Breakthroughs | KERA News


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. 

Courtney Collins / KERA News

A handful of physics professors at the University of Texas at Arlington celebrated with high-fives at yesterday’s announcement of the Nobel Prize for Physics. It went to the two scientists behind the theory of the Higgs boson particle, sometimes called the God Particle, Francois Englert and Peter Higgs.

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

For years the government has been trying to convince doctors to trade in their pads and pens for computers and tablets – and not just because their handwriting is often illegible. The switch plays a fundamental role in achieving the promises of Obamacare -- lower costs and more access. Not all North Texas physicians are taking the bait.

We’re deep into Nobel Prize season, and a brain researcher with North Texas roots is celebrating.

Dr. Thomas C. Südhof is one of three scientists who shared the Nobel for Physiology or Medicine on Monday. The Stanford professor did his prize-winning research — on “synaptic transmission,” or how brain cells communicate with chemical signals — during his 25 years at UT Southwestern in Dallas.

BlueCross BlueShield of Texas

The traffic jam of people checking out health insurance options online hasn’t completely let up. But here’s what North Texans will find once they make it past the login page: 40 plus plans to choose from. A handful are from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas — the largest provider of health benefits in the state.

Lance McCord /

The government shutdown may allow the flu to sneak up on us as the season begins. The Centers for Disease Control’s flu tracking program is on hold because of the shutdown and employee furloughs.

Gage Skidmore /

Speaking to an audience in New Jersey yesterday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called the opening of the Obamacare health insurance marketplaces a “felony” against young people.

Texas reports more than 2,300 cases of whooping cough so far this year, the highest in 50 years.  A new report on California’s 2010 whooping cough outbreak links clusters of unvaccinated people with areas that had the highest number of whooping cough cases. 

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

There’s been a lot of hype about the online Health Insurance Marketplace opening Oct. 1. And while it did open as planned, the traffic was intense. So intense that some people in Dallas had to go with old-fashioned paper and pen.


This fair might not have corny dogs or deep fried lattes, but it will offer a free bag of healthy groceries and an all-you-can learn Obamacare buffet.

We’re getting an idea of what health insurance may cost through the Affordable Care Act marketplace that opens in Texas next week. A report released today puts a dollar figure to ‘affordable’ health insurance.

A week from today, Oct. 1, is a make-or-break moment for the Affordable Care Act. On that day, the health insurance “marketplace” opens for business. Because Texas refused to set up its own marketplace, the federal government will run the show here. And there are still a lot of questions — including how much insurance will cost. 

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

There aren’t many places in Texas you can find sheep, ostrich, and the intestines of a reindeer together in one room. Especially not preserved to show you the inner workings of the organs and animals themselves. But that’s exactly what you’ll find at the Perot Museum of Natural Science starting this weekend in a new exhibit called “Animals, Inside Out.” 


Attention seniors, you will not lose Medicare coverage when the health insurance marketplace opens in October, nor will you have to go to the new online exchange to sign up for plans.

Sorry, wrong number

helloitserica /

A new national poll shows Americans say they would trust their doctors the most to give them information about the Affordable Care Act and the new health insurance marketplaces.  But the Kaiser Family Foundation survey says people aren’t turning to their doctors to learn more.

The Texas Medical Association wants to get doctors and patients engaged in a conversation about the healthcare law and new insurance marketplaces.  TMA has launched an online campaign called “Hey, Doc”.

About 100 students at Nimitz High School have been notified they could have been exposed to tuberculosis last spring.

A student at Nimitz is currently being treated for TB.  Officials are not releasing any more information about the patient. Next Wednesday, the Dallas County Health Department will do free TB testing on campus to screen for infection.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Clinic, in Dallas is one of 32 health centers across the country to receive an award made available in part by the Affordable Care Act. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today announced awards of approximately $67 million to the nation’s health centers, including $19 million made available by the Affordable Care Act, to establish new health service delivery sites.


