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Passion pays off: Sanyal to receive premier award in field of liver disease

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award.

The American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases will honor Arun Sanyal, M.D., who holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research, with the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award, recognized as the premier award in the field of liver disease.

In November 2018, Arun Sanyal, M.D., will accept the 2018 Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. The award signifies 30 years of research including 17 continuous years of National Institutes of Health funding, the development of therapeutics reducing liver disease across the globe, and countless international leadership roles and awards.

“This is the premier award in the field of liver disease and Dr. Sanyal is most deserving,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D. “His work is the definition of translational medicine. Through his extraordinary commitment to research, teaching and patient care, and to always finding a better way, he has improved the standard of care for liver disease around the world.”

A housestaff alumnus who’s now a professor in the VCU Department of Internal Medicine and education core director in the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research, Sanyal embodies a passion for liver disease that has taken him to the top of his field. It’s a much different place than he envisioned in 1987, when he came to the MCV Campus as a gastroenterology fellow.

“I had no interest in liver disease and I was actually terrified by it because all the patients were dying when I was in training,” Sanyal says.

Then-chair of VCU’s Division of Gastroenterology Z. Reno Vlahcevic, M.D., who had recruited Sanyal, wasted no time in calling the young trainee into his office. “He knew it troubled me tremendously that what was being taught as the best care possible still resulted in the majority of people dying,” Sanyal says. “I thought that was completely unacceptable. He believed that would prove a strong motivator, so he told me, ‘I think you should do liver disease.’

“And off I went.”

Finding a better way
Today, Sanyal holds the Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology Research that honors his mentor who died in 2000. “At a personal level, it’s extremely poignant and meaningful. I hope I can do him proud.”

Practically, the professorship gives Sanyal the freedom to get early-stage, unfunded projects off the ground with the goal of doing what Vlahcevic knew he wanted — and needed — to do: find a better way to treat liver disease.

“We have developed new paradigms for drug development that are now being used across all the field of liver disease. None of that would have been possible without having an endowed professorship that protects your time for that kind of research,” Sanyal says. “It allows more time for educating young physicians and for developing new ideas and concepts that have a footprint beyond the university to a national and even international level.”

Sanyal has had a hand in three high-profile advances that have improved liver disease treatment since his training days. First, along with a former radiology colleague, he helped establish the foundation for a procedure known as TIPS that places a stent in the abdomen and has helped lower the mortality rate associated with internal bleeding in cirrhosis patients from 30 percent to 15 percent.

Second, he discovered a link between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance that translated to new treatment and practice guidelines. Finally, Sanyal is in the midst of a study to reverse kidney shutdown in cirrhosis patients that could reduce mortality for this otherwise fatal condition without liver transplantation.

Over the next five years, Sanyal will lead a $14 million national project to find an alternative to using biopsies to test for fatty liver disease. Today, many patients will refuse the invasive procedure, allowing an undiagnosed disease to fester until the only remaining treatment option is a liver transplant.

“By developing simple, non-invasive tools that every physician can use at the bedside, we hope that we will be able to expand access to care for the millions of people who have this condition so we can identify those who need more aggressive attention,” Sanyal says.

“A living textbook”
Sanyal credits his family, teachers, colleagues and patients who have helped him advance the liver disease field.

“Patients are my best teachers,” Sanyal says. “You don’t need a podcast. Every time I walk into a clinic, I’m reading a living textbook.”

It’s a textbook he says he continues to learn from every day.

“The work,” he says, “is never finished.”

By Polly Roberts


Endowed professorships, chairs propel medical school forward

2018 Investiture Dinner

Endowed professorships and chairs represent the highest academic honor a university can bestow on a faculty member. They aim to help universities recruit and retain the brightest teachers, research-ers and clinicians, enriching the academic and clinical environment for students and patients alike.

In September 2018, the VCU School of Medicine honored 34 faculty members who have recently been awarded endowed professorship and chair positions. They, along with other faculty across the university, were formally invested and presented with medallions during an Investiture Dinner.

“It’s truly an honor to see this remarkable group of colleagues recognized for their work to advance our missions of education, patient care and discovery,” says Dean of Medicine Peter F. Buckley, M.D., who presided over the ceremony along with School of Business Dean Ed Grier.

“We wouldn’t be able to provide such outstanding recognition of our faculty’s work without the support of our donors,” Buckley says. “An endowed professorship or chair serves as a lasting tribute to the donor who established it, and their generosity will be felt on the MCV Campus — and in the lives of students and patients — for many years to come.”

