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13
2017

M4 Nehal Naik helps develop devices to manage tuberculosis, improve patient care

The Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik spent a year in Peru with the NIH’s Fogarty Global Health  program. Here he’s pictured in a TB isolation room with a TB aerosol filter.

The Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik spent a year in Peru with the NIH’s Fogarty Global Health
program. Here he’s pictured in a TB isolation room with a TB aerosol filter.

Nehal Naik, M’18, was out of his comfort zone during his year in Lima, Peru, as a research fellow with the National Institutes of Health Fogarty Global Health program.

He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

“It was great,” he says. “We really delved into the social aspects of health and social science research, which I wasn’t used to.”

Naik teamed with three other fellows to create novel devices that improve tuberculosis clinical management and prognostication. They identified biomarkers for the disease, which will help physicians track how a patient is doing.

“I feel a lot of health issues in the world are forgotten because so many patients in poorer areas don’t have the same access to health care,” says Naik, who returned to Richmond in April. “As a result, the plight of patients in low and middle income countries can be overlooked by the general public and even health care providers. There are so many things in the U.S. that we take for granted. I want to help increase access to care for everyone.”

For the last year, he focused his research in Lima, where he helped create a sensor that measures the frequency of a patient’s cough over a four-hour period. In a study with a group of 60 patients from two hospitals in the city, the sensor recorded coughing data and Naik conducted interviews to get a better understanding of each patient’s personal life – such as access to nutritious food and the stigmas they face because of the disease.

Using the data, the team will analyze how many times a patient coughed, if he or she improved with treatment and if it correlates to existing laboratory diagnostics.

Naik’s group also helped develop a filter that measures tuberculosis particles in the air when a patient coughs that has the potential to determine in future studies the risk posed to doctors when they treat patients.

“We worked with a great team of doctors,” says Naik, who in April presented the results of his filter study at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. “Collaboration is the only way to get things accomplished. It’s great to see how medical students and physicians are driven to change their community.”

While in Peru, the Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Here he’s participating in a disaster simulation with PTS students.

While in Peru, the Class of 2018’s Nehal Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Here he’s participating in a disaster simulation with PTS students.

While in Peru, Naik continued his role as the chair of the student subcommittee of the Panamerican Trauma Society. Based on the MCV Campus, the society promotes the development of international collaborations among health professionals in trauma and critical care. Naik helped set up the Peruvian chapter, which now has more than 120 members in three local universities. He also is working with VCU Health’s Division of Acute Care Surgery to develop a collaboration with Peruvian surgeons to assess access and quality of surgical care.

“Nehal is a fantastic student, and more importantly a great human being,” says Joel Moll, M.D., Naik’s advisor and the residency program director for the Department of Emergency Medicine. “He will likely start residency more accomplished than many faculty in his niche. But meeting him, none of this is obvious. He is warm, kind and very down-to-earth.”

Naik plans to pursue his residency in emergency medicine because it not only encompasses all his clinical skills and interests, but because of a growing need for the specialty around the world as poorer countries urbanize. He witnessed this need as an M1 researcher in Ecuador in 2014. Naik was at the city of Cuenca’s 911 center when a call came in from the scene of a serious car accident. Because of a lack of communication, the hospital was unprepared for the severity of the patient’s injuries, and the patient died.

Since then, Naik helped Cuenca’s hospitals implement a communications protocol similar to the one at VCU Health.

“I’ve seen people who have access to good health care and those who don’t,” he says. “Inherently, it’s saddening. But it makes me want to give them the tools to improve that inequality. That’s where I want to make a difference.”

The Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars
• Provides supportive mentorship, research opportunities and a collaborative research environment for early stage investigators to enhance their global health research expertise and their careers.
• Generates a new and young cadre of global health researchers, educators and professionals who will be prepared to address the new challenges in global health.
• Provides fellows with outstanding, interdisciplinary education and training in innovative global health research to promote health equity for populations around the world.

Learn more about the Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars >>

By Janet Showalter

13
2017

For the Class of 2020’s Jay Pham, persistence and resilience earn a second chance

The pride overflows from the Class of 2020’s Jay Pham as he talks about life on the MCV Campus as a first-year medical student.

“It’s been blissful to finally be here,” says Pham, his smile growing wider. “Pure happiness. I’m happier now than I’ve ever been.”

