Breakthroughs | KERA News

Breakthroughs

Breakthroughs is a weekly series devoted to the latest innovations in health, science and technology — with a North Texas accent.

Explore special Breakthroughs multimedia projects: Surviving Ebola, a look at how Ebola made its way to Dallas and the lessons local hospitals and governments learned; Growing Up After Cancer, the journey of one North Texas boy with cancer; and The Broken Hip, an in-depth look at how a fall can change everything. 

Stephanie Kuo / KERA News

At the UNT Health Science Center in Fort Worth, researchers are doing something unusual: They’re making people fall down. It’s all happening at the Human Movement Performance Lab, where they’re mapping how people with Parkinson’s disease and other mobility issues react to jolts and falls.

UT Southwestern Medical Center / YouTube

Researchers in North Texas have identified more than 100 genes linked to memory in the human brain. 

Dr. Genevieve Konopka of UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas talks about her team's research — and how it could help develop new therapies for patients who have epilepsy or memory disorders. 

Every year, hundreds of millions of documents are notarized in the United States: wills, mortgages, citizenship forms, handgun applications. And since the founding of this nation, notarizations have been done pretty much the same way: in person.

Courtesy of The Family Place

Domestic violence victims are often women, but not only women. In Texas, one in three men report facing intimate partner violence in their lifetimes.

 

This month the Dallas nonprofit The Family Place opened one of the country’s first shelters exclusively for battered men and their families.

To understand why teen pregnancy rates are so high in Texas, meet Jessica Chester. When Chester was in high school in Garland, she decided to attend the University of Texas at Dallas. She wanted to become a doctor.

"I was top of the class," she says. "I had a GPA of 4.5, a full-tuition scholarship to UTD. I was not the stereotypical girl someone would look at and say, 'Oh, she's going to get pregnant and drop out of school.' "

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For patients visiting emergency rooms in Texas, surprise medical bills are common. In 2009, the Texas Legislature developed a mediation system for these hefty bills, but it was limited.

 

Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a new law aimed at improving the system and expanding consumer protection.

Lauren Silverman / KERA

Maybe you’ve heard of sponsors or recovery coaches to help with drug and alcohol addiction. How about for mental health? In the last decade, peer support for people with serious mental illness has hit mainstream.

Jessica Chester and her children, from left, Ivory, Kameron and Skylar.
Lauren Silverman / KERA News

Across the U.S., the number of teenagers having babies has hit a record low — it's down to about one out of every 45 young women. That trend hasn't extended to certain parts of Texas, where it’s still nearly twice the national average.

Lauren Silverman / KERA

Across the country, new babies are sleeping in cardboard boxes. It might sound strange, but the boxes are part of a larger initiative to lower the infant mortality rate. So far, more than a million "Baby Boxes" have been distributed across the world.

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Nine in 10 Texans think it's harder to talk about a mental health condition than a physical health issue. The one place where it’s easier to talk about mental rather than physical health seems to be in the Texas Legislature, where a handful of bills are speeding through the House with near unanimous support. Among them is a bill to help enforce coverage of mental health benefits.

 

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Concussions are one of the most complex injuries in sports medicine today. In the past few years, there’s been an explosion of research focusing on how often concussions take place, how to measure them and how to prevent them.

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

A national study a few years back revealed something shocking about black men in medical school: There were fewer in 2014 than in 1978. Med school recruiters are trying to step up their game, and one Dallas doctor has a tool that could help.

Courtesy of Baylor, Scott & White Health

For a parent, battling cancer is tough enough. Having to explain it to your kids can be a whole other challenge. That's why Baylor Scott & White Health has created a program that helps terminally ill parents talk to their young children about disease, treatment and death. A Dallas mother turned to Baylor specialists for help telling her son she had breast cancer.

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On any given day, about 5,000 inmates are held in Dallas County’s Lew Sterrett Justice Center. A third of them have some kind of mental illness.

Jeff Fitlow / Rice University

Tens of millions of Americans use inhalers each day. Many of them aren’t doing it right. That’s what new research from Baylor College of Medicine shows. Pulmonologists identified critical errors that are causing many inhaler users to get only about half as much medicine as they should from each puff.

