Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

In August 1998, Drs. Andrew Mellor and David Munn told us about IDO
It was this time of year 21 years ago when two young scientists at the Medical College of Georgia, Drs. David Munn and Andrew Mellor, and their colleagues were reporting in the journal Science, that one way the fetus protects itself from the mother’s immune system is with the enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, or IDO. While most of us probably have not thought of it this way, the fetus, which has the genetics of both mom and dad, is technically a foreign body in the eyes of the mother’s immune system. Dr. Mellor, molecular geneticist and immunologist, made that spot on observation at that time that “We are transplants for nine months of our lives before we ever come out into the world.” His longtime research partner, Dr. Munn, pediatric oncologist and 1984 MCG graduate, said “This opens up a fundamental new understanding of how the immune system regulates itself.”

Both fetuses and tumors use IDO to help avoid the attention of the immune system
They reported that cells in the placenta express IDO, which enables a sort of immune system-safe halo around the developing baby. These cells degrade tryptophan, an amino acid essential to the survival of T cells, orchestrators of the immune response. Their findings and comments were heard around the world, and they would find that tumors unfortunately also use IDO to help protect themselves from the immune system. We could talk a long time about the ironies of a fetus and a tumor being protected by the same mechanism, but what they did instead was work to turn the tide on tumors. Because when they blocked the degradation of tryptophan in healthy, pregnant mice, T cells stirred and the mouse fetuses were rejected.

Drs. David Munn and Ted Johnson get a $3 million NCI grant for clinical trials of an IDO inhibitor in children with brain tumors
Today I am proud to share that Dr. Munn and his current research partner Dr. Ted Johnson, also a pediatric oncologist and 2004 MCG graduate, have received a $3 million grant from the National Cancer Institute for a phase 2 clinical trial to see whether adding an IDO inhibitor to the treatment regimen of children with brain tumors can improve survival, reduce the toxicity of treatment and improve quality of life for these children. They expect to enroll 140 children in this important trial with our Children’s Hospital of Georgia and Georgia Cancer Center as the primary sites, and Emory University as the other. These are children with recurrent ependymoma, medulloblastoma or glioblastoma following standard treatment, which can include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. The IDO inhibitor also is being looked at as a frontline adjuvant therapy in children newly diagnosed with diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, which starts in the base of the brain and for which there is really not a good standard treatment or chance of cure.

CHOG and the Georgia Cancer Center are the primary sites for the study in 140 children
Their hope and ours is that by suppressing IDO we can enable the child’s own immune system to more vigorously fight cancer. It’s hard to imagine a more noble fight. I know you join me in thanking Dr. Mellor— MCG Professor Emeritus and now acting director of the Institute of Cellular Medicine at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom — and Dr. Munn for their innovative work so many years ago, and Drs. Munn and Johnson for their diligent follow up on this 21-year old finding to better help our children. Our best thoughts are with these investigators, these children and their families.

Student Bria Peacock receives one of five Nickens scholarships nationally
These are the moments, the reminders amid all that frustrates us, of why each of you and MCG matter so much and how, even on the toughest days, I feel so fortunate to be your dean. Here’s another. Bria Peacock, a third-year student from Stone Mountain, Georgia, is one of five recipients nationally of the Association of American Medical Colleges’ Herbert W. Nickens Medical Student Scholarship. The scholarship is for leadership in efforts to eliminate inequalities in medical education and health care. In our nomination of Bria, we rightly said she embodies the spirit of this scholarship award. She has performed Pap smears and given HPV vaccinations in Peru, where cervical cancer is still a leading cause of cancer death in women. She has helped deliver babies in Kenya and counseled women about their obstetrical needs; she has conducted research with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Closer to home, she has worked on projects aimed at reducing cardiovascular disease risk in those most at risk and improving early detection of cervical cancer. And this aspiring OB/GYN is founder of SIHLE of Augusta, a program that works directly with teens and teens who are mothers to address issues like sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. We thank and congratulate Bria for what she has done and will do. As Dr. Erin Latif, director of medical student education in the Department of OB/GYN and a 2002 MCG graduate put it so well: She is the definition of tenacity, determination and fortitude.

Dr. Jennifer Tucker is the new fourth-year class associate dean
And another. Dr. Jennifer Tucker is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and 1997 MCG graduate who did her residency and fellowship at Johns Hopkins then came back to us in 2005 after working at both Johns Hopkins Hospital and Carroll Hospital Center in Westminster, Maryland. She is an often-honored medical student educator at her alma mater and often student-requested hooder for the great celebration of Hooding at the end of each academic year. She has even come out ahead in the tough annual competition of the Raft Debate. She has now officially joined our Academic Affairs team as the associate dean for the fourth-year class. You may remember these class associate dean positions were set up in 2013 to help us better support and communicate with each class, which at 230 students per class (and soon to be growing), is a lot.

Dr. Stewart Shevitz served as senior class associate dean for five years
Dr. Lynnette Bauza, first-year class; Dr. Greer Falls, second-year class; and Dr. Eric Lewkowiez, third-year class, have been with us throughout and now Dr. Tucker has joined this prestigious lineup. Dr. Kathy McKie, a longtime pediatrician and beloved student advocate at MCG, served in this role first for the senior class, and a year later Dr. Stewart Shevitz, psychiatrist, took the job when she retired. Dr. Shevitz too is the definition of MCG, a bit understated but always ready to do whatever needs doing and do it well. He has served as interim psychiatry department chair here twice and is just a generally nice person who cares about students, patients and MCG. Glad to say he is still with us, refocusing on psychiatry in our great Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior. Thank you Dr. Shevitz for your service.

Dr. Koosh Desai joins the Southwest Campus faculty
Dr. Koosh Desai, a native of Columbus, Georgia and yet another MCG graduate, is now also a member of the Academic Affairs team, but a bit south of here. He’s the new Longitudinal Integrated Curriculum director for our Southwest Campus, based in Albany. That educational model enables students to follow a panel of patients across a full year in a variety of environments, from office visits to rehab. This curriculum has been used at the Northwest Campus, based in Rome, since it opened in 2013. Now as we make adjustments to our curriculum to enable the innovative programs we have discussed before — like the 3+ Primary Care pathway to more quickly enable more primary care doctors where they are needed most in our state and which we plan to implement in the 2021-22 academic year — we think this approach will work well MCG-wide. You may remember Dr. Desai has always been a frontline kind of individual, who while a student himself at the Southwest Campus helped start a communitywide program for children and parents about how to avoid diabetes. As a resident a few years later, he partnered with Federally Qualified Health Centers in some of our state’s poorest and medically underserved areas to teach health care providers screening alternatives for colorectal cancer.  We are fortunate to have Dr. Desai back at home and on the Academic Affairs team.

2019 MCG graduate Dr. Amarachi Andrea Anukam passes
We have had so much great news to share today but I am afraid we have tragic new as well. Dr. Amarachi Andrea Anukam, who graduated from MCG just this May, died Aug. 11. Dr. Anukam had attended our partnership campus in Athens and was doing an internal medicine residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City.  Our thoughts are with her family and her many friends and colleagues at the AU/UGA Medical Partnership and beyond.


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.

Leave a Reply