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October 2009 Archives

October 30, 2009

Raphael J. Witorsch, Ph.D.

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Faculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards

Did you hear the one about cell signaling?

Known nearly as well for his tremendous sense of humor as for his excellence in teaching and expertise in physiology, Dr. Raphael Witorsch is a master at communicating difficult information in a memorable way.

For more than 25 years, Dr. Witorsch’s unique teaching style has won the hearts and minds of his students. “He is able to make even the reproductive system fun.” Dr. Witorsch makes 8 a.m. classes a joy and a reason to come in. “He is an extremely personable, animated and excited instructor who wakes students up from early morning drowsiness and excites us about his topic.” “He conveyed his material in a manner that was both completely understandable and immensely enjoyable.” “We always left his lectures with huge smiles and a more complete understanding of how the body worked.”

“Interestingly, Ray’s abilities as a stand-up comic and storyteller (often side-splitting), are in no way contradictory to his professionalism,” wrote Linda Costanzo, Ph.D.., Assistant Dean for Pre-clinical Medical Education, in nominating Dr. Witorsch for the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award. “Somehow, a 50-minute lesson with Ray Witorsch flies by – he is able to convey the beauty of the body systems in a way that enhances the core story, makes it more memorable, and places it in meaningful context.”

In addition to being a highly respected and popular professor of physiology in the School of Medicine, he has also directed the physiology courses in the Schools of Dentistry and Pharmacy. “He can calibrate his presentation to the professional needs of particular groups of students,” added Margaret C. Biber, D. Phil, Professor of Physiology. “Thus, his success has not been limited to the dental, medical and graduate students but has extended to other
students such as nurses, pharmacy students, physical therapists and industrial hygiene students.”

“His classroom is a dynamic, productive arena where students are engaged in active learning and reaching their fullest potential in understanding and applying physiology to their given discipline,” related B. Ellen Byrne, DDS, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean, Academic Affairs, School of Dentistry. “Dr. Witorsch is an excellent teacher who has that special blend of patience, tact, personal concern, talent, communication skills and professional pride
necessary to excel.”

“Dr. Witorsch’s serious commitment to excellence in teaching matches his impressive portfolio of research and service contributions,” wrote Thomas P. Reinders, Associate Dean for Admissions and Student Services, School of Pharmacy. Professor S. Murthy Karnam, Ph.D. agreed, adding that “Dr. Witorsch has selfl essly contributed to teaching generations of graduate and medical students. He has no equal in teaching enthusiasm.”

“His talent in education is innate, as he received an Excellence in Teaching Award from the medical students in 1971, the very first year he taught at MCV,” says Diomedes E. Logothetis, Ph.D., Chairman, Department of Physiology and Biophysics. “I can’t think of a more deserving person than Ray to honor with the highest teaching recognition in the School of Medicine.”

Richard G. Moran, Ph.D.

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Faculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Distinguished Mentor Award

After years of effort, why would a doctoral student deliberately choose a lab that typically requires an additional year of dissertation work? The answer is Rick Moran, recognized both through this award and by his students as a Distinguished Mentor.

“The reason for the extra year (and the popularity of his lab) is that Rick gives his students an extra degree of freedom in designing and executing their projects….they learn more and are more creative when more is expected of them,” explained Vice Chair, Pharmacology and Toxicology, Stephen T. Sawyer, Ph.D. “He makes sure that his students are making the best of their experience as graduate students,” agreed a former mentee.

“He never spoon feeds anyone; he will let you wander and find the answers,” added another former post-doc in the Moran lab. “Now I have my own lab and in times of crunch I still think ‘what would Rick do?’ He just does not feed the fish, but teaches them to swim and
survive.”

“In Greek mythology, ‘Mentor’ was the advisor of Odysseus who was entrusted with instructing and guiding Odysseus’ son Telemachus in his absence during the Trojan War. I think this defi nition is apt because Professor Moran was, first and foremost, concerned with the individual development of his students and postdoctoral associations,” explained John L. Andreassi, II, Ph.D. “He effectively guided us through every stage of our graduate training. He indoctrinated his students with a solid foundation of proper experimental design and encouraged us to explore our own ideas both in theory and at the bench.”

