Issuu on Google+

discovery D E A N ’ S

R E P O R T

FA L L 2 0 1 1

INSIDE THIS ISSUE

VOLUME 10, NUMBER 2

3 Partners for Discovery

4 Young Investigators

5 New Recruits

6 Research Notes

M.D.-Ph.D. Program

8

Training Ground for Translational Scientists

Field Work Helps in the Lab

for the expansion of its research mission, particularly research related to translational medicine. That strategic focus also brought a rejuvenation of the M.D.-Ph.D. program. “Translating science’s discoveries to improve health is a priority for patients and the National Institutes of Health,” says Gordon L. Archer, M.D., director of the M.D.-Ph.D. program and senior associate dean for research and research training. He points out that studies have shown M.D.-Ph.D.s to have a higher success rate in securing NIH funding for their grant applications. “These dual-degreed investigators are uniquely prepared to ask pertinent questions, conduct relevant studies and use the resulting findings to shape the care patients receive,” Archer says. “Our students — physician-scientists in training — are equipped for that kind of challenge through the program’s design: when they pursue their medical coursework, they are also exposed to relevant science, and during the

IN 2005, THE MEDICAL SCHOOL EMBARKED ON A STRATEGIC PLAN

continued on page 4 >

V

i

r

g

Dean’s Discovery Initiative School of Medicine Development Office VCU’s Medical College of Virginia Campus P.O. Box 980022 Richmond, VA 23298-0022 A D D R ESS S E RV I C E R EQ U EST E D

i

n

i

a

C

o

m

m

o

n

w

e

a

l

t

h

U

n

i

v

e

r

s

i

t

y

NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT NO. 869 RICHMOND VA


[

PA R T N E R S FO

Support Faculty

Robert L. Balster, Ph.D. Professor of pharmacology and toxicology Luther A. Butler Professor in Drug and Alcohol Studies Named a 2011-2012 Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., one of just 13 tenured, research-active scientists and engineers selected nationwide

“We’ve got a globe full of problems, most of which need good solutions that can come out of scientific thinking.” After spending decades as a basic researcher, Robert L. Balster, Ph.D., says he became more and more interested in the broader issues of addiction and policy. “I saw myself as being able to embrace changes in my field and in meeting the challenge of ‘giving science away’ to help address real-life problems on a global scale,” he says. Now an internationally recognized scientist in drug abuse, Balster was aided in that goal by the Luther A. Butler Professorship in Drug and Alcohol Studies. Established in 1961 by the estate of Luther A. Butler to support the cure and treatment of alcoholism, the Butler Memorial Fund has allowed Balster to expand his engagement with basic research questions to addressing clinical treatments for addiction as well as informing policy and international issues relating to addiction. The professorship has helped him to accomplish all this and more by covering a portion of his salary. “It frees up your time to explore new and different things,” he says. Balster had taken some steps in this direction even before receiving the professorship in 2003. He is the founding director of the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies that seeks to translate laboratory science into clinical treatments and provide science-based teaching to VCU students and fellows. For example, the Institute is home to VCU’s participation in a multi-center clinical trials network for the National Institute on Drug Abuse. He also served as editor-in-chief for the multidisciplinary journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence for more than a decade. But once named to the professorship, Balster began taking on even more ambitious projects with an eye on preparing professionals for leadership in the addiction field throughout the world. He helped develop an international program in addiction studies with King’s College London and the University of Adelaide that has grown into an innovative online master’s program in addiction studies.

