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April 2018 Archives


New program supporting cardiac research launches with help of alumni reviewers

William Miles, M'77, H'80, external reviewer for the Pauley Pilot Research Grants Program

William Miles, M’77, H’80, served as an external reviewer for the Pauley Pilot Research Grants Program.

Pauley Heart Center physicians and scientists have long sought novel solutions to improving cardiovascular health. Now, donors are helping to fund promising early-stage research through the Pauley Pilot Research Grants Program.

“Despite the global realization that cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death worldwide, efforts to increase research funding to improve awareness, clinical outcomes and quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease continue to fall short of meeting the demands,” says Pauley researcher Fadi Salloum, PhD’05 (PHIS). “With continuous budget cuts to major funding sources including the National Institutes of Health, promising new and mid-career investigators, in particular, are facing major challenges to secure grant funding for innovative research.”

The pilot grants provide funding for research proposals that meet three criteria: an innovative idea to improve cardiovascular health, a project that is feasible in 12 to 18 months and the potential to attract additional funding.

The first grant applications were due on Sept. 19 — in honor of the birthday of heart center benefactor Stan Pauley. Housestaff alumnus Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., H’07, recruited an external review committee composed of alumni, retired faculty of the heart center and international experts.

William Miles, M’77, H’80, chief of electrophysiology at the University of Florida, calls serving on the committee “an honor.”

“All the institutions I have gone to have given me something in return,” he says. “MCV marked the beginning of my medical career. It provided a really broad exposure to all of medicine through an active emergency room and diverse patient population. If I’m invited to serve as a reviewer, I’ll always say yes. I’d love to participate again.”

Miles reviewed two applications and says he enjoyed seeing the type of research taking place in the heart center. “I was impressed with the quality of what I saw,” he says. “These were substantive, cutting-edge projects with application to everyday cardiology.”

Pauley Pilot Research Grant recipients

Pauley Pilot Research Grants Program recipients (l-r): Drs. Salvatore Carbone, Lei Xi, Mohammed Quader and Stefano Toldo

In November, the program awarded four grants for a total of $112,229:

• Integrated in vitro-in silico-in vivo modeling of engineered tissue vascular growth, development and function, by Stefano Toldo, Ph.D., and Joao Soares, Ph.D. (School of Engineering), $37,229
• Unsaturated fatty acids enriched-diet to improve metabolic flexibility and glucose tolerance in obese patients, by Salvatore Carbone, M.S., and Francesco Celi, M.D. (Division of Endocrinology), $25,000
• Nutraceutical therapy for alleviating cardiotoxicty of cancer chemotherapy, by Lei Xi, M.D., $25,000
• Optimal preservation condition for the donation after cardiac death heart (transplant), by Mohamed Quader, M.D., and Stefano Toldo, Ph.D., $25,000

“The four projects are diverse in nature, ranging from a partnership between tissue engineering and small animal surgery to enhance coronary artery bypass graft surgery, dietary modifications to enhance cardiorespiratory fitness, nutraceutical therapy to alleviate cardiotoxicity of chemotherapy and attempts to increase the pool of potential donor hearts for transplantation,” says Salloum, who served on the internal review committee.

The projects began Dec. 1. The grants will allow the investigators to pursue their ideas and possibly glean important data that will make future proposals more competitive for external research funding.

“Excellent ideas submitted to the NIH and other federal funding organizations fall short of funding if not substantiated with strong feasibility and preliminary data,” Salloum explains.

If you would like to inquire about making a donation to the Pauley Pilot Research Grants Program or serving as an external reviewer, please contact Carrie Mills, senior major gift officer, at cmills@vcuhealth.org or (804) 828-0423.

Annual fund donations to the Pauley Heart Center were critical to funding the new program. An additional $115,000 also has been donated to the program by several individuals.

“The generosity of our donors is greatly appreciated,” Salloum says. “Numerous meritorious grant proposals often go unfunded due to the lack of sufficient funds.”

In the future, “we hope to further grow this program. Our goal would be to make sure that every meritorious proposal from a Pauley researcher gets funded by a pilot grant.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of The Beat, a publication of VCU Health Pauley Heart Center.


Anatomy alumnus Jim Nemitz named next WVSOM president

James W. Nemitz, PhD’80 (ANAT)

James W. Nemitz, PhD’80 (ANAT)

The West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine Board of Governors appointed James W. Nemitz, PhD’80, as the medical school’s next president.

Nemitz, who has been employed with WVSOM for the past 31 years and currently serves as the school’s vice president for administration and external relations, will begin his role on July 1. Nemitz will be WVSOM’s seventh president.