“Dr. Moran also felt strongly that his students must develop their thought processes in addition to their hands on abilities,” said former doctoral advisee Fiona Turner. “We were encouraged to present at local, national and international meetings and he was instrumental in the manuscript writing process, offering valuable criticism and insight.” “His critiques focused and strengthened my grant application, which no doubt aided it in being funded,”
added William A. Barton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

“Rick is one of the finest mentors of graduate students that I have ever met,” said Michael F. Miles, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Pharmacology/Toxicology and Neurology. “He demands technical excellence and creativity from his students. More importantly, he demands (and teaches) an intense intellectual curiosity and honesty from each of his students.”

“I continue to benefit from Rick’s mentorship and guidance well beyond my Ph.D. candidacy,” wrote a former mentee who now is with Sloan-Kettering. “I turn to him whenever I put in a grant application or have a career development question since I know he will always be a source of valuable advice.”

“The success of graduates of the department or any one laboratory is the best measure of the quality of the mentoring,” states William L. Dewey, Ph.D., Professor and Interim Chair, Pharmacology and Toxicology. “There has been a long line of very successful graduates from Rick’s laboratory. He continues to be a real asset to this school and, through his mentoring he will continue to bring signifi cant prestige to the whole institution.”

Thomas Palliative Care Program

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Faculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Educational Innovation Award

“To cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always,” attributed to Hippocrates.

Palliative care is care given alongside usual care, whether curative or not. It focuses on meticulous symptom assessment and relief, hones and open communication, and medically appropriate goal setting. The VCU-Massey Thomas Palliative Care Team has helped make serious illness better for many, and has led the way nationally to prove the worth of palliative care and integrate it into usual care.

In 1999 there were no palliative care programs at hospitals over 300 beds. Today, there are more than 1300. “The VCU TPC team has been integral in this national
movement,” wrote Gordon Ginder, M.D., Massey Cancer Center Director. “They wrote three of the eight curricula used by the Palliative Care Leadership Centers (PCLC) in teaching institutions how to start palliative care programs. They have trained more oncology groups
than any other leadership center in the country. In fact, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation only agreed to allow oncology to be a ‘target for’ palliative care if the Massey Cancer Center PCLC was involved. Now they are intimately involved in developing the Veterans Administration palliative care initiative in which essentially every V.A. facility will be required to have a palliative care program.”

The Thomas team knew early-on the immense value of palliative care, allowing end-of-life patients the ability to pass in comfort, rather than under stress in an ICU/CCU. In addition to easing patients’ struggles, the Thomas Palliative Care Program was the fi rst to document the signifi cant cost savings from palliative care, proving that the cost of care for a dying patient can be reduced up to 60 percent in the last week of life. In addition, “their published graphs showing dramatic symptom improvement provides compelling evidence for the benefit of
palliative care consultation alongside usual oncology care,” said Diane Meier, M.D., Director, Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC).

To broaden awareness and adoption of palliative care efforts, the Thomas team has developed both Virginia-centric and national initiatives. They launched the Virginia Initiative for Palliative Care, which allows all Virginia health care professionals to receive hands-on clinical training at VCU, and also have been central to efforts to increase education and establishment of palliative care centers nationwide through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-funded CAPC.

“The VCU Team played an essential role in developing our eight module CAPC curriculum,” added Dr. Meier. “VCU has been instrumental in implementing the curriculum around the country.” “Of the nearly 100 programs VCU has taught through that initiative, 100% have been confi dent that that have received the training they needed and 90% have started successful palliative care programs,” Dr. Ginder added.

Beyond education, the Thomas team continues to conduct breakthrough research. They “showed decisively that better pain management could be achieved leading to better clinical outcomes and likely improved survival,” Dr. Meier continued. “Their innovative work in dyspnea management has led to the practice changing use of nebulized fentanyl for dyspnea. They also have developed several innovative ways of treating chemotherapy induced neuropathic pain, menopausal hot fl ashes and other symptoms. Their goal is to become one of the national leading research centers.”