He also started the VCU Humphrey Fellowship Program in Substance Abuse Prevention that was recently renewed for another five years of funding. Each year the program brings eight mid-career scientists from around the world to the MCV Campus to improve their skills and knowledge in preventing and treating addiction and HIV infection. “It is an intense learning experience — both ways,” Balster says of the Humphrey Program. “And it has really cemented my interest in global issues.” This fall, Balster will head to Washington, D.C., as a 2011-2012 Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. He was one of 13 tenured, research-active scientists and engineers selected nationwide. “It seemed like a perfect fit for me, to go and work on global problems,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to learn a lot more about international issues and bring this knowledge and experience back to VCU.” As much as his interest in global addiction issues has been piqued, and piqued again, Balster says he is continually grateful for his strong grounding in basic science. “The things that I learned as a lab scientist have tremendous value in the world in terms of critical thinking skills and a deep understanding of the scientific method,” he says. “I think we underestimate the solid science skills people have. We’ve got a globe full of problems, most of which need good solutions that can come out of scientific thinking.”

discovery D E A N ’ S

R E P O R T


R DISCOVERY

]

by: Jill U. Adams

Reward Students The medical school has one of the largest cadres of graduate students in the U.S. This spring, for instance, 175 students earned advanced degrees and 46 of those were doctoral degrees. Size is a good thing if it supports all aspects of graduate training and encourages collaboration and shared learning experiences. However, with so many classmates, it can be difficult to stand out in the crowd. Meet three doctoral students who have been recognized with awards supported by privately funded endowments. The Mary P. Coleman Award in Microbiology was established with a $10,000 bequest from the mother of Phil Coleman, Ph.D., professor emeritus of microbiology and immunology. The Herbert John Evans Jr. Award in Biochemistry is named for the late medical school professor and was established by his colleagues to honor the most outstanding senior graduate student in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology. Beth Zha is an M.D.-Ph.D. student who is investigating the side effects that occur with HIV therapy. Protease inhibitors cause metabolic changes, including insulin resistance, atherosclerosis and changes in body fat composition, Zha says, “all of which increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.” The virus itself also increases these cardiovascular risks, so the infection and the treatment together “is like a double hit,” she says. Zha, who will defend her dissertation in a few months and enter the final clinical phase of her training, has long envisioned a career as a physician-researcher. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to really learn about the scientific process including scientific writing and grant writing — all the things, not just bench work,” she says. She hopes to specialize in infectious disease, but one result of her basic science research training has been a new appreciation for studying all aspects of a treatment. “I always thought I would work on the diseases themselves,” she says. “Now I see that focusing on therapies is also important. It’s a new perspective on how I can help patients with a disease — by managing their treatment as well.” “I think she’s the most hard-working student I’ve ever seen in my life,” says Zha’s mentor, Huiping Zhou, Ph.D., an assistant professor of microbiology and immunology. With her dedication to her work and a few first-author papers under her belt, Zha is a worthy recipient of the Coleman Award. Another Coleman award winner is Sarah Norton, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the laboratory of Daniel Conrad, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology. Norton has been investigating a truly novel way to treat asthma, using tiny carbon buckeyballs. The hightech molecule is being developed by a Virginia company called Luna Innovations, and Norton was responsible for testing its therapeutic and potential side effects in a mouse model of asthma. Norton

received an American Heart Association award to fund her research efforts. The Coleman Award is meaningful to Norton. “In science, there’s a lot of rejection,” she says. “So it’s nice to be recognized.” Conrad takes it one step further. “An award like that indicates your work is being very well received by the scientific community,” he says, and that kind of recognition will only help Norton get a good postdoctoral position. Abir Mukherjee studies lipid signaling in cancer and how a particular lipid, lysophosphatidic acid (LPA), might contribute to progression of disease. He’s linked the metabolic effects of LPA to a specific receptor that is overexpressed in many human malignancies, which has implications for potential therapies. As Mukherjee says: “If we can block LPA receptor 2 mediated signaling, we may thwart cancer progression.”

Coleman Award winners Sarah Norton, a Ph.D. candidate (left), and Beth Zha, an M.D.-Ph.D. student

Mukherjee works in the laboratory Evans Award winner of Frank Fang, Ph.D., associate Abir Mukherjee, a Ph.D. professor of biochemistry, who has candidate been impressed with his student’s motivation, general knowledge, broad interests and commitment to cancer research. Indeed, Mukherjee hopes to find a postdoctoral position in a different research field so that he can broaden his scientific experience. Mukherjee was particularly happy to receive the Evans award, because it meant being recognized as the most outstanding student of the year. But he also is grateful for the opportunities that a large graduate program has offered him during his studies. “Collaborations are key here,” he says. “We talk to each other, students and faculty alike. It really enriches your experience.”


