Island medics’ team uncovers clues to birth defects cause

By Lora-Marie Bernard

TWO UTMB researchers in Galveston have uncovered a lineage mechanism in the zika virus that could help unravel the cause of horrible birth defects like unnaturally small heads, a condition known as microcephaly.
As a result, their team has received a $3.7 million National Institutes Of Health grant to continue researching how host factors affect the way the mosquito-borne disease creates birth defects, exploring a global gene pool to see if it can locate a gene that blocks the effects of the virus.
If the team can reveal how genes in a particular lineage interact with the virus, it could help the medical community create vaccines or other treatments against the disease.
The two University Of Texas Medical Branch medics, one of whom specializes in neuroscience and cell biology and the other in pathology, combined their skills to lead a team that studied three lineages to see if they could discover the relationship between the virus and the way it impacts humans’ brain nerve cells.
Neuroscience and cell biology professor Ping Wu and associate pathology professor Nikos Vasilakis led the study, which found that one of the three lineages seems to be associated with the birth defects.
Vasilakis said the multidisciplinary approach towards the research helped the team find the new information and build on the existing knowledge of the recent zika epidemic and the birth defects the virus caused.
He said: “It was a great opportunity for us leveraging the many years of expertise”.
Wu said the study’s approach differed from others done by teams outside UTMB, which gave the Galveston study a fresh perspective from which it learned that, of the three lines they studied, one caused a deficit of brain nerve cells.
Vasilakis said the revelation could help researchers unravel how zika seems to randomly create birth defects, saying: “Not every woman that gets infected will deliver a baby with abnormalities.
“The rate is between one to 100 women infected will have a level of abnormality and that level of abnormality is a big spectrum.”
Wide range
He said damage from a zika infection can range from newborns with abnormal brains to babies with fully-developed brains who exhibit minor defects, such as speech or communication problems. Determining the cause of this wide range has been a stumbling block for researchers.
He said: “This study suggests that many mothers who are infected have kids that do not have any physical effects.
“It’s been mentioned in the grand scheme of things that there could be several factors associated with the human makeup that affects the outcome of the zika infection.”
Wu said the NIH grant funds will allow the team to build on the revelations it found in the lineage study and Vasilakis added that pinpointing a zika-infection-blocking gene could be a watershed moment for pregnant women, saying: “If you have this particular gene you will be completely resistant”.
The team’s findings have been detailed in peer-review publication Stem Cell Reports.

A regular roundup of local-authority activities by Lora-Marie Bernard and Trishna Buch

No words for our bond

A CITY’S council members were left staring at empty seats when no one turned up to speak at a public hearing about their proposal for an $18.2 million bond this week.
A new fire station is among the capital-improvement projects planned in the League City bond, which will be put to a vote by the council on June 13 unless five per cent of the city’s registered voters file a petition by May 24 for it to go to an election.
If approved, other works would include construction of a road extension on Ervin Street as part of the existing Calder Road improvement project, sewer rehabilitation, improvements to the city’s Dallas Salmon wastewater treatment plant and other improvements related to its downtown revitalization project.
The certificates-of-obligation bond is part of a $408.9 million capital improvement plan approved by the council in 2016 for works to be carried out between this year and 2021.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, assistant city manager and finance director Rebecca Underhill said: “Financing public-improvement projects is critical to maintaining the city’s ability to serve our customers.
“Our staff has taken numerous factors into consideration as we put together the recommendation for city council. Certificates of obligation are the most effective borrowing for the city.”
The next public hearing on the bond will take place during the council’s June 13meeting, which starts at 6:00pm at city hall.

General goarhead for sailor Sara

A BOAT repair business was this week given the green light to begin operating in Dickinson when city councilmembers approved the owner’s request for a specific-use permit to occupy land in an area zoned general commercial.
Sara Bettale made the request on behalf of property owner Jack Tarpley, from whom she leases the 0.555-acre 4501 Saint Goar Street space.
A building on the land will be used for office space and an accompanying garage will be used to store work trucks, boat parts and other equipment.
In voting to approve the request on Tuesday, the councilmembers endorsed its approval by the city’s planning and zoning commission on the condition that no boats are stored on the property.