Congratulations to the Thomas Palliative Care Team: J. Brian Cassel, Ph.D.; Patrick Coyne, M.S.N.; Carrie Cybulski, P.M.P.; Mary Ann Hager, M.S.N.; Laurel Lyckholm, M.D.; and Thomas Smith, M.D.

Clive M. Baumgarten, Ph.D.

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Faculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Distinguished Mentor Award

Mentoring an academic superstar is one thing. Providing mentorship to a struggling student requires an entirely different level of commitment, the type of dedication offered by Dr. Clive Baumgarten over his 30 year career at the MCV Campus of VCU.

“Whereas it is often easier to appreciate and adopt the brightest and most talented students as mentees, continuing to invest time and effort without any apparent progress into the development of an academically challenged student poses considerable challenges for a mentor. The latter was my relationship with Dr. Baumgarten,” wrote a former mentee, now a clinical and research fellow in cardiology at Johns Hopkins. “When I faced my toughest academic hurdles and the odds were not in my favor, his unwavering belief in my success motivated me to reach my highest potential.”

While most of the students he has mentored have not faced such signifi cant obstacles, they all are indebted to him. “Without his effort, friendship and guidance, I would never have been able to develop my academic or scientific career,” wrote Samuel C. Dudley, Jr, M.D., Ph.D., Chief, Section of Cardiology, University of Illinois at Chicago. “He taught me to be exacting and creative. I learned how to do experiments, but more importantly how to design them and to interpret the data. He taught me how to write. He has read almost every one of my grants since I have left his lab. In short, I received a career’s worth of mentorship. He is the fi nest teacher, scholar, friend and mentor I know.”

Other current and past mentees thoroughly concur: “Dr. Baumgarten is a mentor who renews passions and kindles the fires of thought.” “His delight in seeing others succeed is an inspiration and develops confi dence in those around him.” “Always learning himself, he reminds me of the joys of life-long study, even when I have been steeped in the mundane.” “His reputation as a researcher and mentor was a major reason I applied to the M.D./Ph.D. program and my experience in his lab only strengthened this view.”

“He gives trainees in his lab the respect and freedom they want and encourages them to explore new directions,” explained Gea-Ny Tseng, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology and Biophysics. “When challenges occur (as they always do in research), he cheers the students on and guides them in the right direction.” Added a former mentee, “He was a patient ear that allowed my excitement to pour forth and a structured guide who helped me frame my ideas about a topic, facilitated clarity of those thoughts and pointed me to useful avenues.”

“The things I remember most distinctly about Dr. Baumgarten are his enthusiasm in scientific research, his dedicated working style, strict scientifi c thinking and optimistic life attitude, which greatly benefi t my career and my life,” added a former colleague. “His encouragement and optimism cheered up everyone in the team and made even the darkest time of the dissertation research more bearable,” said another.

Although Dr. Baumgarten’s optimism was tried recently, “his dedication to his students and his duty as a mentor stood tall even during his greatest personal health challenge,” wrote Diomedes Logothetis, Ph.D., Chairman, Department of Physiology and Biophysics.

“As a mentor, he should be held up as a prototype,” summarized a current M.D./Ph.D. student. “I know I would be honored if someday my own students held me in even half the esteem that I hold him.”

Douglas S. Franzen, M.D., M.Ed.

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Faculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Irby-James Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching

Transformed. It’s a description used a lot by those familiar with the work of Dr. Douglas Franzen, Assistant Professor, Emergency Medicine and this year’s recipient of the Irby-James Award for Excellence in Clinical teaching.

“He has completely transformed our medical student and resident programs.”

“Dr. Franzen completely transformed the educational activities of our department.”

“You mention ‘medical education’ and it’s like a switch gets turned on in his head. His entire body is transformed; he becomes incredibly energized; and he radiates his love for teaching.”

Beginning with his tenure as the emergency medicine department’s Clerkship Coordinator, “Doug created a very structured educational environment in which all students learn a well defined curriculum,” explained Emergency Medicine Program Director Timothy C. Evans, M.D. “Further, he developed an evaluation system that is explicit and truly helps to differentiate the abilities and performance of each individual.”

