Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

MD/PhD student Paul Tran is seeking a genetic risk score for type 1 diabetes
It’s the time of year again when many of us are thinking about sports scores. Many of you already know that I really do enjoy rooting for the University of Georgia Bulldogs and my favorite professional team the Philadelphia Eagles. But MD/PhD student Paul Tran has a far more important score on his mind. He wants to develop a super accurate genetic risk score that will tell new parents their child’s relative risk of developing type 1 diabetes.  Genetic risk scores appear to be an important number in the present and future of health care, with scoring systems already out there for type 2 diabetes, which is considered more lifestyle related than the autoimmune type 1 that has Paul’s attention, as well as too common cardiovascular disease and obesity. Paul’s goal for his test is to provide at least a 50 percent probability, compared to about 10 percent predictability with a current test, then match that child up with a prevention trial that will dramatically improve the potential for the child to never develop type 1. That is a winning combination anyone would root for.

Paul receives a research fellowship award from the NIH to help him find it
Paul is in a great place to do this work. He is at MCG where in 2003 Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine and now Paul’s mentor, brought TEDDY, an international, prospective study now following about 9,000 children deemed at risk because they have two genes long considered high-risk for type 1. Dr. She says a primary goal of TEDDY, and now Paul, is to prevent type 1 by learning more about how genes and environmental factors converge to cause type 1, a disease in which the immune system destroys the insulin producing cells in our body. Now Paul has all the genetic material collected from children in TEDDY — which includes some children who have developed the disease and many more who have not — as well as another large, international study that directly compared the genes of those with and without type 1 diabetes. He plans to refine and compile this huge gene risk pool then couple it with a complex algorithm that will eventually help decipher an individual child’s risk. It looks like we are not the only ones rooting for Paul in this feat. He recently received a three-year research fellowship award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases to help make it happen. Thank you Paul, Dr. She, kids and families for this tremendous effort to give us a score that really will make a difference.

Two new experts in gene editing join the MCG faculty
While we are on the topic of genes, it is also my great pleasure to share that in the coming weeks we will be welcoming to our faculty two experts in the evolving, exciting gene editing technique CRISPR. That is a relatively new tool, which holds great promise in enabling us to correct gene mutations responsible for a wide range of diseases from cancer to sickle cell disease to muscular dystrophy and type 1 diabetes. Dr. Joseph Miano, whose lab at the University of Rochester was among the first wave of labs in 2013 to use the revolutionary CRISPR genome editing technology to alter the mouse genome, joins our Department of Medicine Nov. 1.  Dr. Lin Gan, also from Rochester, whose work includes therapies for blindness and deafness, joins our Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine Oct. 1. I know you join me in welcoming these great scientists to MCG. These are all exciting advances for us and for medicine.

Cancer Center gets federal funding to bring cancer clinical trials to underserved Georgians
Here’s another. We talk a lot about our fundamental role as Georgia’s public medical school. It seems like we have been talking even more lately about our renewed emphasis on providing more physicians for our state, particularly the medically underserved areas in Georgia’s large and largely rural expanse. It is with great pride that I also share the six-year renewal of a National Cancer Institute-funded initiative to also ensure access to cancer clinical trials to citizens living in more rural regions of our state. The Georgia Cancer Center is one of 14 NCI Community Oncology Research Program Minority/Underserved Community Sites nationally. Dr. Sharad Ghamande, associate director for clinical trials at the Georgia Cancer Center and our OB-GYN chair who has been working like crazy to bring clinical trials here for years, is PI on the $6 million renewal. Like everything we do across our state, we have many great partners that will make this happen, including Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital in Albany, our longtime partner in our statewide model of medical education. A bit of history on this. The designation was originally called the Minority-Based Community Clinical Oncology Program, and when we were first designated in 2004 we were the 12th institution in the nation to receive it. That happened  under the leadership of Dr. Andre M. Kallab, then director of clinical trials for the Division of Hematology/Oncology, and when Dr. Kallab left MCG a year later, this important initiative moved to the energetic hands of Dr. Anand P. Jillella, who got it refunded three times before he left us in 2013. Longer story short, fortunately Dr. Jillella came back to us in 2017 as the great chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology and J. Harold Harrison MD Chair for Medical Oncology. Thank you all for your commitment to Georgia and Georgians.

