Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Subfeature Technology

Dallas Innovates: Gamers join scientific research to help end the COVID-19 threat

BALANCED Media|Technology and Complexity Gaming have launched a citizen science effort that will test drug compounds against coronavirus, helping SMU sift through possible treatments faster

Source: HEWMEN

DALLAS (SMU) – While medical professionals everywhere have been hard at work for months searching for a cure to the COVID-19 virus, an unlikely industry has emerged to join the fight: the video game community, Dallas Innovates’ Alex Edwards reports.

A new effort from BALANCED Media|Technology (BALANCED) and Complexity Gaming intends to garner spare computer processing power that could help find treatments for coronavirus. The two Dallas-based organizations are encouraging anyone that works with video games to donate to the citizen science/crowdsourcing initiative called #WeAreHEWMEN, Edwards explains.

The BALANCED’s HEWMAN app will use gamers’ processing power to go through more than 200,000 FDA medications and compounds, with help from SMU computational biologist John Wise. Using these 200,000 compounds, between 1.5 to 3 million virtual experiments will be run, simulating attempts to dock compounds to specific locations on the virus. By identifying the compounds with the highest probability of success at treating coronavirus, Wise, who works in SMU’s Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery, can test new treatments faster and therefore, potentially get a viable treatment to the market more quickly.

Read the story about this innovative collaboration here.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.




Health & Medicine Mind & Brain

Psychological study teaching people to experience and recognize joy has been adapted for COVID-19

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU has adapted their study on a psychological condition known as anhedonia to reflect new restrictions in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Researchers at SMU and UCLA have been involved in a five-year study of a treatment for anhedonia – the inability to find pleasure in any aspect of life – since 2019. 
Psychology professors Alicia Meuret and Thomas Ritz at SMU and Michelle G. Craske at UCLA are studying the effectiveness of a type of cognitive behavioral therapy aimed at teaching people to seek out and recognize the positive aspects of life – increasing their sensitivity to reward. They will compare their results with a more traditional approach of treating the negative affect side of their problems.
But because millions of Americans have been asked to stay at home to keep from possibly spreading the COVID-19 virus, researchers have made some adjustments to how they are doing the study. 
For instance, instead of encouraging study participants to meet with friends in-person to increase feelings of joy and connectedness, the recommendation has been modified to arranging meetings online. Participants are also being given skills they can use to cope more effectively with COVID-19 worries about health and future, as well as how to generate feelings of gratitude and how to take other people’s viewpoint in account when thinking. And all sessions between participants and therapists are being done via telehealth instead of in person, because of the COVID-19 restrictions.
Researchers are still recruiting Dallas and Los Angeles residents to participate in the study. More information about the study is available here.
About SMU
SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.
Health & Medicine SMU In The News Subfeature

SMU Center for Family Counseling offers free remote services

DALLAS (SMU) – SMU’s Center for Family Counseling is now offering free telehealth counseling to anyone who needs it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What started as a work-around to help the community during this period of mandatory social distancing has proved to be so successful that the center will continue offering remote counseling even after the staff returns to seeing patients in-person.

The clinic, associated with SMU’s Master’s in Counseling program, provides a variety of counseling services to adults, adolescents and children who are dealing with anxiety, depression, behavior difficulties, grief and loss, stress and parenting. Like many other businesses and clinics in Dallas, SMU’s Center for Family Counseling has temporarily closed its offices to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Clinic staff recognized, however, that because they were forced to close the clinic’s doors, there might be more people in need of mental health services related to isolation and other stay-at-home issues, said Clinic Director Terra Wagner.

“So we moved to offering services via Zoom,” Wagner said. “However, we plan to continue offering telehealth services, even when we return to seeing clients in person,” she said, explaining that they discovered they can serve more clients using a combination of telehealth and in-person appointments.

The Center for Family Counseling normally operates on a sliding scale fee system to accommodate low-income clients, with charges ranging from $5 to a maximum of $45 per session. All services will be free until further notice, Wagner said.

In addition to the telehealth counseling, five new remote support groups are also open for registration, free of charge: Adult Mindfulness Group, Adolescent Support Group, LGBTQ+ Parenting/Caregiver Support Group, LGBTQ+ Adolescent Support Group and LGBTQ+ Adult Support Group. These support groups started will meet via Zoom. Registration for all groups will remain open until groups end on May 7.

Counselors at the center are graduate students in the Master’s in Counseling program offered by SMU’s Simmons School of Education and Human Development. They have completed most of their coursework as well as clinical skills classes to prepare to work with clients under faculty supervision. The program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

The clinic helps address the national shortage of mental health professionals by training counselors and providing affordable services. According to a spring 2019 report by Mental Health Dallas, the state of Texas is home to the second highest number of areas in the United States with a mental health professional shortage.