Next, as Assistant Program Director, “Dr. Franzen single-handedly reorganized the emergency medicine resident didactic curriculum, revised the medical student curriculum, and completely changed the way we evaluate medical students on the EM elective with new feedback and evaluation forms,” added colleague Julie Mayglothling. Among the changes he has implemented is the adoption of an innovative curriculum using simulation to teach
emergency medicine case sessions, enabling residents to gain valuable hands-on assessment and management skills in a controlled environment.

His impact on curriculum extends beyond emergency medicine. While participating in a focus group for the medical school curriculum, “He absolutely exuded with enthusiasm and ideas while at the same time being respectful and inclusive of other thoughts,” recalled Ike Wood, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and Student Affairs. “I was so impressed by him that I specifi cally asked him to be on the Curriculum Planning Committee.”

Doug also heads the ultrasonography curriculum. “As with all of his assignments, Doug has defined a very advanced curriculum and put the components in place for all of our residents to successfully complete this curriculum under his oversight,” added Evans. “As the ‘ultrasound guru,’ he does more than teach a few,” detailed an EM resident. “Monthly, he meets with each resident to review ultrasound images logged. He freely gives his time to help us be better physicians as well as earn credentialing in ultrasound. This selflessness is
unsurpassed by other physicians with whom I have worked.”

Other current and former residents agree wholeheartedly. “Both in and out of the emergency department, Dr. Franzen champions our educational development as residents. When working a shift with him, he always challenges us to have goals for each shift. When a shift is over, he will stay after and review the cases of the day and help us to carefully examine our decision making.”

Perhaps Dr. Franzen’s Program Director, Tim Evans, says it best: “He makes our students, our residents, our department and therefore our medical school and hospital better as a result of his efforts.”

Tomasz Kordula, Ph.D.

kordula.jpgFaculty Excellence Awards – September 2009
Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards

Ask Dr. Tomasz Kordula to explain the structure of DNA and you might be in for a surprise. “He typically removes his belt and uses it as a prop to illustrate the various conformations of double stranded DNA,” explained Suzanne E. Barbour, Professor, School of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. While some
of his props may be unconventional, “his careful attention to the ‘art’ of teaching has made Dr. Kordula a favorite with the students.” No wonder he is receiving the Faculty Teaching Excellence Award.

“Dr. Kordula has vast, diverse and complex teaching experiences that span the entire spectrum of higher education, ranging from undergraduates, small discussion groups, graduate and medical students and postdoctoral fellows,” said Dr. Sarah Spiegel, Professor and Chair, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “He has made notable contributions to the development of the highest standard of education both within and outside of the classroom.”

“There is no question that Tomek is an outstanding teacher,” commended Robert F. Diegelmann, Ph.D., Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. “He demonstrates his excellence in teaching in the Medical Biochemistry course, as well as in the IOC 503 ‘super course.” Student comments include: “incredibly engaging and enjoyable lecture style,” “clearly enthusiastic about teaching,” “excellent, very interactive, clear, easy to follow,” and “great presenter and did a good job of putting challenging topics in layman’s terms.” Added a former graduate student, “He is one of the best teachers I have ever encountered. His lectures in molecular biology were spectacular and I only wished they never ended.”

“While he is extremely involved in teaching the first year medical students, being a graduate course director, serving on various students’ graduate committees, admitting new graduate students, and acting as a second advisor for several students from other labs, he always seems to fi nd the time to speak with each of his own students personally to discuss our projects’ pitfalls and triumphs,” wrote Dr. Lauren Bryan. “He is personally invested
in each of his graduate students and believes that it is his responsibility to ensure our success. Thanks to Dr. Kordula, I now leave VCU with an excellent resume, fantastic scientific training and a bright future in science.”

