Future Magazine

2022 issue
James D. Lechleiter, PhD, with Deborah Holstein, senior research associate, and doctoral graduate student Damian Lozano viewing a computer monitor in a lab.

Preventing permanent brain injury after stroke

In the early 2000s, James Lechleiter’s lab at UT Health San Antonio was doing basic research focused on astrocytes, the star-shaped cells that do everything from managing neurotransmitters to clearing debris to regulating blood flow in the brain. What they discovered led to a potential novel finding, and he has spent the last 16 years investigating it.
Ali Seifi, MD (center), with MS graduate students (from left to right) Alexis Lorio (Class of 2024), Hari Krishnakumar (Class of 2024), Ellen Burton (Class of 2024) and Shwetha Menon (Class of 2023) standing in Seifi's lab.

Kickstarting a cure for hiccups

For years, Ali Seifi could not get the idea of curing hiccups out of his mind. He spent hours daydreaming of air pressure, flow, enervation and throat tissue flaps. Finally, after talking with a patient who had been up all night with hiccups after surgery, Seifi decided to turn his idea into a working prototype.
Bradley Brimhall, MD, with Yi Zhou, MD, clinical informatics fellow, and Ashley Windham, MD, MSDA, associate professor, around a microscope in Brimhall's lab.

Harnessing AI to optimize patient treatments

Bradley Brimhall and collaborative teams of researchers are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and predictive modeling to develop leading-edge diagnostics. The use of AI in medical decision-making is the future, and physicians can lead that change or be swept before it.
Daohong Zhou, MD, with graduate student Jing Pei and research assistant professors Dongwen Lyu, PhD, MS (seated) and Sajid Khan, PhD, looking at a computer monitor in Zhou's lab.

Breaking cancer’s will to survive

The search for a novel compound on which to design a first-in-class cancer therapy is a long, arduous process. Daohong Zhou evaluated hundreds of compounds synthesized by the team of Guangrong Zheng, PhD, a medicinal chemist who specializes in the design and synthesis of natural and synthetic compounds at the University of Florida. Zhou and his team were looking for a compound that degraded a cancer’s survival signal, termed BCL-xL, without being toxic to blood platelets.
Ratna K. Vadlamudi, PhD (second from right), with (from left to right) Xiaonan Li, MD, research associate; Behnam Ebrahimi, MS, PhD program graduate student; Suryavathi Viswanadhapalli, PhD, assistant professor; Alexia Collier, NIH postbaccalaureate trainee; Xue Yang, visiting MD student; and Lois Randolph, PhD program graduate student, in Vadlamudi's lab.

Hitting triple-negative breast cancer where it hurts

Ratna Vadlamudi had a long collaboration with other University of Texas System schools to discover novel drugs to treat breast cancer. During the lead optimization process of designing a drug candidate, Vadlamudi and his team discovered a small molecule that was highly active against solid cancers — ERX-41. The discovery identified a novel therapeutic vulnerability and targeting agent that kills a range of hard-to-treat cancer types in petri dishes and animal models.
Virginia Kaklamani, MD, DSc, treats a patient in her clinic.

Repurposing approved drugs for new therapies

One way to short-circuit the “valley of death” is to repurpose an approved drug for a new indication. The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 20,000 drugs, and these drugs have demonstrated safety and efficacy in human trials. This population of proven compounds also offers researchers rich data sets to discover new indications for these drugs.
Robert Hromas, MD, FACP, Dean of the Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine leans on lab table

Bringing medical discoveries to clinical trials

The greatest engines for medical discovery in human history are U.S. academic medical centers, funded by the National Institutes of Health. These centers’ faculty have been awarded the majority of Nobel Prizes for Medicine and have discovered most of the pathways targeted by current drugs. However, this engine for discovery is running at half speed because many high-impact discoveries never make it to clinical trials. This is because of the infamous “valley of death” — the gap between the discovery of an important target and bringing an intervention for that target to clinical trials.
Illustration of a physician walking across a bridge.

From bench to bedside

The fact that 90% of compounds in clinical trials fail to receive Food and Drug Administration approval doesn’t fully account for the magnitude of the drug discovery challenge. Getting a new drug to the patient is exceedingly hard. Innovative science is not enough to advance patient care. This preclinical challenge must be successfully overcome, yet few scientists have the expertise to do this. Creating a team dedicated to help biomedical scientists successfully traverse the valley of death is essential for bringing a significant discovery to the clinic.
Illustration of puzzle pieces with medical device icons.

Unicorns among the mesquite

San Antonio’s reputation as a collegial, unpretentious place extends to the growing life science community. The spirit of collaboration among San Antonio’s biotechnology and medical device community has its origins in the history of cooperation between the military, academic and nonprofit research institutions.
An artist's rendering of the UT Health San Antonio Multispecialty and Research Hospital, scheduled to open in 2024.

Measures of success

The Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine has a tradition of excellence that is demonstrated in its numerous awards and recognitions, including from U.S. News & World Report. In addition, total organized research funding has topped $144 million.