Earlier this year, SMU relocated the Center for Family Counseling from Plano to a new Dallas location in Expressway Tower, 6116 N. Central Expressway, Suite 410. Services are offered Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. To schedule an appointment, please call 214-768-6789. If the Center for Family Counseling can’t meet your needs, you will be referred to another provider.


About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in eight degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.


Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Subfeature

Drug oleandrin may be an effective new way to treat HTLV-1 virus, SMU study shows

An estimated 10 to 15 million people are infected with HTLV-1, which is a cousin of HIV

DALLAS (SMU) – A study led by SMU suggests that oleandrin – a drug derived from the Nerium oleander plant – could prevent the HTLV-1 virus from spreading by targeting a stage of the reproduction process that is not currently targeted by existing drugs.

That is significant because there is currently no cure or treatment for the virus – a lesser-known “cousin” of HIV that affects an estimated 10 to 15 million people worldwide.

“Our research findings suggest that oleandrin could possibly limit the transmission and spread of HTLV-1 by targeting a unique stage in the retroviral life cycle,” said Robert Harrod, associate professor and director of Graduate Studies in SMU’s Department of Biological Sciences. Harrod is a co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Antivirals & Antiretrovirals.

The human T-cell leukemia virus type-1, or HTLV-1, is a retrovirus that infects white blood cells known as T-cells and is usually transmitted in a similar manner to HIV-1 through a person’s blood or body fluid. Infected cells present within breast milk can also pass HTLV-1 from mother to infant through breastfeeding.

While HIV-1 kills the infected T-cells, HTLV-1 causes them to divide uncontrollably. This in turn can lead to the development of aggressive leukemia – a cancer of the white blood cells. People infected with HTLV-1 can also develop a progressive neurological disease known as HTLV-1-associated myelopathy/tropical spastic paraparesis (HAM/TSP), a progressive inflammatory disease of the nervous system that can affect one’s ability to walk and may cause serious symptoms leading to coma and even death.

Retrovirus particles copy themselves within infected cells by transcribing their RNA into DNA after entering a cell, a process called the retroviral life cycle. The more virus-infected cells that are produced, the worse symptoms can get for people who are infected with HTLV-1.

The two lead authors, Tetiana Bowley and Lacin Yapindi, are Ph.D graduate students who worked with Harrod in his lab. Aditi Malu, who also worked in Harrod’s lab, graduated from SMU with a PhD in May. Together with collaborator Jagan Sastry at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Dr. Robert Newman at Phoenix Biotechnology, Inc., SMU researchers found that the botanical compound called oleandrin successfully interrupted part of the infection cycle for HTLV-1.

“As has been shown for HIV-1, treatment with oleandrin did not affect the ability of infected cells to produce and release new virus particles. However, the particles that were produced were defective, meaning they contained less envelope glycoprotein on their surface,” Harrod said. “This impaired their ability to form virological synapses for effective cell-to-cell virus transmission.”  

A so-called “envelope,” which forms the outer coat of the HTLV-1 particle and binds to the receptors on the surface of target cells, must be present in order for a virus-infected cell to fuse with the membrane of an uninfected T-cell, allowing the virus to enter the cell and spread the disease. Without it, the HTLV-1 retrovirus can’t successfully be passed to other cells.

“Oleandrin is unique in its ability to block the incorporation of the envelope glycoprotein into mature virus particles as they’re exiting an infected cell,” Harrod said.

The hope is that oleandrin, or a similar drug that targets the same part of the retrovirus infection cycle, could potentially prevent HTLV-1 from causing progressively worse clinical symptoms in people with an immune-driven condition like HAM/TSP where the body’s immune system causes tissue damage due to the misrecognition of replicating virus particles.

“If a drug, such as oleandrin, could prevent the spread of HTLV-1 particles within an infected HAM/TSP patient, it may become possible to dampen the neuroinflammatory response to alleviate the symptoms of disease,” Harrod said.

Harrod called the findings “exciting” because oleandrin targets a different mechanism of fighting the virus – one that hasn’t been the focus of other antiviral drugs that attack specific steps in the retroviral infection cycle. Those drugs, called highly-active antiretroviral therapies or HAART for short, have not been shown to be effective with HTLV-1.

In the study, to demonstrate that purified oleandrin or an N. oleander extract could inhibit the formation of HTLV-1 virological synapses, SMU researchers in Harrod’s lab labeled an HTLV-1-infected virus-producing cell-line with green fluorescent protein (GFP), so these cells could be easily identified by their ‘green’ fluorescence under a microscope. These cells were then placed in the same culture well as healthy T-cells. T-cells that became infected with HTLV-1 were easy to spot because researchers could see a junction between the two cells and then a red fluorescent signal showing up in the newly-infected T-cell.