The School of Medicine celebrated a milestone year for philanthropy during fiscal year 2018, benefiting from more than $42 million in philanthropic giving that put the medical school 80 percent of the way toward its goal in its ongoing $300 million fundraising campaign.

“A successful campaign translates to great things for the students, faculty and programs in our school,” Buckley says. “It is vital to sustaining our core values of cultivating a life-changing learning experience for students and trainees, exceptional care for the sick, and a curiosity for medical research and discovery.”

2018 Investiture Dinner

Congratulations to the newest incumbents of the following endowed professorships and chairs:

    • Hamid I. Akbarali, Harvey B. and Gladys V. Haag Professorship
    • Douglas W. Arthur, Florence and Hyman Meyers Endowed Chair in Radiation Oncology
    • Charles E. Bagwell, Arnold M. Salzberg Professorship in Pediatric Surgery
    • Gonzalo M. Bearman, Richard P. Wenzel, M.D., M.Sc. Professorship of Internal Medicine
    • Vikram S. Brar, Riffenburgh Professorship Endowment
    • Francesco S. Celi, William G. Blackard Chair in Endocrinology
    • Daniel H. Coelho, G. Douglas Hayden Professorship in Otology
    • Alan W. Dow, Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Health Administration and Internal Medicine
    • Kenneth A. Ellenbogen, Martha M. and Harold W. Kimmerling, MD Chair in Cardiology at MCV/VCU
    • Michael J. Feldman, James C. Roberts, Esq. Professorship in Cardiology at MCV-VCU
    • Zachary M. Gertz, Hermes A. Kontos, MD Professorship in Cardiology at MCV-VCU
    • Gregory J. Golladay, Allison D. and J. Abbott Byrd, III Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery
    • Daniel C. Grinnan, Dianne Harris Wright Professorship in Pulmonology
    • Amy D. Harper, Shirley Van Epps Waple Professorship
    • Robin, Gene N. Peterson, M.D. Professorship in Safety, Quality and Service


  • W. Gregory Hundley George W. Vetrovec Chair
  • Vigneshwar Kasirajan, Stuart McGuire Chair of Surgery Fund
  • Stephen L. Kates, John A. Cardea M.D. Chair in Orthopaedic Surgery
  • John F. Kuemmerle, Caravati Chair in Gastroenterology Fund
  • Victoria G. Kuester, Beverley Boyden Clary Chair in Pediatric Orthopaedics
  • James L. Levenson, Rhona L. Arenstein Professorship in Psychiatry
  • Marlon F. Levy, David Hume Endowed Chair
  • Mark M. Levy, H. M. Lee Professorship in Transplant Surgery
  • John McCarty, G. Watson James Professorship
  • Frederick G. Moeller, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Addiction Science
  • Lawrence D. Morton, John M. Pellock Professorship in Child Neurology
  • Guilherme M. Rocha Campos, Paul J. Nutter, MD Professorship in General Surgery
  • Fadi N. Salloum, Natalie N. and John R. Congdon Sr. Endowed Chair in the VCU Pauley Heart Center
  • Arun J. Sanyal, Z. Reno Vlahcevic Research Professorship in Gastroenterology
  • Keyar Shah, David E. Tolman, MD Professorship in Heart Failure
  • A. Gordon Smith, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Neurology
  • Wally R. Smith, Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professorship in Sickle Cell Disease Research
  • Daniel G. Tang, Richard R. Lower, MD Professorship in Cardiovascular Surgery
  • Steven H. Woolf, C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research: Population Health and Health Equity

Medical School lands pair of AMA grants to study student experience

A pair of $30,000 grants from the American Medical Association will support research into students’ experiences.

“The two grants are great opportunities for VCU to partner with the AMA and other institutions to improve medical education,” says Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for assessment, evaluation and scholarship. “One project will incorporate coaching and individualized learning plans to improve wellness for students entering surgery and other specialties, and the second will explore inclusion and engagement in medical students.”

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

The first project will explore the role of wellness coaching for fourth-year students who are applying to surgery residencies.  A collaborative effort among four medical schools, the study is led by VCU’s Stephanie R. Goldberg, M’03, H’10, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, and includes VCU, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Connecticut and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Physician wellness and resiliency is necessary to alleviate burnout and promote career satisfaction,” Goldberg says. “Surgeons have some of the highest burnout rates among physicians, and so this pilot project will focus on fourth-year medical students who are preparing to transition into surgery residencies. If we can show its usefulness, the program will be application to all medical students regardless of specialty.”

