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School of Medicine profiles

May 2011 Archives

May 9, 2011

David Chelmow, M.D.

David Chelmow, M.D.

The Leo J. Dunn Distinguished Professor and Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology
M.D.: Yale School of Medicine
Residency: University of California, San Francisco
Most Recent Post: Tufts University, professor and vice chair for research and education in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, program director for the residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the Tufts University Affiliated Hospitals, and chair of the Tufts University Health Sciences Campus Institutional Review Board

Taking the post as chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology was a good fit for Chelmow because of his broad interests. “I am a generalist in both my clinical practice and my research interests,” he says. “VCU’s department is built around a large academic generalist group who provide great care and medical student and resident education.”

The department also has strong clinical sections in all of the OB/GYN subspecialties. As a generalist, he feels he can work with each of the specialty sections to further grow their clinical services and expand their academic and research activities. Another goal is collaboration with other departments, for example creating a Continence and Pelvic Floor Center in collaboration with the Division of Urology. “This would give us the opportunity to conduct research together and offer even better multidisciplinary care,” he says.

His research focuses on cesarean delivery techniques, particularly wound closure and the prevention of wound complications. Studies he conducted on using prophylactic antibiotics during cesarean delivery and on incision closure have contributed to widespread changes in practice. He is also the editor-in-chief of the eMedicine OB/GYN online textbook and has authored more than 65 peer-reviewed papers and review articles.

Unsong Oh, M.D.

Unsong Oh, M.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurology
M.D.: VCU School of Medicine
Residency: Neurological Institute of New York at Columbia University Medical Center and New York Presbyterian Hospita
Most Recent Post: Clinical and Research Fellow in the Neuroimmunology Branch of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

Oh joined the neurology department last summer after training for six years at the NIH as a clinical and research fellow. A graduate of VCU’s School of Medicine, he says he is pleased to be back on the MCV Campus. “The environment in our department is very supportive for physician-scientists,” he says.

Oh examines inflammatory responses involved in multiple sclerosis and participates in clinical studies of therapies that modulate these responses. He recently received a K12 Career Development Award from the NIH to pursue a new research direction. “I’ll be investigating neurodegenerative mechanisms that may pertain to the secondary progressive phase of MS,” he says.

In addition, Oh is developing a new center for comprehensive Multiple Sclerosis care on the MCV Campus that will give patients multidisciplinary care as well as the opportunity to enroll in trials of new therapies. He will submit the center for approval and affiliation with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society within the year.

Lindsay Sabik, Ph.D.

Lindsay Sabik, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor of Healthcare Policy and Research
Ph.D.: Health Policy from Harvard University
Fellowship: Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health

The chance to be part of a large research university and a medical center that provides care for an underserved population is part of what drew Sabik to join the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research last September.

Sabik investigates issues related to healthcare spending, the effects of a lack of insurance coverage and underserved populations. Because of those interests a home base at the VCU Medical Center, the largest safety net provider in the state, is a good fit. Her work has been published in a variety of peer-reviewed journals including Health Affairs and the American Journal of Public Health.

Currently, she is working on a research project with Cathy J. Bradley, Ph.D., founding chair of the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, looking at the effects of Medicaid caseload on safety net hospitals in Virginia.

Sabik is also excited to be assisting in the development of new graduate programs in her department, including a Ph.D. in healthcare policy and research. “I look forward to teaching in the program and helping to shape it,” she says.

Samuel A. Taylor Jr., M.D.

Samuel A. Taylor Jr., M.D.

Assistant Professor of Neurology
M.D.: University of Virginia School of Medicine
Residency: Department of Neurology at the University of Virginia Health System ( Co-Chief Resident, 2008-2009)
Fellowship: Sleep Medicine in the Department of Neurology at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor

Taylor arrived last September to join a growing sleep disorders program in the neurology department to study disorders that are associated with Parkinson’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.

Taylor is particularly interested in REM sleep behavior disorder, a sleep abnormality in which patients physically act out their dreams and may endanger themselves and their bed partners. People who have been diagnosed with the disorder are at greater risk for developing Parkinson’s or other neurodegenerative disorders.