Phoenix Biotechnology provided the purified oleandrin and Nerium oleander plant extract used in the study.

Dallas Voice covered the news here, as well as D CEO Healthcare and Medical XPress.


About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.







Health & Medicine Researcher news SMU In The News Subfeature

Long exposure to protein inhibitor may be the key to more effective chemotherapy for treatment-resistant cancers, SMU finds

SMU researchers find success in treating drug-resistant prostate cancer cells in the lab

DALLAS (SMU) – Researchers at SMU’s Center for Drug Discovery, Design and Delivery (CD4) have succeeded in lab testing the use of chemotherapy with a specific protein inhibitor so that the chemotherapeutic medication is better absorbed by drug-resistant cancer cells without harming healthy cells. The approach could pave the way for a more effective way to treat cancers that are resistant to treatment.

A mix of drugs is frequently used to shrink cancer tumors or keep tumor cells from spreading to other parts of the body. But chemotherapy is so toxic that the mix often kills healthy cells, too, causing dreadful side effects for cancer patients. And eventually, many cancers learn how to resist chemotherapy, making it less effective over time.

“When multidrug resistance evolves, this leaves the patient with a very poor prognosis for survival and the oncologist with few, if any, effective tools, such as chemotherapy medicines, to treat what is very likely an aggressive and/or metastatic cancer at this point,” said John Wise, associate professor in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences and co-author of a study on the findings published Friday in PLOS One.

Much of the research led by CD4 director Pia Vogel and Wise is centered on a class of proteins called ABC transporters, a key factor in why many cancers resist chemotherapy.

Long exposure to P-gp inhibitor and chemotherapy decreased cancer cell survival, as assessed by colony formation. Credit: SMU

“These transporters are defensive proteins and are normally very, very good for us. They protect us from toxic chemicals by literally pumping them out of the cell, almost like a sump pump removes water from one’s cellar,” Vogel said.

But when someone has cancer, these proteins do more harm than good.

“One protein, P-glycoprotein, can pump nearly all chemotherapeutics out of the cancer cell, thereby making the cancer resistant to many drugs and untreatable,” Wise noted.

For this reason, SMU researchers tested the combination of using an inhibitor that temporarily shuts down P-glycoprotein’s ability to remove drugs from the cancer cells along with chemotherapeutics on prostate cancer cells grown in the lab, which have been shown to be resistant to multiple chemotherapeutic drugs.

The SMU team was able to show that if inhibitors of P-glycoprotein are used during and after the multidrug resistant cancer cells have been exposed to the chemotherapy drugs, then the cancer cells become much more sensitive to the chemotherapeutics.

The recipe for success was giving cancer cells a dose of both chemotherapy drugs and the P-gp inhibitor for two hours. Researchers then washed the prostate cancer cells to get rid of any residual chemotherapy drugs before giving the cells another dose of just P-gp inhibitor for 22 hours, lead author and SMU Ph.D. doctoral candidate Amila K. Nanayakkara explained.

Pia Vogel and John Wise

Prostate cancer cells that were given this treatment were shown to retain chemotherapy drugs at a much higher level compared to cancer cells not treated with the P-glycoprotein inhibitor. And after about 24 hours, much fewer of these cancer cells survived in this treatment compared to the cells which had not seen the inhibitor.

When the same tests were performed on normal noncancerous cells, “there was no sign of extra toxicity to the healthy cells using this method,” Wise added.

One issue, though, is how to duplicate this method in a patient’s body. “Once you’ve taken a chemotherapy drug, it’s not easy to remove it after just two hours,” said co-author Vogel, a professor in the SMU Department of Biological Sciences.

Still, the researchers argued that it is worth further research, because there are currently few options for cancer patients once their disease becomes resistant to multiple chemotherapies.

“Our paper shows these remarkable effects when the inhibitor is present during, and importantly, after exposure to chemotherapeutic,” Wise said. “And while ‘washing’ is not feasible in humans, the kidneys and other organs are in a sense doing the washing step for a patient. These organs are washing the chemotherapy from the bloodstream and therefore, out of cancer cells. So in that way, we think our preliminary cell culture studies may be translatable at least in principle to animals and people.”

News MedicalDallas Innovates and others wrote about the new research.

About SMU

SMU is the nationally ranked global research university in the dynamic city of Dallas. SMU’s alumni, faculty and nearly 12,000 students in seven degree-granting schools demonstrate an entrepreneurial spirit as they lead change in their professions, communities and the world.