Dr. Matt Lyon shares benefits of ultrasound with frontline physicians
This individual is yet another definitely committed to MCG and to Georgia. Dr. Matt Lyon is vice chair of academics and research for our Department of Emergency Medicine and homegrown here because he is a 1999 MCG graduate. We have been talking for years about how he is a pioneer in the use of painless ultrasound as a sort of window into the body, a 21st century stethoscope that can be used anywhere, anytime. He has brought ultrasound training to undergraduate medical education and residency training, including dramatically improving placement of those central lines that are commonly needed for quick access to our blood vessels but also come with big infection risks. This weekend he will be sharing his insight and training with faculty from the family medicine residency programs at Floyd Medical Center in Rome, Phoebe Putney, Memorial Satilla Health in Waycross and Eisenhower Army Medical Center, demonstrating how ultrasound can be used in a clinical setting. Our family medicine faculty will be part of this great frontline training. This first “training” tomorrow will be the beginning of a remote training program so that even these distant sites – all of which also host our students for family medicine clerkships – can continue the ultrasound training that we offer in Augusta. All sites either have or will be provided ultrasound systems so they can continue to train their residents and our students. Dr. Lyon is also hoping this can be an additional selling point for our students to pursue rural residency programs, where they will be able to continue ultrasound training through residency to practice.  I thank Dr. Lyon for his enthusiasm, commitment and ever-growing contribution.

Health System Town Hall now set for Sept. 23, State of the College Oct. 28
For the last many weeks we have been telling you that the State of the College address is set for noon Sept. 23. But we also were listening to you and your timely questions about our Health System, which is invaluable to MCG and all that we do here. So we have decided to move the State of the College to noon, Oct. 28, and have the first of two town halls on our Health System Sept. 23, at noon in the Lee Auditorium. The second is Sept. 24 at 5 p.m. also in the Lee. For these town halls, I will be joining Katrina Keefer, CEO of the AU Health System, and another mega-committed MCG graduate, Dr. Charlie Howell, now interim CEO of AU Medical Associates, to provide more insight into the financial and overall future of our hospitals and clinics. While I understand your concerns and questions, please know that Ms. Keefer and Dr. Howell are clearly committed to the health of our health system and its patients and to ensuring that our clinical facilities remain a great place to learn and to practice medicine. Please also know that while the three of us — or at least two of us — are relatively new colleagues, we have quickly found common ground. Please join us if you can.

Dr. Jorge Cortes featured on The Means Report Monday
Finally today, I know you join me as well in welcoming Dr. Jorge Cortes to MCG and to the Georgia Cancer Center. Dr. Cortes officially started this week and we are very glad that he and so many other good individuals and leaders have joined the many good individuals and leaders already here. Just wanted you to know you could do a quick study on Dr. Cortes on The Means Report on WJBF-TV this Monday at 12:30 p.m. Dr. Cortes sat down with Brad Means this week to record the full half hour of his broadcast.


Upcoming Events

Sept. 23 – Town Hall: Health System Update, noon, Lee Auditorium.

Sept. 24 – Town Hall: Health System Update, 5 p.m., Lee Auditorium.

Sept. 26 – Alumni Association Columbus Regional Reception, 6 p.m., Mabella’s Italian Steakhouse.

Oct. 10 – Alumni Association Rome Regional Reception, 6 p.m., The Vogue.

Oct. 14 – AU/UGA Medical Partnership Open House, 5 p.m., Russell Hall.

Oct. 19 – White Coat Ceremony, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium, guest speaker is Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Health and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oct. 28 – State of the College, noon, Lee Auditorium.

Nov. 1 – Body Donor Memorial Service, 1 p.m., Lee Auditorium.

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

Nov. 14 – Alumni Association Valdosta Regional Reception, 6 p.m., location TBD.

Jan. 16 – Alumni Association Savannah/Brunswick Regional Reception, 6 p.m., location TBD.

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