“I am truly honored to be selected as the next president of WVSOM. This is a place that I’ve devoted a majority of my career, it’s a place that I love with all my heart and it’s a place that I deeply care about,” Nemitz said after his announcement. “I have been overwhelmed by the amount of support I received during the process and since the announcement has been made. I look forward to stepping into this role with a lot of enthusiasm and energy for the purpose of making sure that this great institution continues to move forward and make a difference in the lives of others.”

Nemitz will succeed Michael Adelman, D.O., D.P.M., J.D., who has been serving as WVSOM’s president the past eight years and, who Nemitz said, has acted as a mentor to him throughout his time in a leadership position.

“Dr. Adelman has been a great mentor to me. I couldn’t have asked for a more caring and thoughtful person to help me understand what it takes to be a president,” Nemitz said.

Adelman said he is confident that Nemitz’s professional qualifications and passion for WVSOM will help lead the school forward.

“I can’t think of a more deserving person to lead WVSOM as the next president,” Adelman said. “Jim has worked at WVSOM for more than three decades and that alone shows his commitment to our school. He began as an anatomy professor, and over the years, has been successful in his leadership roles. I have no doubt that he will continue to have the school’s best interest in mind when he assumes his role as president. Though I hate to say goodbye to WVSOM, I know it will be in good hands when I leave.”

Charles Davis, D.O., WVSOM’s Board of Governors chairman, said he was honored to announce the appointment of Nemitz as the next president.

“As a Board of Governors, we believe Dr. Nemitz is the best candidate to continue the indelible legacy Dr. Adelman has created during his tenure, as well as lead the school. Transitions always have challenges; however, I anticipate this changing of the guard to be virtually seamless,” Davis said.

During the transitional period leading up to July, Nemitz said he plans to work to establish himself as president by reinforcing relationships with faculty, staff and students at the school and Statewide Campus, alumni, community members, legislators, hospital and clinic leaders, and West Virginia university and college presidents.

“I’m excited to get started. As I told the board, you don’t take lightly the fact that you’re protecting the jobs of almost 300 employees and overseeing 800-plus students,” he said. “I truly feel in my heart this is what I’m supposed to do and I look forward to leading the school.”

In his current role, Nemitz oversees the accreditation and institutional effectiveness processes; research and grants; community outreach; government relations at the local, state and national levels; and manages special events such as graduation, grand affair and convocation/white coat ceremony. He has also been WVSOM’s associate dean for preclinical education, director of the Office of Rural Recruitment and Retention and has served as an anatomy professor. He has provided service to the national osteopathic profession and West Virginia higher education.

Courtesy of West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine


Endowed Scholarship Brunch connects scholarship donors, recipients

Steven P. Heckel speaks at the MCV Foundation Endowed Scholarship Brunch next to a photo of his sister Janice Heckel, M'80, H'84. Steven P. Heckel speaks at the MCV Campus Endowed Scholarship Brunch next to a photo of his sister Janice Heckel, M’80, H’84. View more photos from the annual brunch

Today, the dream of a career in medicine often comes with a heavy burden of debt. In the Class of 2017, only 42 students graduated debt-free.

The remaining students carried an average debt of $201,370.

Janice Heckel, M’80, H’84, knew the toll this debt could take on students and how it might influence their choice of specialty. She included a bequest to the MCV Foundation in her will, and after her passing in 2014, the Janice L. Heckel Scholarship was established in the School of Medicine.

In February, Heckel’s brother Steven spoke at the MCV Campus Endowed Scholarship Brunch, saying his sister wanted to defray the educational expenses of medical students so they could feel free and empowered to become the types of doctors they truly want to be.

As they pursue that goal, Heckel said his sister would have wanted the future physicians, pharmacists, nurses, therapists and dentists in the room to keep a sense of humor and perpetuate the kindness from which they’ve all benefited.

The annual scholarship brunch provides an opportunity for donors to the five health sciences schools to meet the students who are benefiting from their gifts and investments. This year, more students than ever before have had their burden lightened, as the number of endowed scholarships at the MCV Foundation grew to 391 funds and paid out $2.8 million in scholarship awards.

In the School of Medicine, the 1838 Campaign aims to increase the number and size of its scholarships to give the school a competitive edge for recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt. Full- and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed.

Thanks to the support of alumni and friends, 21 new student scholarships already have been established during the 1838 Campaign. An additional nine will be awarded this fall, and 16 more are currently in the works. Another 46 existing scholarship funds have increased in size with the addition of new gifts.

“We’re beyond thankful for the friends who have already invested in the future of our students and we’re eager to continue the momentum,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “The 1838 Campaign is our approach to helping talented and compassionate students fulfill their dream of becoming physicians — regardless of their families’ financial resources. We can’t do it alone.”


