-wide partnership that consists of over 150 organizations, including TTUHSC El Paso, the West Texas Area Health Education Center (AHEC), the Texas Department of State Health Services, and multiple food pantries and community centers across the region.

This is Dr. Shokar’s fifth award from CPRIT as a principal investigator. Her grants have brought nearly $8 million to the El Paso community for cancer prevention and early detection services.

Video – Tech Talk: A Look Inside the Newest Hospital in the Sun City

In this week’s Tech Talk, Veronique Masterson gives you a look inside the newest hospital in the Sun City: The Hospitals of Providence Transmountain Campus.

A collaboration between Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso and The Hospitals of Providence, the new facility is set to open this spring.

Clip courtesy Chris Espinosa/TTUHSC El Paso.
Clip courtesy Chris Espinosa/TTUHSC El Paso.

Sunday 5K Race to Benefit Community Health Clinic

Medical students from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso) will host the third annual Sprint for Sparks 5K run/walk Sunday, October 2 to benefit the Sparks student-run health clinic.

Since its opening in 2013, the Medical Student Run Clinic has provided an ever-expanding array of essential medical services to the underserved Sparks community in east El Paso.

Services include lab diagnostics, women’s health screenings and vaccines. The clinic is open twice a month, and run entirely by students from TTUHSC El Paso’s Paul L. Foster School of Medicine under the guidance of volunteer physicians — also from TTUHSC El Paso.

Sprint for Sparks will take place along Scenic Drive. Participants will gather at Newman Park prior to the race, which starts at 8 a.m. The entry fee is $20 per individual registrant and $15 per registrant for groups of 10 or more.

The first 150 people to sign up will receive a Sprint for Sparks T-shirt. Participants can register at:

What: Sprint for Sparks 5K Run/Walk

When: 8 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 2, 2016

Where: Scenic Drive at Newman Park (2211 Alabama Street)


Study Finds Alzheimer’s Manifests Differently in Hispanics

Certain symptoms associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease, including agitation and depression, affect Hispanics more frequently and severely than other ethnicities.

The findings, published in the Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (JNCN), suggest that Alzheimer’s disease manifests itself differently in Hispanic populations.

“Our study shows that the severity and proportion of neuropsychiatric symptoms is significantly higher in a Hispanic group compared to non-Hispanic whites,” says lead researcher Ricardo Salazar, M.D., a geriatric psychiatrist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).

Dr. Ricardo Salazar 1[1]He adds, “This could have a significant impact on the treatment and understanding of how Alzheimer’s disease progresses in Hispanics.”

Both cognitive and behavioral decline can occur with Alzheimer’s disease. Cognitive signs of the disease include memory loss and problems with orientation and physical functioning. Behavioral, or neuropsychiatric symptoms, include depression, elation, anxiety, hallucinations, delusions and apathy. These neuropsychiatric symptoms have been associated with higher rates of institutionalization and more rapid progression of the disease.

Curious to understand how neuropsychiatric symptoms manifest in Hispanics with dementia, Dr. Salazar and his team gathered data on more than 2,100 individuals in the Texas Alzheimer’s Research and Care Consortium (TARCC) database. Patients profiled in the database are predominantly non-Hispanic whites and Mexican-Americans who have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment (MCI), or are otherwise healthy subjects.

The team specifically focused on each individual’s Neuropsychiatric Inventory Questionnaire (NPI-Q), an exam used to assess the extent of 12 neuropsychiatric symptoms.

A review of the data showed that during MCI — the intermediate state between healthy cognition and Alzheimer’s disease — all ethnicities were affected equally by neuropsychiatric symptoms. But once the condition had progressed to full-on Alzheimer’s disease, the severity of neuropsychiatric symptoms in Hispanics increased significantly.

Dr. Salazar believes these divergent symptoms may reflect a different disease process in Hispanics.

“When patients have neuropsychiatric symptoms, that signifies deterioration of different areas of the brain,” he explains. “I believe functional imaging studies of the brain may show differences in the locations of amyloid or plaque collection in the brains of Hispanics with Alzheimer’s disease.”

The JNCN study also showed that depression and anxiety were more frequent in healthy Hispanics age 50 years and older than in healthy, non-Hispanic whites of the same age. This corroborates past studies suggesting that depression may be one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease.

“Hispanics tend to get Alzheimer’s disease at an earlier age than other [ethnic groups], and our study shows that these neuropsychiatric symptoms of depression and anxiety manifest earlier in them, too,” Dr. Salazar says. “This suggests that depression and anxiety in older Hispanics could be an early warning for Alzheimer’s disease—and that treatment of these symptoms could even delay the disease.”

As a geriatric psychiatrist in an overwhelmingly Hispanic region, Dr. Salazar has witnessed this phenomenon firsthand.

“I am a strong believer that if you use antidepressants to treat MCI that appears with symptoms of depression, you can slow the progression of Alzheimer’s,” he says. “Maybe even avoid full-on progression to the disease.”

