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12
2015

Graduate students hone communication skills at annual Forbes Research Colloquium

The nine students at annual Forbes Research Colloquium

Nine students participated in the Forbes Research Colloquium: (from left to right, standing) Ali Bonakdar Tehrani, Shiping Zou, Natalie Wheeler, Justin Sperlazza, Kyle Ferber and Jeanine Guidry; (l-r, seated) Anting Hsiung, Wafa Tarazi and Amrita Sule.

The ability to tell the story behind the research can be key to securing funding, presenting findings and raising awareness with peers as well as the general public. The 43rd annual John C. Forbes Research Colloquium gave graduate students in the biomedical sciences the chance to develop both written and oral presentation skills.

Nine students presented research findings in a short talk format on March 12 in Sanger Hall. Selected on the basis of the quality and clarity of a written description of their research projects, the students’ oral presentations were also evaluated by members of the faculty on the basis of how effectively they communicated the research.

Student participants represented more than a half dozen programs in the medical school:

  • Kyle Ferber, Department of Biostatistics
    Modeling Censored Discrete Survival Time in High-Dimensional Settings
  • Jeanine D. Guidry, Department of Social and Behavioral Health
    On Pins and Needles: How Vaccines Are Portrayed on Pinterest
  • Anting Hsiung, Department of Human and Molecular Genetics
    CMYA5, a Candidate Gene for Schizophrenia: Expression in the Brain and the Effect of a Functional Variant on Binding
  • Justin Sperlazza, Cancer and Molecular Medicine
    Depletion of the Chromatin Remodeler CHD4 Sensitizes AML Blasts to Genotoxic Agents and Reduces Tumor Initiation
  • Amrita Sule, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    A PP2A-ATM Protein Complex Regulates the DNA Damage Response and Pro-Survival Signaling
  • Wafa W. Tarazi, MHPA, Department of Healthcare Policy and Research
    Medicaid Expansion and Access to Care among Cancer Survivors
  • Ali Bonakdar Tehrani, Healthcare Policy and Research
    Closing the Medicare Doughnut Hole: The Impact of the Affordable Care Act on Prescription Drug Access, Utilization and Spending
  • Natalie A. Wheeler, Neuroscience
    The Autotaxin-LPA Axis Mediates Changes in Gene Expression and Histone Acetylation during Oligodendrocyte Differentiation
  • Shiping Zou, Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology
    Oligodendrocytes Are Targets of HIV-1 Tat: NMDA and AMPA Receptor-Mediated Effects on Survival and Development
John Forbes, Ph.D.

John Forbes, Ph.D., a pioneer of VCU’s Ph.D. training program

“The event memorializes the pioneering effort of John Forbes who organized our institution’s entry into advanced degree training over 80 years ago,” said Jan F. Chlebowski, Ph.D., associate dean for graduate education at the VCU School of Medicine. “He was the first advisor of graduate students at what was then the Medical College of Virginia.”

John C. Forbes, Ph.D., is one of the pioneers of VCU’s Ph.D. training program. Along with Charles Clayton, Ph.D., and Daniel Watts, Ph.D., Forbes founded and grew advanced degree education at MCV, which at one time was among the top 10 producers of Ph.D. graduates in medical centers nationally.

Forbes joined the MCV faculty in the Department of Biochemistry in 1927. He grew to be internationally recognized as an authority in cholesterol-atherosclerosis research and alcoholism. During his tenure, Forbes became the first chairman of the Committee on Graduate Studies in 1934, supervising the first two graduate students receiving their degree from MCV. Because of his insight and dedication to the advancement and excellence in research and as a pioneer in graduate education, the School of Medicine recognizes Forbes in its continuing awareness and promotion of those students who are dedicating their lives to the advancement of science.

The medical school’s Office of Graduate Education coordinates the annual event, which is supported by a fund established by the Forbes family.

26
2014

Student scientists’ parody video “We Found Drugs” perfect prescription for research retreat

Jacy and Andrew

M.D.-Ph.D. student Andrew Van Der Vaart and Ph.D. student Jacy Jacob

Ever wonder what an anthem to neuropharmacology sounds like? If you guessed a remixed Rihanna song featuring two student scientists, you’re right.