Jack Ende, M’73: Sharing the physician’s voice

This month, Jack Ende, M'73, concludes his yearlong tenure as president of the American College of Physicians.

This month, Jack Ende, M’73, concludes his yearlong tenure as president of the American College of Physicians, the nation’s largest medical specialty organization.

Over the past year, Jack Ende, M’73, has found himself amidst debates over subjects from A1C guidelines to gun control. But that didn’t come as a surprise; as president of the American College of Physicians, it’s his job to explain the college’s stance on many issues.

“What makes it worthwhile is that the college takes positions based upon evidence. When we publish a guideline or take a position on socioeconomic determinants of health, gun violence, climate change or other topics, these are well-researched positions that one can comfortably stand behind. There’s always controversy and you must be prepared for that, but these are positions that are worth making public. It’s an honor to be the spokesman.”

Serving as ACP president for 2017-18 has been a high point in a distinguished career. “You get a perspective on these sorts of issues and you appreciate how important the physician’s voice is. All physicians are agents for their patients, some become advocates and some even become activists.”

When he’s not leading the nation’s largest medical specialty organization (with 152,000 members, it’s also the second-largest physician group), Ende is the Schaeffer Professor of Medicine and assistant dean for advanced medical practice at the Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania. He’s also executive medical director for Penn Signature Services, Penn Medicine’s line of programs that coordinate provision of medical services to international patients. He has received numerous teaching awards, including several at the national level.

“He is one of the international greats in medical education. We all quote from his works; his 1983 article ‘Feedback in Clinical Education,’ is in my back pocket at all times,” says Stephanie Call, M.D., professor in VCU’s Department of Internal Medicine and program director of its training program.

Ende didn’t necessarily see a future for himself as an activist during medical school, but his commitment to the profession spurred him to seek an active role in the ACP, where he rose through the ranks before assuming the top job.

Hot-button topics during his tenure included firearm violence after events in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and ensuring health care for Americans.

“The college has very strong policies on access to care, is a strong proponent of extending Medicaid services and making sure that everybody has access to mental health care – the kind of medical care that our nation deserves,” Ende says. “When there were threats, the college got involved.” One thing they did was to join other medical organizations and send each group’s president to Capitol Hill to meet with legislators.

And while the College looks at timely external social determinants, it’s also examining itself internally to ensure gender and thought diversity among its members.

The ACP involves itself with issues in the U.S., but Ende was pleased to find many of the college’s concerns and platforms embraced by other medical societies such as the European Federation of Internal Medicine. The ACP has 18 chapters outside the U.S., and he’s visited quite a few. “It’s been a year filled with travel, and that’s been part of the excitement.”

Ende and Call will travel to Brazil this spring to lead a faculty development program for medical educators there. “It’s a real privilege that he asked me to help run this program,” says Call, who is associate chair for education in the Department of Internal Medicine.

After he hands over the gavel to the college’s next president in April, Ende looks forward to continuing work that’s been especially important to him over the years. One is developing a program of rounding on patients to emphasize the importance of bedside diagnosis and teaching. “We have to work hard to make sure we don’t lose what’s important in medicine.”

By Lisa Crutchfield


Cardiology Chair Ken Ellenbogen honored for outstanding scholarship

Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, M.D.

Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, M.D.

The American College of Cardiology has recognized Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D., for his contributions to its flagship journal.

Ellenbogen was honored with the 2018 Simon Dack Award for Outstanding Scholarship at the Journal of the American College of Cardiology editorial board meeting held in conjunction with the ACC’s 67th Annual Scientific Session March 10-12 in Orlando.

A leader in VCU’s Pauley Heart Center, Ellenbogen is chair of the Division of Cardiology and director of clinical cardiac electrophysiology and pacing on the MCV Campus. He holds the Martha M. and Harold W. Kimmerling, M.D. Chair in Cardiology.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology ranks first among cardiovascular journals in the world for its scientific impact. The Simon Dack Award honors the JACC’s founding editor and recognizes the contributions and accomplishments of outstanding peer reviewers who assist the journal in its mission of publishing important new clinical information. Ellenbogen was honored with four fellow reviewers from University of California, Irvine; Hospital Universitario Clinico San Carlos in Madrid, Spain; Johns Hopkins Medicine; and Mayo Clinic.

“Improving patient care depends upon developing a better understanding of health and disease, and then applying those findings,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Dr. Ellenbogen has a remarkable track record in doing that, and he’s known internationally for advancing the cardiology field through his research and teaching. I’m proud to see him recognized for his contributions.”

Ellenbogen’s academic, clinical and research efforts include developing new types of pacemakers and exploring the role of pacemakers in treating congestive heart failure and atrial fibrillation. He also is involved in developing more effective ways to perform ablation to treat atrial fibrillation.

