Friday, September 4, 2009

Harvard Cardiac Researcher to Kick Off DSS

The University of South Alabama College of Medicine will hold its first Distinguished Scientist Seminar for the 2009-10 academic year featuring Dr. David A. Kass. Dr. Kass’ seminar, “Viagra Redux: Modulating Cardiac Stress Response by Phosphodiesterase Type 5,” will take place on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2009, at 4 p.m. in the Medical Sciences Building first floor auditorium.

Dr. Kass is the Abraham & Virginia Weiss Professor of Cardiology and Biomedical Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. His research interests have focused on heart failure mechanisms and treatment, hypertrophy/remodeling mechanisms, cGMP regulation in cardiac muscle, cardiac dysynchrony and resynchronization, and the structure/functional relationships of sarcomeric proteins.

Dr. Kass earned his undergraduate degree in applied physics and engineering at Harvard University. He received his medical degree from Yale University. He completed his residency at George Washington University Hospital and his cardiology fellowship at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

For more information on Dr. Kass’ research, please visit his web site at:

For additional information, contact Natalie Kent at 461-1548.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

International Academy Honors USA Researcher

Dr. Stephen Schaffer, professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently honored with the Norman Alpert Award for Established Investigators in Cardiovascular Sciences, given by the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences in Copenhagen, Denmark. The award is named after the former chairman for the department of physiology at the University of Vermont. Just as a Nobel Prize winner is recognized for the award throughout his or her lifetime, the same is true for the Norman Alpert award.

Dr. Schaffer’s research focuses on the effects of diabetes, high blood pressure and taurine, a naturally occurring organic amino acid, on the heart. Experiments in his laboratory at USA have shown that diabetes and taurine deficiency are risk factors for the development of heart failure, an effect related to an increase in the generation of oxidants that impair contractile function of the heart.

After a 1985 laboratory discovery at USA showing for the first time that type 2 diabetes can cause heart defects, Dr. Schaffer was prompted to examine the effects of high blood pressure, a condition that often co-exists with diabetes and adversely affects contractile function of the heart. Because both diabetes and high blood pressure are risk factors for heart attacks, Dr. Schaffer evaluated the effect of high pressure on damage to the diabetic and nondiabetic heart, subjected to a simulated heart attack caused by blockage of the coronary vessels followed by restoration of blood flow. Those studies showed for the first time that high pressure is an extremely important determinant of damage to the heart during a heart attack. More importantly, a reduction in pressure diminishes damage to the heart.

Decreasing tension may have potential therapeutic application, as an abrupt decrease of blood pressure implemented during the blood supply restoration process may represent an important protective procedure in hypertensive individuals. The thought that pressure unloading could be a great benefit to the heart had not previously been considered.

Dr. Schaffer received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1971. He completed his postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania. Before finding a home in the College of Medicine at USA, Dr. Schaffer was part of the faculty at Lehigh University and Hahnemann University.

Dr. Schaffer has been active in organizing meetings locally and internationally, as well as serving as an ad hoc member of many National Institutes of Health sessions. He serves on the editorial boards of Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry and Amino Acids.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

USA Folate Researchers Uncover the Limitations of a Very Good Thing

A recent study by Drs. Steven W. Bailey and June E. Ayling, both researchers in the department of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, found that despite well- known health benefits of folic acid, supplementation with this vitamin may have no additional benefit when taken in excess.

Based primarily on the reduction of neural tube birth defects that folic acid provides when taken before conception, the United States and other countries supply their entire population by enriching bread and flour with the compound. In addition to the prevention of birth defects, it is commonly used to treat anemia. It may also play a role in controlling certain forms of depression and may decrease the risk for stroke and dementia.

Folic acid, however, is a synthetic form of the vitamin that is not present in significant amounts in fresh natural foods. Instead, all functions of this vitamin are performed by naturally occurring folates called tetrahydrofolates. Until folic acid is converted into these active forms it can serve no biological purpose.

In their study, which was published in last week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Drs. Bailey and Ayling measured the ability of human livers to activate folic acid in comparison to livers from rats. They discovered that the average rate of folic acid activation in the human liver was 56 times lower and more variable than in rat livers.

“What we found is that humans have difficulty metabolizing amounts of folic acid that are greater than the Reference Daily Intake,” said Dr. Bailey.

Dr. Bailey is quick to emphasize that there are important health benefits of folic acid supplementation and says there is every reason for women of child-bearing age to continue taking folic acid.

“The take-home message of our work is that while folic acid is an effective nutritional supplement for preventing and treating some diseases, there may be no benefit to consuming more than the recommended amount,” he said.

The researchers point to the fact that the human liver has only a limited amount of the enzyme needed to convert folic acid to active folate, the metabolite that is directly associated with health benefits. As a result, not only does any excess go to waste, but there is speculation that residual unmetabolized folic acid may exacerbate several conditions such as cancer.
Found naturally in many fruits and vegetables – romaine lettuce, spinach, asparagus, broccoli and oranges – as well as liver, folate is often supplied instead through vitamin supplements and fortified foods that incorporate synthetic folic acid.

The U.S. Reference Daily Intake set by the Food and Drug Administration is 0.4 milligrams for adults and 0.8 milligrams for pregnant women. However, people often consume more than the recommended amounts, with fortified breakfast cereals alone providing up to 0.8 milligrams per standard serving size. According to the new research, consuming both a highly fortified breakfast cereal and a multivitamin supplement can exceed the human capacity to quickly activate synthetic folic acid.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

USA Digestive Health Center Offers Novel Hemorrhoid Treatment

The University of South Alabama Digestive Health Center is the first in Alabama and Mississippi to offer a novel, minimally invasive procedure for patients suffering from hemorrhoids.

The highly effective procedure, which can be performed by a gastroenterologist in less than two minutes in an outpatient setting, quickly relieves symptoms and requires less recovery time.

Dr. Jack A. Di Palma, a gastroenterologist and professor of internal medicine at the USA College of Medicine, said the procedure is painless and does not require hospitalization. “The non surgical removal of hemorrhoids using the O’Regan Banding Technology produces better results than that of conventional surgery,” he said. “This is a novel way of treating a problem that affects more than half of the population at some point in their lives.”

During the procedure, the physician places a small rubber band around the tissue just above the internal hemorrhoid where there are few pain-sensitive nerve endings. Unlike traditional banding techniques, a gentle suction device is used, reducing the risk of pain and bleeding.

The banding procedure cuts off the blood supply to the hemorrhoid, which causes it to shrink and fall off, typically within a few days. Once the hemorrhoid is gone, the wound heals within a couple of weeks. If multiple hemorrhoids are present, they are usually treated at separate visits.

Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in the lower rectum or anus. Most often, they occur after the age of 30. Common causes include constipation, pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, heavy lifting, sitting for long periods and diarrhea.

The O’Regan Banding Technology is performed at the USA Digestive Health Center located at 5600 Girby Road in Mobile. For more information or to make an appointment, call (251) 660-5555.