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Central Texas Veterans Health Care System

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VA team receives national award for liver research

October 26, 2011

A team of researchers at the Central Texas Veterans Health Care System (CTVHCS) in Temple has won the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States (AMSUS) Research and Development Award for their work with chronic liver disease.

The award, which recognizes exemplary federal healthcare employees, was given to the Biliary Pathophysiology Team of the Digestive Disease Research Center (DDRC) for their unique blend of skills as they address a continuum of chronic liver disease issues. The DDRC is a research center established by Scott & White Healthcare System with additional salary support from the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, as well as facilities and equipment support provided by CTVHCS. A representative of the team will receive this distinguished national award at the AMSUS annual meeting November 6-9, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas.

Team leader, Gianfranco Alpini, Ph.D., is a VA Research Career Scientist who has had continuous VA funding since 1997 and is considered a leading expert in the area of biliary research. Team member Shannon Glaser, Ph.D. is a recipient of a VA Biomedical and Laboratory Research and Development Career Development Award.

Team members Sharon DeMorrow, Ph.D., Fanyin Meng, Ph.D., and Heather Francis, Ph.D., have research funding from the National Institutes of Health, Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, Scott & White Healthcare, and private foundations. Their shared expertise enables them to look at a number of facets of liver disease progression with a goal towards developing therapeutic treatments.

The team occupies eight laboratories, including 7,500 square feet of laboratory space at CTVHCS.  Each team member has made contributions to VA beyond their primary research, including serving on key Research and Development Committee subcommittees.

Management of liver diseases represents one of the major challenges of the Veterans Health Administration. There is a high risk and incidence of liver diseases due to alcohol and hepatitis viruses in Veterans, a common reason for hospitalization and mortality.  The team’s research about the mechanisms of bile duct damage will likely lead to new therapeutic approaches and consequently a reduction of morbidity and mortality in Veterans with liver diseases.

The team is leading research on cholangiocyte pathophysiology in order to understand what pharmacological targets will likely be helpful for the treatment of liver diseases and have a significant impact on the future management of cholestatic liver diseases. As a group, they have published more than 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and they are often asked to present their findings at national and international scientific meetings.