Erik Loken

M.D.-Ph.D. Program

EDUCATION: University of Virginia, B.S. in chemistry 2007 HOMETOWN: Wilmington, Delaware

continued from cover graduate phase of study, they stay connected to clinical medicine.” The school has awarded combined M.D. and Ph.D. degrees since 1975, but when Dean Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., took the medical school’s helm six years ago, he approved Archer’s proposal to expand the number of fully funded M.D.-Ph.D. slots from four to eight. Students now receive full tuition and health insurance coverage throughout their seven- to eight-year tenure as well as a $23,100 stipend. The medical school’s renewed commitment to the M.D.-Ph.D. program is already showing results. In recent years, M.D.-Ph.D. graduates have secured their first or second choice of residency destination at high profile medical centers, institutions known for nurturing physician scientists. “Through those residency placements, we aim to ensure that more of the program’s graduates remain committed to careers in academic medicine and science,” says Archer, who has been director of the M.D.-Ph.D. program since 2003. In July 2010, VCU became the only institution in Virginia to receive the NIH’s highly regarded Clinical and Translational Science Award. With the award, VCU joined a national consortium of research centers working to accelerate the transformation of laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients. That award is also opening new opportunities for M.D.-Ph.D. students. For example, the CTSA has birthed a new Ph.D. track focused on the field of behavioral and statistical genetics. Erik Loken, an M.D.-Ph.D. student in the second year of the program’s graduate phase, is the first to pursue the new track under the guidance of Ken Kendler, M.D., renowned for his studies in the field. (See sidebar.)

THESIS ADVISER: Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., the Rachel Brown Banks Distinguished Professor in Psychiatry, professor of human and molecular genetics, director of the Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics at VCU and the 2011 recipient of the Jean Delay Prize from the World Psychiatric Association (see page 6) RESEARCH INTERESTS: During his undergraduate studies, Erik focused on biochemistry and molecular genetics. Currently, he is interested in the genetic etiology of schizophrenia. Investigating the genetic structure of this disorder is made more challenging because the complex genetic disorder is caused by variants in many genes. Loken is learning to apply a variety of methodologies and data sources in his own research, including copy number variant analysis, genome wide association studies and next generation sequencing.

RESIDENCY PLACEMENTS OF SOME RECENT M.D.-PH.D. GRADUATES: ALEXANDRA RACANELLI

ALISON KUCHTA

OMAR MIAN

GRAHAM STRUB

FRANK RAUCCI JR.

Young Investigators

}

Meet junior faculty members whose work is attracting recognition in their fields

Masayuki Nagahashi, M.D., Ph.D., will be honored at the 2011 Surgical Forum of American College of Surgeons in October. Nagahashi is a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Kazuaki Takabe, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of surgery. His abstract on the role of Sphingosine Kinase 1 in tumor-induced growth of blood vessels and lymphatic vessels has been selected for an Excellence in Research Award. Nagahashi developed a novel method to quantify the amount of blood and lymphatic vessel cells and discovered that Sphingosine Kinase 1 plays a critical role in vessel development during breast cancer progression. Laura E. Wise, Ph.D., has received the Young Investigator Award from the Brain and Behavior Research Fund (formerly known as the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression). Wise is an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology working in the lab of Pharmacology and Toxicology Professor Aron H. Lichtman, Ph.D. She will use the award to study sex differences and the therapeutic potential of the endogenous cannabinoid system for stress-related disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression.

