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School of Medicine discoveries

March 2009 Archives


The day Alex Meredith discovered that auditory regions of the brain convert to the sense of touch

Adult animals with hearing loss actually re-route the sense of touch into the hearing parts of the brain. In study findings published online in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of March 23, the team reported a phenomenon known as cross-modal plasticity in which a damaged sensory system is replaced by one of the remaining ones. In this case, the sense of hearing is replaced with touch.

“One often learns, anecdotally, that ‘grandpa’ simply turned off his hearing aid because it was confusing and no longer helped. Our study indicates that hearing deficits in adult animals result in a conversion of their brain’s sound processing centers to respond to another sensory modality, making the interpretation of residual hearing even more difficult,” said principal investigator Alex Meredith, Ph.D., a professor in the VCU Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology.

“These findings raise the possibility that even mild hearing loss in adult humans can have serious and perhaps progressive consequences,” Meredith said.

The findings provide researchers and clinicians with insight into how the adult brain retains the ability to re-wire itself on a large scale, as well as the factors that may complicate treatment of hearing loss with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The findings could have implication for the about 15 percent of American adults who suffer from some form of hearing impairment. The study was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Read more here.


The day the VCU School of Medicine moved up in NIH ranking

The NIH data shows that the VCU School of Medicine moved from No. 59 in 2007 to No. 53 for 2008, out of 126 ranked schools of medicine. The VCU School of Medicine in 2008 was awarded nearly $63 million from the NIH for medical research, with significant funding in neurosurgery, pharmacology and toxicology, human and molecular genetics, anatomy and internal medicine research.

“The increase in federal support for biomedical research reflects the creativity and dedication of our faculty and validates the importance and quality of their scholarship as viewed by their peers,” said Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “The increased funding has yielded already significant advances, which are documented in scientific publications in high impact journals, patents and patent applications.”

“Most importantly, the research is being translated into improved clinical care,” Strauss said.

Read more here.


The day students got an intimate look at global health

A new fourth-year elective in the medical school took eight students on a two-week trip to the mountains of rural Honduras.

“The students who have not traveled as much usually come back pretty shocked by the extremeness of the poverty,” said Steven Crossman, M.D., associate professor of Family Medicine and faculty coordinator for the elective. “I hope that they come back with the awareness that “primary care” means so much more to those who are poor. It includes access to clean water, shelter, education and nutrition: some of the social determinants of health.


The day VCU researchers identified genetic causes of pediatric brain tumors

An extremely aggressive brain tumor known as a medulloblastoma typically originates in the cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for the coordination of voluntary movement and helps maintain balance and muscle tone. Unfortunately, treatment options such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy can cause severe developmental and cognitive deficits.

Recently published findings in Nature Genetics may one day help researchers develop a therapy to target the specific pathway and block the genetic changes from occurring, possibly preventing tumor growth.

The discovery that genetic alternations to a molecular pathway result in the growth of medulloblastomas was reported by the VCU Medical Center’s Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Program. The team looks globally at the tumor-specific genetic changes that transform normal brain cells into cancerous cells, giving rise to pediatric brain tumors – the leading cause of death from childhood cancer.

“Ultimately, we hope to develop tests that will tell us, based on the patterns of gene alteration in a patient, which tailored treatment they will most benefit from and which treatment protocol will most effectively eradicate their tumor,” said Timothy E. Van Meter, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the VCU Department of Neurosurgery. Van Meter, together with Gary Tye, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon at the VCU Medical Center’s Harold F. Young Neurosurgical Center, is collaborating with investigators with the Labatt Brain Tumor Center at the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, Canada, on several projects. “Conducting research in pediatric brain tumors is challenging because statistically meaningful, clinically relevant studies require more patient samples than most centers have available to study,” said Van Meter. “Therefore, scientists such as myself form large collaborative networks — like the one we formed for this study — pooling resources and patient materials.”

In this study, the team examined approximately 200 medulloblastoma specimens and characterized alterations in DNA on chromosomes.The VCU team consulted and provided medulloblastoma clinical samples and data.

Read more here.


The day SOM alum Richard Baylor, M.D., was honored with the AMA’s Award for Excellence in Volunteerism

A member of the Class of 1946, Richard Baylor, M.D., was honored with the Jack B. McConnell, M.D. Award for Excellence in Volunteerism from the American Medical Association (AMA) Foundation. The 85-year-old retired physician from Kilmarnock, Virginia, spearheaded the Northern Neck Free Health Clinic at the age of 70. He recently stepped down as medical director but continues to have a daily presence at the clinic. During his tenure, the clinic has provided $26 million in health care to the working poor, which reached 4,500 patients and provided more than 58,000 patient visits.

The Jack B. McConnell, M.D. Award for Excellence in Volunteerism honors a senior (more than 55 years old) physician’s commitment to volunteer medical care provided to those without access to health care in the United States. Baylor was one of six physicians honored by the AMA Foundation. Another physician received the Dr. Nathan Davis International Award in Medicine and four physicians received the Pride in the Profession Award.

In a news release, AMA Foundation President Jean Howard commented that “These physicians make a difference in the lives of uninsured and underinsured patients through efforts that range from providing mobile health clinics, to opening facilities in both cities and rural communities, to improving health care on a global level. They are selflessly volunteering their time, effort, knowledge and resources to improve people’s health and well-being, and I can not think of a more noble calling.”

Baylor was presented his award during the seventh annual Excellence in Medicine Awards dinner on March 9, 2009 preceding the AMA’s National Advocacy Conference in Washington D.C. As the philanthropic arm of the American Medical Association, the AMA Foundation is committed to advancing healthcare in America through programs in medical education, research and public health.

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The day VCU SOM alum Tadataka Yamada, President of the Gates Foundation, returned to campus

Tadataka Yamada, M.D., completed his training in Gastroenterology at the School of Medicine in 1974. Now, as president of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, he leads efforts to help develop and deliver low-cost, life-saving health tools for the developing world. He returned to the MCV Campus in February to offer global perspectives on health care issues and highlight the dangers posed by preventable diseases and poor health care practices. He cited tuberculosis, the SARS epidemic and the pandemic flu as examples of potential outbreaks that could cause an international crisis.

Read more here.

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Updated: 04/29/2016