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Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology propels work of Mark G. Malkin

Mark G. Malkin, M.D., holds the William G. Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology.

Mark G. Malkin, M.D., holds the William G. Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology.

CALL OUT BOX: Endowed chairs and professorships are among the highest forms of recognition provided by a university to a faculty member. These prestigious positions are critical in recruiting, retaining and supporting the work of distinguished faculty. The funding provides the resources needed to take their work to the next level.

Less than 1 percent of neurologists in the country are board-certified in neuro-oncology, a subspecialty that treats patients with cancers of the brain and spinal cord. In Virginia, more than 700 people are affected by primary malignant brain tumors each year, and about 4,000 more face complications from other cancers that have spread to the nervous system.

Mark G. Malkin, M.D., is the only board-certified neuro-oncologist in the Richmond, Virginia, area and one of just three in Virginia. In 2013, he was recruited by VCU from the Medical College of Wisconsin to build from scratch a comprehensive neuro-oncology program at VCU.

Today, that program is thriving. Malkin developed a neuro-oncology program with both clinical and academic elements, enlisting a staff of two more neuro-oncologists, a neuropsychologist and a nurse practitioner. In addition to seeing patients and creating an educational program for medical students, neurology residents and hematology-oncology fellows, Malkin has dedicated much of his time to research.

“Our team is focusing on translational research that takes innovative ideas from bench to bedside,” he says. “We’re able to bring the science that has been developed in the lab and apply it in our own clinical trials.”

In its first year, the team saw 33 patients, with one patient par­ticipating in the division’s single clinical trial. This year, Malkin says, the team is on track to see 294 new patients. In 2016, 19 patients participated in nine clinical trials, including a phase I study of the drug dimethyl fumurate used with standard care for glioblastoma, the most common primary malignant brain tumor.

“The initial lab experiments that suggested we explore this possible treatment further were conducted right here at Massey Cancer Center,” Malkin says. In June, he traveled to Chicago to present the results of the trial at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, where 38,000 oncology professionals from around the world gathered to discuss the latest developments in cancer research.

Malkin’s recruitment and successes on campus can be attrib­uted, at least partially, to the William G. Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology he holds. Reynolds, former vice president of government relations and public affairs at the Reynolds Metals Co. and former member of the MCV Foundation board of trustees, died from a brain tumor in 2003. In 2006, the Richard S. Reynolds Foundation pledged $1 million to support the VCU School of Medicine to establish, in his memory, VCU’s first chair in neuro-oncology.

“We believe that William G. Reynolds Jr. would share our enthusiasm for the pioneering work being done in his memory by Mark Malkin,” says Richard S. Reynolds III, the foundation’s president and cousin of William Reynolds. “We are very excited with his work and know that his achievements will only grow in importance as he continues in that field.”

Until now, the next nearest neuro-oncology specialist was located at the University of Virginia Health System in Char­lottesville, Virginia. Ashlee Loughan, Ph.D., who specializes in neuropsychology on Malkin’s team, says that many of their patients can’t drive because of physical or cognitive side effects of their treatments and depend on family members or friends to get to their appointments.

“So many of our patients have commented on what a relief it is to have more convenient care,” Loughan says. “Our team is committed to doing anything we can to reduce the burden on our patients and their families.”

Malkin says none of this progress would have been possible without the generosity of the Reynolds Foundation. He sees endless opportunity for the program’s continued development. In addition to holding clinics at hospitals in downtown Rich­mond, Stony Point and South Hill, Malkin is now focusing on increasing the program’s reach into the community by expanding as far as Williamsburg, Virginia, to make expert care even more accessible to patients in need.

This story by Brelyn Powell first appeared in Vol. 11 of Impact, VCU’s quarterly publication that shares stories about how philanthropy makes an impact for students, faculty and programs.


Real Beauty, Real Science

Gretchen Neigh, Ph.D., associate professor of anatomy and neurobiology, is the face of science.

Gretchen Neigh, Ph.D.

Anatomy and neurobiology’s Gretchen Neigh, Ph.D., was recently featured on Dove soap’s “Real Beauty” campaign, pointing out that beauty is using one’s strengths to improve the world.

At least one of them. You might have seen her on Dove soap’s “Real Beauty” campaign. Neigh recently responded to an online survey, suggesting they feature a woman in science because beauty is using one’s strengths to improve the world.

To her surprise, Dove asked her to share that message herself.

Neigh, who’s been at VCU’s School of Medicine about 18 months, aims to increase the visibility of women in science – and inspire the next generation to see it as a viable career path.

“When I was growing up [in rural Pennsylvania], the only scientist I had any idea existed was Mr. Wizard on Nickelodeon,” she says. She studied biology as an undergraduate, intending to go to veterinary school. But she began to doubt that career choice, and talked to her professors about other possibilities. “I knew some did research, but I didn’t really know what that entailed. My professors suggested I do some small research investigations.”