discovery D E A N ’ S

R E P O R T


NEW RECRUITS b y : J I L L U . A DA M S

As the new Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology, John F. Butterworth, IV, M.D., brings a long career of studying outcomes and drug responses in patients having cardiovascular surgery and of studying pharmacology and toxicity of local anesthetic drugs. The fact that cardiovascular surgery often — perhaps 80 percent of the time — leads to mild temporary brain dysfunction is not widely appreciated, Butterworth says. “Early on, neurobehavioral deficits are pretty common,” he says and tells the tale of an elderly colleague who routinely did the New York Times crossword puzzle in ink. “Two weeks after coronary bypass surgery, he couldn’t get a single word. Four months later, he was back to doing the puzzle in ink.” Butterworth has participated in numerous clinical trials testing such things as whether administering certain neuroprotective drugs or providing better blood sugar control will reduce the risk of stroke or neurobehavioral deficits after heart surgery. Butterworth earned his medical degree on VCU’s MCV Campus and followed that with a research fellowship in the Division of Neurosurgery, where he was part of a team that was studying interventions that might improve recovery from head injuries. “It’s interesting to look back at that now and realize I was studying outcomes research,” he says. After an internship at the University of Massachusetts and residency and fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Butterworth spent 20 years on the faculty of Wake Forest University, and then six years as the R. K. Stoelting Professor and chair of the Department of Anesthesia at Indiana University. That’s 31 years away from Richmond, and Butterworth says he’s happy to be back. “This is my home. I grew up in Richmond,” he says. His mother is here, as well as relatives so numerous, Butterworths says, “It would take me hours to tell you about all of them.” He looks forward to the opportunity that chairing the department offers, which he feels is a very good fit both ways — for him and for the medical school. “This is an opportunity that came up at the right time in my life.”

Leslie Cloud, M.D., M.Sc., arrived on campus this summer excited to be part of the new VCU Parkinson’s Disease Center. “It’s a phenomenal opportunity, unparalleled really, to focus on Parkinson’s disease and to focus on research,” she says. As an assistant professor of neurology, Cloud will have clinical and teaching duties as well. Cloud earned her medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and after her neurology residency at Emory University, she spent three years as a movement disorders fellow there focusing on clinical research. Her research interest, which she brings to the MCV Campus, is the gastrointestinal symptoms that accompany the neurologic deficits in Parkinson’s. “They are very prevalent and very bothersome,” she says, but the causal mechanisms and clinical implications are not well understood. The GI symptoms also are intriguing because they may result from similar processes that damage nerves in the brain, occurring simultaneously in the nerves that control the gut. “Some people think that Parkinson’s disease may start in the GI tract,” Cloud says. “Gastrointestinal symptoms may thus have something to tell us about the basic mechanisms of onset and progression in Parkinson’s disease.” That means that GI symptoms could potentially help doctors make earlier diagnoses and offer earlier treatment.

April Kimmel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of healthcare policy and research, is interested in the health-related decisions that policy makers must face, especially in settings with limited resources. It’s a path of investigation that arose from an early career experience in South Africa. Before her training, Kimmel worked for a HIV research group at Massachusetts General Hospital where she was introduced to issues involved in the value for money spent on different HIV diagnosis and treatment interventions. Then, she took the opportunity to attend an international AIDS conference in South Africa — the first time the conference was not held in a high-income country. “That was my aha moment,” she says. Kimmel earned her Ph.D. in health policy from Harvard and did postdoctoral work at Weill Cornell Medical College. She’s keen not only to understand the value of different health interventions but to plumb the tension between what’s best for an individual patient and what’s best for a population, for public health. For instance, she has studied cost-effectiveness of different treatment policies for HIV-infected patients — first in the U.S. and then in West African settings, where she says, “The questions are very different.”