“I think that Dr. Kordula is such an excellent teacher because he shows a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and optimism, which is extremely contagious,” added another Ph.D. student. “When I was facing diffi culties, he used it as an opportunity to teach me how to fi nd alternative approaches and improve the techniques. He seems to never stop teaching – even during casual scientifi c discussions he made sure that I understood the scientific big
picture. It is thanks to him that I got a wonderful position in a world-renowned laboratory of stem cell research where I am implementing everything that I have learned from him.”

“I can easily say that my decision to set upon a career in science was greatly infl uenced by having Tomek as an advisor in the early stages of my academic education,” wrote another former doctoral student, now with the Collège de France. “He was the first person to introduce me to the hands-on excitement of making science, and I am deeply indebted to him for that.”

“In a research intensive environment like ours, it is easy to lose sight of the major reason we area here: to educate the next generation of biomedical researchers and health care workers,” added Dr. Barbour. “Dr. Kordula should be commended on his dedication to this noble profession. The Faculty Teaching Excellence Award is an appropriate way to reward him for his efforts.”

October 2, 2009

Shawna Perry, M.D.

perry.jpgShawna J. Perry, M.D., is talking about casinos. It seems an unlikely subject for the director of Patient Safety Systems Engineering, but Perry insists it’s relevant. “One of the biggest challenges for safety today is accepting that health care is just another form of work, not that different from other systems,” she says. “Take casinos, for example. They are 24-hour operations like health care. They’ve put a lot of money into studying the effects of sleep deprivation on attention span to optimize employee performance–something that directly impacts us as well.”

Perry came to the MCV Campus in the fall of 2008 from the University of Florida Health Sciences Center in Jacksonville, where she was director of the emergency department and did research on patient safety. Today she combines teaching, research and clinical care with oversight of the safety initiative. “Safety First, Every Day is a team effort,” she emphasizes. “We’re right now in Phase II of our journey to become one of the safest organizations in the nation.”

Although there are many factors that contribute to a safe environment, Perry is particularly interested in the pros and cons of new technology. There is no question sophisticated medical software has made tracking patient progress more reliable. However, Perry says clinicians now spend as much as 20 percent of their time entering data on a computer–time previously devoted to hands-on patient care.

She laughs as she describes her research that involves “patting down a resident” at day’s end and finding a pocket full of handwritten notes. “These are cognitive artifacts that support aspects of clinical work,” says Perry. “Studying notes like these allows us to follow someone’s train of thought and see more clearly what is not–but should be–supported by technology.”

In Perry’s view: “Safety is a dynamic, ongoing aspect of any system.”

Just ask the Las Vegas croupiers, now on a new routine of staggered sleep schedules.

By Susan T. Burtch, for the Dean’s Discovery Report.

Alison Kuchta

kuchta.jpgA dual love for medicine and for international travel would not necessarily lead you to Bangladesh. During the monsoon season. To study cholera. But that is where it’s taking Alison Kuchta.

“Public policy, treating people, prevention – all these aspects of international health research appeal to me,” explains Kuchta, who admires physicians who must hone their diagnostic skills and techniques as they work without technologies like CT scans.

The M.D./Ph.D. student flew to Bangladesh in August for a yearlong fellowship supported by the NIH’s Fogarty International Center. This exposure to the field of public health will be an essential step in her growth as a physician-scientist focused on global medicine.

With an eye toward applying science’s tools of vaccine development and field trials to real world problems, Kuchta spent the Ph.D. phase of her training in the microbiology labs of Michael McVoy, Ph.D. The professor of pediatric infectious disease studies the biology of cytomegalovirus, and Kuchta’s work with his team revolved around a protein that may be
important in CMV’s replication.

Now, Kuchta heads to Bangladesh and the bacteria that causes cholera. Usually spread through contaminated water, its severe diarrhea and vomiting result in dehydration that can bring death within hours. It is easily controllable with IV fluids and supportive therapy, but not for those who have limited access to health care in Bangladesh’s low-lying, flood-prone areas.

She’s heard from other Fogarty students about the 1,000-bed tent that is erected annually to treat these patients. “I’ll get very good at starting IVs on dehydrated patients,” she says.