That led to an independent field study, camping out on the side of a hill in all weather to watch the behavior of a herd of llamas. “After that, I decided against field research,” she says. But research itself was a fit, and she ended up in an internship at Ohio State University. “The first time I saw a real, functional NIH-funded lab, I loved it and knew that was what I wanted to do.”

In her psychoneuroendocrinology and psychoneuroimmunology lab at VCU, she is studying the effects of stress on the body, and the biological changes that result in mental health challenges such as depression. She also sees the lab as a chance to mentor aspiring scientists and welcomes undergraduates onto her team.

“The steps following undergrad are highly competitive and sometimes difficult to navigate,” she says. “I want to help students figure out what they want, what they need to get to that goal, and encourage them along their chosen path.”

Neigh’s participation in Dove’s Real Beauty campaign was born of that spirit. As social media editor of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology’s journal, she admits that she spends more time on Twitter than the average scientist might. “I’m always looking for ways to make it more publicly known that there’s a broad range of scientists.”

So when she noticed Dove’s call for participants in the Real Beauty promotion and wrote in, she was ready to recommend some peers. But Dove ended up asking her to be a face of the campaign.

Her quote:
“Real Beauty is using what makes you special to make the world more beautiful. I use my scientific abilities to study the brain with the goal of improving mental health.”

“People come in all shapes and sizes and areas of interest, and you can be more than one thing – scientists are more than just scientists,” she says. The multifaceted diversity in backgrounds, experiences and interests that the university offers were why she chose to come to VCU.

“VCU offers amazing programs to increase diversity in science. To have so many programs in one place is quite impressive and a tremendous opportunity to advance science.”

By Lisa Crutchfield


Former Dean Dr. Jerry Strauss receives international honor

Jerome F. Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., accepted the 2017 Arnaldo Bruno Prize for Gynaecology.Jerome F. Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., accepted the 2017 Arnaldo Bruno Prize for Gynaecology, one of the highest international honors conferred by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei.

In Rome on June 15, Jerome F. Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., was awarded the 2017 Arnaldo Bruno Prize for Gynaecology. The award is one of the highest international honors conferred by the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei and was presented at its closing ceremony of the academic year.

The oldest scientific academy worldwide, the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei was founded in 1603 and counts Galileo among its earliest members. Since 1992, the academy has served as the scientific consultant to the president of the Italian Republic. Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, was in attendance at the June 15 ceremony, and Strauss had the opportunity to meet him beforehand.

“In science, you don’t expect to be honored with awards and prizes,” Strauss says. “But to be recognized by a scientific academy with the stature and longevity of the Accademia is undeniably exhilarating. I’ll remember this day and especially the setting – the Accademia building is beautiful, filled with art and, of course, history.”

Similar to the National Academy of Science in the U.S., the Italian academy promotes and disseminates scientific knowledge, conducts research and publishes reports and opinions that guide public authorities. It also awards prizes for literature, music, physics and mathematics among other disciplines, and in that way has a larger scope, much like the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Arnaldo Bruno Prize was created in 2001 in memory of the Italian gynecologist, Arnaldo Bruno. Past winners are distinguished investigators and clinicians from around the world.

A professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Strauss has authored more than 300 original scientific articles and holds 12 issued U.S. patents for discoveries and therapeutics. He is senior editor of Yen and Jaffe’s “Reproductive Endocrinology,” the major textbook in the field of reproductive medicine. He was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine (now called the National Academy of Medicine) of the National Academies of Science at age 47, and chaired two committees that issued reports on contraceptive development and the state of ovarian cancer research. Strauss also served as a member of the Discovery Expert Group for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chaired the Board of Scientific Counselors of the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

“Our congratulations to Dr. Strauss on this remarkable recognition,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., Dean of Medicine. “We are fortunate that Dr. Strauss is leading such a stellar funded research program in developmental biology and endocrinology at VCU.”

By Erin Lucero


Gerry Moeller selected as Wright Distinguished Chair

F. Gerard, “Gerry” Moeller, M.D.

F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., Director of the Wright Center and inaugural C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research

F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., Director of the Wright Center, has been appointed as the inaugural C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research.

Commenting on his appointment, Moeller said, “It is a great honor to be selected to hold a Chair that bears the names of C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright. Mr. Wright is one of the most magnanimous donors supporting clinical research at VCU, as was his wife before her passing. I personally owe a great debt of gratitude to Mr. Wright as does the Center that bears his name.”

In addition to directing the Wright Center, Moeller is internationally known for his translational research on impulsivity and addictions using brain imaging as a tool for medication development. He is principal investigator of a center grant funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop novel treatments for cocaine and opioid addictions.

At VCU, Moeller has worked to enhance the culture of translational research.  Approximately four years ago, he was appointed Director of the VCU Institute of Drug and Alcohol Studies, and two years ago, was appointed Director of the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and Associate Vice President of Clinical Research.

Francis L. Macrina, Ph.D., Vice President for Research and Innovation, called Moeller a physician-scientist who is a translational research exemplar. “Gerry ‘s appointment to the first Wright Distinguished Chair is a fitting tribute to his  accomplishments in addiction science and to his visionary leadership of the Wright Center,” Macrina said.

