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School of Medicine discoveries

September 2012 Archives


N.Y. Times highlights documentary featuring anesthesiologist Bruce Spiess

Bruce Spiess, M.D.

Bruce Spiess, M.D.

School of Medicine professor Bruce Spiess, M.D., has received national attention for his testimony in the recently released documentary, “Primum Non Nocere: First – Do No Harm.” The film, which recommends significant reductions in the number of blood transfusions performed, was featured in the New York Times the week it premiered.

Although transfusions were widely adopted starting with World War I, the film suggests that sufficient research was never conducted to verify the safety of the process. Spiess and the other researchers contend that blood has a short shelf life, and can spread diseases and the donor’s DNA to the recipient, making transfusions more dangerous to patients than previously realized. To combat the threat to patient health, the film recommends decreasing transfusions and encouraging the technique of the bloodless surgery.

An international leader in transfusions and operating room safety, Spiess is the director of the VCU Blood Utilization Committee and VCU’s Practicing Excellence in Transfusion Therapies.


MCV Campus research on bath salts draws national media attention

Louis J. De Felice, Ph.D.

Louis J. De Felice, Ph.D.

As legislators work to ban its active ingredients, the designer drug with the misleading name remains easy to acquire. Though poison control centers are seeing an uptick in reports of the strange behaviors characterized by the use of the drug known as bath salts, not much has been understood about its effect on the brain.

With the support of a five-year, $2.5 million grant from the National Institute for Drug Abuse, MCV Campus researchers are studying the synthetic drug. Physiology and Biophysics’ Louis J. De Felice, Ph.D., Pharmacology and Toxicology’s Steve Negus, Ph.D., and Richard A. Glennon, Ph.D., chairman of the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry, have teamed up to combine their expertise.

Steve Negus, Ph.D.

Steve Negus, Ph.D.

The two main active ingredients in bath salts are Methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV) and mephedrone. The researchers presented findings at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society, and submitted for peer review, that show mephedrone likely acts like methamphetamine by releasing dopamine into the brain while the MDPV acts like cocaine by preventing dopamine from being absorbed back into the brain.

“It’s like a double punch,” says De Felice. “It’s as if a person were to take methamphetamine and cocaine at the same time but staggered for maximum effect.”

As the behavior of those who take the drug makes headlines, the researchers’ work has caught the attention of national media outlets. The researchers have been featured on programs including:

Richard A. Glennon, Ph.D.

Richard A. Glennon, Ph.D.

With the Canadian government’s recent ban on MDPV, the work also attracted notice from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. De Felice spent a June afternoon on back-to-back long-distance phone calls, immersed in more than a dozen live radio interviews with cities stretching from the east coast to the west coast of Canada.

You can learn more about the phenomenon in a written and video On Topic report produced by VCU’s communication office.


Medical student’s research findings showcased at national conference

Kathryn Shaia

Kathryn Shaia

A national conference that typically celebrates the research of residents and fellows selected Kathryn Shaia, a third-year medical student, to present her research findings. Shaia was one of only two medical students invited to speak at the University HealthSystem Consortium Annual Conference. She shared results of her study that showed how transitional care programs can reduce hospital readmissions rates by assigning a nurse practitioner to provide in-home services after discharge.

“Because this session targets residents and fellows, Kathryn’s selection is exceptional,” said Alan Dow, M.D., the School of Medicine’s assistant dean of clinical curriculum, who helped Shaia prepare for the conference.

Shaia was mentored by internal medicine professor Peter Boling, M.D., and initially submitted her research for a poster presentation. But, after reviewing her work, conference organizers asked her to give a more detailed 15-minute oral presentation.

From 2002 to 2009, the VCU Medical Center’s internal medicine service readmission rate was 17.3 percent. At the conference, Shaia shared research showing that a hospital transitional care program dropped the 30-day readmission rate to 7.23 percent for the patients who participated.

“We know that far too many patients are readmitted to the hospital within a month of discharge,” Dow said. “Kathryn’s project showed that having a nurse practitioner provide case management and medical services at a patient’s home could reduce the rate of readmissions to the hospital. Her work suggests this intervention could lead to higher quality care at less cost.”

As Shaia continues her journey to becoming a physician, she is looking to find the field of medicine that suits her best. But, she said, the findings from research projects like this will shape her perspective throughout her career.

“Prior to medical school, I received my M.H.A. from UNC-Chapel Hill, and I have always been interested in looking at healthcare from a systems perspective in addition to an individual patient perspective,” she said. “I am currently undecided as to what type of medicine I will practice, but I know that I will implement quality improvement initiatives in whatever field I choose.”

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