Watson Honored as Doctor-Led Medical Research Projects Announced


AUSTIN, Texas – (April 19, 2013) – Texas State Sen. Kirk Watson, champion and architect of the visionary “10 Goals in 10 Years” plan to improve Central Texas’ health care, economy and quality of life, was honored at the 7th Annual University Medical Center Brackenridge Luncheon.

At the same event, hosted by the Brackenridge Development Council, medical research grants totaling $186,000 were announced. The grants went to doctors and their medical teams who work at UMC Brackenridge and are associated with the Seton/UT Southwestern Clinical Research Institute of Austin. Also, a new video debuted that looks ahead to the new teaching hospital.


Bringing his credibility, organizational skills and passion, Watson was the guiding force behind Travis County voter approval of Proposition 1 in November 2012. His leadership inspired the community to invest in new health care delivery, including a new UT Austin medical school; a modern teaching hospital to replace UMC Brackenridge; cutting-edge medical research and uniquely Austin health care clinics in local neighborhoods.

“Central Texas is on the cusp of exciting new medical developments and improved health care access for all,” said Greg Hartman, president and chief executive officer of UMC Brackenridge and Ascension Seton Medical Center Austin. “There were many who talked about the need for a new medical school and teaching hospital, but Kirk Watson took action and fought not only for new services, but also a new system of care for the most vulnerable in our community.”


The research projects seek to improve treatment and foster better medical outcomes for patients who suffer from child abuse, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, epilepsy, skin viruses and devastating brain diseases. Money for the grants was raised during the 2011 and 2012 UMC Brackenridge luncheons.

“Through the generosity of luncheon donors, we are able offer opportunities for Ascension Seton investigators to conduct preliminary studies needed to pursue further, external funding for studies aimed at improving clinical practices and outcomes,” said Dr. Steven Warach, professor and executive director of the Seton/UT Southwestern Clinical Research Institute of Austin.

The institute, which opened its doors in October 2012, is one of several collaborations between Ascension Seton and UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas that expanded UT Southwestern’s world-class research programs to the Austin area. UT Southwestern is home to five Nobel laureates, four of whom are active faculty members, and ranks among the U.S. News & World Report’s top 10 medical schools for research among public universities.

The seven research projects awarded grants are:

A Pilot Study to Evaluate the Effects of Home Spirometry on Pulmonary Outcomes in Cystic Fibrosis Patients, led by Dr. Jason Fullmer. Spirometry is a way to measure lung function. This study will provide cystic fibrosis patients with spirometers to use at home to see if they help patients identify when they are getting sick sooner, and if they help patients stick to their complex treatment plans. Grant amount: $11,400.

Discovery and Function of Regulatory Non-Coding Ribonucleic acids (RNAs) from Skin Viruses, led by Dr. Dayna G. Diven. A new class of molecules called “non-coding RNAs” will be studied for the treatment of skin viruses. Insights from this study will lead to a better understanding of viral disease and may lead to new strategies to control infection. Grant amount: $28,500.

Geospatial Mapping of Child Abuse Incidents and Family Services in Austin, Texas: Implications for Prevention and Resource Allocation, led by Dr. Karla A. Lawson. This study will map child abuse and neglect in Travis County and correlate it with neighborhood and community characteristics, as well as services available to families in those neighborhoods. Research results will inform public health programs and the scientific community on risk factors and connections to child maltreatment. Grant amount: $28,150.

Phase 1 Study of a New Method for Reducing Body Core Temperature, led by Dr. Alex Valadka. A collaboration of the Ascension Seton Brain and Spine Institute, UMC Brackenridge Nursing Department and the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, this study will test a novel device for modulating body temperature in critically ill patients. A safe method to control fever or maintain mild cooling could lead to major outcome improvements for patients with devastating neurological diseases. Grant amount: $29,500.

Studying the Neuro-Hemodynamic Coupling by Laser Speckle Contrast Imaging in the Human Cerebral Cortex, led by Dr. Zoltan Nadasdy. This study will investigate the relationship between blood flow and brain activity in both normal and epileptic brain tissue to better understand seizure increases at a macroscopic level. Grant amount: $29,800.

Pseudomonas Aeruginosa Gene Regulation and Metabolism in Cystic Fibrosis, led by Dr. Bennie McWilliams. Cystic fibrosis patients have abnormally thick mucus in the lungs, which contributes to chronic infection with pseudomonas aeruginosa. The study will examine bacterial metabolism and gene regulation of pseudomonas aeruginosa in patients before and after treatment with antibiotics. Grant amount: $28,800

Sequencing T-Cell Receptor Repertoire of Auto-Antigen Specific T-Cells in Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus, led by Dr. Mrinalini Kulkarni-Date. Specific differences in immune cells (T-cells) in patients with type 1 diabetes will be compared to normal individuals in order to identify biomarkers to aid in the early detection, progression and future immunotherapy for type 1 diabetes. Grant amount: $29,803.