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Brain has natural weapon to fight Alzheimer's, UTMB scientists find


Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch have discovered people with Alzheimer’s disease who don’t also have dementia are protected by autophagy, a natural physiological process that removes toxic proteins from living cells.

A paper published this month in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, the journal of the Alzheimer’s Association, indicates the brain doesn’t have to be a victim to Alzheimer’s and suggests hope for a therapeutic treatment to help prevent dementia in people who develop the disease.

Scientists examined the postmortem brains of patients from the Oregon Brain Bank, all who died between the ages of 90 and 100. Among them, those who hadn’t had dementia but whose brains exhibited all the physiological traits of Alzheimer’s were shown to have reactivated the autophagy process, eliminating toxic proteins that cause cell damage and dementia.

“Those fortunate individuals are telling us there is a natural way for the human brain to protect itself against dementia,” said Giulio Taglialatela, a professor and director of the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the medical branch.

“The question is can we understand how they do it and can we introduce that process into everyone with Alzheimer’s disease. How do we stimulate autophagy?”

Taglialatela likens autophagy to a fire in a fireplace that burns brightly, producing energy, then leaving behind discharged matter in the form of ash that eventually is swept away.

“During their vital activity, cells produce a lot of things that must be eliminated, like the ash in the fireplace,” he said. “Very often these products are proteins.”

Some, like the tau protein, become dangerous because instead of being eliminated, they hang around in the cell, disturbing its normal vital activity. The tau protein produces the well-known tangles in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

“We’ve discovered that these junk proteins are capable of blocking the autophagy process; they keep accumulating and eventually lead to the demise of brain cells,” Taglialatela said. For the past 10 years, neuroscientists at the medical branch have been studying how to keep the level of toxic protein at bay, culminating in this most recent study.

The protective mechanism found in non-dementia Alzheimer’s patients, preserved autophagy that continues to reduce the tau protein, supports the future potential of autophagy-inducing strategies and therapeutic treatments, some of which Taglialatela hopes to see tested at the medical branch’s Brain Health Institute, a new center being created under his direction.

Of particular interest are the immunosuppressant agents sirolimus and tacrolimus, drugs used to prevent rejection in organ transplant patients. According to data collected by federal health providers, it appears patients using those drugs are protected from Alzheimer’s, Taglialatela said.

Studies with mice in the medical branch’s lab have demonstrated autophagy can be reignited and can eliminate the tau protein with application of these immunosuppressants.

Because humans now live longer than they used to, the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and age-related dementia place enormous strain on elderly people, on their caregivers and on the medical care system at large, amplifying the need for preventive therapeutic treatment.

“We have pushed our lifespan beyond what nature intended,” Taglialatela said. “Consequently, we have more aging bodies and aging minds and need to induce resistance to dementia. If this were a gunfight, instead of trying to hit the person shooting at me, I’d put on a bullet-proof vest, protecting me against the toxic proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.”

Taglialatela acknowledged the contributions of co-author and research developer Anna Fracassi, an expert in autophagy and a neurology postdoctoral fellow at the medical branch who will join the faculty soon, and those of other scientists on his team.

“These studies will grow significantly under the auspices of the institute,” he said. In 2021, Taglialatela’s team received the Alzheimer Award given annually by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease for a paper on their research into synapse function in the brain and reduced tau protein.

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'We’re on it,' Land Office says about West End beach debris


The Texas General Land Office on Wednesday afternoon began looking into how chunks of concrete, bricks and metal ended up in sand dumped on the beach during a $6.8 million project it approved.

David Green, deputy director of Coastal Resources for the land office, met with concerned residents, the Park Board of Trustees and the city.

The land office’s fact-finding mission began with a trip to the West End beach where concrete and bricks were found. Green met with five residents, park board interim CEO Kimberly Danesi and the city’s Coastal Resource Manager Kyle Clark.

“We don’t know the source or how it got here, and we’re disappointed it could be related to the nourishment project,” Green said. “But we aren’t completely sure. We want to get this back to the way it should be.

“We’re going to take this seriously and get it taken care of.”