The project will pair students with faculty coaches in monthly sessions that guide students in areas like self-directed learning, professionalism and maintaining physical and emotional health. Each student will create a personalized plan that identifies areas for growth that could include understanding communication styles and goal setting as well as recognizing warning signs for burnout and what to do when it occurs.

In a second project, Donna Jackson, Ed.D., will collaborate with the University of Connecticut University of California Davis to study student diversity and engagement.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Jackson notes that a diverse and culturally humble health care workforce is a critical component in addressing the persistent disparities in health and health care in the U.S. While pipeline and pathway programs in and to medical school are essential, this project aims to address retention, wellness and the social determinants of the medical schools’ learning environment, an equally important goal of.

“Medical school may be a journey through comfortable, familiar, friendly territory; or the journey of a stranger in a strange, confusing and sometimes hostile land,” Jackson says. “Unfortunately, students may experience alienation, isolation, microagressions, and the goal of this effort will be to validate and implement a survey that is a useful tool to provide a 360-degree perspective on students’ experience in specific courses and clerkships. Its results will help us identify spaces where students question their sense of belongingness so that we can work toward making those places more inclusive.”

The three public medical schools will collaborate on creating a holistic tool to that surveys students’ experience of inclusion/engagement at multiple times throughout the academic year. They also will evaluate the relationship between student inclusion/engagement and academic performance. The researchers believe the assessment tool could be used to prompt interventions to improve student experience and achievement and result in further workforce diversification and inclusion to better address healthcare disparities. Toward that end, the lessons learned will be shared with other medical schools across the country.

The studies are supported through the AMA’s 2018 Accelerating Change in Medical Education Innovation Grants Program that aims to develop common solutions to transform medical education in key areas like coaching medical students and student well-being.


The Class of 88’s Greg Hundley joins Pauley Heart Center as inaugural director

Greg Hundley, M'88 (left), Pauley Heart Center inaugural director, with former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H'74, F'76 (center), and current cardiology chair Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D.

Greg Hundley, M’88 (left), Pauley Heart Center inaugural director, with former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H’74, F’76 (center), and current cardiology chair Kenneth Ellenbogen, M.D.

In the early 1980s, a bright-eyed William & Mary undergraduate took the bus from Williamsburg, Va., to Richmond on a whim. He was thinking of becoming a doctor and wanted to get a feel for the MCV Campus. He wandered the floors of Sanger Hall and happened upon the office of then-cardiology professor Hermes A. Kontos, M.D., H’62, PhD’67 (PHIS).

“Hi, I’m Greg Hundley.”

He explained his interest in medicine and asked if he could work for Kontos that summer. Kontos, as he had done for many students before, said he had a perfect project for the aspiring physician.

It marked the start of a years-long mentorship that continued during Hundley’s undergraduate and medical school years as he worked in the lab with Kontos, who would go on to become dean of the medical school and later vice president for health sciences and CEO of VCU Health System.

“It was a blessing because when I started medical school, other students were trying to get into a lab and I was thrilled to already be working with one of the most famous people here,” laughs Hundley, M’88. “It was just happenstance.”

What wasn’t happenstance was his return to his alma mater in July 2018 as the inaugural director of the VCU Pauley Heart Center. Now a longtime leader in the field of cardiovascular imaging, Hundley was the first in the world to use magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that MRI stress testing can identify those at risk of heart attack. He’s also recognized for studying the impact of chemotherapy and radiation therapy on heart health, advancing treatment options for patients in need of cardiovascular and oncology care.

“He is going to do wonderful things for the Pauley Heart Center,” says former cardiology chair George Vetrovec, M.D., H’74, F’76. “Having his specialized and internationally recognized expertise related to cardiology imaging will significantly improve our research opportunities and recruitment of trainees. It really moves the Pauley Heart Center forward and is going to have an impact for Massey Cancer Center as well. It’s a win-win.”

The two men have known each other for years – “In fact, I tried to recruit him here a couple of times,” Vetrovec says — and share a common mentor in Kontos. Hundley’s appointment became even sweeter when he was named the first holder of the George Vetrovec Chair in September.

“It’s very special to have the chair and then for the first scholar to be a leader like Dr. Hundley, who I know and respect,” Vetrovec says. “There couldn’t be a better match.”

The significance isn’t lost on Hundley, who cites the work of professor emeritus David Richardson, M.D., H’55, as well as Kontos and Vetrovec, as a legacy he will work hard to further in his new role. “Those men are giants in their own right in the field of cardiovascular medicine.”

