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School of Medicine Virginia Commonwealth University VCU Medical Center
School of Medicine profiles

May 2014 Archives

May 21, 2014

Mark G. Malkin, M.D., F.R.C.P.C., F.A.A.N.

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Professor of Neurology and Director of the Neuro-Oncology Program
The William G. Reynolds Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology

On the MCV Campus, you’ll find all the pieces in place for a strong neuro-oncology program: neurosurgery, neuropathology, medical and radiation oncology and basic science. With Malkin’s arrival, the final piece is in place. As the region’s only board-certified neuro-oncologist, he’ll pull the components together into a unified program.

It’s a small subspecialty — only about 0.5% of neurologists are board certified in neuro-oncology — but it’s crucial to understanding and treating brain tumors, the neurological complications that can accompany chemotherapy (including chemobrain) and cancer metastatic to the nervous system. “Compared to other neurological diseases, brain tumors are relatively uncommon, so many doctors in training don’t get exposure to those patients,” Malkin says. The same is true of oncologists, as the incidence of primary brain tumors is far less than breast, prostate, lung or colon cancer.

In addition to seeing patients and starting a fellowship program, Malkin will spend nearly half of his time on translational research, trying to develop novel ideas into better treatment options. “There’s a lot of really innovative basic science research here just begging to be tested in phase 1 and phase 2 trials,” he says. That’s exactly what he plans to do.

F. Gerard Moeller, M.D.

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Professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology and Toxicology
Chair, Division of Addiction Psychiatry

The first visible effect of Moeller’s arrival was the installation of a new research-dedicated MRI scanner. Moeller, who takes the helm of the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, brings a human research program that will complement the medical school’s traditional strengths in preclinical drug abuse research.

Moeller uses MRI to study the neurobiology of behavior, with an eye to developing new treatments for addiction. For instance, cocaine addicted individuals’ brains show changes in white matter mdash; the connections between nerve cells, changes that are associated with impulsivity. “This could be a new target for treatment in people with cocaine addiction,” he says.

The approach is useful for studying other conditions in which impulsivity plays a role, such as traumatic brain injury, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and binge eating. Joining the medical school is, Moeller says, “A major opportunity for me to collaborate with other VCU researchers in these research areas.”

In addition, Moeller is charged with overseeing Addiction Medicine. He looks forward to the challenge of treatment and patient care. Combining clinical duties with research investigation works both ways, he says. Not only does research uncover new avenues for treatment, but clinical work informs the research questions.

Francesco S. Celi, M.D., M.H.Sc.

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Professor of Internal Medicine
Chair, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism

Trained in geriatrics and internal medicine, Celi embarked on a project early in his career to study the effects of thyroid hormone on the body’s metabolism — a topic that remains the core of his research. It’s driven both by clinical questions such as why thyroid disease can look completely different between two patients as well as by basic research on identifying the molecular modulators of thyroid hormone.

Celi’s most recent post was at National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. While there, he conducted a study on the metabolic effects of shivering that attracted quite a bit of press. The body’s response to cold exposure includes release of a hormone called irisin that drives the expansion of heat-generating brown adipose tissue and is similar to what happens during exercise. The East Coast — facing a polar vortex — celebrated the idea they were also losing weight.

Celi sees VCU as a very welcoming place to do research at the bench and the bedside. “It’s remarkable how close the integration of research and teaching and delivery of care are here,” he says. As division chair, he looks forward to implementing a comprehensive approach to diabetes care, integrating inpatient and outpatient services and boosting early intervention strategies.

Shin-Ping Tu, M.D., M.P.H. 

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Professor of Internal Medicine
Chair, Division of General Internal Medicine

Joining the medical school last fall, Tu brings both personal and professional experience in cross-cultural medicine. At her previous post at the University of Washington, she worked at a safety-net hospital and studied how to bring evidence-based medicine — particularly preventive medicine — to underserved populations.

It’s one thing to say colorectal cancer screening is good and quite another to implement the practice in clinical settings with high staff turnover and culturally diverse patient populations. In a recent study, Tu showed that certain organizational attributes are associated with success in implementing cancer screening at clinics serving Asian Pacific Islanders. She also chairs a CDC/NCI-funded network effort that surveyed Federally Qualified Health Centers for such attributes. Her work represents a key step in translational research — “How do we take interventions shown to work in controlled research settings and apply them to different practice settings?”

Tu says she is struck by the talent and passion on the MCV Campus. “It’s similar to the energy and enthusiasm at the startup company my son works at,” she says. “I’m thrilled that General Internal Medicine faculty play a big role in quality improvement efforts — and we have a huge footprint in
patient care.”