The C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation has established a total of six Distinguished Chairs totaling $12 million. The remaining five endowed chairs will be awarded to faculty whose work promises to catalyze continued growth in translational research in the decades to come.

Courtesy of Krista Hutchins, the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research


Aspiring vascular surgeons bring research to national stage

Class of 2020's Meg Reeves at national VSIG conference

M2 Meg Reeves presents her research poster at the Society for Vascular Surgery’s annual meeting. She was one of eight students from the medical school whose work was presented at the national conference.

In less than two years since its founding, the Vascular Surgery Interest Group at VCU is already making its mark on the national scene. Eight students had their original research presented at the Society for Vascular Surgery’s annual meeting, held May 30-June 3 in San Diego.

“We had the most medical student presenters of any institution,” says VSIG faculty adviser Michael Amendola, M’02, H’07, F’09, associate professor of surgery, VCU School of Medicine.

The Class of 2020’s Meg Reeves was among the student presenters. President of VSIG at VCU and a Rebecca Clary Harris M.D. Endowment Fund scholarship recipient, she presented at the moderated poster session.

“As a medical student who just recently completed my first year of school, this was my first conference (let alone national conference), first time presenting my research, first time to California — a whole lot of firsts,” she wrote in a blog for VSIG’s website. “But it was also an incredible learning experience.”

Amendola worked one-on-one with each student who had his or her poster presented at the national meeting. He also coordinated with Jeanine D. Guidry, who recently earned her Ph.D. from the medical school’s Department of Health Behavior and Policy and with whom he has ongoing research projects. As part of their collaboration, each student created recordings explaining his or her research project.

The students then included a code on their posters that meeting attendees could scan with their phones and listen to the audio recording, allowing them to hear about the research in the student’s own words (even if the student wasn’t present). VCU was the only school at the meeting to incorporate such an interactive technology.

Exposing students to vascular surgery and research opportunities early in their medical school careers is critical, Amendola says, as more integrated residencies require students to decide on a surgical specialty when they enter the residency match process in their fourth year of medical school.

“I want them to make the right career choice,” Amendola says. “It’s important that clinical faculty get involved very early on. It’s essential to the students’ development as scientists and physicians so they can make informed decisions related to their career choice.”

That’s where VSIG at VCU comes in, helping to connect students with vascular surgeons who can serve as mentors and answer questions about the field. Other chapter priorities include educational seminars, research and community outreach. The chapter’s success led to an invitation for Amendola to speak at this year’s annual meeting encouraging other medical students from around the country to start their own VSIG organizations.

“We are fortunate in the School of Medicine to have dedicated faculty who understand the value of sharing their wisdom and experience with the next generation of physicians,” says Peter F. Buckley, M.D., Dean of Medicine.

Amendola credits the organization’s grassroots beginnings — it was the brainchild of Grayson Pitcher, M’16, during his fourth year — for its popularity.

“It’s grown out of student interest,” he says. “All I’ve done is fanned the flame. These are students who do great work. It’s fun to mentor them.”

More information about VSIG at VCU is available on the organization’s website, where students post podcasts, blogs, research and other news for aspiring vascular surgeons on the MCV Campus and across the nation.

By Polly Roberts


American Association of Neurological Surgeons Names Alex B. Valadka, MD, FAANS, as Organization’s President

Alex B. Valadka, H’93, has been named president of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. The association announced his appointment during the 85th AANS Annual Scientific Meeting held in Los Angeles, April 22-26, 2017.

Alex Valadka, M.D.In addition to serving as professor and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery at VCU, Valadka is also a director of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and, most recently, served as the AANS treasurer. He has also served as chair of the Washington Committee for Neurosurgery. Prior to joining VCU, he served as chair and chief executive officer of the Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin, Texas, the largest and most comprehensive neuroscience program in Central Texas.

Valadka has a strong clinical and research interest in neurotrauma and critical care as evidenced by his research funding and publications. He has been an investigator and co-investigator on 18 research grants, including serving as initiating investigator on a $33.7-million Department of Defense research consortium on mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). He is author or co-author on more than a hundred scientific papers, as well as dozens of book chapters. He co-edited the textbook “Neurotrauma: Evidence-based Answers to Common Questions.”

“Health care delivery is changing very rapidly,” said Valadka. “Too much emphasis is being placed on cutting costs and piling more and more burdensome regulations on practitioners. Education and research are under assault. Worst of all, it has become too easy to lose sight of the enormous privilege of being a neurosurgeon. Even while we are fighting to preserve our patients’ access to the highest-quality neurosurgical care, we need to remember why we chose this profession: the opportunity to serve others.”

“Because the AANS has evolved and grown very rapidly over the past few years, we initiated a careful strategic planning process last year. Starting in April, we will implement the plan, ensuring that we continue to provide the highest level of service to our members and, most of all, to their patients.”

Source: American Association of Neurological Surgeons

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Updated: 04/29/2016