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School of Medicine discoveries

February 2009 Archives


The day the VCU Pauley Heart Center presented the National Award for Woman Cardiologist of the Year

C. Noel Bairey Merz, M.D., a nationally recognized authority on preventive cardiology and women’s heart health, was recognized today by the Virginia Commonwealth University Pauley Heart Center as the 2008 Dr. Carolyn McCue Woman Cardiologist of the Year.

The McCue Award honors the memory of Dr. Carolyn McCue, one of the few female cardiologists of her time and a pioneer in the field of pediatric cardiology, who practiced at the Medical College of Virginia, now the VCU Medical Center, for 42 years. During that time, she also created and chaired the school’s Pediatric Cardiology Division for 20 years.

“Cardiovascular disease is the most costly and most preventable disease in women, yet we spend the least on screening and prevention,” said Bairey Merz, who presented a
Medical Grand Rounds lecture that covered topics such as heart disease assessment in women, gender differences in cardiovascular disease and the women’s healthcare cost gap.

Bairey Merz is the Women’s Guild Endowed Chair in Women’s Health and director of the Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Since 1997, Bairey Merz has been chair of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute-sponsored multicenter study, Women’s Ischemic Syndrome Evaluation (WISE), which is investigating the potential for more effective diagnostic, evaluation and treatment methods for ischemic heart disease in women and is considered the pre-eminent examination of women and ischemic heart disease.

The McCue Award Program attracted nominations from top medical centers throughout the country. The award, which carries a $10,000 prize, is made possible by a grant from the McCue family to encourage and inspire other young women to pursue careers in cardiology.

Read more here.


The day Lesli Brown learned the ins and outs of the Virginia General Assembly

The MCV Campus is just blocks from Virginia’s General Assembly. That gave fourth-year medical student Lesli Brown the chance to intern two days a week with Newport News delegate Phillip A. Hamilton. As the legislative session drew to a close in February, the Richmond Times-
published an article about Lesli, who told the paper she “hopes to be a bug in lawmakers’ ears on health-care issues in the future.”

Read the full Richmond Times-Dispatch article here.


The day a new four-legged care giver joined the Virginia Treatment Center for Children’s staff

Two year old Bahia, who has been trained to assist people with disabilities, recently joined the staff at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center’s Virginia Treatment Center for Children (VTCC).

Bahia’s extensive training has prepared her to work with even the most difficult patients, helping them express their needs and work through problems. Her handler, Tess Searls, a nurse clinician at VTCC, feels that Bahia’s presence helps patients deal with the stress of hospitalization. “Some of our children are intimidated by adults,” says Searls, “but a dog normalizes their hospital experience.”

Under the direction of the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry, the VTCC provides mental-health services to the children, adolescents and families of Virginia. The center offers a wide range of psychiatric services and works to improve mental health through patient care, education and research.

Read more here.


The day a VCU alumnus became the Medical Director of the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic

Dr. Richard Bagnall, who graduated from the VCU School of Medicine in 1998, was recently appointed Medical Director for the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic. Dr. Bagnall will be the Clinic’s first full-time Medical Director. Until this year, VCU alum Dr. Richard Baylor (class of 1947) volunteered as the Center’s part-time Medical Director. Dr. Bagnall will take over Dr. Baylor’s duties, which include overseeing the daily operations of the medical clinic, staffing the day clinic, supervising the laboratory and helping secure additional testing, specialty referrals and medical procedures for the clinic’s patients.

The Northern Neck Free Health Clinic opened in 1993. Over 400 volunteers work with a small group of paid staff members to treat uninsured local residents. In 2008, the clinic recorded over 8,000 patient visits and provided the local community, which spans five counties, with over $5 million in patient care. The clinic relies heavily on grants and donations to fund its work.

Read more about the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic and its work here.


The day VCU School of Medicine researchers identified a gene linked to the aggressive progression of liver cancer

Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer, is the fifth most common cancer and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the world. In a study published online in the February issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers reported that the astrocyte elevated gene-1, AEG-1, plays a key role in regulating HCC. By examining human liver tumor cells of patients with HCC, the team found that the expression of AEG-1 gradually increases as the tumor becomes more and more aggressive.

The team found a significantly higher expression of AEG-1 protein in more than 90 percent of tumor samples from HCC patients compared to normal human liver cells. “No other genes have been shown to be upregulated in such a high percentage of HCC patients,” said principal investigator Devanand Sarkar, Ph.D., MBBS, assistant professor in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics.

This work was supported by grants from The Goldhirsh Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Spanish National Health Institute, and the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation.

Read more about this research.


The day Janet Niemeier evaluates a new treatment intervention for TBI patients

“A lack of information and limited resources contribute to the long-term challenges of living with brain injury,” said Janet Niemeier, Ph.D., associate professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. And each year, more than 1.4 million Americans must face life with the medical, cognitive and psychosocial challenges resulting from traumatic brain injury.

A new therapy has the potential to change the way these patients are treated. A randomized, controlled trial that is supported by a five-year grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development is studying a new treatment intervention known as FANCI (or First Steps Acute Neurobehavioral and Cognitive Intervention). During the acute phase of a patient’s recovery, the ten session program teaches patients with brain injuries about survival and treatment by addressing common post-injury challenges.

Patients’ families may also participate because a “brain injury can result in behavioral changes that are upsetting, even frightening to family members,” said Niemeier. The program helps family members understand what the patient is going through and gives them some tools for providing the right sort of care giving.

Read more about this grant.

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Updated: 04/29/2016