RESEARCH NOTES CANCER COSTS: SLOWING THE INCREASE Bruce E. Hillner, M.D., professor of internal medicine and Massey Cancer Center member researcher; and Thomas Smith, M.D., formerly the Massey Endowed Chair of Palliative Care Research at the VCU Massey Cancer Center, and now an endowed professor of Medicine and Oncology at HILLNER SMITH the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center and the Director of Palliative Care at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions The cost of cancer care is threatening to bankrupt our healthcare system. In a peer-reviewed article written for the The New England Journal of Medicine — part of the journal’s prestigious “Sounding Board” series — Smith and Hillner argue that doctors can maintain and improve the quality of care, while at the same time saving on health care costs. They ground their argument in evidence and propose 10 specific changes, primarily in the behavior and attitudes of medical oncologists, that could save the nation billions of dollars. Without encroaching on curative care or clinical trials, the researchers focus on the treatment of patients with incurable solid tumors. Their proposals call for more frank discussions about end-of-life care and routine integration of advance medical directives and hospice as part of usual cancer treatment. They give evidence-based examples to reduce the use of expensive treatments and surveillance tests. Among the recommendations that would redefine current oncology practice is the proposal that additional chemotherapy should be limited to clinical trials for patients whose cancer has not responded to three consecutive regimens, or who have declining function due to the cancer. “Now is the time to talk about how we can preserve money to ensure all patients receive the best available care while setting aside funds for new and advanced therapies,” said Hillner. “We have outlined the starting points for discussion and hope a much-needed national dialogue will follow.” Read more in the May 26 issue of the The New England Journal of Medicine. COMBINATION THERAPIES FOR CANCER Steven Grant, M.D., Shirley Carter and Sture Gordon Olsson Chair in Oncology Research, associate director for translational research at the Massey Cancer Center and professor of internal medicine; and Beata Holkova, M.D., an assistant professor of internal medicine and a Harrison Scholar at Massey Cancer Center GRANT H O L KOVA Grant and his colleagues have developed two new cancer treatments, both involving a combination of drugs that act through different mechanisms — medicine’s version of the old one-two. The first is a treatment for multiple myeloma, a cancer involving antibodyproducing cells in the bone marrow that is, in most cases, incurable. The new therapy combines Src inhibitors, which block the activity of proteins that regulate cancer cell behavior, with Chk1 inhibitors, which interfere with cancer cells’ ability to repair DNA damage. Grant’s study demonstrated the synergistic, anti-myeloma effects of this combination regimen both in vitro and in vivo. The study builds upon more than seven years of research by Grant’s team. The researchers continue to develop their methods as a prelude to clinical trials in multiple myeloma patients. With colleague Holkova, Grant has also completed a phase I clinical trial for another combination cancer therapy, testing the drugs Bortezomib and Alvocidib in patients with relapsed or refractory multiple myeloma or less aggressive forms of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Even though it was primarily a safety trial, the combination therapy resulted in objective responses in seven of the 16 study subjects, including two who achieved complete responses, indicating no evidence of measurable disease. The rationale for this study was previously developed in Grant’s laboratory. Next, a multi-center phase II trial will begin to test efficacy. Read more in the February 10 issue of Blood and the May 15 issue of Clinical Cancer Research.