Booze barely a toddle away

BEER, WINE and spirits could soon be on sale near a downtown children’s daycare center after a city council split on whether to allow a sports bar and brewery to set up a stone’s throw away.
Two councilmembers voted against on Thursday as the owners of a sports bar and a pizza restaurant were granted a variance in Galveston’s city ordinances allowing them to operate less than 220 feet from Koala Kare Daycare.
The standard distance is 300 feet but business owners Holly Landry and Eric Walker persuaded five of the seven councilmembers to vote for the reduction, with mayor pro tem Terrilyn Tarlton-Shannon and district-one representative Amy Bly voting no.
Tarlton-Shannon said she disapproved because she needed confirmation that the daycare center had approved setting up the businesses.
Koala Kare’s premises are at 602 25th Street and the two new businesses will be less than a block away, at 504 25th Street, where they will join other commercial operations in a multi-business indoor parade owned by James McClure.
Landry is planning to operate a pizza restaurant and bar called House Divided Sports Tavern And Grill in the building, while Walker is aiming to operate a brewery called Devil And The Deep Brewery.
The city’s code states that the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited within 300 feet of a church, public school, private school or public hospital.
The arrival of the new businesses will not be the first time Koala Kare, which opened in 2001, has had an alcohol-related neighbor in the 504 25th Street building. A bar and grill known as The Loading Dock operated there until 2014.

Call for kids to help teacher count

TWO ELEMENTARY schools are calling for parents to register their kindergarten-age children as students this week so their school district knows how many teachers to hire for the fall semester.
The cafeterias of Cline and Westwood elementary schools in Friendswood will be open from 5:00-6:30pm on Tuesday for the registration of eligible children who will turn five before September 1.
The city’s school district has issued guidelines on its website,, for parents unsure of which school their child should attend or the documentation and other information they need to present at the school’s registration desk.
A site facility known as Route Locator shows not only the school a child will attend but also the number of the bus that will collect and return the student each day.
Meanwhile, Westwood’s pre-kindergarten program, for children who turn four before September 1, will host its registration session in the school’s café from 8:00am-3:00pm on Thursday, May 4.
To be eligible for the program, prospective students must have active military parents, be economically disadvantaged, English-language learners, homeless or have been in foster care.

In brief …

• Santa Fe councilmembers this week approved a $3,200 amendment to the city’s general-fund operating budget to fund the purchase of new equipment for Mae Bruce park.

This week’s meetings

• Santa Fe ISD trustees, 5:00pm, Cowan Education Center, 4133 Warpath Avenue, Santa Fe
• Friendswood council, 4:30pm

• Galveston County commissioners court, 1:30pm, 722 Moody Avenue, Galveston
• Clear Lake Shores council, 7:00pm, 931 Cedar Road, Clear Lake Shores

• Texas City commission, 5:00pm
• Kemah council, 7:00pm

• League City parks board, 10:00am, 400 West Walker, League City

All meetings held at named city’s city hall unless specified otherwise.


Kids learn to lead with style

By Lora-Marie Bernard

HUNDREDS of students from schools around the county were getting serious about the leadership business on Thursday.
Students from mainland and island schools spent the day learning about the intersection of leadership and civic responsibility from local community leaders during an educational foundation’s leadership retreat.
They were taking part in Texas City ISD Foundation For The Future’s LEADS – leadership education and development – series, the brainchild of former mayor Texas City Chuck Doyle, whose wife told them how he created the program.
Mary Ellen Doyle said she and her husband had hoped the series would develop promising young community leaders. Today, it a hallmark program of the city’s philanthropic educational foundation.
She told the students: “We want you to dive into leadership and give it back by serving your community. Wherever you end up, do something for your community. We’ve got to get you involved in this leadership business.”
Junior and senior students from Dickinson, Galveston, Hitchcock, La Marque, Santa Fe and Texas City participated in the day class.
It began with icebreakers and team-building activities before turning into a game, Leaders On The Hunt, that previous LEADS participants created and which required the students to answer community-focused questions that led them to leaders “hidden” in buildings around Sixth Street.
Next, community leaders David Sandberg and Margaret Tuma discussed Galveston County history, Jason Tabor and Jay Carnes discussed the challenges and rewards of owning small businesses and petrochemical-industry representatives discussed how their work builds the economy.
Deborah Laine, the foundation’s executive director, told The Post: “This takes a lot of people to pull off. We have to have community support to make it happen.”
The foundation runs a LEADS retreat each school semester and students who participate in every session during their junior and senior years become eligible for a college scholarship, picked randomly by Doyle. During this week’s session, 38 students were eligible to win one.
Three seniors from Santa Fe, Elizabeth Miller, Stephanie Rogers and Courtney Knox, each won a $1,000 scholarship from the Doyle family. Doyle also presented each with a copy of the Jim Stovall novel The Ultimate Gift, which is billed as an inspirational story about what truly matters in life.
Telling them that she and her husband give a copy to every child and grandchild in their family, she said: “I am giving it to you so you will know how important giving back is”.