Dr. Salazar implores physicians to be aware that depression can mask dementia, particularly in the Hispanic population.

Dr. Salazar admits the study has limitations. Ethnicity was self-reported by individuals, and there were also fewer Hispanic participants with Alzheimer’s disease than white participants with the disease.

While additional research is clearly needed, Dr. Salazar’s study could be a window to how to better treat — and even prevent — Alzheimer’s disease in this rapidly-growing demographic.


Smart Helmet for Football Players May Help Detect Concussions

A smart helmet that can help diagnose concussions in football players is being developed by medical students at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).

“Concussions that go undiagnosed are a huge health problem, especially for football players,” says second-year TTUHSC El Paso medical student Derrick Oaxaca. “It is very common for athletes to remain in the game after experiencing concussion-like symptoms, receiving more impacts to the head — and that is when the brain becomes significantly damaged.”

Scientists don’t know the exact force that will unequivocally result in a concussion. But recent research shows that a combination of data from the blow can help doctors make a more accurate diagnosis. These impact measurements — rotational acceleration, linear force or acceleration, duration of impact and location of impact — will each be recorded by the helmet’s sensors to provide a full medical assessment.

TTUHSC El Paso, Space Race - OaxacaThis innovative technology has landed the entrepreneurs spots as semi-finalists in the Space Race, a international start-up competition hosted by NASA and the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI).


Athletes who resume playing in a sporting event before fully healing after a concussion can experience permanent brain damage, and even death. This happens quite often; nearly one-third of athletes have sustained a concussion that went undiagnosed and risked further brain injury.

Using the smart helmet, the team hopes players of all ages will be taken off the field immediately after a hit, instead of continuing to participate while injured.

“Parents will be alerted, too,” Oaxaca explains. “Imagine a mom or dad receiving a smartphone notification that their child just received a blow to the head. They’re going to be concerned about safety and ensure their child receives proper medical attention.”

The goal is for the product to eventually be sold in athletic stores or directly to athletic programs, such as high school sports teams, under the name Minus Tau.

Tau is a protein that forms in the brain when someone experiences a concussion, or any form of brain damage. Today, many retired NFL football players who experienced repetitive head injuries during their careers suffer from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain condition tied to dementia, suicide and depression. Studies have shown high levels of tau in these players’ brains, prompting scientists to suspect that tau buildup is linked to increased risk of developing a brain disorder.

The team named the technology Minus Tau in an effort to raise awareness about the condition, and hopes to eventually minimize these cases. Oaxaca explains, “We want to prevent tau buildup in the brains of our athletes; we want to subtract it from the whole equation.”

Also on the team are second-year TTUHSC El Paso medical students Tyler Trevino, Justin Thomas and Sovanarak Lek, and Toriell Simon, an undergraduate business student at The University of Texas at El Paso. In the future, the students anticipate that the technology will also be applicable to military and motorcycle helmets.

In total, the Space Race challenge highlights 11 NASA technologies, which teams utilize to build a business plan and eventually pitch their idea to the challenge’s panel of judges. Phase 3 of the Space Race competition commences Friday, October 14, with the announcement of the finalists.

Winners of the third and final phase of the competition will incorporate a business, apply for a NASA license, raise up to $1.2 million in seed funding from venture capitalists, and officially launch a start-up with guidance from CAI.

$420,000 Grant to Help TTUHSC El Paso Identify Genes that Keep HIV Latent

One of the biggest challenges to discovering a cure for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is when the disease becomes dormant — hidden and inactive within the human body. Modern therapy can practically wipe out the virus, but stores of latent HIV soon become active and multiply all over again.

“We need to find a way to wipe out latent HIV in order to find a cure for this disease,” says Haoquan Wu, Ph.D., a biomedical scientist at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso (TTUHSC El Paso).

Wu recently received a two-year $420,000 grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases(NIAID) to study how HIV perseveres in humans. Wu’s hunch is that certain human genes play a role in the virus’ persistence.

To find out, Wu will conduct a genome-wide knockout screening that attempts to identify which human genes enable HIV to become latent. Wu and his team will specifically knock out, or deactivate, each gene in the human genome to identify which enable HIV’s dormancy.

“By deactivating one gene at a time, we hope to see — at some point — latent HIV reactivate,” Wu explains. “That will potentially mean that if we suppress this gene in humans with HIV, latent HIV will be reactivated.”

A drug that targets the specific gene, or group of genes, could then be developed to target the genes in humans, reactivating latent HIV reservoirs in the body. These could be then detected and eradicated.

The team plans to use CRISPR-Cas9, a technology that allows scientists to cut and deactivate genes, to conduct their work. Wu and a team of TTUHSC El Paso colleagues have conducted similar research in the past. In 2015, the researchers identified that certain human genes help West Nile virus (WNV) kill its host’s cells. This provided the first glimpse of how host factors can be hijacked by the virus to kill the host’s own cells.

Their findings were published in the journal Cell Reports.

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