Kuchta will split her time between the clinic, the lab and epidemiologic efforts examining the factors that contribute to this disease’s hold on Bangladesh. Her work in the research lab will focus on the body’s immune cell response. Kuchta explains: “There are multiple strains of cholera, and kids are very susceptible; they can get it again and again. By adulthood, they are completely resistant. But current vaccines against the disease do not infer that lifelong immunity.”

Researchers hope their work with the immune system’s B and T cells will deliver an improved vaccine and, ultimately, improved health.

James Bennett, M.D., Ph.D.

bennett.jpgA fortunate confluence of events has brought renowned neurologist Jim Bennett onto the MCV Campus as founding director the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Multidisciplinary Research and Clinical Center. Bennett hopes to bring about a confluence of a different sort at the Center, aligning basic scientist and clinical researchers to put novel ideas to the test and bring new therapies to patients.

The buzzword is translational research and the idea, says Bennett, is “to take discoveries in molecular cell science of disease and turn them into things that will help people – either drugs or devices.” However, creating a research structure that takes ideas from the laboratory bench to the bedside is easier said than done.

Part of the challenge is bringing together people who work on different portions of the long path from discovery to development. In Bennett’s words: “deconstructing academic silos.” Another part is keeping multiple endpoints in play. “Society wants two things from people like me,” Bennett says. “First is state-of-the-art clinical treatment and diagnosis for the disease. Also, we want to alter the trajectory of Parkinson’s disease.”

One experimental therapy that Bennett has nurtured is a neuroprotective agent called R(+)pramipexole. The novel therapy has been licensed to a small company and is currently in clinical trials for another neurodegenerative disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s) disease. Bennett is investigating whether the compound will be helpful in Parkinson’s disease.

He has been physician-scientist his whole career, spending 25 years on the faculty at the University of Virginia. Three things tempted him to come to Richmond. The first is the “Movers and Shakers,” an active group of local citizens whose lives have been affected by Parkinson’s disease and who have raised millions of dollars to support the new Parkinson’s Center. And in particular the leadership of Margaret and FitzGerald Bemiss, whose leadership gift of $1 million funded the Endowed Chair that Bennett holds.

The second is School of Medicine Dean Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., who is charged with making the school a biomedical powerhouse and whom Bennett sees not only as an ally, but as a like-minded researcher. The third and final reason Bennett made the 70-mile leap from Charlottesville was VCU itself, in which Bennett saw “a forward thinking vision of the future that everyone seemed to share.”

By Jill U. Adams, for the Dean’s Discovery Report.

Bruce Rubin, M.D.

rubin.jpgBruce Rubin thinks of himself as an engineer. With cause: he earned a master’s and did postdoc work at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, both in biomedical engineering. He was also a professor of biomedical engineering at Virginia Tech for 12 years. He looks at biomaterials like mucus and aerosol therapy as engineering problems. To date, he has five patents, including devices that deliver aerosol and drugs to clear patients’ airways.

Rubin’s team received extensive media coverage earlier this year when they linked Vicks VapoRub with excessive mucus production in toddlers. Rubin is proud of this study for how it will help children as well as for the process that brought the discovery to light. A pediatric resident was eager to publish his observation that Vicks VapoRub had exacerbated a patient’s breathing problems. Rubin, instead, encouraged him to “give up your nights and weekends for three months and come into the lab to figure out why this might have happened.”

The resident agreed. Rubin teamed him with a postdoctoral student and provided funding to support their research. They in turn performed experiments that revealed the biologic mechanisms behind the resident’s observation. “Now that you know the mechanism,” Rubin challenged the resident, “see if any other children show up with a similar problem.” After all, he muses, “the eye will not see what the mind doesn’t know.”

Children who might have previously had unexplained problems were soon identified, and now the necessary ingredients were in place to publish in the top pulmonary journal. But the part of the story that keeps Rubin excited? “I had a couple of enthusiastic guys who got fired up and are now doing academic research on their own.”

