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01
2015

Third- year student Braveen Ragunanthan honored with national public health award

Braveen Ragunanthan with Cmdr. Ray Ford

Third- year student Braveen Ragunanthan with award presenter Cmdr. Ray Ford.

Braveen Ragunanthan has been interested in public health and social justice for as long as he can remember. After witnessing extreme poverty in Sri Lanka and India on family trips as a young boy, he began to think about the systems that created such hardship and, more importantly, ways to combat it. These experiences, he says, “ultimately showed me that working in public health closely aligned to my moral sense of purpose.”

In recognition of his dedication to serving the less fortunate, Ragunanthan was honored by the U.S. Public Health Service Physician Professional Advisory Committee with its 2015 Excellence in Public Health Award. The national award recognizes medical students who demonstrate their commitment to improving public health. He received the award at the School of Medicine’s student Honors Day ceremony in May.

Since those childhood trips, Ragunanthan has traveled widely to learn more about what it takes to make a difference in communities around the world. As an undergraduate student at Duke, he spent summers in the Mississippi Delta, at the epicenter of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa and battling neglected tropical diseases in Ethiopia. He says that these trips instilled in him the belief that “all people of all backgrounds, regardless of their circumstances, deserve a chance to enjoy a healthy life.”

Since enrolling in the School of Medicine, he has interned with the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland and participated in the School of Medicine’s International/ Inner-City/ Rural Preceptorship (I2CRP). This four-year program focuses on equipping medical students with the knowledge, skills and values needed to provide compassionate care to underserved communities. He says that his time in the program has helped him develop the clinical skills that are crucial in this field.

For Ragunanthan, the award is further inspiration to keep working towards larger goals. “Eventually I plan to work as a primary care physician in a medically underserved community and health professional shortage area. I am interested in grassroots community organizing and the potential of working in the space of public health to positively impact communities. I hope to be a champion of preventive medicine and work on health heavily through initiatives that exist beyond the walls of the clinic.”

His next step is taking a year off from medical school to pursue a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health. After completing the degree, he plans to return to the MCV Campus to finish his final year of the M.D. program and graduate with the Class of 2017.

By Jack Carmichael

24
2015

MD-PhD student and young alumnus take leadership roles in country’s second-largest physician group

Ali M. Khan

Ali M. Khan, M’09

The Class of 2009’s Ali M. Khan and current M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn have recently taken on leadership roles with the American College of Physicians, the second-largest physician group in the U.S.

Ali M. Khan, M’09, is chair of the American College of Physicians’ National Council of Resident/Fellow Members. He has served on the national council that represents the interests of over 22,000 residents and fellows-in-training since his intern year at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In his senior year of residency, Khan was elected by the 11-member council to serve as its chair-elect who represents the voices and interests of the resident and fellow members on the ACP’s Board of Governors. Now he has transitioned into the chair’s seat and serves on the Board of Regents, the ACP’s highest governing body.

“Since graduating, the bulk of my health policy and advocacy work has lived in the ACP,” says Khan who has also served on the ACP’s public policy and medical practice committees.

“Over the past five years, my work has focused primarily in two arenas: furthering the college’s role as a hub of leadership training and development for trainees and, accordingly, focusing our role as a council in catalyzing the value proposition and engagement opportunities for trainees.”

He’s helped lead ACP’s High Value Care initiative that educates and engages physicians as well as residents and fellows in how to practice in a value-sensitive, thoughtful manner for resource stewardship and patient engagement. At the ACP’s upcoming annual meeting, he’ll co-host the council’s marquee event, a TED talk-style national forum for promising innovations and bright ideas for teaching high-value care.

When he’s not serving at the ACP, Khan is a clinical innovator and director of physician engagement at Boston-based Iora Health. He practices general internal medicine at Iora’s super-utilizer clinic serving medically complex casino workers in Las Vegas and also serves on Yale’s clinical faculty.

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn

In April, M.D.-Ph.D. student Chelsea Cockburn began a four-year term on the ACP’s National Council of Student Members, a 13-member group that advises the Board of Regents and Board of Governors on promoting internal medicine as a career and increasing the value of ACP membership to medical students.

She’ll be assigned a region of medical schools in the U.S. and will help advise the internal medicine interest groups at those schools to strengthen activities at the chapter level. She’s also been selected to represent the council on the ACP Education and Publication Committee that provides scientific and professional information to physicians, trainees and patients.

Council members organize programming for medical students at the national ACP conference every year, and Cockburn will attend the annual meeting in Boston later this month. “I’m really excited to get to meet the rest of the council members as well as network with Internal medicine physicians,” she says.

Originally from Harrisonburg, Va., Cockburn entered the M.D.-Ph.D. program in 2013 and in March 2015 began her graduate training in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. She’s been an admissions tour guide and was a trip leader for HOMBRE, the annual student-led medical relief trip to Honduras. With a strong interest in global health, Cockburn plans on doing a fellowship in infectious disease after a residency in internal medicine.

The ACP is a national organization of internists and is the country’s second-largest medical-physician organization, behind only the American Medical Association. Its membership of 141,000 includes internists and internal medicine subspecialists as well as medical students, residents and fellows. An influential voice in American health care, it’s celebrating 100 years since its founding in 1915.

20
2015

Nationally known speakers, dozens of student presenters intersect at regional neurosciences meeting

Scientists from the symposium

The symposium featured four nationally known scientists: (left-right) Ben Arenkiel, Ph.D. (Baylor College of Medicine), Vincent Pieribone, Ph.D. (Yale University), David Lyon, Ph.D. (University of California Irvine) and Michael Krashes, Ph.D. (NIDDKD).