The first step is removing the debris from the beach, which the park board already has started, Green said. Vacationers and homeowners have been picking up debris as they find it, as well, Green said.

The land office will have trucks out on the beach to remove the large, dangerous debris sometime this summer, Green said.

“We definitely don’t want to do that over this weekend, with everybody coming out, and disrupt anything else,” Green said. “We want to do it as soon as possible.

“We’re going to get a process to get this done. Then, we’ll look at potentially getting a sifter, which is a truck that could come in and lift the stuff up and sift out all the sand and the fine material and maintain the hard material to dispose of that.”

The land office plans to find out how the debris got on the beach and look for ways to keep it from happening again, Green said

“We’ll talk to the contractor that conducted the project to find out why,” Green said.

This issue is uncommon for beach remediation projects, Green said.

“I’m not aware that we’ve ever had this issue before,” Green said. “We get debris on the beach all the time. It washes up especially after storms, and we’re responsible for cleaning it up. So, we will do that.

“We have to do sampling and make sure the sand is of proper quality, and we do that over and over and get it permitted properly. Somehow, this material got mixed in or was here before and was discovered as the trucks came in and mixed it together.

“This seems to be something that was embedded in the sand or was below the sand when the sand got put on top. But we’re on it.”

The city and park board are working in tandem with the land office to solve the issue, Green said.

Clark on Wednesday deferred questions to the land office.

“The park board will continue to collaborate with the GLO and the city and homeowners to address the issue, but any action taken with regards to physically addressing the debris falls to the GLO,” Danesi said.

Gary Wilcox, who owns a vacation rental at SeaScape, initially brought the issue to the park board’s attention at a May 10 special meeting.

“I was satisfied with what he said,” Wilcox said.

“But as far as being satisfied with his action, that remains to be seen.

“I’m hopeful, and I think he’s going to get something done.”

Wilcox worried waves would eventually reveal more debris, but was confident the land office would resolve problem, he said.

Matthew Neighbors named new Galveston ISD superintendent


School board trustees Wednesday evening named Matthew Neighbors the lone finalist for the superintendent of schools position of the Galveston Independent School District.

The decision came just five days after the school board started a strictly internal superintendent search; and for that reason, Trustee David O’Neal voted against the motion.

“I believe that we, the Galveston school board, have been a bit premature in our quest to find a superintendent,” he said.

Tony Brown, president of the school board, said there was no need to wait the full 10 days to appoint a superintendent, and the action to shorten the search is well within the law.

Neighbors, who has served in different positions in the school district for more than 19 years, will take on his new position July 1, if his state mandated superintendent certification is accepted by then.

The board Wednesday night also voted to shorten the posting period for the superintendent search. The 10-day period began May 19 and would have ended Monday.

O’Neal also faulted the process because the board didn’t appoint an interim superintendent with no interest in the permanent job and didn’t allow enough time for other applicants to apply.

“I am not voting against the individual,” O’Neal said. “I am voting against the process.”

“I believe the statement that the district can not wait is not true since the district has put things in place to be able to wait to go through a complete superintendent search,” he said.

All other trustees disagreed and most expressed excitement about Neighbors being appointed to the position.

“The process did work,” Tony Brown, president of the school board said. “I believe that Dr. Matt Neighbors will be a fine superintendent.”

Trustee Elizabeth Beeton agreed.

“I would like to empower him as soon as possible,” Beeton said.

“Better sooner than later,” she said.

Former Superintendent Jerry Gibson assumed the title retiring superintendent during the school board’s May 8 meeting, and will be stepping down at the end of June, officials said.

Neighbors has worked for the school district in positions such as assistant principal at Ball High School for five years and director of media arts and innovation for two years.

Some parents and islanders also were concerned the search, which lasted a little more than a week, was hasty.

“Looking at a lone applicant is a mistake,” Linda Dailey, school director at FasTrac job training center, said.

“I’m hoping that the board has done their due diligence this time to vet all the candidates that were available,” she said.

That was an opinion shared by several community members.

“We should never have to continue to fight battles where due process is not fair,” the Rev. Tim Sykes, a 1984 graduate of Ball High School, said.