At 34, he says he’s finally where he’s supposed to be.

The Class of 2020’s Jay Pham and family

The Class of 2020’s Jay Pham and his wife with four of their five children, ages 5, 10, 11 and 14. Not pictured: their newest addition, a 1-year-old boy.

Five years ago, Pham found himself in a much different spot. He was running his family’s business in Seattle, Washington, having dropped out of college years earlier when he became a young father. He was making ends meet for his family but longed for a sense of fulfillment.

“I saw my children, who were so young and just beginning their lives, as a biological miracle,” Pham says. “The process of life is fascinating. They came out pretty perfectly yet so many things could have gone wrong. I wanted to understand this amazingness.”

So in 2012 the then-father of three went back to the University of Washington, where he had been one political science class shy of graduating, to finish his bachelor’s degree and earn his prerequisites. “This time I knew I had it in me. It was four hours round trip to school. I studied on the bus. I studied while brushing my teeth. It’s amazing what time you can find,” he laughs.

Jay Pham (right) and his father in 2012 before Pham started his post-baccalaureate studies at VCU.

Jay Pham (right) and his father in 2012 before Pham started his post-baccalaureate studies at VCU. “He is truly the one man who understands me completely. Perhaps also my greatest supporter.”

A Vietnamese immigrant who moved to the U.S with his parents and three siblings at age 10, Pham’s parents had always dreamed of him becoming a doctor. “Most immigrant families feel the need to be successful. You have to finish school. Be somebody.”

For much of his life, Pham followed this track. A bright high school student, he took community college classes his junior and senior years, earning his associate’s degree at the same time he graduated from high school. But he resisted his parents’ push toward medical school and ultimately abandoned his undergraduate studies. Eventually he found himself far from the life he’d envisioned.

It wasn’t until someone told him, “You made a mistake, but I believe you can recover from it,” that Pham began to reflect on what he could give back to society. “When you don’t have anything, you appreciate your body and your health. In Vietnam, it was how you could get work in the fields. My family was poor — we were on welfare when we came to the United States — but we had our health.

“I want to be the ‘keeper of health’ for the underserved and the poor,” Pham says. “That’s what I was. Now I want to pay it forward to the next generation.”

But while his career path was now clear to Pham, he had more work to do before being accepted into medical school. On the advice of senior associate dean of admissions Michelle Whitehurst-Cook, M’79, he completed VCU’s post-baccalaureate graduate certificate program.

“When I was emailing medical schools, Dr. Whitehurst-Cook was the only one who emailed me back personally and said ‘here are some of the things you could do,’” Pham says. “Other schools sent an auto response but this school, this person, found time to respond. It’s like the kind of doctor I want to be. VCU felt like the right school.”

The Class of 58’s James Darden (left) mentors Jay Pham at CrossOver Clinic

The Class of 58’s James Darden (left) mentors Jay Pham at CrossOver Clinic, Virginia’s largest free clinic where Pham volunteered prior to medical school and continues to give his time.

After earning his certificate and a 4.0 GPA, Pham spent 2016 volunteering at CrossOver Ministry in Richmond under the mentorship of James Darden, M’58. Seeing the patients at CrossOver, Virginia’s largest free clinic serving more than 6,000 individuals, reinforced his desire to become a doctor and work with the underserved.

Whitehurst-Cook says Pham’s persistence and hard work showed he would be successful at VCU and as a physician.

“We saw a real passion in Jay for helping others,” she says. “He is a great role model. He’s learned a lot from his life’s journey and can share it with other students and help others develop cultural sensitivity, not just to his heritage, but to his path to medical school. Resilience is so important.”

Since arriving on campus, Pham’s path has been made a little easier as a recipient of the Lillian H. and Steward R. Moore Scholarship, which partially funds his tuition. “I’m very proud to be worthy of a scholarship and appreciate any amount that I don’t have to borrow. It’s tremendous.”

Providing meaningful scholarship support for students with financial need is the goal of the medical school’s 1838 Campaign. Full and half-tuition scholarships are most urgently needed. They are one of the medical school’s best resources for recruiting and rewarding deserving students like Pham.

The now married father of five is a leader in his class — other students affectionately call him “Pappy”— and in his family, where he and his children often study side-by-side. “It’s easy to tell them to study when they’re always seeing me study,” he laughs. “We are students together.”

