November 30, 2018

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Children’s Hospital celebrates 20th anniversary Dec. 5
Last time, we talked about how this time of year we tend to pay extra attention to what we are thankful for and this week let me say that children are definitely high on that list. They bring so much to our lives in the present and they are our future. At 6 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 5, we commemorate MCG’s and the university’s commitment to children with the 20th anniversary celebration of the Children’s Hospital of Georgia. The iconic, 220,000 square-foot facility opened Dec. 8, 1998, and if you have never stopped in, please do. It really does feel different, this place built from the ground up with the input of children and families.

Nurses like Kate Ferguson make the Children’s Hospital
You will find nurses such as Kate Ferguson in the pediatric hematology/oncology clinic and allied health professionals like respiratory therapist Kelli Mock in our Neonatal ICU, who have the expertise, heart and courage to take care of children. Child life specialists like Kym Allen that help our youngest patients, and their families alike, better prepare for and cope with illness and hospitalization. You may even find the full-time service dog Nugget, a Golden Retriever (I love these dogs and, in fact, have two at home). You will find an array of pediatric specialists and subspecialists like 1997 MCG graduate and pediatrician Dr. Lisa Leggio; pediatric intensivist and section chief Dr. Gene Fisher; and Dr. Nirupma Sharma, who is leading our new Division of Pediatric Hospital Medicine.

MCG faculty provide innovative care to CHOG patients
You will feel a history of caring for children, including progressive moves, like in 1985, becoming one of the first children’s facilities in the country to offer ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – for newborns in respiratory failure. Like everything we accomplish, the availability here of lifesaving ECMO was thanks to a lot of individuals, including retired chair of pediatrics Dr. Bill Kanto and retired chair of surgery, pediatric surgeon and 1973 MCG graduate Dr. Charlie Howell. I have to note here that back in these 1980s days, our children’s facility was located primarily on the eighth floor of the adult hospital and our NICU, by comparison, was a tight but always bustling facility. But, even then, the feel and the faculty and staff were about children.

MCG faculty also make discoveries that improve children’s care
You will find the spirit of game changers like Drs. Robert Adams and Virgil McKie, who first identified a painless way to identify children with sickle cell disease who are at risk for a stroke, then showed that regular blood transfusions can mitigate that risk. The compelling finding led to an early closure of the National Institutes of Health-funded study and a clinical alert from the NIH in December 2004. You will find the spirit of the work of retired allergy-immunology chief Dr. Dennis Ownby, who led groundbreaking studies showing that, contrary to common belief, children who grow up with dogs and cats in their homes actually have a reduced risk of developing allergies and asthma.

Dr. She receives fourth renewal for innovative TEDDY study
Walk across Laney-Walker Boulevard and you will find similar commitment. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are the target. Peak ages for development are 2-4 and 12-15, and children face a lifetime of insulin therapy. Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine, was on the international team of investigators who gathered many years back to figure out what could be done. TEDDY emerged, an unprecedented prospective effort happening in four countries since 2003 that is looking at how genetics and environmental factors conspire to cause type 1 diabetes. TEDDY is following 9,000 children through the age of 15 to try and solve this mystery, with a primary goal of preventing disease development. Dr. She is leading the effort in Georgia and Florida that is following about 600 children. He just received the fourth renewal from the NIH that will enable the studies to continue on course for the next five years.

About 600 children in Georgia and Florida are enrolled in TEDDY
As you can imagine, TEDDY’s close scrutiny – that includes everything from what the children eat, to when they are vaccinated or get sick or go to the doctor, even collecting stool samples and fingernail clippings – has already generated a huge amount of data and insight into this disease. While this effort clearly takes a village, we particularly thank and congratulate Dr. She and his longtime research manager Diane Hopkins for their commitment to this unmatched opportunity to watch disease happen or not happen in children at risk and figure out the difference. We thank as well the many families who return the commitment by being part of these invaluable studies. This is a super science opportunity but, most importantly, another great opportunity for MCG and its great investigators to improve children’s lives. Thank you.

Drs. Bollag and Choudhary make strides against psoriasis
Here’s another great example of commitment. Drs. Wendy Bollag and Vivek Choudhary in the Department of Physiology are dissecting the puzzle of the common skin condition psoriasis with the goal, of course, of better treatment. They’ve already made lots of inroads here, like learning more about a lipid named phosphatidylglycerol, or PG, which has a role in regulating common skin cells called keratinocytes. They also know that psoriasis creates an unhealthy cycle of too many skin cells being produced, which means too many normally protective antimicrobial peptides get made by those cells, which causes inflammation, which causes the skin cells to actually make more antimicrobials. Like pretty much everything in our body, at the right levels, these antimicrobials are great at helping our skin protect us from invaders. But too many contribute to this spiral that results in rough, raised and often itchy skin. Their newest published work shows that PG may help break the cycle and Drs. Bollag and Choudhary are committed to breaking it as well. Thank you both.  See here and this great story on WJBF-TV by Ashley Osborne, here.

Second-year students visit CDC Monday, Dec. 3
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is a master at finding and containing health problems, and our second-year students are off to see them Monday. This is the second year in a row our students have made this CDC sojourn. The trip gives students a different and important perspective on the frontline of health care. They will be talking with staff there about opportunities for careers in public health, as well as very real public health concerns like infectious and chronic diseases, the opioid epidemic and emergency preparedness. It’s kind of a grand finale for their public health intersession, which they start in their first year and finish in their second. We thank Dr. Greer Falls, associate dean for student affairs for the second-year class, for his continuous, extra effort for our students that makes days like Monday happen. As yet another reminder of the reach of MCG, please know our students will be hearing from two MCG alums: Dr. Phoebe Thorpe, a pediatrician and 2001 graduate, will be talking about chronic disease prevention, and Dr. Susan Hocevar, also a pediatrician and 2003 graduate, will be talking about careers at the CDC. This should be another great day for our students.

Upcoming Events

Dec. 3 – Grand opening of the M. Bert Storey Research Building of the Georgia Cancer Center, 10 a.m.

Dec. 7 – AU Alumni Holiday Drop-in, 6-8 p.m., Maxwell Alumni House, Summerville Campus.

2019 Events

Jan. 24 – AU All Alumni Savannah Reception, 6 p.m., Chatham Club.

Jan. 25 – Faculty Senate, noon, Lee Auditorium.

Feb. 19 – MCG Alumni Association Board meeting, 3:30 p.m., and Macon Regional Reception, 6 p.m., both at the Idle Hour Country Club.

Feb. 22 – Faculty Senate, noon, Lee Auditorium.

March 7 – MCG Alumni Association Gainesville Regional Reception, 6 p.m., Northeast Georgia History Center.

March 15 – Match Day, noon, Christenberry Fieldhouse.

March 29 – Faculty Senate, noon, Lee Auditorium.

April 26-28 – Alumni Weekend, Dean’s Reception, 6 p.m., April 26, Harrison Commons.

May 9 – Hooding ceremony.

May 24 – Faculty Senate, noon, location TBD.

June 21 – Faculty Senate, noon, location TBD.

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