Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

LCME approves 3-year medical school curriculum
I am proud to share with you that the Liaison Committee on Medical Education has approved our request to move to a three-year curriculum for our medical students. This is great news resulting from great work primarily in Academic Affairs under the leadership of Dr. Doug Miller, vice dean. The new curriculum, which we plan to have fully operational by the 2021/22 academic year, opens a lot of important doors and options for MCG and our students. It will enable the primary care rural health initiative for our state that we have been discussing. It will also give our students an improved opportunity to earn a dual degree like an MD/MPH. And, it will provide the opportunity for students to tailor-make their fourth year with clinical experience and/or research in their chosen specialty.

MCG graduates will continue to be prepared for whatever career they choose
Let me add that what the new curriculum does not do is cut the quality of an MCG education, rather it further optimizes the time our medical students spend with us. Please also know that we are not abandoning our well-established commitment to preparing our students for any career in medicine they choose. We are simply and rightfully also strengthening our work to efficiently and effectively provide physicians for our state where 89 of our 159 counties are federally designated Primary Care Health Professional Shortage areas, which means there aren’t enough doctors for the people who live there.

New curriculum should be in place by the 2021/2022 academic year
Next steps include securing more financial support, particularly for the 3+ Primary Care Track, which is designed to produce more pediatricians, family medicine physicians, internists, general surgeons and OB/GYNs to serve the needs of our largely rural state. Financial support will make key portions of this formula work like providing free tuition or student loan forgiveness to students who commit to at least six years of practice in one of these specialties in underserved areas of Georgia. In the coming months, we will be asking our legislators, governor and donors to continue to show their support for this initiative to improve the physical and economic wellbeing of our state while we continue to thank them for the interest and support they already have expressed. We also will be sharing more with you about the new curriculum at a town hall meeting that will be scheduled for December. Again, I know that together with all our partners throughout Georgia, all these efforts will strengthen the impact of Georgia’s public medical school and Georgia. Thank you all and congratulations to you all for this significant win.

Dr. Anatolij Horuzsko among nominees for international honor
Winning is always great but as a lot of us more seasoned individuals know, sometimes being nominated is a prize in itself. Dr. Anatolij Horuzsko’s nomination for the international BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biology and Biomedicine is one of those times. These awards “recognize and reward world-class research and artistic creation” for their broad impact, originality and significance, which is great because both scientific and artistic pursuits are essential to an overall healthy world. Many of the winners of these awards go on to win Nobel prizes, like 2008 Frontiers’ prize winners Drs. Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, founders and directors of the Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where scientific evidence supports methods to reduce poverty, who just took home the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics.

His work explores a better way to avoid rejection of transplanted organs
Dr. Horuzsko, immunologist in the Department of Medicine and Georgia Cancer Center, was nominated for this great honor by Professor Edgardo D. Carosella, a member of the French Academy of Sciences.  Award winners will be honored in Madrid this coming June and we are hoping our Dr. Horuzsko, a pioneer in exploring the therapeutic potential of the immune-suppressing molecule HLA-G, will be among them. The fetus uses HLA-G to avoid the mother’s immune response and I really like ideas like this that reach inside our bodies to find better ways to help us fight disease. In this case, Dr. Horuzsko is looking at how HLA-G can improve organ transplant success without some of the ill effects of drugs that patients now take to protect their new organ, drugs which generally suppress the immune response and can leave patients vulnerable to other disease.

Dr. Horuzsko also receives new funding from the Mason Trust
Dr. Horuzsko has led international meetings on the topic and published extensively on HLA-G’s potential. In fact, before he ever came to us in 1995, he created the first HLA-G transgenic mouse model and has created many since. He definitely continues to make progress. He and colleagues like Dr. Laura Mulloy, chief of the Division of Nephrology, for example, have already shown that some patients have naturally higher levels of HLA-G and they tend to have much higher success at keeping their new organs. Dr. Horuzsko’s work is trying to help all patients have that success. In fact, he is principal investigator on a brand new grant from the Atlanta-based Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust that will help continued exploration of how to harness this natural ability to help patients. More to come on this work, which exemplifies the bench to bedside goal of what we do here. We also will be keeping good thoughts about the Frontiers Award but again, Dr. Horuzsko already is a winner. Congratulations.

Dr. Anilkumar Pillai receives two NIH grants totaling about $2.4 million
While we are again on a winning and high-relevance roll, I am happy to also share that Dr. Anilkumar Pillai, neuroscientist in the Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, has just been awarded two National Institutes of Health grants totaling about $2.4 million to better connect the dots between chronic stress and depression. As we all know, both conditions are essentially epidemics in our society and there is little doubt that they are synergistic and that inflammation is a common ground. We all also know how chronic stress does bad things to us bodywide like raise our blood pressure and contribute to essentially every major disease. Still, in often tough-to-treat depression, anti-inflammatory therapies, which target the adaptive immune response — basically our learned response to some specific invader like a bacterium — have only helped some patients. So Dr. Pillai decided to look at the complement system, which is part of the innate immune response, which as he explains is an immediate, nonspecific response to some invader, and chronic stress is definitely an invader.

Dr. Pillai’s studies will further connect dots between chronic stress and depression
Dr. Pillai has found the complement system is hyperactive in the brains of people with depression who committed suicide, the first evidence of its involvement in this scenario. And he thinks the complement system, specifically C3 — which he calls the hub of all complement activation pathways — may be the culprit in brain inflammation in response to chronic stress. He also has some evidence that C3 is elevated in the brains of mice with chronic stress, and that when C3 is MIA, chronic stress doesn’t result in inflammation or depression.  So he and his colleagues are taking what they have found back to animal models to narrow down which cells are the direct source of the troublemaking complement and just how the damage gets done.

Better depression treatment is the goal
His colleagues include Dr. Stephen Tomlinson, an expert in the complement system and central nervous system inflammation, who is interim chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine. One of the many things Dr. Tomlinson’s lab does is generate complement inhibitors, which Pillai is using to help better parse the role of the complement system in this scenario. The goal, of course, is to one day interrupt these unhealthy connections and improve patients’ lives.  Congratulations and thank you, Dr. Pillai. You can read more about this work soon and lots more on the MCG home page.

 

Upcoming Events

Jan. 9 – State of the College, noon, Lee Auditorium.

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

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