“We don’t need to be skipping and looking and trying to force and put someone in a particular position immediately,” Sykes said.

Just weeks prior to naming Matthews superintendent, the board had given him the job title acting CEO on May 8, on top of his duties as the district’s executive director of secondary education.

The board named Neighbors acting CEO shortly after announcing Gibson’s retirement .

A rift developed between Gibson and some on the board over his application for jobs in Florida and elsewhere.

Tension between the school board and Gibson grew after he gave a speech during the groundbreaking ceremony for the $189 million Ball High school replacement campus. Gibson said he was attempting to give credit to women who were helping with the project.

“The ladies are the worker bees, they are going to get it done behind the scenes and keep pushing and take care of the details,” Gibson said during that April 26 speech. “Isn’t that right, men? They do their best to make us look good even though we don’t give them much to work with.

“But we need a man to push this through.”

The statement made national headlines after many were offended by the remark, which they took to be sexist, and Brown felt compelled to apologize on the district’s behalf.

Gibson disputed making the comment and asserted he’d said the opposite, but The Daily News posted the audio recording of Gibson’s speech May 2, which confirmed it. He later apologized.

Patrick Doyle named Citizen of the Year by Daily News


For more than 30 years, Galveston County businessman and philanthropist Patrick Doyle has used his power and influence to the benefit of his neighbors through various boards and charities.

A Texas City resident, Doyle’s county-wide charitable and business endeavors could fill pages, which inspired his win as The Daily News’ 2023 Citizen of the Year.

A crowd of about 130, including nominees and their family and friends, attended the event at The Tremont Ballroom. Doyle was shocked to hear his name called at the Wednesday night ceremony, he said.

“I did not expect this at all,” Doyle said.

“It’s interesting; I’ve probably interacted with everybody in this room through business and charity,” Doyle said. “The Doyle family has always supported The Daily News, and we will always support The Daily News.

“This is amazing and I really appreciate it. This isn’t about me, it’s about the people who work for me and work with me.”

Doyle started South Land Title in 1995 and has built his business, Texan Title Holdings, to include South Land Title, Security Abstract and Title Company of Abilene, Prominent Title in Austin, Washington County Abstract in Brenham and Longhorn Title Company in Georgetown, along with his own underwriter — Texan Title Insurance Co. and the Doyle Law Firm. Three of his four children have joined him in this venture, working in various areas within the group. His proudest accomplishment is leaving a legacy for his family, he said.

He sits on the St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal Development Board that develops church assets to assist in deferring and paying maintenance costs on the church. He also has made significant donations to the new church construction and audio-visual additions.

He was a member of the Texas City La Marque Jaycees for many years and held leadership positions with it. He served as elected Justice of the Peace Precinct 5 and then two terms as Galveston County Commissioner Precinct 1.

Doyle has hosted a charity fishing tournament for the past 20 years, with proceeds purchasing two buses for senior citizen use and donations to the Boy Scouts, Texas City High School baseball and choir programs, Santa Fe Ten Warrior Spirit Memorial and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.

“This tournament has brought in a record number of teams and well over $1.5 million in direct benefit to these various charities,” Doyle said. “We plan to give $20,000 each this year to at least three deserving charities with proceeds from this year’s tournament. The tournament is the best legacy we have since my early days of public service and a mainstay of giving back yearly.”

Giving back to the community gives Doyle a sense of purpose knowing that he’s contributing toward the greater good of where he lives, works and raises his family, he said.

He’s motivated by his family. Doyle’s parents, Charles and Mary Ellen Doyle, instilled in him and his siblings that the three most important things in life are family, faith and giving back to the community that has supported their family for so many years, he said.

“Your community is what you make of it,” Doyle said. “I don’t ever want it said that I didn’t do something for the betterment of it. I love the Galveston County community and I choose to support it.”

A donation will be made by The Daily News to charities of the winner’s choice. Doyle has selected Parker’s Kindness and The Boy Scouts of America, Bay Area Council.

Doyle was among 20 finalists nominated by members of the community and selected by a judging committee for the award, which the newspaper has granted annually since 1988.

Other finalists included professionals and volunteers from across Galveston County, all honored for their good works.