It’s not the path to medical school Pham may have chosen, but he’s shared the ups and downs of his journey with his children, ages 1 to 14. He tells them while it’s OK to make mistakes, sometimes there is a better way.

“Do things right the first time,” he says. “Fixing it is hard.”

But as Pham eyes his second of year of medical school, he knows better than most that it’s possible.

By Polly Roberts

18
2017

Myron Levine, M’67: A pioneer of the modern discipline of vaccinology

A brilliant and determined visionary saves lives and helps develop a new medical discipline

M67 Myron Levine receives 2017 Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific AchievementThe National Foundation for Infectious Diseases has honored Myron M. (Mike) Levine, M’67, with the 2017 Maxwell Finland Award for Scientific Achievement for his outstanding contributions to infectious disease and vaccinology, as well as his excellence in research and training, which have had enormous impact on global public health and will continue to pay dividends for millions of individuals in the future.

Levine’s latest contribution to improving public health is the live cholera vaccine, created and tested under his leadership, and recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I always had an interest in the developing world and what we then called tropical medicine and tropical pediatrics,” Levine says. “I was also an addict for flying light planes. My early goals was to be a member of the flying doctor’s service in East Africa.”

Through the Center for Vaccine Development, the academic vaccine development enterprise that he founded in 1974 at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, his research has encompassed disease burden measurement, bacterial pathogenesis studies, design and creation of vaccine candidates, clinical studies to test the safety of vaccine candidates and their ability to elicit relevant immune responses, and large-scale field trials to assess vaccine efficacy.

Once vaccines are licensed, Levine collaborates with industry and public health authorities to facilitate their introduction into target populations and to measure their impact on disease burden and safety.

Alongside his landmark research, Levine has also developed courses and mentored scores of individuals who now hold leading positions in academia, research institutes, United Nations agencies and industry. His children are among them. Though he says neither he nor his wife Suzanne, a pediatric nurse and 1963 alumna of the School of Nursing, urged them toward the field, all three now have careers in global health and medicine — the Levine family business.

A ‘walking atlas’
Levine was born in Riverdale, New York, a quiet residential neighborhood in the northwest Bronx. Ironically, for someone who would spend his entire adult life working on global infectious diseases, by age 16 the farthest he had traveled was a few hundred miles to visit his mother’s relatives. But as a child he voraciously read books on the history of Europe, Asia, Africa and South America and was jokingly called a “walking atlas” because of his detailed knowledge of world geography.

His interest in the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases in developing countries was already fervent when he arrived on the MCV Campus in the 1960s. Although there were few opportunities for global health experiences in those days, the entrepreneurial spirit and skills Levine would demonstrate throughout his career drove him to arrange four separate electives, each accompanied by a student fellowship that included travel, living expenses and a stipend, and each spanning several months during each of his four years of medical school.

He studied in Israel (1964), Paris (1965), Costa Rica (1966) and Pakistan (1967) where a major smallpox epidemic erupted that provided him with a clinical experience that kindled a life-long intellectual interest in smallpox. Likewise, his interest in cholera was sparked around the same time during a stay at the Cholera Research Laboratory in Dhaka, East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). These consecutive international experiences indelibly imprinted and reinforced his early interests.

Forty years of scientific achievements
Levine joined the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 1973. One year later, he founded the Center for Vaccine Development and served as its director for the next 40 years. Though he stepped down as director in 2015, Levine remains on faculty with the university.

From basic vaccine research to vaccine field trials and impact measurement, Levine’s work has had worldwide impact.

For example, during the 1980s and 1990s, emerging technologies incriminated many new bacterial, viral and protozoal agents as causes of diarrhea. By the turn of the millennium, so many new etiologic agents had been identified that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided Levine with $50 million in support to quantify the burden and identify the most important pathogens associated with moderate-to-severe diarrheal disease in children younger than age 5 years.

The BMGF-funded Global Enteric Multicenter Study was carried out in four sites in sub-Saharan Africa and three in South Asia where collectively 80 percent of diarrheal disease deaths occur globally in children under age 5 years. The study’s findings have had a powerful influence on research priorities and on the implementation of vaccines and other interventions.