Hundley’s arrival marks the opening of a new Cardiovascular Imaging Suite made possible by an investment from the Pauley Family Foundation. The cornerstone of the suite is a Magnetom Vida 3 Tesla (3T) MRI system that increases accuracy of diagnosis, reduces image distortion and enhances opportunities to develop personalized treatment plans.

Hundley compares it to high-definition television. “You can appreciate anatomy, where everything is, what the structure is, what the function is. When those processes are broken we can understand the exact cause of the heart not working properly, producing two great outcomes. First, doctors get to clearly see what the problem is, and second, patients also have that clear understanding so both can work together to come up with a solution to prevent cardiovascular complication.”

The 3T MRI takes nine seconds to produce 15, high-def images. It’s a long way from the days when Hundley would wait nine minutes for one image and then stay up all night to code its results.

Exploring the ways patients can benefit from high-def imaging is what inspires Hundley’s research. In the past 20 years, he’s participated in research funded by more than $71 million in National Institutes of Health grants.

As he brings his next-level technology expertise and research to the MCV Campus, Hundley also hopes to hold on to the values instilled in him by mentors like Kontos.

“He really encouraged me to shoot and aim high,” Hundley says. “I want to do for everybody else what he and others who came before have done for me.”

Vetrovec has no doubt Hundley will rise to the challenge.

“I’m sure he’ll do it and then some.”

By Polly Roberts


VCU schools of the Arts and Medicine launch physician-scientist-in-residence program

John E. Nestler, M.D., the first physician-scientist-in-residence at the VCU School of the Arts.

John E. Nestler, M.D., the first physician-scientist-in-residence at the VCU School of the Arts.

John E. Nestler, M.D., has been named the inaugural physician-scientist-in-residence at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts. Former chair of VCU’s Department of Internal Medicine in the School of Medicine and a member of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, Nestler will bring his in-depth knowledge of medical science, the local medical environment and clinical research to the School of the Arts.

The physician-scientist-in-residence program, one of the first residencies of its kind in an arts school, is part of an ongoing collaboration between the School of the Arts and the School of Medicine to help improve medical education and advance the clinical health and well-being in the community by addressing and solving problems through art and design.

“The creation of our physician-scientist-in-residence program is fueling the frontier of artistic discovery within Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond and beyond,” says Shawn Brixey, dean of the School of the Arts. “Dr. Nestler will accelerate the more than 20 existing collaborations between Arts and Medicine, helping to shape future discoveries. From using design to improve the daily lives of cancer patients, to using virtual reality to treat patients with anxiety disorders, we can use our specialized creative skills to solve real-world problems. We are thrilled to have Dr. Nestler on board to help share our future discoveries.”

While serving in his residency, one of Nestler’s primary responsibilities will be creating a School of Medicine elective, “Medicine, Art and the Humanities,” which will launch in spring 2019. The course will have a transdisciplinary approach, bringing together various arts principles and techniques, with the support of arts faculty members, to help bring new perspective to the medical student curriculum.

“We’ve seen lots of wonderful programs and projects grow out of partnerships between faculty from the School of Medicine and the School of the Arts,” said Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine. “We are particularly enthusiastic about Dr. Nestler’s new role because he will be looking so broadly for new opportunities. From solutions to clinical problems to teaching medical students empathy, humanism and observation skills, or even building resiliency and fighting physician burnout, the intersection between arts and medicine has the potential to be life-changing.”

As physician-scientist-in-residence, Nestler, who holds joint appointments as professor in the departments of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Pharmacology and Toxicology, will assist with projects in the Arts Research Institute, which serves faculty in their creative research and interdisciplinary practices across the university.

By Suzanne Silitch


Urology professor’s volunteer trips to Vietnam help patients at home and abroad

This story first appeared in Impact, VCU’s award-winning publication that shows how philanthropy changes the lives of students and faculty on campus.

This story first appeared in Impact, VCU’s award-winning publication that shows how philanthropy changes the lives of students and faculty on campus.

VCU School of Medicine Urology Chair Lance Hampton, M.D., has traveled to Vietnam almost every year since 2009 as a volunteer mentor for IVUmed’s Traveling Resident Scholarship Program. The program pairs a mentor with a urology resident from the U.S. and sends them to a host country, where they provide training in the advanced techniques they use at home and experience surgery in a developing country with minimal resources.