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Corvette Concepts victim's relative just wants justice


After 40 years, relatives of the three people killed at a League City auto shop called Corvette Concepts were able to see their day in court. But for Steve Mowrey, no matter what the jury decides, the long-delayed trial can’t return his loved one.

Mowrey, 59, of San Antonio, is the cousin of Beth Yvette Wilburn, who was 25 when she was killed on Nov. 2, 1983. Wilburn’s death was by far the most brutal. She was stabbed 114 with a screwdriver and shot in the head after she had died.

Wilburn’s boyfriend, Thomas McGraw, 28, was stabbed 15 times and shot seven times.

James Oatis, 22, an electrician just doing his job, was shot in the head eight times.

Wilburn was born Feb. 20, 1958, in Pasadena to Bobby and Billie Frank Wilburn. Wilburn also had a younger sister, Beverly. Billie Frank died 2014. Bobby, 88, and Beverly, 63, were unable to attend the trial because of ill health.

“We lost a dear family member and never felt like we would get any resolution or closure,” Mowrey said. “She was an amazing person and the loss of her took a tremendous toll on her family.

“A parent never wants to bury their child and you never want to lose a sibling. It was devastating for all of them.”

Wilburn is remembered as a very direct, intelligent and confident person, Mowrey said. She was offered a scholarship to the Air Force Academy, but had different aspirations.

“Beth was a 23-year-old female business owner in the 1980s, which was not common,” Mowrey said. “She had to be tough and it probably bruised a lot of men’s egos. She was a great person, though.”

Wilburn owned 51 percent of Corvette Concepts at the time of her death. The other half was owned by her business partner and ex-boyfriend, Bob Currie.

Wilburn is buried in Forest Park East Cemetery in Webster.

Jesse Dean Kersh, 64, of Spring, was arrested Jan. 26, 2016, 32 years after the homicides when ballistic evidence and DNA under Wilburn’s fingernails pointed to Kersh. Kersh put up $150,000 bond less than two weeks after his arrest and has been free ever since.

His trial had been reset numerous times and families had to book and cancel accommodations.

“It was really upsetting how low bond was set and that he’s been out this whole time,” Mowrey said. “We were all very upset with the trial being reset so many times and did not know if we would ever see our day in court.”

During the trial, Wilburn was described by the defense as an abrasive person who yelled at her subordinates. Drugs were also a part of life at the shop.

Wilburn wasn’t involved in those, however, Mowrey said.

“It was very difficult sitting through this trial,” Mowrey said. “The defense did everything they could to demean the victims.

“I understand it’s the defense’s job to direct attention away from the defendant and sow any seed of doubt. I am happy that the drug angle did not apply to her, as toxicology showed she was drug and alcohol free.”

Wilburn’s perceived mean side also was part of the state’s motive for the killings. Prosecutors asserted Kersh had performed shoddy work on a vehicle and a couple complained. Wilburn then criticized him and he attacked in anger, they asserted.

“I believe the prosecution did their best with what they had,” Mowrey said. “It is hard to have people try and remember something from 40 years ago. I wish they would have objected more to some of the defense strategies though.

“I went into the trial with the mindset of a juror and an open mind. I don’t want closure at the sake of the wrong person being convicted. Closure does not trump the truth and I want justice to prevail.”

After a 13-day trial, the jury began deliberations about 3 p.m. Tuesday. They continued Wednesday.

Mowrey served as a pall-bearer at Wilburn’s funeral where cars backed up onto Interstate 45, Mowrey said.

“She was very loved,” Mowrey said.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton likely broke laws, Republican investigation finds
A Republican-led investigation has accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of committing multiple crimes in office


A Republican-led investigation on Wednesday accused Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton of committing multiple crimes in office — including felonies — during an extraordinary public airing of scandal and alleged lawbreaking that plunged one of the GOP’s conservative stars into new political and legal risk.

For more than three hours, investigators presented findings alleging Paxton sought to hide an affair, misused his office to help a donor, skirted protocols “grossly outside” norms and built a culture of fear and retaliation in his office. Investigators told the GOP-led House General Investigating Committee that there was evidence that Paxton repeatedly broke the law over the years, including by misusing official information, abusing his official capacity and retaliation.

