Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Forty-eight new faculty join MCG in July
If we are fortunate, we experience in our professional lives many times when we see hard work realized into a great published study, a once critically ill patient finally just being themselves again, that eureka moment on a student’s face. The beginning of each academic year is a great time to reflect on those moments as our new students and new faculty arrive and become part of one of the nation’s first medical schools. We talked last time about our Class of 2023 who started classes this week. We also have 48 new faculty members who have joined us this July from across the world and we welcome them to the Medical College of Georgia. Like the selection of our class of 230 students each year, selection of our faculty takes a lot of work by many and it too is a continuous and vital process. I thank each of you for your invaluable help in selecting the very best new faculty and for your commitment to ensuring the present and future of MCG. We have much more work to do together.

Dr. Waaqo Daddacha, new cancer biologist, brings rich personal, professional experience
Our new faculty include individuals like Dr. Waaqo Daddacha, a cancer biologist in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Dr. Daddacha comes directly to us from Emory University School of Medicine, an NIH-funded scientist whose focus includes DNA damage and how it contributes to aggressive, common malignant glioma as well as treatment response. Glioma is a cancer that starts in the glial cells, which nourish and otherwise support our neurons, and includes glioblastoma. Gliomas are not his first tough fight. He and his family would leave their homeland of Ethiopia in the 1990s as political refugees because his father was a member of Parliament and the opposition party was now in charge. They first went to neighboring Kenya and then, just days before Sept. 11, 2001, came to the United States, where they believed that if you worked hard, you could become whatever you wanted. Dr. Daddacha would become more proof.

Dr. Daddacha helped start state organizations for fellow Ethiopians who came to the U.S.
He earned his PhD in microbiology from the University of Rochester just five years ago and completed postdoctoral studies at Emory before joining the faculty there. While in New York, he cofounded and was president of the Oromo Community of Western New York. The Oromos are one of the largest ethnic groups in his native Ethiopia. He helped found the United Oromo Community of Georgia after he moved to Atlanta. He also is president emeritus of Georgia Refugee Health and Mental Health, a nonprofit that works to enable access for those who, like him, have chosen to make this country their home. He gives his father’s mother, the lateQabale Wariyo, who was his spiritual and educational inspiration, all the credit.

Dr. Alejandro Baez is the new director of the Center of Operational Medicine
Individuals like Dr. Alejandro Baez, an emergency medicine and trauma critical care physician trained at the Mayo Clinic and Harvard respectively, who helped coordinate the international response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and cofounded the Harvard Operational Medicine Institute. It was the work of our visionary Dr. Richard Schwartz, chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine, that helped bring him to MCG, Dr. Baez tells us. Dr. Schwartz’s bio reads like a Hollywood action hero, reporter Drew Dawson recently told us on Georgia Public Radio. His time includes working with Air Force Operations Units to rescue pilots shot down in a war zone, learning to breathe underwater without making bubbles, providing physician support for FBI field operations, and along with 1995 MCG graduate Dr. Phillip Coule, now CMO of our hospital, founding the MCG Center of Operational Medicine, which Dr. Baez now leads. With the leadership of people like Drs. Schwartz and Baez, the center brings experience from war zones, roadways, crime scenes and natural disasters, to enable better care for the injured, no matter where, how or how many injuries happen. The work Dr. Baez did in Massachusetts, for example, pulling together not just hospital-based providers, but EMS personnel and police forces on the street, helped enable better care for all on a daily basis and enabled optimal response to the Boston Marathon bombing. I know you join me in welcoming Drs. Daddacha, Baez and so many more to MCG. You will find a great home and outstanding colleagues here.

MCG continues to address the health care needs of Georgia
We were putting together a white paper for a potential donor the other day, and it struck me yet again how what we do here has such broad impact, and how we — while often small in numbers (even with the recent additions just reported) compared to many other medical schools — are never reticent to take on big battles that need attention in our state. These are problems like the aftermath of these manmade and natural disasters, which feel at least to be increasingly common; like the lack of access to any kind of health care in some areas of our own state; like top killers, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. Part of what brought and kept me here, is the sense of teamwork that you so often find here, which multiplies our impact and provides an educational opportunity that stacks up to anybody’s. It’s kind of like the old adage of teaching someone to fish. Our 191-year-old work to educate the next generation and to learn more about our bodies and brains in sickness and in health really is boundless, like the imaginations and skill of those here who teach, learn and do.

New study gives insight into, possible treatment for diastolic heart failure
People like MD/PhD student Alec Christopher Davila and his mentor Dr. Zsolt Bagi, already an MD/PhD and vascular biologist in the Department of Physiology. Alec is first author and Dr. Bagi corresponding author on a neat new paper in the American Heart Association journalCirculation: Heart Failure that explores a potential treatment option where there is not a good one currently: for diastolic heart failure. This type of heart failure has to do with the inability of the major pumping chamber of the heart to relax adequately so it will have plenty of blood to pump out to our body. A lot of what you may hear about heart failure is the inability of the left ventricle to pump blood out, which is systolic heart failure. This type is more about relaxation of the ventricle, which actually takes more energy than contracting, Dr. Bagi tells us; and their findings include that with this condition, the microvasculature that directly feeds our heart muscle in response to ischemia — a cry for blood and oxygen — can’t do its job as well.

MD/PhD student Alec Davila, Dr. Zsolt Bagi are first and corresponding authors
More to come on this one, but basically Alec and Dr. Bagi also have shown both in an animal model and human vessels, that the chemical adenosine, which our cells make, is not just a dilator of blood vessels but also the signal sent upstream to larger blood vessels to send more blood when needed, and that its natural inhibitor, adenosine kinase, is upregulated in this type of heart failure. The good news is they also found that by blocking adenosine’s natural inhibitor, the upstream signaling works and the heart tissue gets the blood it needs. An adenosine kinase inhibitor, in fact the one they used, is also being considered for patients with treatment-resistant epilepsy, so hopefully clinical trials will not be far behind. Alec is a native of Tavernier, Florida who went to high school and college in Florida, so he is a rarity in our MCG class, which is 95 percent Georgia residents. He says it was the MD/PhD program that brought him here, and we are glad it did. Dr. Bagi came to MCG in 2011 after being a senior research fellow at the Somerville College of Oxford University. Congratulations to Alec, Dr. Bagi and their many other colleagues.

Whole body vibration research is making waves
As we wrap up today, hopefully we have shared some “good vibes” with you, and we wanted you to know that Dr. Jack Yu, chief of pediatric plastic surgery, and his research partner Dr. Babak Baban, immunologist in the Dental College of Georgia, are definitely sharing good vibrations with the world at the moment. Their study looking at how in a diabetes model whole body vibration can literally shake up our microbiome, reduce inflammation and improve how the body uses glucose is definitely capturing attention. One benefit is it appears to result in more immune cells, called macrophages, that deter rather than promote inflammation. As we all know, inflammation is a major factor in diabetes and pretty much any major disease. Congratulations Drs. Yu and Baban.

 

Upcoming Events

Sept. 23 – State of the College, noon, Lee Auditorium.

Oct. 19 – White Coat Ceremony, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium.

Nov. 1 – Body donation memorial service, 1 p.m., Lee Auditorium.

Nov. 4 – Medical Scholars Research Day, Harrison Commons.

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