IMPROVING PATIENT HEALTH RECORDS Alexander Krist, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of family medicine; and Steven Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family medicine and director of the VCU Center for Human Needs Many personal health records do little more than store patients’ information, which does not take full K R I ST WO O L F advantage of the possibilities offered by electronic record keeping. Krist and Woolf wrote an editorial for the Journal of the American Medical Association to share their belief that health records have much more potential to help patients manage their health. By designing technology with the patient in mind, their approach focuses on storing information from both patients and their doctors, translating that information into lay language and applying national guidelines to the information to make recommendations about resources and tools tailored to the patient’s needs. Krist and Woolf have created a patient-centered personal health record called “MyPreventiveCare,” which shows patients their medical information and tells them what it means in a way they can understand. Further, it guides them to the next action steps. Read more in the January 19 issue of JAMA. VOLUNTEER DATABASE FOR STUDY SUBJECTS John Clore, M.D., professor of internal medicine and associate vice president for clinical research VCU is one of 56 institutions participating in the first national, disease-neutral, volunteer recruitment registry. Now, people within the Richmond community who want to participate in research studies can connect online with researchers nationwide by joining ResearchMatch.org. ResearchMatch is a not-for-profit website that brings together researchers and potential study subjects in a secure and convenient manner. ResearchMatch is the product of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Consortium, a nationwide network of research institutions working to turn laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients. The CTSA Consortium is led by the National Center for Research Resources, a part of the National Institutes of Health. “This nationwide registry will bring together volunteers and researchers, ultimately helping move research forward,” said Clore, who is principal investigator for the Center for Clinical and Translational Research at VCU. PROTECTING THE HEART Rakesh C. Kukreja, Ph.D., the Eric Lipman Distinguished Professor of Cardiology in the Department of Internal Medicine and scientific director of the VCU Pauley Heart Center The anti-cancer drug doxorubicin has remained a top choice for chemotherapy because of its superior efficacy to fight cancer. However, the drug is known to lead to permanent heart damage. In a new study, Kukreja’s team demonstrated that mice treated with dietary inorganic nitrate had a reduced rate of heart dysfunction caused by doxorubicin. On a molecular level, the dietary nitrate stabilized the mitochondria and protected against free-radical damage to the heart. Clearly this has good implications for patients treated with doxorubin. Moreover, nitrate can easily be obtained from foods including leafy green vegetables, spinach and lettuces or from beverages such as beetroot juice that are commercially available and safely used in humans. Kukreja’s laboratory focuses on the protection of cardiac tissue in a number of clinical situations and was recently selected to join a National Heart Lung and Blood Institute research consortium along with Johns Hopkins University, Emory University and the University of Louisville. Read more in the May 24 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

discovery D E A N ’ S

R E P O R T


TREATING DEPRESSED MOTHERS HELPS KIDS Aradhana Bela Sood, M.D., professor of psychiatry and chair of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry Children of depressed mothers are prone to developing emotional problems, but how much of that risk comes from genetics or environment is hard to tease apart. By evaluating subjects in a large, multi-center study of treatment approaches to women’s depression, Sood found that when a mother’s depression is effectively treated, her child’s problem behaviors and symptoms decrease. This suggests that not only do environmental circumstances play a large role in children’s emotional wellbeing, but also that treating mothers helps kids too. Depression in women is a pervasive and growing problem and the fact that mood disorders can, in a sense, be passed on to children makes finding effective interventions all that more important. Sood, a nationally recognized expert in children and adolescents with mental health problems, calls the results “very exciting — because now we have scientific basis to start treating depression in mothers aggressively.” Read more in the March issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

PREVENTING PREECLAMPSIA WITH NUTRITION BARS Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the School of Medicine and professor of obstetrics and gynecology Proper nutrition during pregnancy is important for the developing fetus. A new study demonstrated that proper nutrition can prevent preeclampsia, a highly risky condition in the mother, as well. Preeclampsia can lead to premature delivery of small fetuses, and worse, mother and baby fatalities. Strauss worked with a team of researchers from the National Autonomous University of Mexico to test a nutritional supplement in pregnant women at high risk of developing preeclampsia. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that food bars containing the amino acid L-arginine and antioxidants reduced the incidence of preeclampsia. For more than a decade, Strauss has been interested in nutritional interventions for preeclampsia, and his study received early support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “Nutritional supplementation is a viable and safe approach to prevention of a disease that is a major cause of maternal and neonatal mortality,” said Strauss. The fact that it’s simple and inexpensive means it should be more readily applied to resource-limited settings. Read more in the May 19 issue of the British Medical Journal.