Being a Red Cross volunteer has become a lot more than setting up cots and handing out coffee. Red Cross DFW is seeking digital volunteers, people to live-Tweet during storms or other events.


You won’t find the Marlboro Man pushing tobacco on TV anymore, but you will find other familiar faces flaunting electronic cigarettes. Celebrities includingJenny McCarthyStephen Dorff and Courtney Love have signed on to pitch the devices, and national sales of e-cigarettes have caught fire. In North Texas, e-cigarettes are big business, even though physicians worry they aren’t as benign as we’re being told.

This is by far one of the funniest fish faces in the ocean. And now it’s official. The blobfish, which lives in the waters off Australia, is the “winner” of the Ugly Animal Preservation Society’s vote to select a new mascot. Hat tip to NPR’s The Two-Way for showing me an image I’ll never forget.

At first glance, we thought it was a Star Wars character.

Here are a few of the other contenders:


The measles cases connected to a North Texas mega church may have run their course.

This morning, Tarrant County epidemiologist Russ Jones told County Commissioners there have been 21 overall cases in the cluster, 16 in Tarrant, the rest in Denton County. The onset of the latest case was August 21st, and Jones says if there are no new cases confirmed this week, that’s likely the end of the North Texas outbreak.

Lauren Silverman

Fort Worth isn’t just home to the Stockyards and Sundance Square anymore. Cowtown is now home to a plant that will produce the first smartphones ever assembled in the U.S.


In three weeks, the Texas health insurance marketplace will be open for business. There will be a variety of plans to choose from – the basic bronze and even platinum – but all of them, and many private insurance plans too – will be required to cover certain benefits like checkups starting in 2014.


If you want job security and a good salary, investing in putting an “M” and a “D” in front of your name is a pretty solid way to go. Today there is unprecedented demand for MD’s, or family physicians, in Texas and across the U.S., according to a new study led by Irving-based consulting firm Merritt Hawkins.


BJ Austin / KERA

The brain of a middle school child is a mystery. If you’re a parent, you may have found yourself saying “What were you thinking?” or “Use your brain”.  That’s just what 6th, 7th and 8th graders in West Dallas are going to do at a brain-training boot camp. Nine language arts teachers at Edison Middle School and Learning Center are using a new program to teach kids critical thinking, starting today.

We spend about one-third of our lives sleeping, but much of that function remains a mystery. Weekend Edition Sunday is asking some pretty fundamental, yet complicated, questions about why we do it and why we can't seem to get more of it.

Dr. Matthew Walker says the question of why we sleep remains "that archetypal mystery."

Walker, the principal investigator at the sleep lab the University of California, Berkeley, works with patients who suffer from sleep abnormalities. He says the complexity of sleep makes the research that much more fascinating.


Lace up your shoes and get ready to jump in — the health insurance marketplace opens in less than a month. And even though the details of the plans — or prices — available to Texans on the new site haven’t been revealed, you can still get a leg up by preparing early.

Nick Harris

Tarrant County leads Texas in the number of babies that die before their first birthday. The JPS Health Network is launching some new programs to fight that grim statistic.

Lauren Silverman / KERA News

There are nearly six million people in Texas without health insurance. The majority will be able to get coverage when the state marketplace opens in October, but not everyone. Undocumented immigrants won’t be able to sign up for health care through the exchange.

Preliminary work on a proton cancer center at the site of the old Dallas Apparel Mart is expected to begin soon. And the city is making plans to kick in $7 million to jumpstart construction.  Proton technology more precisely attacks tumors with fewer side effects.   

State health officials have issued a whopping cough alert.  Dr. Lisa Cornelius, infectious diseases medical officer, calls the number of pertussis, or whooping cough cases in Texas extremely concerning.

The state is on pace to see the most cases since the 1950’s, and state officials are urging people to make sure they are vaccinated.  Texas reports nearly 2,000 cases so far this year with two deaths. Both were infants too young to be vaccinated.