A determined scientist responds to global public health needs
Levine’s leadership has been sought repeatedly by the World Health Organization. In 1975, he was in Bangladesh — the last country in Asia to eliminate smallpox — when smallpox transmission was interrupted. And as recently as 2014, when the devastating epidemic of Ebola struck West Africa, he was asked to organize Phase 1 clinical trials of one Ebola vaccine in Mali and assist in a historic Phase 3 efficacy field trial in Guinea of another.

He has received many honors for his work including the Rank of “Grand Officer of the National Order of Mali” from the President of Mali, an honor traditionally bestowed only upon heads of state. In 2007, the VCU School of Medicine honored him with its Outstanding Medical Alumnus Award.

“Mike Levine sets a goal and does not stop until he reaches it,” says Kathy Neuzil, M.D., M.P.H., FIDSA, who succeeds him as only the second director of the CVD, and marvels at his unfailing energy and work ethic. “He outworks everyone in the room and shows no signs of slowing down!”

And that is very good news for the future of global public health.

You can read more about Levine’s career as a pioneer of the modern discipline of vaccinology in a profile published in the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases 2017 awards program and in the blog post “Celebrating Infectious Disease Heroes.”

12
2017

Biostatistics alumnus returns to campus, shares stories from the pharmaceutical industry

Biostat alumnus Tony SegretiWhat can you learn about a career in pharmaceuticals from America’s pastime?

Plenty, says Anthony Segreti, PhD ’77 (BIOS), a card-carrying member of the Society for American Baseball Research, the organization that has developed sabermetrics, the empirical analysis of baseball statistics. (Think about the 2011 Brad Pitt film, Moneyball, depicting a general manager who built a stellar team of undervalued players using sabermetrics.)

Baseball and pharma have some things in common, said Segreti. “Baseball teams draft and sign a lot of players to contracts and, of that number, only a few are going to make it to the major leagues. In the pharmaceutical industry, there are a lot of contenders but not a lot make it to the approval stage.

“You can have a lot of notoriety and expectations, but what really matters is how you perform on the field – or in the clinical trials. Everything is based on evidence, just like everything is based on how a player is able to succeed on the field.” And as in baseball, you can’t always win, he said. That’s part of the game.

Segreti joined the pharmaceutical industry in 1979 at Burroughs Wellcome Co., and remained there through mergers with Glaxo and SmithKline, until leaving in 2006 to work at two contract research organizations for a few years. He then joined biotechnology firm Targacept and remained there until his 2014 retirement.

To use another baseball analogy, Segreti made it to the show. At the Department of Biostatistics graduation ceremony on May 12, he shared stories of some big wins.

Those include being in the lineup in the development of some highly successful drugs, including Acyclovir, an antiviral drug that started a new era in herpes treatment; Zidovudine, for HIV treatment; and epoprostenol sodium, a game-changer for pulmonary arterial hypertension. “Drug development is a team sport,” he noted.

And that’s where his training on the MCV Campus especially came into play.

“I always felt that VCU was a real springboard to my career. There’s a wonderful opportunity for graduate students to interact with researchers and solve real world problems and learn a lot of the activities you don’t learn in a textbook. You learn to be an effective consultant, researcher and how to get along with those who don’t see the world the way that you do.”

Because recruiting new talent to the field is important, he remains active in the Biopharmaceutical Applied Statistics Symposium (BASS), a forum where researchers and scholars in academia, government agencies and industries to share knowledge and ideas. He’s chairing this year’s meeting and working to support the next generation of biostatisticians who attend.

In addition to sharing his time and expertise with the Biostatistics Department and its students, Segreti and his wife, Wendy, have made several generous donations to the university. “There’s nothing I’d rather spend money on – outside my family – than giving something back to the university that really helped my career.”

He fondly recalls his years on the MCV Campus and how the biostatistics graduate students would exercise together during lunch. For two years in a row they won the intramural basketball championship of their league. “The joke was that nobody under 6 feet would get a scholarship,” he said.

Like many players, Segreti eventually worked as a manager, leading between 15 and 40 statisticians. Those professionals, he said, tend to like to work independently, so he knew he needed a special strategy.

Naturally, he looked to sports for a management philosophy, taking a cue from a famed baseball manager. “Tommy Lasorda said, ‘Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away.’”

By Lisa Crutchfield