At VCU, Hampton is the holder of the Barbara and William B. Thalhimer, Jr. Professorship in Urology, which was established in 1989 to attract and retain eminent urology scholars. The professorship supports all of Hampton’s efforts to advance VCU’s urology program, including his work with the Vietnam volunteer program. “These trips have enhanced my surgical practice in many ways,” Hampton says, “and have helped me to educate future urologists and help the patients of central Virginia as well.”

This is Hampton’s personal account of his trips over the years.

Like most Americans, the only things I knew about Vietnam were the stories that I had heard about the Vietnam War. As a child of the ’70s, I grew up in a time where everyone, from my parents to the media, was trying to put the war behind them. Little did I know then that many years later, I would be traveling regularly to the heart of the Tet Offensive in Hue, Vietnam.

When I arrived at VCU Medical Center from Southern California in 2008, I found out about a longtime urology volunteer program based out of the University of Utah, International Volunteers in Urology (soon to become IVUmed). IVUmed is a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching urology in developing countries, and the program offered the chance for a “resident mentor” trip to Hue, Vietnam. I was interested in international volunteering, so I immediately applied and was accepted. One of my residents, Cameron Wilson, M’07, H’12, also applied and accompanied me to Hue in October 2009.

Hue is known as the imperial capital of Vietnam. It was home to the Nguyen emperors for hundreds of years. In the middle of the current modern city is the Citadel, an ancient, walled city. The Perfume River splits the city and runs just south of the Citadel. Nationwide, the Vietnamese recognize the Perfume River as the “most beautiful river in all of Vietnam.”

The city is also home to Hue University School of Medicine and Pharmacy, which is the third-largest medical school in Vietnam and graduates more than 1,000 physicians every year, who practice throughout the country. The medical school is our base during our time there. Our days are filled with a continuous rotating schedule of operating, teaching, lecturing and, of course, eating and drinking with our extraordinarily friendly Vietnamese hosts.

The VCU trips to Hue have been extremely beneficial to both institutions. “A good mechanic never blames his tools” is a common expression in surgery, and these trips have taught me that a master surgeon provides excellent care, regardless of the available tools. Surgically, the Vietnamese urologists are masters of their craft, but they are working with severely limited resources. Laparoscopy, which has been a standard feature of American operating rooms for 30 years, has only recently been possible in Vietnam. At VCU, we have been performing robot-assisted surgery for the past decade. Virtually all major hospitals in the U.S. have at least one surgical robot (and most have multiple robots). Vietnam has two robots in the entire country, servicing a population of 92 million people.

We have expanded the services provided at Hue University to include urologic cancer care, advanced laparoscopy, pediatric urology, reconstructive surgery, percutaneous stone surgery and even advanced plastic surgery techniques with our colleagues in the VCU Division of Plastic Surgery.

Returning to the U.S. after these trips, I have incorporated many Vietnamese surgical techniques into my practice, and they have been used to help patients in central Virginia. Just a few weeks after returning from our inaugural trip, I met a patient with an extremely large renal stone that I removed in a single operation using an “old-fashioned” open technique I had learned in Hue. In the U.S., this type of operation is typically performed using minimally invasive techniques that can involve multiple procedures, last several hours and leave the patient with multiple stone fragments.

For the seven VCU urology residents who have participated over the years, this has been an opportunity of a lifetime. A global perspective of education and surgical care enables these future urologists to appreciate what they have and to practice an altruistic approach to global health care. After graduating from VCU urology, many residents have continued to be involved in international surgical volunteering.

Personally, I have also found it rewarding to have the opportunity to work with urology residents from other institutions including Duke; the University of Miami; the University of California, San Francisco; and Ohio State, as well as urologists from Boston, San Francisco and Texas.

Thanks to the Thalhimer Professorship held at the MCV Foundation, along with the VCU Department of Surgery and the Division of Urology, these trips have been met with tremendous support, including financial. Through the medical school’s dean’s office and the VCU Global Education Office, we now have a formal collaboration agreement between the VCU School of Medicine and Hue University School of Medicine and Pharmacy to provide teaching and continued interaction.

As surgeons and educators in the most prosperous country in the world, we have a debt to the rest of the world. It’s not enough to sit back and enjoy the many benefits and luxuries that we are lucky to have. We are obliged to give back and leave this world better than we found it. For me, this means improving surgical care and the education of residents, medical students and patients in central Vietnam as well as in central Virginia.

By Lance Hampton, M.D.

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Updated: 04/29/2016