At the medical school’s new center for the research and treatment of Parkinson’s Disease and other movement disorders, Taylor will be participating in clinical studies and in the evaluation and treatment of sleep disorders. “We’ll be working to further characterize sleep disturbances in Parkinson’s Disease and other related conditions and to develop new therapies — including medications, procedures and other interventions — to improve patients’ overall sleep quality,” he says.

Esther Johnston

Esther Johnston

Fourth-year M.D. student’s global health interest takes her to Kenya
By Anna Wood

Fourth-year medical student Esther Johnston already has 10 years experience working abroad. Now she’s on another journey. In January, Johnston traveled to Nairobi, Kenya for a four-month stint developing a pandemic influenza surveillance program.

Last May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention awarded Johnston a Hubert Global Health Fellowship. Each year since 1999, the fellowship has provided a limited number of students with the opportunity to gain public health knowledge in a global setting. Through these experiences, students establish relationships with, and receive training from, recognized experts from CDC and other national and international health agencies.

While in Kenya, Johnston will collect specimens from throughout the country. Her work will include data collection and analysis, monitoring and evaluation of the project.

Prior to 1994, Africa’s surveillance system for assessing the impact of influenza was unreliable and inaccurate. To address the issue, the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services created an International Emerging Infections Program office in Nairobi. “Getting the right medicines and the right expertise to patients who need it requires an understanding of where and what the problem is,” explained Johnston. “If we don’t perform surveillance in enough different locales then we could miss the emergence of a new and possibly more dangerous virus.”

With 10 surveillance sites, Johnston’s team will work to understand the pattern of Kenya’s seasonal influenza so that appropriate prevention strategies can be designed.

Studies have shown that different populations respond to vaccines in different ways, and so Johnston also will study vaccine use in Kenya during her stay. Because most vaccines for influenza are tested and approved outside Africa, that population could possibly be receiving ineffectual vaccines.

As an undergraduate at UC San Diego, Johnston was drawn to global health. Each summer during college, she traveled to Ensenada, Mexico to work with a free primary care clinic. Those first trips sparked her awareness of the vast health disparities among peoples and were the beginning of many expeditions abroad.

“Over the last 10 years I’ve traveled from Mexico to Charlottesville to Richmond, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Nicaragua, I’ve realized that every time I cross borders my eyes open a little more to the incredible diversity of the human experience,” said Johnston.

That realization prompted Johnston to take a year off from medical school to obtain her Master’s in Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. During that time, she concentrated her work in humanitarian assistance and refugee issues as well as infectious disease. In fact, Johnston’s capstone project involved one of the refugee camps she may be working with in Kenya. She expects that in her trip, “I’ll be relying heavily on that education in monitoring and evaluation, epidemiology and biostatistics.”

Isaac Wood, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education and student affairs, says that “Esther is truly a remarkable medical student who epitomizes all the qualities we seek in our graduates. Her commitment to international humanitarian causes sets the bar for all students. Esther truly upholds the dignity of human beings and their rights to have access to and receive medical care.”

VCU’s School of Medicine has had a track record of students accepted into the CDC-Hubert Global Health Fellowship. Most recently, the Class of 2010’s Benita Panigrahi traveled to Gaborone, Botswana with the CDC in 2009-10. She worked for an ongoing project on the implementation of quality assurance of rapid HIV testing. The Class of 2009’s Claire Rezba received the fellowship as well.

May 6, 2011

Charles Chalfant, Ph.D.

Charles Chalfant, Ph.D.

Charles Chalfant, Ph.D., an associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, has built a high-profile research program around two recently identified players in inflammation.

In recognition of his work, the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has awarded Chalfant with the Aventi Young Investigator Award in Lipid Research. The award honors outstanding research contributions by young investigators with no more than 15 years of experience.

Inflammation is a complex process that includes a whole host of biochemical and cell signaling processes, which interact in complex ways to coordinate the body’s response to injury. Chalfant’s work focuses on a lipid called ceramide-1-phosphate and the enzyme responsible for its synthesis, ceramide kinase.

“The lipid itself and the enzyme were described in 1989,” Chalfant says, but only recently–and based in large part on his work — have their functions been revealed.