The dramatic turn of events in the Texas Capitol unleashed a new test of Paxton’s durability in a way he has not previously confronted despite a felony indictment in 2015 and an ongoing FBI investigation. The House committee’s investigation has been quietly going on for months and did not come to light until Tuesday.

The committee ended Wednesday’s hearing without acting on the findings. The panel is led by Republican state Rep. Andrew Murr, who afterward declined to discuss next steps or whether a recommendation to impeach or censure Paxton was possible.

The legislative session ends Monday and any action against Paxton would have to be taken by then, unless GOP Gov. Greg Abbott calls a special session. In Texas, unlike in the U.S. government, an official who’s impeached by the House is suspended from office pending the outcome of a Senate trial. The governor can appoint an interim to fill the vacant post.

Wednesday’s hearing amounted to a remarkable rebuke from Republicans in a building where Paxton has long maintained defenders and allies, including Abbott, who lauded Paxton while swearing him in to a third term in January.

Paxton called the hours of testimony by investigators “false,” accused the committee of misleading the public and attacked Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan as a “liberal.” Paxton also has claimed repeatedly since Tuesday that Phelan has been drunk on the job, something Phelan’s office has brushed off as an attempt by Paxton to “save face.”

“It is not surprising that a committee appointed by liberal Speaker Dade Phelan would seek to disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General,” Paxton said in a written statement.

The hearing came as Paxton is seeking legislative approval for more than $3 million in taxpayer dollars to a settle a whistleblower lawsuit with top aides who accused him of corruption. The whistleblowers’ lawyers on Wednesday thanked the committee for recognizing that their clients “suffered real harm in retaliation” for accusing Paxton and called on lawmakers to fund the deal.

Accusations laid out by investigators surround actions by Paxton that previously have been uncovered by reporters or disclosed in court records. Despite the cloud that has hung over Paxton, he has remained popular with GOP voters in Texas and elevated his profile nationally through lawsuits against President Joe Biden’s administration and through his defense of former President Donald Trump.

Paxton’s former staff members reported him to the FBI in 2020 on accusations of breaking the law to help a campaign contributor. The donor, Austin real estate developer Nate Paul, employed a woman with whom Paxton acknowledged having had an extramarital affair. In February, the Justice Department’s Washington-based Public Integrity Section took over the federal criminal investigation of Paxton.

Since April, the House committee has issued at least 12 subpoenas for testimony and information to people and entities as part of its probe, according to meeting minutes that note the parties were left anonymous to “prevent reprisal and retaliation.”

During Wednesday’s hearing, state Rep. Ann Johnson, a Houston Democrat and vice chair of the committee, asked whether “it was fair to say” that the attorney general’s office “was effectively hijacked for an investigation by Nate Paul through the attorney general.”

“That would be my opinion,” replied attorney Erin Epley, one of the investigators.

Lawyers for Paul did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Each of Paxton’s accusers later quit or was fired. In the years since, his agency has come unmoored by disarray behind the scenes, with seasoned lawyers quitting over practices they say aim to slant legal work, reward loyalists and drum out dissent. But until now, GOP lawmakers had shown little appetite for looking into Paxton.

Among the new revelations Wednesday were details of Paxton’s high-end home renovation, which previously came under FBI scrutiny, and that his affair continued longer than previously known.

It ended “briefly” in 2019 when Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, found out, “but then it resumed and was underway again by 2020,” said Epley, a former state and federal prosecutor.

That year, Paxton renovated his million-dollar Austin home. Epley said an attorney general’s employee overheard Paxton telling a contractor that his wife wanted granite countertops. According to Epley, the contractor replied that the counters would cost $20,000 and said, “I’ll have to check with Nate.”

FILE — Tina Turner, Pop and R&B vocalist, as holds up a Grammy Award, Feb. 27, 1985, in Los Angeles. Turner, the unstoppable singer and stage performer, died Tuesday, after a long illness at her home in Küsnacht near Zurich, Switzerland, according to her manager. She was 83 (AP Photo/Nick Ut, File)

Obit Tina Turner