CUEING NEURONAL CONNECTIONS Michael A. Fox, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and neurobiology The complexity of the human brain is contained not only in its 100 billion or so neurons, but in the multitude of connections between them. How neurons send their long processes — called axons — out into the proper region of the brain is still a mystery. Fox found a very good clue in the form of a protein called reelin, which was necessary for the proper branching of one class of neurons extending from the retina, but not for another. Next Fox will search for targeting cues for other classes of neurons. The work has important implications for how the neuronal connections are guided during development. Such cues may be important therapeutically as well. Stem cell therapies for macular degeneration are already being tested to replace diseased retinal cells with new ones. “We still need to know how to get the new retinal neurons to incorporate into correct neural circuits,” Fox says. Read more in the January 12 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience. REPAIRING A LOST SENSE OF SMELL Richard M. Costanzo, Ph.D., professor of physiology and biophysics, and of otolaryngology, neurology and anatomy Losing one’s sense of smell, after a head injury for instance, is not a trivial event. In addition to not being able to enjoy the tastes and smells of food and drink, loss of smell — or anosmia — also can leave a person unable to recognize odiferous warnings, such as a gas leak or a dirty diaper. Costanzo has been investigating ways to improve the outcome of smell and taste following nerve and brain injury and was recently quoted in the New York Times in an article about smell and taste disorders. In a study published earlier this year, Costanzo reported the successful transplantation of olfactory tissue into the brains of mice, where the regeneration of new sensory neurons could be stimulated. “These findings in mice may eventually lead to new surgical procedures to restore smell function in patients who have lost their sense of smell,” he says. Read more in the February issue of the Current Opinion in Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery.

FULBRIGHT AWARD TO RESEARCH END-OF-LIFE CARE Brian Cassel, Ph.D., assistant professor of internal medicine and Massey Cancer Center associate member Good end-of-life care has been a challenge, to say the least, for patients, families, hospitals, and society. Cassel’s day-job involves strategic planning, program evaluation, quality assurance and financial analyses of all oncologyrelated programs, including palliative care, at the VCU Medical Center. Now, as the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Scholar Program, America’s flagship international educational exchange program, Cassel will travel to London in early 2012 to collaborate with researchers for six months at the King’s College London Cicely Saunders Institute. Cassel’s research will measure the economic impact of end-of-life care in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, focusing on creating a new framework to identify the best approaches to measuring the outcomes of palliative care across the U.S. and U.K. healthcare systems. The Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

THE “NOBEL PRIZE” OF PSYCHIATRY Kenneth Kendler, M.D., the Rachel Brown Banks Disting uished Professor in Psychiatry, pro fessor of human and molec ular genetics, and director of the Virginia Institute for Psychi atric and Behavioral Genetics The World Psychiatric Ass ociation has honored Kend ler with its most prestigious aw ard, the Jean Delay Prize. Kendler will deliver a plenar y lecture and receive the aw ard during the opening session of the World Congr ess of Psychiatry in Bueno s Aires, Argentina in September 2011. Kendler is only the second American to receive the award, which honors scientists who bridge psychiatry’s subdisciplines, such as its biological and psychological aspects. Kendler has long studied the interplay of nature and nu rture in contributing to psychiatric disorders throug h large-scale studies in twins and other genetically informative populations. In so doing, his work clarified developmental processes involved in mental illness and identified specific gen es that make people suscep to schizophrenia, alcoholis tible m and nicotine dependenc e. The World Psychiatry Ass ociation’s Jean Delay Prize is given every three years and is supported by a gra nt from Servier.

ACCOLADES FOR VCU The Carnegie Foundation has elevated VCU to “Very High Research Activity” status, recognizing the university’s significant expansion of its research programs over the past decade. Currently, VCU brings in $255 million annually in sponsored research. Combined with its “Community Engaged” Carnegie designation, the school is just one of 28 public universities in the country with academic medical centers to achieve both distinctions. Last summer, VCU was selected by the National Institutes of Health for a $20 million Clinical and Translational Science Award to become part of a nationwide consortium of research institutions focused on translational research.