The Kontos Medical Sciences Building was busier than a cluster of excitatory neurons on March 20 when 150 neuroscientists convened for the annual symposium of the Central Virginia Chapter of the Society for Neuroscience.

The symposium featured a quartet of nationally known speakers who travelled from UC Irvine, Yale, Baylor and the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to present the latest discoveries from their research labs. From their talks, the symposium’s topic was born: “Optogenetics, Chemogenetics and Circuit Mapping of Brain Function.”

Each speaker described some of the latest tools used by neuroscientists to uncover the connections and functions of the central nervous system. These tools ranged from using the unique properties of the rabies virus to delineate CNS connections to using fluorescent protein genes derived from ocean coral to generate voltage probes that can convert voltage changes across biological membranes into optical signals.

CVCSN student presenter winners

CVCSN student presenter winners were Jianmin Su (Virginia Tech), Kareem Clark (VCU), Claire Dixon (VCU), Joseph Balsamo (JMU) and Ryan Poland (VCU). Photo taken by Pavel Lizhnyak.

Chapter President Raymond J. Colello, Ph.D., Treasurer Andy Ottens, Ph.D., Secretary Unsong Oh, M.D., and Rory McQuiston, Ph.D., organized the symposium.

An associate professor in VCU’s Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, Colello says that the annual gathering has always been a place to learn about recent findings, but it’s also an important forum for students to begin to take their place in the neuroscience community.

In an hour-long session, called a Data Blitz, eight doctoral students and post-doctoral scholars from VCU presented a series of oral presentations. They shared their research findings with an audience populated by faculty, students and post-docs from neuroscience research programs around Central Virginia.

“I was delighted how well all the students did at explaining their research and its impact within the five-minute time constraint of the Data Blitz talk,” says Colello.

VCU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology postdoc Michael Surace presented during the Blitz. “Although the Data Blitz format presses you to present your data concisely, this may actually be a benefit,” he says. “I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of conversation it sparked with other researchers, especially those from other institutions.”

An additional poster session boasted nearly five dozen abstracts representing the work of undergraduates, graduate students and post-docs from a half dozen Virginia schools: Eastern Virginia Medical School, James Madison, VCU, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia and William and Mary.

At the end of the day, symposium organizers selected five outstanding student presenters for awards.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, not just to be able to share your work, but to see all of the amazing research being performed right in our own backyard,” said Kareem Clark, VCU graduate student and poster presentation winner. “As a grad student, a regional meeting such as this one is great for networking and finding potential post-doctoral positions locally.”

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.

22
2015

Annual brunch gives donors, students a chance to celebrate $1.8 million in scholarships

Ben Lindsey

The Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey was chosen to speak on behalf of his fellow students at the MCV Foundation’s annual scholarship brunch. He told the assembled donors, “Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

Students, alumni, faculty and friends from the MCV Campus recently gathered at the MCV Foundation Scholarship Brunch to celebrate the outstanding financial support given to students across the campus each year.

The event provides an opportunity for students and donors to get to know each other, as scholarship recipients thank donors for their generosity and donors have the pleasure of hearing what a difference their gifts have made. This year’s brunch included 127 donors and 142 students from across the MCV Campus, all of whom had a connection to the over $1.8 million paid out in scholarships and awards this year.

This past year’s numbers are impressive: 325 endowed scholarships, 431 students who receive financial aid and three dozen new scholarships established. But the brunch offers a chance to look beyond the numbers to the real reason for the donors’ generosity: the students. This year’s event featured a speech by fourth-year medical student Ben Lindsey, who holds the Kinloch Nelson Scholarship.

Ben told the audience that his scholarship gave him a sense of tradition, power and confidence that he will continue to carry even after he leaves the MCV Campus. His scholarship is named after Kinloch Nelson, M.D., the beloved Dean of Medicine who is credited with starting the school’s Department of Family Practice and for whom the Nelson Clinic is named.

Ben described looking around the campus and seeing signs of Dr. Nelson’s legacy everywhere, including within himself.

Kinloch Nelson, M’98 and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98

Kinloch Nelson, M’98, and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98, attended the scholarship brunch to meet the Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey who holds a scholarship that memorializes the former Dean of Medicine Kinloch Nelson, M.D. The Class of 1998’s Nelson is a descendant of Dean Nelson.

See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

“It is both incredibly humbling and motivating to realize that I maintain the support of this legacy through the Kinloch Nelson scholarship,” he said. “Through legacies like the Nelsons’, the scholarships we receive are far more valuable than their intrinsic monetary worth.”

Ben also took the opportunity to talk about the strength of the MCV Campus’ alumni network. Before coming to the School of Medicine, Ben worked as a medical scribe in Charlottesville, Va. He noted that “Many of the residents with whom I worked during that job had attended medical school at MCV. They tended to be the most competent residents and they raved about the clinical experience they had received while attending MCV for medical school. Thus, it was my interaction with these MCV alumni and my desire for an unparalleled clinical experience that convinced me to aim for MCV.”

The School of Medicine’s alumni have continued to impress him as he looks beyond graduation this spring. Ben just finished interviewing for residency positions, a process that took him to hospitals and academic medical centers across the country. He was happy to find that everywhere he interviewed there were connections to the MCV Campus and alumni were excited to meet him and help out however they could.

These stories about the impact of scholarships and the importance of active alumni are what make the brunch such a success. Students like Ben show donors the real results of their generosity and how scholarships mean much more than financial aid. The brunch is also meaningful for students, as they get to better understand the legacies that the scholarships represent. As Ben said at the close of his speech to the assembled donors, “You have indescribably enhanced our time as students here at MCV. Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.”

By Jack Carmichael

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