Public Domain

By Trishna Buch

BIKE SHARING is on the way to a street near you after a city’s commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday to amend their budget for a contract with startup company Zagster.
Texas City’s commissioners also gave their full approval to more than $120,000 of other budget amendments, including $20,000 for an artist to paint a mural on a wall running between 14th Avenue and Dike Road on Bay Street Park.
The city will dip into its dike fund to pay for that, as well as $18,000 for 10 bikes and their stands from Zagster, a company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The dike fund will also meet the $50,000 cost of buying bedding rock to use on the dike itself.
The most expensive amendment was for $51,000 from the city’s capital equipment replacement fund to buy a Chevrolet Tahoe sports utility vehicle.
The vehicle will be used by the city marshal, who has been using a vehicle that, according to meeting documents, has “surpassed its useful life”.
The budget amendments, together worth $139,100, were all approved unanimously.

In brief …
• A PROCLAMATION unanimously approved by city councilmembers has named April Safe Digging Month in Hitchcock. The councilmembers voted for the proposition after a representative from natural-gas supplier Center Point Energy said his employer urges everyone to call 811 before digging in the ground to ensure the job is done properly.

• THE STRETCH of Calder Road between Dickinson elementary school and Ervin Street has been closed and will remain closed until Thursday, April 27. The closure is needed to allow construction of a drainage culvert for Magnolia Bayou.

All y’all, take another brick for your wall

By Lora-Marie Bernard

A CITY’S mayor needed no education when he was asked about the demolition of four schools. With a little thought control, he already knew the answer – no dark chasm in the classrooms’ history; give them bricks new homes.
And so anyone who needs a brick or few can collect them from Etheridge stadium in La Marque until the end of next month.
La Marque mayor Bobby Hocking instigated the giveaway when Texas City independent school district contacted him to discuss demolitions at his city’s Simms, Highlands, Lamar and Inter-City schools.
A former Lamar elementary-school student, Hocking said he wanted to offer the bricks from the schools as childhood souvenirs because he regarded the days he and thousands of other students spent in La Marque schools before their annexation as profound.
The city’s schools have been under the control of Texas City ISD since last July after the state had ordered the closure of La Marque ISD.
Hocking, left, said: “It became apparent during the demolition of Lamar elementary that there was a great deal of nostalgic emotion tied to that piece of history.
“Our lives were impacted on every level. Social skills were introduced and lifetime friends were made in those hallways.”
When the school district contacted him to discuss demolishing the schools, he arranged to have piles of some bricks set aside for alums.
“I’ve been contacted by many former students who have an interest in obtaining a brick from their early days in La Marque and so I’m just trying to be a blessing to them”, he said.
The idea is already gaining popularity. Retired La Marque teacher Tom O’Neil, who was a student at Inter-City elementary, said he intends to have a pile of that school’s bricks taken to his home.
He said: “A couple of us who went there are still friends. We get together so I am going to give them some bricks and keep some for myself.”
Like Hocking, he said his days at Inter-City made an impact that has lasted throughout his life.
Referring to its bricks, he said: “I’ll put mine up and then, one day, my grandchildren will say ‘I wonder what that brick is for?’ and someone will tell them ‘Oh, that brick is from your grandfather’s elementary school’.
“Then, they can all go, ‘Oh, OK’. It’s not much but it’s a little something about me.”
Anyone who wants a share of the bricks should call 409-615-0145.


A regular roundup of local-authority activities by Lora-Marie Bernard and Trishna Buch

A CITY’S first-ever public-safety capital-investment project took a big step forward on Wednesday when officials held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new fire station.
The city of La Marque and its fire department hosted the ceremony as contractors prepared to start work on the fire station at 1000 Salt Grass Point Boulevard and the department’s 5201 Texas Avenue administration building.
During the ceremony, La Marque fire chief Gerald Grimm said: “This is a milestone for the city. These facilities will have incomprehensible positive impact on the delivery of quality public service across La Marque, directly affecting the preservation of life and property in our community.”