The editor or co-editor of five textbooks of cardiac electrophysiology, he has served as principal investigator on more than 100 funded grants and contracts and has published more than 250 original scientific reports and more than 140 book chapters, editorials and review articles. Ellenbogen serves on the editorial boards of seven specialty journals including the JACC. A fellow of the ACC, he is co-editor for the ACC’s Electrophysiology Self-Assessment Program.

Ellenbogen has served as chair of the American Heart Association’s Committee on Electrocardiography and Arrhythmias as well as on the steering committee for two important National Institutes of Health trials, AFFIRM and MOST. Ellenbogen has been an invited lecturer and speaker all over the world and has given over 300 talks at major national meetings.

A member of the School of Medicine faculty since 1986, Ellenbogen earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University, where he also did his residency training in internal medicine. He received his cardiology fellowship training at Duke University Medical Center.

By Erin Lucero


Biochemistry alumnus Glenn Hoke returns to campus

Glenn D. Hoke Jr., PhD’86 (BIOC), returned to campus in February to speak with students about his career in industry.

Glenn D. Hoke Jr., PhD’86 (BIOC), who was honored with the medical school’s Outstanding Basic Health Sciences Alumnus Award in 2000, returned to campus in February to speak with students about his career in industry. “Remember, you are trained to solve problems.”

When Glenn D. Hoke Jr., PhD’86 (BIOC), headed into a post-doctoral position with Smith Kline & French in 1986, it was an unusual choice.

“In fact, it was frowned upon at the time,” he says. “The university track was the norm. That’s changed tremendously, but there’s still a bias against it.”

Hoke’s perspective is accurate. According to a 2016 report by Next Gen PhD, 81 percent of current postdocs named “university faculty” as their long-term career goal, while just 14 percent end up in tenure-track faculty roles.

There are more Ph.D.s in biomedical sciences than there are academic positions. However, Hoke says, the skill sets that these scientists develop are useful in a wide variety of sectors, including biotechnology and pharmaceutical as well as medical devices and diagnostic companies.

To expand students’ horizons, VCU coordinates a career and professional development program that offers students opportunities like Ram Road Trips to learn about potential employers along with training in business etiquette. The program also asks alumni like Hoke to share lessons from their careers.

In February, Hoke returned to the MCV Campus to speak with biomedical doctoral and postdoctoral scientists about his path that led him from bench research, into roles as a director, a VP, a CSO and a CEO.

While he learned critical thinking and data interpretation during his Ph.D. training, Hoke says, it was his time at Smith Kline that introduced him to the field of drug discovery. After a three-year post-doc, he decided to stay in industry, taking a position as the first senior scientist at Ionis, a company that develops antisense therapy to treat genetic disorders.

In entry-levels positions, “you wear a lot of hats,” says Hoke, whose construction background unexpectedly came into play. “I built the company’s tissue culture rooms – literally, out of 2x4s. I also learned about the showmanship involved in selling a concept and securing funding for a project.”

His front row seat on the biotech revolution produced career moves that, today, have him consulting with companies and health care organizations including the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Richmond to improve treatment with a molecular diagnostics approach to diabetic ulcers.

“Our alumni are a priceless resource for our school and for our students,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “Dr. Hoke’s choice to pursue a position in industry is an example to today’s students, and we’re grateful to him for sharing some of the knowledge he’s gained over the course of his career.”

Hoke has learned that no two diseases are the same on the molecular level, and often multiple therapeutic strategies are needed as the underlying molecular architecture of diseases can change in response to each intervention. One size doesn’t fit all in treating disease, he cautioned his audience, and you shouldn’t be too narrowly focused in your career, either.

“I studied mitochondrial proteins during my Ph.D., but that’s not what I did in my career. Don’t be self-limiting. Remember, you are trained to solve problems. So collaborate, make contacts, get your hands in other projects.”

Applying that approach has opened a series of doors for Hoke. Early in his career, he got hired after a single interview – it’s been his one and only. After that, his projects and connections moved him to each new position.

He recognizes that’s probably not going to be the case for most in today’s hyper-competitive job market.

“You need to stand out and be entrepreneurial in spirit,” he encouraged his audience. And be willing to take the occasional risk. He recalls one job change that required a step down and a pay cut – it was worth it for the chance to learn about mRNA expression.

“I am impressed by the training and scientific knowledge of today’s graduate students and postdoctoral scientists,” Hoke says. “From the questions I was asked by those in the audience, it is evident they have the necessary tools. Their journey forward will change over time, but with their training and problem-solving skills honed at VCU, they are prepared to succeed in any endeavor they pursue. Their future is up to them.”

By Erin Lucero

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Updated: 04/29/2016