M.D.-Ph.D. student Andrew Van Der Vaart and Ph.D. student Jacy Jacob were tasked with entertaining students at the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology’s recent research retreat. They decided to write, record and film the parody music video “We Found Drugs” that has been attracting attention across the MCV Campus and social media.

The video, by all accounts, was an instant success. When played at the retreat, it received a standing ovation just “30 seconds in,” according to Jacy. It racked up nearly 1,000 YouTube views in a single day. And the Dean of the School of Medicine, Jerry Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., and other faculty reportedly had a good laugh when they saw it at a recent meeting.

Jacy, the video’s star, nearly dropped the project before it began. Luckily an early morning email from Andrew with the song’s chorus “We found drugs in synaptic space” inspired her, and she wrote the verses in just a few hours. After about eight hours of filming and a couple recording sessions in Andrew’s impromptu home music studio, “We Found Drugs” was finished.

While the video has certainly enjoyed wide popularity, it does include a couple jokes that only pharmacology and toxicology insiders will get. The first is the celebrity cameo by Michael Miles, M.D., Ph.D., a pharmacology and toxicology professor, who, according to Andrew, is a strong supporter of the scientific parody video genre. The other joke requires a keener eye for detail and a pharmacological sense of humor. The video mocks the often difficult to remember names of designer drugs by inventing a few of its own, from the almost-believable “Gliditizaglib” to the not-quite-as-believable “Cinnamonnanabun.”

Andrew and Jacy are debating the next step for their video. As “We Found Drugs” continues to collect YouTube views and Facebook shares, they are considering entering it into some competitions, such as the “Lab Grammys,” where it could win even greater acclaim. For now, Andrew and Jacy are content with having created their own anthem of neuropharmacology and having had a little fun along the way.

By Jack Carmichael

12
2014

#GreatGood: Ph.D. student’s research explores social media

Chair of surgery

Jeanine Guidry, Ph.D. student in the Department of Social and Behavioral Health

Like many graduate students, Jeanine Guidry approached her thesis project with apprehension and perhaps a little dread. Who, after all, enjoys countless hours of research?

“Apparently me!” Jeanine said with a laugh. “As I was working on my thesis, I realized I loved it.”

So much so that after earning her master’s in strategic communications from George Washington University, she decided to pursue a Ph.D. She is on pace to graduate in 2018 from the medical school’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health.

“I’m loving everything about it so far,” Jeanine said. “I’ve always had a real passion for nonprofits and helping people who are struggling in life.”

Jeanine’s area of focus is on the use of social media and mobile technology in health communication, as well as the use of social media among nonprofits. Her recent work analyzes how the public uses social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest to communicate their experiences, fears and thoughts on such timely topics as vaccines, depression and Ebola.

Pinterest users, for example, pair text and graphics, like the person who expressed just how debilitating depression can be: “I lost myself somewhere in the darkness.”

“The range of experiences and the range of topics is incredibly broad,” Jeanine said. “Health affects all of us, and it affects all of us differently. With social media, we can express that in a totally new way.”

Chair of surgery

Jeanine’s research examines how the public uses social media like Pinterest to communicate their experiences, fears and thoughts on such timely topics as vaccines, depression and Ebola.

She presented her paper “Framing Public Health Issues with Images: How Pinterest Tells Stories of Depression” at the Digital Disruption to Journalism and Mass Communication Theory Conference in Brussels, Belgium, on October 3. She presented another paper about vaccines over the summer in Montreal.

“More people than ever are getting information from social media platforms like Twitter and Pinterest, and it’s imperative that we as researchers understand how this type of information exchange is affecting public opinion and knowledge of public health issues,” said Jeanine’s advisor, Kellie E. Carlyle, Ph.D., assistant professor and graduate program director. “Jeanine’s research into understanding how public health issues are portrayed in social media gives public health researchers the information needed to design effective messages that promote healthy behaviors.”

