January 2020 News

Plant-based drug could stem the spread of HTLV-1 virus

A new study by SMU researchers shows that the drug oleandrin, which is derived from the Nerium oleander plant, could stem the spread of HTLV-1 virus. A cousin of HIV, the virus infects 10-15 million people worldwide. It causes cells to divide uncontrollably and can lead to leukemia, neurological disease and even death. There is currently no treatment or cure for the virus.
“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 in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Harrod is a co-author of the study, published in the Journal of Antivirals & Antiretrovirals.
Read more at SMU Research.

2020 January 2020 News

Good health and happiness go hand in hand

According to a study led by SMU psychologist Nathan Hudson, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that people’s overall sense of happiness is linked to physical health.
As reported by Psychology Today on December 7, 2019, “the question of whether health promotes happiness or vice versa remains a matter of scientific debate. Some findings suggest that people who are healthier just feel better about life; others that some third factor such as personality or genetics causes health and happiness to be related; and still others suggest that people who are happier are healthier because they take better care of themselves.”
The researchers analyzed three years of data for a group of 1,952 participants ranging in age from 17 to 95. They found “it was impossible to separate the dynamic interplay between happiness and health.”
The findings revealed that taking measures to stay healthy, like exercising and getting enough sleep, and focusing on long-term goals can go a long way toward maintaining overall happiness.
Read more at Psychology Today.

2017 May 2017 News

Prestigious academy taps professor

Noted SMU anthropologist Caroline Brettell joins actress Carol Burnett, musician John Legend, playwright Lynn Nottage, immunologist James Allison and other renowned leaders in various fields as a newly elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She and other members of the Class of 2017 will be inducted at a ceremony on October 7 at the Academy’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Her research centers on ethnicity, migration and the immigrant experience. Much of her work has focused on the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as a new immigration gateway city, especially on how immigrants practice citizenship and civic engagement as they meld into existing economic, social and political structures. She has special expertise in cross-cultural perspectives on gender, the challenges specific to women immigrants, how the technology boom affects immigration, and how the U.S.-born children of immigrants construct their identities and a sense of belonging. An immigrant herself, Brettell was born in Canada and became a U.S. citizen in 1993.
Read more at SMU News.

2017 Alumni Fall 2017 May 2017

Success started with a ‘no’

Dylan DeMuth ’17 started classes at the University of Texas School of Medicine in San Antonio in July. He credits a “no” from an SMU professor with changing his life and putting him on track for a career in medicine.
When DeMuth wanted to enroll Eric Bing’s global health class, the professor told the premed student that he was not yet qualified and offered a challenge: “Improve your grades and call me in a month.”
A sophomore chemistry and economics major with a 3.0 grade point average at the time, DeMuth sought tutoring before his midterm exams, instead of waiting until he was struggling with challenging science and math courses. He met with Bing, professor of global health and director of SMU’s global health program in the Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, a month later to report improvement on his midterm tests – the beginning of a mentorship that inspired DeMuth to re-choreograph his life.
DeMuth, determined to fulfill his passion for study and working in global health, followed Bing’s advice to develop a mission and find his strengths. He began each day with what Bing calls “10-10-10,” a daily practice of 10 minutes of reading, 10 minutes of meditating and 10 minutes of journaling.
When the opportunity to enroll in Bing’s global health class rolled around again, DeMuth was the first person admitted to the class.
With Bing’s encouragement, DeMuth has conducted his own global health research.
“Dylan is a natural. He understands people in a way he doesn’t yet realize,” Bing says. “Mentoring him is lighting a torch that someone once lit in me.”
Read more at SMU News.

2017 Alumni April 2017

SMU Alum John Harper ’68: ‘The Best Medicine Is Science And Compassion Intersecting At The Patient’

By Kenny Ryan

Cardiologist John Harper ’68 vividly remembers waking in the middle of the night to the sound of his father crying out in pain.

It was 1964 and Harper was 17 years old – just a year shy of starting college at SMU. But he was as frightened as a small child that night when he peaked through a cracked-open bedroom door into the hallway of his West Texas home. A physician named Bruce Hay was arriving at 3 a.m., impeccably dressed in a three-piece suit, his black doctor’s bag in hand, to offer aid.

Harper’s father was a bear of a man, a former basketball player named Frank who was his son’s hero. The doctor walked up to Harper’s father, put a hand on his shoulder and said, “Frank, it’s OK. I’m here now, and I’ll stay until you’re better.”

And then he did. The doctor tended to Harper’s dad, answered his mother’s concerns, and even reassured the young man who was watching from a bedroom door.

That’s the kind of personal touch Harper says is often missing from medicine these days. The key to getting it back, he says, may be literature. That’s why he’s hosting the 7th annual Literature + Medicine Conference from 8 a.m. to noon April 1 at SMU’s Mack Ballroom in the Umphrey Lee Center.

“Science has become so complex and hard to keep up with that it’s a legitimate thing to say you don’t have time to be empathetic, but it’s important to try,” Harper says. “My argument is that you need good science to be a good doctor, but you also need a compassionate side. The best medicine is science and compassion intersecting at the patient.”

Harper’s path to medicine wasn’t a typical one. The budding bibliophile earned an English degree from SMU, initially with an eye toward studying international law, but then, while signing up for classes his sophomore year, he had a change of heart.

“I was sitting there, filling out my proposed schedule for the year, and I realized I was signing up for a lot of pre-law courses I didn’t really want to take,” he remembers. “Then I thought about Dr. Hay, the doctor who came to my house that night, and I thought of my uncle, who had been an orthopedic surgeon, and I picked up the phone and called my dad and asked him what he’d think if I changed my major to pre-med. There was pause, and then he said, ‘I’d be very delighted.’

“I loved the English and stuck with it for my degree,” Harper adds. “But for my other courses, I took biology and chemistry.”

The biology and chemistry provided the foundation that got him through med school, but the English and a lifetime love of reading is what Harper credits with making him a truly successful doctor. In his acceptance speech for a 2014 SMU Distinguished Alumni Award, Harper cited “remarkable faculty” in the humanities and sciences with shaping his future success. “SMU is where I learned to make decisions,” he said. “Even today, if I have a hard decision, whether it be medical, personal, financial, whatever it is, I come to this campus and walk here because this campus catalyzed my ability to go through a process and come to a conclusion.”

Building on his undergraduate education and medical school training, the cardiologist formulated his prescription for better medicine over time as a practicing physician, mentor and teacher. In addition to serving as the Ewton Chair of Cardiology at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, Harper instructs residents at Presbyterian Hospital and medical students from UT Southwestern with an approach as unique as the path that led him to study medicine. He often assigns his students the homework of listening to an orchestra and training their ears to pick out a single instrument: The talent that allows them to isolate the piccolo is akin to the talent that will enable them to identify a subtle flaw in the rhythmic beating of a human heart, he explains. Harper also likes to read excerpts from books to his students during class so they can practice their attentive listening skills – another dying art, he says.

“I ask myself what kind of doctor do I choose to utilize, and most are well-rounded people,” Harper says. “There are times you just want someone to operate on you and you never talk to them or hear from them again, but other times you want someone who can understand how you’re feeling, commiserate with how you’re feeling, and help you through what might be an emotional process.”

SMU Magazine – Cardiologist John Harper ’68 Prescribes Good Literature ‘To Make Us Better People’