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Past pandemics, roots of modern medicine focus of historical novel by Jacobs School professor emeritus – UB Now: News and views for UB faculty and staff

Hard as it may be to believe, there was a time in the not-so-distant past when the idea of living through a global pandemic was inconceivable to most of us.

The COVID-19 crisis changed all that. As medical experts and scientists scramble to find treatments and develop a vaccine, it leads us to wonder: How did doctors deal with a community health crisis in earlier times, without the medical advancements and technologies available to researchers in the 21st century?

A retired professor from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB has written a book that addresses many of those questions.

In his history-based novel, “Bloodletting and Germs: A Doctor in Nineteenth Century Rural New York” (BookBaby), Thomas C. Rosenthal tells the story of Jabez Allen, a country doctor who worked in East Aurora during the 1800s.

The book describes the evolution of medical practices in the 19th century through the eyes of Allen, whose life and experiences Rosenthal painstakingly researched and recreated. It explains how Allen’s medical practice developed during a period of enormous social and scientific change that included the Civil War and the cholera epidemic of the mid-1800s.

Rosenthal knows something about the practice of rural medicine. A 1975 graduate of the Jacobs School, he chaired the Department of Family Medicine from 1994 until his retirement in 2013. During his tenure, Rosenthal was instrumental in establishing the Division of Rural Health, the medical school’s rural health campus in Cuba, N.Y., and its groundbreaking residency program in rural health.

Due to his efforts, UB was named a New York Rural Health Research Center in 1992, and in 1993 became one of only five universities in the country designated as a national rural health research center.

Rosenthal’s interest in rural health came from the eight years he worked as a family doctor in the small, Western New York farming community of Perry. He established the practice in 1978 after completing a family medicine residency at the former Deaconess Hospital in Buffalo. In 1986, he became medical director of Buffalo General Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine. Rosenthal was named director of UB’s family medicine residency in 1987, and executive director of UB’s rural health programs in 1988.

Rosenthal first came across the story of Jabez Allen on a visit to the East Aurora Historical Society, where he discovered an intriguing artifact: a handwritten copy of a medical school diploma belonging to Allen, alongside the official document.

‘Why would a doctor need to make a copy of his diploma?’ he wondered. As it turns out, Allen was reluctant to send out his diploma to the Erie County Medical Board for fear of losing it. Instead, he sent them his copy.

“Allen practiced in East Aurora from 1834 to 1884, making him the perfect protagonist for a book on 19th-century family medicine,” Rosenthal says.

“The century is often referred to as a period of medical enlightenment,” he explains. “In retirement, I indulged myself in the question, ‘Why did it

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UH professor is developing a Chinese herbal medicine formula to improve cancer therapy

University of Houston professor of pharmaceutics Ming Hu is developing and testing an ancient Chinese herbal medicine formula, first described in 280 A.D., to improve cancer therapy. Hu believes Xiao-Chai-Hu Tang (XCHT) can protect people on the chemotherapy drug Irinotecan from a deadly side effect: Severe-delayed-onset diarrhea (SDOD).

The clinical use of Irinotecan is severely limited by the severe diarrhea that results in poor quality of life, hospitalization and even death. Our goal with XCHT is to allow more people to benefit from the treatment by Irinotecan, which is often the drug of last resort for late stage or metastatic cancer patients.”


Ming Hu, the Diana S-L. Chow Endowed Professor of Drug Discovery and Development at UH

Hu and colleagues Romi Ghose, associate professor of pharmaceutics at UH and Song Gao of Texas Southern University, have been awarded $996,162 from the National Cancer Institute to investigate the effectiveness of the ancient formula. They will also work with Lijun Zhu of Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine in China to determine the agent’s effectiveness in a clinical trial.

To be sure, Irinotecan is a powerful weapon against cancer, but many of those who take it develop SDOD, likely caused by SN-38, the active metabolite of the drug. In the intestine, SN-38 can damage intestinal cells and affect their renewal.

“Intestinal cells have UGT enzymes that detoxify SN-38, but we found that SN-38 can also inactivate and reduce UGT enzymes in the intestine. This creates a vicious cycle. Approximately 1-in-5 patients will fall into this vicious cycle, leading to discontinuation of therapy, decreased efficacy or even death,” said Hu. He has shown that XCHT protects the UGT enzymes and reduces severe diarrhea, and with the new grant he will develop it further, for testing and approvals.

XCHT is actively used in China, Japan and Korea for liver protection. This is the first instance where it has been shown to protect the intestine from SN-38, making the UGT enzymes more resistant to the impact of SN-38.

“Our long-term goal is to develop experimental therapeutics and/or nutritional supplemental approaches to reduce SDOD, so patients can sustain their chemotherapy,” said Hu.

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