Jeanine would not be able to conduct her research, she said, without the support and encouragement of Marcus Messner, Ph.D., associate professor at the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Jeanine is an affiliate graduate researcher with the School’s Center for Media+Health.

“They make what I do possible,” she said.

At 47, Jeanine is not your typical student. She grew up in the Netherlands and earned her bachelor’s and first master’s in health sciences from Maastricht University. She moved to the United States in 1991, met her future husband Chris and married in 1997. She has worked in community development and with nonprofits since.

Chair of surgery

Even as she works toward her Ph.D., Jeanine is the lead singer for the Offering, a band that plays for organizations that can’t afford to hire musicians. She also is the executive director for Arts in the Alley, a Richmond-based nonprofit that turns rundown streets into works of art through murals. “My days are incredibly fulfilling,” Jeanine said. “I love what I do.”

Jeanine is looking forward to tackling her dissertation on social media’s changing landscape. While Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest may be three of the most popular platforms today, it could be very different by the time she finishes her dissertation.

“Just look at Pinterest,” Jeanine said. “People at first thought it was just a visual platform, but it’s amazing to see how people talk about their struggles with depression or their fears of Ebola. Who knows what’s next.”

Many people turn to social media not only for information, but for support in dealing with a chronic illness or the loss of a loved one.

“We don’t know what platforms will be popular in a few years,” Jeanine said. “Social media is developing at such breakneck speed. There are so many conversations happening out there that we can get involved in and use social media for great good.”

Did you know?

  • Facebook has more than 1 billion active users
  • Twitter users send 500 million tweets every day
  • 23 percent of Pinterest’s 70 million total consumers use it at least once a day
  • 70 percent of Snapchat users are female
  • 23 percent of teens consider Instagram their favorite social network
  • 12 million-plus people blog via social networks

Courtesy SocialTimes.com

By Janet Showalter

18
2014

Medical students serve the community in DOCS 2014

Each year, our medical students organize DOCS — a Day of Community Service. This year, on October 18, more than 125 students volunteered with six different community projects.

They made a difference in all sorts of ways: clearing trails, painting playgrounds, helping out a safe house for victims of human trafficking and partnering with youth who have physical and intellectual disabilities in a Buddy Ball football game.

Read more about DOCS 2014 or watch video from the day’s events.

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08
2014

Cadaver Rounds moves what was a purely anatomical experience into the clinical realm

Cadaver Rounds animation

Table 19 used animation to showcase the unique opportunity they had to CT scan our cadavers. “We used the full coronal CT view of our cadaver as a reference to present each of our findings,” explains team member Abrahm Behnam. A screenshot of the webportal through which the students accessed their CT images serves as the starting point of their presentation. Images courtesy of the Class of 2017’s Abrahm Behnam.

A new twist on the traditional gross anatomy course is giving medical students an unprecedented opportunity to expand beyond basic anatomical observations. For the first time, they can send suspicious tissue biopsies to the pathology lab and even obtain a full body CT-scan of the cadaver itself.

Along with observations made during dissection, those results help them assemble a plausible clinical picture of the cadaver – a picture they then present to their classmates in “Cadaver Rounds.” In the culmination of the gross anatomy course, teams of students describe their cadavers’ major clinical problems, the typical prognosis of possible diseases found, suggest clinical or lab tests relevant to the case and, finally, a likely cause of death.

“Cadaver Rounds has moved what was a purely anatomical experience into the clinical realm,” says M. Alex Meredith, Ph.D., course director and professor of anatomy and neurobiology. The course now challenges students to observe structural anomalies in the body and then ask “what that person’s health profile was like and how those problems may have impacted their lives.”

That’s in line with larger curriculum changes the medical school debuted last year. The new course of study is clinically driven, using the preclinical years to encourage students to think of the patients they will encounter in the future.

With access to reports from pathology and radiology, students now have a self-directed opportunity to confirm, enhance or even refute or explain their observations in the gross anatomy lab. And in August, after all the dissections and other observations are completed, the student teams presented their findings to their classmates.

Cadaver Rounds animation

Table 19’s objective findings, integration and case scenario were presented along with animations describing the pathologic and diagnostic findings. Images courtesy of the Class of 2017’s Abrahm Behnam.