Chalfant has systematically shown how key these molecules are in the inflammatory response. They stimulate a massive buildup of local hormones known as eicosanoids, which serve a wide range of functions including pain, fever, tissue growth, blood clotting and immune regulation.

Chalfant’s research could lead eventually to novel treatments for inflammation. There’s certainly a need for alternatives to aspirin and ibuprofen, as the most recent ones, the COX-2 inhibitors, have been hampered by serious side effects. Chronic inflammation is also implicated in such diseases as arthritis, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and asthma.

By Jill Adams

Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D.

Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D., ABPP, FACRM

The Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor in Cancer Rehabilitation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Director, Virginia Commonwealth Traumatic Brain Injury Model System of Care

2010 recipient of the Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Neuropsychology Award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology

People who sustain traumatic brain injury experience dramatic changes in their lives, as do their families. Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D., ABPP, FACRM, who directs the medical school’s program in rehabilitation psychology and neuropsychology, knows how important it is to take time with patients and their families to address changes in physical abilities, psychological demeanor and daily living issues.

“Medicine has done a great job at keeping these people alive,” Kreutzer says of people with brain injuries, whether from car accidents or gunshot wounds, neurodegenerative diseases or growing tumors. “But often, they are unable to work and they experience psychological disorders. A big part of what I do is to help them identify ways to get back to work and to lead emotionally healthy lives — lives worth living.”

Now thanks to an endowed professorship in the medical school, Kreutzer has more time to help more people affected by brain injury.

In 2009, Kreutzer was named to the Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor in Cancer Rehabilitation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The endowed professorship guarantees Kreutzer the time to pursue work that goes beyond his patient care and teaching duties. In the past two years, he has used that allocation of time to focus on scholarly work and to share the programs he’s developed on the MCV Campus with the wider world.

Kreutzer has just completed putting together the largest reference book ever compiled in the neuropsychology field. The Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology is a four-volume, 2,700-plus page tome that he hopes will become the go-to text in the field.

In addition, he is spending time traveling and talking to others about some of the programs he’s developed in his nearly 30 years at VCU. The most recent is a family intervention program that helps families of brain-injured patients learn about brain injury and practice communication and problem-solving skills so that they can function in a healthy way. “Family members of brain-injured patients can feel quite lonely, even though they’re together,” Kreutzer says. “Our program helps them understand their feelings and stimulates ways to talk about them.”

Kreutzer travels around the continent conducting trainings of the Brain Injury Family Intervention for health care professionals, as well as for patients and their families. The program combines education with counseling to address emotional, behavioral and cognitive changes that occur with brain injury.

Earlier programs developed by Kreutzer and his VCU colleague Paul Wehman, Ph.D., include an employment program, which has since become the standard of care to help patients return to the workforce, and a program to address depression, a too-common and debilitating outcome of brain injury.

Kreutzer has received prestigious recognition from other organizations for his work in rehabilitation of brain-injured patients. Last fall the National Academy of Neuropsychology honored him with their Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Neuropsychology Award.

No one is happier to see Kreutzer benefitting from the endowed professorship than his department chair, David Cifu, M.D., who holds the Herman J. Flax, M.D. Professorship of PM&R. Together with his wife, brothers and father, Cifu set up the endowment to memorialize his mother, Rosa Schwarz Cifu, who was a cancer nurse for 30 years and received medical care at the VCU Medical Center. The motivation behind the endowment was to support a faculty member in rehabilitation, much the way his mother supported the recovery of so many patients.

In fact, the PM&R department got its start in 1949, with the support of a gift from Bernard Baruch in honor of his father and Civil War surgeon Simon Baruch, M.D., making it one of the oldest departments in the country. “Patients with disability and pain can be helped to return to activity and productivity with compassionate medical services, therapeutic exercise, medications, education and training, health and life coaching, and psychologic support and care,” Cifu says. Psychologists like Kreutzer are a critical component of the interdisciplinary field of rehabilitation medicine.

“Jeff Kreutzer is an internationally-recognized leader in research, teaching and clinical care,” Cifu says. “I felt it was appropriate to provide dedicated funding so he could carve out time to teach people about his work.”

By Jill Adams