Rubin’s record of research accomplishment also includes showing how antibiotics like azithromycin can beneficially modulate the immune system in lung disease like cystic fibrosis; he has edited a book on the subject. He also turned conventional wisdom on its head with his discovery that the lungs of CF patients fill up with pus, rather than too much mucus, as was long believed. By showing that mucus protects the lung and that there is too little mucus in the CF airway, his research group has identified promising and radically new avenues for therapy. With more than 200 research papers and chapters to his credit, Rubin is
also on the editorial board of 12 pulmonary journals.

Robert Balster, Ph.D.

balster.jpgThis summer, Robert Balster received the Nathan B. Eddy Memorial Award from the College on Problems of Drug Dependence, the largest and oldest organization for the scientific study of drug dependence and addiction.

More than three decades earlier, the CPDD’s annual scientific meeting was the venue for his first-ever presentation at a national scientific conference. That was 1973, the same year as Nathan Eddy’s death. Balster recalls: “As intimidated as I was by all of the assembled expertise in drug abuse research that was in the audience, it never occurred to me that I would stand before the College these many years later to receive the Nathan B. Eddy Award.”

But in the intervening years, Balster would go on to edit two books and author more than 270 scientific papers and 46 book chapters. He has had continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1976 and has served in leadership roles with not only the CPDD, but also the World Health Organization, the FDA and the American Psychological Association.

He also points to being named to the Butler Professorship in 2003 and receiving VCU’s Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, Research and Service in 1999 as important factors in establishing his qualifications for the Eddy Award.

Devanand Sarkar, Ph.D., MBBS

sarkar.jpgDevanand Sarkar credits the endowment set up by the Harrison Foundation for some of his laboratory’s recent achievements.

The Foundation created the Harrison Scholars program to support promising cancer researchers. As one of its beneficiaries, Sarkar had funding on hand to complete small-scale studies whose preliminary findings positioned him to successfully compete for a grant from the Dana Foundation. The three-year grant totaling $200,000 will allow Sarkar to develop a gene therapy strategy to effectively target malignant gliomas. As the field searches for ways to improve treatment for these brain tumors, Sarkar’s team will examine a new approach that combines gene therapy and immunotherapy in a single agent.

In addition, Sarkar says, “support from the Harrison family has helped in performing important but expensive experiments, like microarrays, that have revealed novel molecules important in liver cancer’s development.” These studies have resulted in several high-quality papers, including one earlier this year in the Journal of Clinical Investigation that identified a gene that plays a key role in regulating liver cancer progression. There is currently no effective treatment
for liver cancer, but “we now have several novel molecules and pathways that might be targeted to effectively treat it,” says Sarkar.

Adam Klausner, M.D.

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For nearly 30 years, the urology division on the MCV Campus was synonymous with Warren W. Koontz, Jr., M.D. This fall, the medical school will celebrate the creation of the Koontz Research Professorship in Urology.

It is the first fund on campus to bear his name. As was his wish, the Professorship is dedicated to the support of the research mission of his division, in recognition of the importance of research to develop new treatments that provide patients with the best possible care.

Now a professor emeritus, Koontz, himself, generously supported the fund. Donors to the fund also include his protégés, many of whom have followed in his footsteps by establishing themselves as leaders in the field. The Department of Surgery also made a gift to the fund, as did a number of grateful patients, including Tom Eggleston and Charles and Sybil Thalhimer.

Adam P. Klausner, M.D., will be the first holder of the Koontz Professorship. The associate professor of surgery and director of neurourology is described by colleagues as an exemplary model of a surgeon-scientist. In the relatively short time since joining the faculty in 2004, he has initiated six studies on the MCV Campus and at the McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where he has an additional appointment.

Klausner’s research has drawn support from the American Geriatrics Society, which awarded him its Jahnigen Career Development Award to support his work with normal pressure hydrocephalus. The neurological disorder results in bladder dysfunction as well as impacting memory, cognition and the ability to walk. The two-year, $200,000 AGS grant will allow Klausner to better identify which patients will benefit from the standard treatment of implanting a shunt to relieve the pressure caused by the build up of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain’s ventricles.

On the basic science front, Klausner collaborates with Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Paul Ratz, Ph.D. Together they study the signaling process involved in the involuntary contraction of the muscle that lines the wall of the bladder.