For Meredith, it was “perhaps the best day I’ve ever had as a teacher. The presentations were more than we could have imagined they would be both in content and in style.”

Susan R. DiGiovanni, M.D., assistant dean for preclinical medical education, was on hand for the presentations, too.

“I so wish we had something like this when I was a student,” she says. “I liked anatomy, but we didn’t much feel like future doctors as we toiled in the lab for hours trying to identify nerves, tendons, arteries and veins that had little meaning to us because we had no way of knowing how it related to patient care. There has never been anything like Cadaver Rounds.”

She remembers her own classmates discovering an abnormality during dissection and running over to other tables to compare it to what ‘normal’ looked like. “We never put the story together to think about our cadaver as a patient. Cadaver Rounds has the students looking at their cadavers in whole new light. They thought of them as a person. They wondered what their story was. They played sleuth to put the clues together much as pathologist would.

“I was astounded at the professionalism of the students’ evaluations and how carefully they thought about their ‘first patient’ in such detail. I couldn’t believe their creativity and incredible use of technology. They put many faculty to shame!”

The four teams who earn the highest scores on their presentation received the distinction of “Best Cadavers” along with copies of the recently published biography, “Medicine’s Michelangelo: The Life & Art of Frank H. Netter, M.D.”

2014 Cadaver Rounds Award Winners

Baughman Society Winner: Anatomy Dissection Table 10
Christopher John Hagen
Rebecca Anne Maddux
Lindsey Marie McKissick
Shreya Jagdish Patel
Samay Sappal
Metul Ketan Shah
Sherna Sarvajna Sheth

Benacerraf Society Winner: Anatomy Dissection Table 25
Claiborne Downey
Diane Denise Holden
Sarah Louise Hughes
Vanessa Monique Mitchell
Olga Mutter
Andrew Percy
Taylor Magruder Powell

Harris Society Winner: Anatomy Dissection Table 22
Jamaal Christopher Jackson
Michael Christopher Krouse
Andrew David Lyell
Ye Ri Park
Katherine Ann Pumphrey
Advaita Punjala
Megan Elizabeth Shaffer

Warner Society Winner: Anatomy Dissection Table 7
Harnek Singh Bajaj
Mark Raymond Cubberly
Maria George Hadjikyriakou
Samuel Micah Orwin
Vikash Parekh
Sarah Elizabeth Pauli Smith

08
2014

AAMC features the Class of 2017’s Clay Downey in its Aspiring Docs series

Class of 2017's Clay Downey

Clay Downey has been featured on the AAMC website for his interesting, non-traditional path to medical school

The medical school has a reputation for welcoming non-traditional medical students onto the MCV Campus. One of them is the Class of 2017’s Clay Downey, whose inspiring story has been featured by the AAMC in its Aspiring Docs series.

Their website proclaims: “Clay had a business degree, no science prerequisites, and no experience in a health care setting, but he decided to pursue a career in medicine anyway.”

The feature got its start when the AAMC put out a call for non-traditional applicants to tell their stories. Clay saw it and volunteered.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity to share my thoughts about the process,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if my story could apply to others out there, so I went ahead and gave it a shot.”

The AAMC’s web feature takes the form of a Q&A in which Clay talks about what sparked his interest in medicine and how he took it “one step at a time” on the challenging path to prepare to apply and enter medical school.

“I think being a non-traditional pre-med applicant and waiting to take classes later turned out to be a huge advantage,” Clay told the AAMC. “I already had a degree in business administration, so I was able to schedule only the classes that interested me. I tried to put together classes that fed into each other (i.e., physiology and anatomy), and I think it gave me a much stronger foundation coming into medical school than if I needed to work other classes into my schedule.”

Clay’s process interested the AAMC so much that they worked with him on a second story about his experiences as a medical scribe.

“I worked as an emergency department scribe for two years before medical school. This was the perfect job for me because it gave me incredible exposure to the day-to-day life of a physician, and really reaffirmed my decision to go to medical school.”