Research that saves lives

Monumental research that makes lives better. STRF opens this fall.

A tiny wire-mesh scaffold that repairs clogged and damaged arteries near the heart. A rib made of titanium that allows children with deformed rib cages to breathe and grow normally. And a handheld port that infuses blood or medications into critically ill patients who might otherwise die waiting for traditional IV lines. All of these devices were developed by researchers at the UT Health Science Center and continue to benefit countless patients worldwide.

The UT Health Science Center has a track record of translational science success. As faculty physicians treat patients suffering from serious illnesses and trauma every day, they see, firsthand, the need for better treatments, new technology and advanced health care. Researchers and clinicians practice translational science, meaning they work together to transform lab findings into real remedies.

With the new South Texas Research Facility (STRF) scheduled to open this fall, the Health Science Center stands on the threshold of a new era in discovery and translational science. Designed by world-renowned New York City-based Rafael Viñoly Architects, the STRF is said to be the most unique building of its kind in South Texas. At three stories tall and more than 1,000 feet long, the STRF will add 190,000 gross square feet of new space to the Health Science Center campus, and will have the capacity to accommodate several hundred scientists and staff. Open lab, meeting and common areas within the building will promote teamwork and collaboration among scientists.

Lifesaving discovery

Cancer, healthy aging, neurosciences and regenerative medicine will be the focus of exploration at the STRF. Here, research will evolve into biomedical devices and therapies that university physicians, who literally work in clinics right across the street from the STRF, can use to immediately benefit patients.

With the new STRF, the Health Science Center’s tradition of excellence in translational science continues and will thrive, making lives better for generations to come.

One of the most prominent Health Science Center inventions is the Palmaz Stent®. In 1988 Julio Palmaz, M.D., a radiologist who is now the Ashbel Smith Professor at the Health Science Center, gained a patent on a tiny device he invented that would impact the world like no one had ever imagined. The Palmaz Stent, a tiny wire-mesh scaffold, is now used in 2 million patients worldwide annually to repair clogged arteries near the heart and elsewhere in the body.

This spring, the story of the stent came full circle at the Health Science ife and death for one of the university’s very own faculty luminaries.

Kristen Plastino, M.D., is benefiting from stent technology, which was first developed at the UT Health Science Center.

From doctor to patient

As an associate professor in the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center and a practicing ob-gyn physician, Kristen Plastino, M.D., has delivered hundreds of babies. The University Hospital ob-gyn ward is like her second home where she spends countless hours congratulating new parents and supervising bright, enthusiastic residents who assist her in deliveries.

But on March 9 the tides turned. The doctor who is so accustomed to welcoming new life found herself in the ER, on the receiving end of treatment and fighting to elude her own death.

The day started out as any other. “Life was good,” Dr. Plastino said. “Even the weather was perfect for my 10-year-old son’s baseball game that evening.” When the game ended, Dr. Plastino and her son, Cole, walked to her car and began to load balls, bats and gloves. Suddenly, “My chest felt like it was being crushed,” she said. Not knowing exactly what was happening, she quickly and cautiously began to drive home. Her husband, Hays, who had also attended the game, followed behind them in his car.

“Maybe it’s a panic attack,” she thought to herself. But the pain pulsed violently and radiated down her left arm and up into her jaw. “By then, I suspected I was having a heart attack.” The tall, thin, 41-year-old mother of four had never been hospitalized and was rarely sick. But Dr. Plastino’s instinct was right. She was experiencing a massive heart attack. “I was in shock,” she said.

Clinging to life

When she arrived in the ER at University Hospital, Dr. Plastino was clinging to life. Surrounded by UT Health Science Center doctors and nurses, she was whisked away to the Cath Lab. Cardiologists determined her left anterior descending artery, the major vessel that supplies blood and oxygen to the front of the heart, had torn.

“She was literally 20 minutes away from death,” said Hinan Ahmed, M.D., assistant professor of medicine/cardiology, who immediately inserted a balloon pump into her aorta to support her heart function. Then, with a balloon angioplasty, he opened up blood flow in the left anterior descending artery.

The next day, in a procedure that took less than one hour, Steven Bailey, M.D., positioned four Taxus® Paclitaxel eluting coronary stents in her artery. The devices keep the artery from tearing further, hold it open and distribute vital medication to her heart. Dr. Bailey is professor and chief of the Janey and Dolph Briscoe Division of Cardiology and the Janey Briscoe Distinguished University Chair in Cardiovascular Research at the Health Science Center.

The day after Mother’s Day, May 9, just five weeks after her ordeal, Dr. Plastino sat in her office on the fourth floor of the School of Medicine, courageously recalling her experience. But when she mentioned her four children, ages 3 to 10, her voice trembled and tears streamed down her cheeks. “Sometimes we think we’re in control of everything in our lives. But we’re not. Anything can happen. I thank God every day that our Health Science Center doctors were here to save me. I’m here another day for my children and my husband. Life is precious and I don’t take anything for granted.”

Translational science happens when researchers take their discoveries from the labs and translate them into better ways to diagnose and prevent disease, while creating therapies, medications, biomedical devices and techniques that clinicians can use to treat and heal patients.

Teamwork and technology

Dr. Plastino credits the knowledge and swift teamwork of her physicians and nurses along with the accessibility of advanced biomedical technology in San Antonio.

“I’m usually on the caregiving side of the fence,” she said. “But as a patient, I witnessed, from a different perspective, a superb group of experienced and compassionate health care professionals at work. From the receptionist who answered questions in the ER, to the surgeons in the operating room, the process was seamless. I may not be alive if it weren’t for this kind of collaboration.”

Dr. Plastino claims that one of the most amazing outcomes of her experience is the fact that four stents are helping to keep her alive. Stent technology was first developed at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio campus by Dr. Palmaz more than 20 years ago. “That’s the beauty of academic medicine and translational science,” Dr. Plastino said. “Our doctors not only provide outstanding patient care, they accomplish the research that yields breakthroughs like the stent. These devices, these remedies save lives. I’m a living example.”

Faculty physicians featured in this article, including Hinan Ahmed, M.D., Steven Bailey, M.D., Tyler Curiel, M.D., M.P.H., Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., Nicolas Musi, M.D., Kristen Plastino, M.D., Paula Shireman, M.D., and Sunil Sudarshan, M.D., practice with UT Medicine San Antonio, the clinical practice of the School of Medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Some also serve at University Hospital and other health care partner institutions. University Hospital is a teaching hospital of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center. For more information about UT Medicine San Antonio, visit

You may also like

Leave a comment