Courtesy of Hydronalix

Robots aren’t just in our living rooms vacuuming rugs or in warehouses moving boxes. They’re everywhere: connecting pipes on offshore oil rigs, harvesting marijuana in Colorado and replacing batteries outside the International Space Station. They're even helping rescue refugees who are trying to cross the Mediterranean.

Stephanie Kuo / KERA News

Over the past month, Baylor Scott & White Health has been distributing free diabetic shoes to its uninsured, low-income patients to combat and prevent what doctors see as a diabetes crisis in North Texas. The shoe distribution is just one part of a Baylor program that takes its own medical surplus and gives them to the needy at home and abroad.

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It's 2017, but medical records are still mostly stuck in the dark ages. Most hospitals use electronic health records, but if you want your primary care doctor to share information with your allergist or surgeon, it’s a pain.

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

A cotton nightgown for your child seems like a pretty simple thing to track down. But it wasn't for John Rodakis, a dad living in Dallas. He’d heard about dangerous chemicals once common in kids pajamas, and out of precaution, he wanted a nightgown that was made from all natural materials. He’s not the only one. There’s a whole underground market for them. 

Courtesy of Parkland Foundation

Any hospital stay can be traumatic. But 30 to 80 percent of patients in intensive care units go through a period of profound confusion known as ICU delirium that can have long-term negative health effects. 

Patients in Alexandria, La., were the friendliest people Dr. Muhammad Tauseef ever worked with. They'd drive long distances to see him, and often bring gifts.

"It's a small town, so they will sometimes bring you chickens, bring you eggs, bring you homemade cakes," he says.

One woman even brought him a puppy.

"That was really nice," he says.

Tauseef was born and raised in Pakistan. After going to medical school there, he applied to come to the U.S. to train as a pediatrician.

Pew Research Center

Most adults support routine childhood vaccinations for children. That’s the conclusion of a new, nationwide Pew Research Center survey. Still, in Texas, there’s a growing group of parents who oppose mandatory childhood vaccinations. 

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A lot of us think rushing from task to task and packing our schedules is a necessary evil. It turns out being busy might be good for your brain. That’s the conclusion of a new study led by North Texas researchers in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

David Ham

Spending time in space changes people: not just their outlook on life, but also their eyesight in general. For years, a North Texas doctor has been trying to find out what is causing this vision change among astronauts. His latest research provides some clues — and connects astronauts on the International Space Station, cancer patients on a roller coaster plane flight and high-tech sleeping sacks.

Many in the science community have expressed concern about the lack of science literacy demonstrated by the new Trump administration.

A look at the administration's statements and actions related to five key issues that are informed by science — anthropogenic climate change, vaccines, evolution taught in public schools, environmental science and protection of public lands, and human rights — bolsters that concern.

Lauren Silverman / KERA

Traditionally, ambulance crews arrive with sirens blaring — ready to rush someone to the hospital. In Fort Worth, some paramedics are doing the opposite and scheduling visits to treat patients in their homes. It's known as "mobile integrated health care," and a ride along shows it's gaining traction.

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Texas allows parents to have their kids opt out of vaccinations for measles, mumps and other diseases. Two years ago, California stopped allowing those exemptions; a similar Texas effort fell short. This session in Austin, the sponsor of that bill isn't trying to end the "conscientious" exemption. His allies are using a different strategy.

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This week, President-elect Trump called for a quick repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The majority of Texans get healthcare through their employers, but over the past few years the number of people in Texas who’ve signed up through the Affordable Care Act has grown. Changes in the White House and Congress will affect both groups of Texans.

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In the past few months there have been several outbreaks of mumps — a handful of cases linked to a Halloween party in Dallas and more to cheerleading contests in North Texas. As for measles, there have been fewer cases in Texas. But in 2013, there was an outbreak tied to a church northwest of Dallas. 

With that in mind, some experts predict Texas could soon be at the center of a nationwide debate over highly contagious diseases and vaccinations.

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In Texas, the number of adults with diabetes is expected to quadruple over the next 30 years. Currently, about one in 12 adult Texans – about 2 million people – have been diagnosed with diabetes, with more than 700,000 in North Texas alone.

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