Firefighters light up safety rating

CHEAPER property insurance could be in the offing for a huge swath of county residents as their city’s fire service has just been awarded the fire-insurance industry’s highest protection rating.
Homeowners in the affected area could save nine per cent and commercial-property owners four per cent on their insurance from next January in the wake of several improvements in their fire-protection services.
Most properties in League City could benefit from the new rating, which places the city in the top one per cent of townships throughout the nation for fire safety.
Texas fire marshal Chris Connealy presented the city with the rating on Tuesday after Insurance Services Office, a research company based in Jersey City, New York, determined that six years of improvements in its fire protection merited a boost of two ratings grades in its public protection classification.
ISO found improvements in the city fire department’s water distribution, dispatching capabilities, fire-station distribution, record keeping, hydrant maintenance and firefighter response times, as well as a mutual-aid agreement with neighboring city Webster.
That qualified most residents of the county’s largest city for the potential savings, although owners of property in its far southwest area might not save as much as other citizens.
Connealy praised League City’s firefighters as he presented the certificate for the ISO 1 rating, replacing the city’s ISO 3 certificate.
He said: “The volunteers are doing such an awesome job protecting a very large community. This is a city that exemplifies the process of working together.”
City fire chief Gary Warren was excited that Connealy had traveled from Austin to present the certificate.
He said: “This is a rare appearance for the state fire marshal and indicates the important announcement. This city has a great deal to be proud of with this fire protection rating.”

Ike Dike ‘has Trump’s ear’

THE PROPOSED coastal protection system popularly known as the Ike Dike has reached the White House, one of its proponents told League City councilmembers on Tuesday.
And they heard that the storm-surge-suppression barrier officially known as a coastal spine would reduce the cost of damage in their city from $79 million to $2.9 million in a hurricane of similar magnitude to Ike, which hit the county in September 2008.
The barrier would also reduce the city’s economic damage in the wake of the storm by $500 million.
The information was presented to the councilmembers by Morgan’s Point city mayor Michel Bechtel and Sam Brody, the director of the center for Texas beaches and shores at Texas A&M Galveston.
Brody told the meeting that the path of a storm traveling up Galveston Bay had been used to predict flooding levels, physical damage and the potential economic costs. He used a map to show how League City will suffer economically if the coastal barrier is not built.
“This area has a lot to save”, he said.
Bechtel talked about the barrier’s political support, which has been slow to build since TAMUG professor Bill Merrell conceived the idea in the wake of the 20078 storm, and said it has gained the attention of president Donald Trump’s administration and other areas of federal government in Washington.
He told the meeting that, on Capitol Hill, speaker of the house Paul Ryan, the majority leader Kevin McCarthy and majority whip Steve Scalise are all aware of the project.
He said: “We are into the administration, into the chief of staff and they are aware of the project.
“Scalise is from Louisiana district one and knows exactly what happens when storm surge destroys a community.”
He added: “It is a political deal now. We have to convince the rest of the country that this is an economic engine that we have to protect.”
At state level, Bechtel said, requests for funding of the barrier had been made in concurrent resolutions by the county’s district 11 senator Larry Taylor and district 22 representative Joe Deshotel. Taylor’s has been approved by the senate while Deshotel’s is under consideration by the house calendar committee.
Taylor has also introduced senate bill 2265, which seeks the appointment of the Gulf Coast water authority as the agency responsible for the barrier’s operation and maintenance.

Johnson to speak on tax reform

CHERYL JOHNSON, the county’s tax assessor-collector, will talk on effective tax protests and the progress of proposed property-tax legislation in the current state legislative session when she addresses an influential property owners’ group next Saturday.
West Galveston Island Property Owners Association’s April 22 meeting will also feature a discussion about Galveston’s proposed $62 million bond led by city manager Brian Maxwell. The bond is on the ballot for the May 6 local elections.
Saturday’s meeting will take place at Galveston Country Club, 14228 Stewart Road, starting at 8:30am.

Boost for sales-tax revenues

THE STATE’S public-accounts comptroller is sending $620.2 million to local-government bodies this month, almost five per cent more than in April last year.
Glenn Hagar’s office said on Wednesday that cities will receive $397.8 million, counties $36.8 million, transit systems $144.1 million and special-purpose taxing districts $41.5 million as their share of February’s sales taxes.
The 4.9 per cent increase is good news for most of the Houston area’s economy but Sugar Land is
an exception.
Announcing the allocations, Hegar said: “The cities of Houston, San Antonio and Austin saw noticeable increases in sales tax allocations.
“The cities of Sugar Land, McAllen, Irving and Grand Prairie saw noticeable decrease.”

In brief …

• DURING its April 25 meeting, Dickinson city council will hold the second reading of its annexation ordinance for properties in the vicinity of SH-3 and Deats Road, east of SH-3 to Hill Avenue and north of Salvato Street to Deats Road. Members of the public may speak at the hearing.

• THIS WEEK’S Santa Fe city council meeting was cancelled due to a lack of business. The next meeting
is scheduled for Thursday April 27 at 7:00pm.