Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Structural Heart Program takes center stage
We’ve talked about how heart disease is the number one killer in our state and nation and I continue to be proud of our ever-increasing emphasis and excellence in a disease that affects so many among us. We talked, for example, at the first of the year about the recruitment of Dr. Kimberly Atianzar, a super well-trained interventional cardiologist who came to us last August right after completing a structural heart disease fellowship at the Swedish Heart and Vascular Institute in Seattle. Next week, Dr. Atianzar will be making two presentations at the largest international gathering of interventional and structural cardiologists. One of those talks will be about the structural heart program she helped rapidly assemble here in great collaboration with the Section of Cardiothoracic Surgery.  Most of us probably think about blood vessel disease when we think about heart disease. But the structural heart program addresses problems with the physical structure of the heart that we can be born with as well as wear and tear problems that can result from life in an organ that typically beats between 60 and 100 times per minute (closer to 60 if we are in better shape).

Dr. Kimberly Atianzar presents at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting
Of course a big shift has been fixing problems, like leaky heart valves, without a big, open-heart surgery when possible, which is great for patients. The efficacious work of Dr. Atianzar and her colleagues has meant the structural heart program that is enabling more of this approach has quickly caught on here. The fact that she is presenting at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting in San Francisco next week clearly means it’s making national noise as well. Great job. The recruitment of Dr. Brian Annex, cardiologist and physician-scientist, who started this August as chair of the Department of Medicine, will really help seal the deal on our renewed emphasis on heart disease. Did you know the first open heart surgery in Georgia was performed at MCG by Dr. Robert Ellison, the late chief of cardiovascular surgery and a 1943 MCG graduate, in 1956, the same year, BTW, that we opened our own teaching hospital? Those are the kind of headlines we plan to make moving forward thanks to the hard work of many.

Drs. David Fulton and David Stepp get $2.7 million NIH grant to further dissect relationship between obesity, cardiovascular disease
Across the street at the Vascular Biology Center, there is always plenty of international noise being made as well about the future of heart disease treatment. I am happy to also share that Drs. David Fulton, director of the VBC, and David Stepp, vascular biologist who directs the VBC’s Graduate Program, have received a $2.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further parse how obesity drives cardiovascular disease. This has been a focal point for our scientists who have acknowledged the reality that obesity cannot always be eliminated so are working on identifying and eliminating its likely impact on the cardiovascular system. This great new grant is looking more specifically at how obesity disturbs the circadian clocks, which work throughout our body to help it run on a healthy schedule, like resting and repairing at night and going full tilt during the day. Drs. Fulton and Stepp have evidence that high glucose disrupts our vascular clocks and then bad things happen in our blood vessels like an increase in destructive oxidative stress and a decrease in factors that protect the vessels from inflammation and enable them to relax. Now they will learn even more. Congratulations.

Dr. Eric Belin de Chantemele and team take on obesity’s impact on the cardiovascular health of young women
Our VBC investigators are making great progress as well at dissecting how obesity even robs from young women the protection they generally have from cardiovascular disease until after menopause. Like pretty much everything we do at MCG, that work, recently published in the journal Hypertension, is the result of great collaboration. This time that includes Dr. Eric Belin de Chantemele, physiologist, taking the lead; postdoctoral fellow Dr. Jessica Faulkner, an enthusiastic major contributor; and their relatively new colleague, cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Vijay Patel. Dr. Patel is providing invaluable clinical insight as well as human blood vessels removed during surgery as this work takes the course from animal studies to first looks in human tissues then (hopefully) to humans. This study shows how the sex hormoneprogesterone enables high expression of receptors for another hormone, aldosterone, on the cells that line blood vessels. They had already shown that obesity increases levels of aldosterone, which women already have more of, and which is bad for our blood vessels at high levels. Great unfolding info that one day just might restore protection to these young women. Check out more here.

Dr. Allen Pelletier, family medicine physician, MCG educator, passes at age 63
Today, I must also share the loss of one of our own, Dr. Allen Pelletier. He came to us in 2008 as a professor in our Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Pelletier technically retired this May but quickly returned to us in August to teach physical diagnosis and problem-based learning courses to our students and to continue to serve as co-director of the Annual Primary Care and Family Medicine symposium. Family medicine chair Joseph Hobbs tell us: “His personality made him destined to serve and in fact, his missionary spirit not only took him abroad for service, he applied those skills and commitment to individuals struggling with life’s circumstances in his own community.” Like the best among us, Dr. Pelletier served with humility. He was proud to be a graduate of Louisiana State University School of Medicine, and was many times honored for his student and resident teaching here. He worked at our community’s free health clinic and did medical mission work in Nigeria with his family. We thank Dr. Pelletier’s family for sharing him with us and we keep them in our thoughts now.

Dr. William Burton Johnston, MCG graduate, Purple Heart, recipient passes
Finally today, we share with you the loss of another great individual, Dr. William Burton Johnston, age 94, a 1954 MCG graduate and pediatrician in Richmond, Virginia and recipient of The Purple Heart, an honor he received for wounds sustained during a B-17 bombing mission over Germany in 1944 while serving in the Air Force. Dr. Johnston’s many later accomplishments included serving as president of the Richmond, VA, Medical Society, which oversaw the launch of the Stop Polio campaign in the 1960s. Our thoughts are with his family and friends. Again, I hope the work and people we shared today and every other Friday here remind you how much you and MCG matter. Thank you.


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.

Leave a Reply