by: N A N J O H N S O N

Research byDay,

Rescue by Night A Basic Scientist’s Field Work Helps in the Lab

A

trip to Walt Disney World® could easily be called a “lifechanging” event. Especially for a family of seven like the Diegelmanns. But for Bob Diegelmann, Ph.D., it wasn’t seeing Mickey Mouse at the Magic Kingdom® that made such a lasting impression nearly 20 years ago. It was being part of a team that saved the life of an elderly man. “One afternoon I heard someone scream,” remembers Diegelmann, who was a professor of biochemistry. “I went out on the balcony and saw a man on the ground and thought, ‘I need to help’ so I went down, with no experience except knowing the importance of performing CPR and calling 9-1-1.” A nurse joined him at the scene and the two began CPR. An ambulance arrived minutes later. The gentleman survived, and Diegelmann was moved by the experience. But the basic scientist felt insecure about not knowing what to do in an emergency situation. Back home in Richmond he enrolled in a CPR class offered by the Forest View Rescue Squad, a volunteer organization serving his community. One thing led to another. He became CPR-certified. Next, he did a “ride along” and spent 24 hours with squad members encountering more than a dozen emergencies from traffic accidents to diabetic seizures to fistfights. “That was a lot of activity for a 24-hour period and it was definitely an adrenaline rush,” he said. It wasn’t long before Diegelmann became a certified emergency medical technician and an emergency vehicle operator course instructor. He joined the Forest View Rescue Squad in 1993, applying his skills as a scientific problem solver for 14 years. Today, as a squad retiree, he holds emeritus status as a lifetime member. Becoming a part of that world was a natural extension of Diegelmann’s professional life. “I’ve always had an underlying interest in

“When you start to work with clinicians, engineers and other nonmedical disciplines, translational projects quickly become reality.”

trauma and wound healing,” he said. “My classroom teaching, research and my outside interests are all involved. It all kind of melds together.” Now an internationally recognized leader in wound healing and tissue repair research, Diegelmann is president elect of the Wound Healing Society, a national organization he co-founded in the late 1980s to improve wound healing outcomes through science, professional education and communication. While with the National Institutes of Health in the 1970s, he co-authored a paper that is among the 20 most cited papers in the American Chemical Society’s Biochemistry journal. In 2001, he met Kevin Ward, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at the medical school, and became a founding member of the VCU Reanimation Engineering Science Center, a multidisciplinary cross-campus collaborative effort among clinicians, basic scientists, engineering and mathematical scientists. “If basic scientists were left alone, they’d be doing some very esoteric things,” Diegelmann said. “But when you start to work with clinicians, engineers and other nonmedical disciplines, translational projects quickly become reality. It becomes possible to do unique, life-saving science, making science fiction a reality.” One such project resulted in the invention of a proprietary hemorrhage control product, which received federal approval in 2007. It was endorsed by the U.S. Department of Defense and selected for the Advanced Technology Applications in Combat Casualty Care Award for the increased insight it brought to stopping the life-threatening hemorrhage that accounts for 60 percent of preventable combat deaths. Such bleeding was not unlike what Diegelmann had seen throughout his 14-year experience as an EMT. “It’s a challenge for a couple of guys to stop the bleeding from gunshot wounds, stabbings or being thrown through a car windshield from an accident,” he said. “You want to help come up with something in the lab to help take care of these problems.” The product has been reformulated as a nanopowder and is being successfully tested in humans as a means to control life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding.

—Bob Diegelmann

DEAN’S DISCOVERY REPORT | Volume 10, Number 2 The Dean’s Discovery Report is published twice a year by Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Medicine on the Medical College of Virginia Campus. Reader comments and suggestions are welcome; please call (800) 332-8813 or (804) 828-4800, e-mail MedAlum@vcu.edu or write to P.O. Box 980022, Richmond, VA 23298-0022. The Dean's Discovery Initiative provides an opportunity for donors to transform the research environment in the School of Medicine. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends can support the school's research endeavor in ways that traditional funding sources do not. Dean: Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D. Produced by the School of Medicine’s Alumni and Development Office: Associate Dean for Development, Tom Holland; Editor, Erin Lucero Contributing Writers: Jill U. Adams, Nan Johnson Photographers: Allen Jones, Kevin Schindler, Tom Kojcsich and VCU Creative Services Graphic Design: Zeigler|Dacus © Virginia Commonwealth University, 2011.

Serving the Medical College of Virginia Campus of Virginia Commonwealth University since 1949 and proud to be a partner with the School of Medicine. PO Box 980234 Richmond, VA 23298

(804) 828-9734 www.mcvfoundation.org


Dean's Discovery Report Fall 2011