Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

New work questions benefit of molecular subtyping in bladder cancer
This time of year many of us are thinking about the “latest and greatest” fill in the blank as we are shopping for friends and family. But you know sometimes, newer and more expensive is not always better than tried and true. The cover of the January issue of The Journal of Urology features a studythat provides good evidence out of the Medical College of Georgia that this may be the case for expensive, sophisticated and relatively new molecular subtyping, at least in bladder cancer. To put this very complex work fairly simply, molecular subtyping in cancer groups tumors based on the genes they express, with the idea of identifying patterns of likely outcomes and treatments that work for these patterns, testing which is now available to patients with a variety of cancers.

Dr. Vinata Lokeshwar and team find standard pathology tests may provide better information
Dr. Vinata Lokeshwar, chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, started her work in this area by trying to find a less expensive way to do molecular subtyping so it could be more widely available. She looked at bladder cancer patients, a particular interest in her many research endeavors. Again, this is some complicated stuff but as Dr. Lokeshwar and her great team, which includes graduate students Daley S. Morera and Sarrah S. Lahorewala, began to go through the details of how molecular subtyping was developed and done, they had difficulty duplicating findings specifically in muscle invasive bladder cancer, which is obviously an aggressive form of this cancer. Long story short, they found that the tests provided actually less useful information than decades-old pathology tests that give patients and their doctors a tumor grade and information on how much the cancer has invaded areas like the bladder wall and lymph nodes.

Graduate students Daley S. Morera and Sarrah S. Lahorewala were major contributors
This is the kind of research that stirs the pot and definitely will stir debate, but that is part of what makes it important. Looking again at what others have found and seeing what you find; looking at more affordable — and ideally better — ways to help patients, both give science its vibrancy and importance. Those of you who know Dr. Lokeshwar, who came to us from the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in 2015, know she is the definition of both relentlessness and vibrancy. Please join me in thanking this scientific team for never giving up because the road was bumpy and where it led a bit surprising.

Dr. Neal Weintraub is the new cardiology division chief
You know I really love MCG and it’s interesting — and cool, really — how the people who are here, people like you, many of whom come to us from all over, yet have so many of these good trait threads running through their core. People like Dr. Neal Weintraub, our newly named chief of cardiology. Dr. Weintraub was born in Albany, Georgia, made his way even further south and west to New Orleans and Tulane for his undergraduate and medical school degrees, then back to Georgia, this time to Atlanta and Emory University for his internal medicine residency. He went north to Missouri and Saint Louis University for his fellowships and then just a bit more north to the University of Iowa, where he rose to tenured professor and medical director of Heart Care.

Dr. Weintraub wanted to come back to his home state to help fight heart disease
His last stop before us was moving further east over to the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine where he was co-director of the Cardiovascular Center of Excellence. But he decided he wanted to come back to his home state to help us battle our number one killer. He has definitely being doing that in both the hospital and clinics as well as the laboratory as associate director of the Vascular Biology Center. He is helping tackle tough issues like protection from heart disease and diabetes in the face of obesity and new stem cell therapies for heart disease. In the clinic, he’s helping patients with increasingly common problems like heart failure. One of the many great things about him is he is both a straight-talker and great collaborator who is pretty much always willing to step up when needed. He is on our MD/PhD Admissions Committee, has helped us with many key searches for other great faculty and is always ready to help us not just dissect a problem but find an answer, just like he does with his research. I thank him once again for stepping up as division chief. He sets a great standard for the bench to bedside work we all seek.

Dr. Zach Klaassen gets Department of Defense grant to study intersection of bladder cancer, mental illness
Speaking of people who are doing great things everywhere they go and who we are glad came here, Dr. Zach Klaassen, a urologic oncologist, is another great example. This Canadian did his urology residency with us — he was our 2016 resident of the year — then came back to us in 2018 to join the faculty after completing his fellowship back in Canada at the University of Toronto and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.  Dr. Klaassen is another one of those people who seems in perpetual motion and one of his extra interests is the intersection of mental illness and genitourinary cancers, like prostate cancer. On its face that may not sound like a logical connection but it definitely is with too many people experiencing both conditions.

Grant will enable development of national veteran database
Dr. Klaassen has received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense that will enable him to build the largest database ever that will facilitate figuring out the connections between specifically prostate cancer and mental illness. One of the greatest things about this work is that it’s mining patient data from the Veterans Health Administration since 2000 to look at those who have prostate cancer or mental illness or both then figure out the similarities and differences in things like cancer aggressiveness and outcomes. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in this venerable patient population and there is mounting evidence of its association with mental health. While the database should enable many studies, one of his first will be exploring the hypothesis that when the two conditions are coupled it interferes with a lot, including regular checkups and so early detection and diligent treatment for this cancer that affects about 1 in 9 men in their lifetime. There are biological factors both conditions share as well like inflammation that he will also be checking out. This is another great, timely and transitional research effort.

MCG Admissions Committee has tough job of identifying the best students
You know that probably the only job harder than figuring out who will be great faculty and faculty leaders like these — wherever they come from — is figuring out who will be great medical students and that starts with the MCG Admissions Committee. While I am celebrating this time of year with you and my home family, I definitely want to celebrate and thank this esteemed group. While the great staff of the Admissions Office under the leadership of Dr. Kelli Braun — a 2004 MCG graduate who happens to be a native of Hinesville, Georgia in Liberty County — has further whittled the number of committee members it takes to do this, and otherwise streamlined this real frontline of our medical school, the reality is the Admissions Committee works hard and makes hard decisions. So I thank them today for their invaluable service to MCG and to the future of medicine.

Twenty-member committee includes 17 faculty, three students
Admissions Committee members include Dr. Zsolt Bagi, professor, Department of Physiology; Dr. Scott Barman, vice chair and professor, Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology who is also administrative director for Admissions and vice chair of the Admissions Committee; Dr. J.R. Barrett, MCG graduate and assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine; Dr. Braun, our associate dean for admissions and an associate professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology who chairs the Admissions Committee; fourth-year student Tron Bullard; Dr. Richard Cameron, professor, Department of Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine and co-director of the MD/PhD program; Dr. Greer Falls, associate dean for student affairs for the second-year class; and Dr. Charles Green, another great MCG graduate who is a clinical professor in the Department of Medicine.

Six committee members are MCG graduates
Also, Linda James, assistant dean for student diversity and inclusion; second-year student Jameson Kenerly; Denise Kornegay, executive director of the Georgia Statewide Area Health Education Centers and associate dean; Dr. Aimee Martin, campus director of simulation, AU/UGA Medical Partnership campus in Athens; Dr. Van Morris, MCG graduate and neurology clerkship director, Athens campus;  Dr. Rebecca Pierce, MCG graduate and assistant professor, Department of Pediatrics; Dr. Leonard Reeves, associate dean, Northwest Campus; second-year student Joseph Ruiz, Athens; Dr. LaShon Sturgis, MCG graduate and assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine; Dr. Toby Tally, surgery clerkship director, Athens campus; Dr. John Thornton, associate professor, Department of Medicine; and Dr. DingXie, a hospitalist and assistant professor, Department of Family Medicine. Most of these devoted individuals sign up for two years but many agree to serve much longer, which is really amazing. Thank you all again.

Dr. Lane Ulrich named interim chair of Department of Ophthalmology
As we discuss so often and as evidenced by today’s writings alone, MCG graduates are amazing and making a huge impact as leaders in medicine and health care across their alma mater, our state and nation. Dr. Lane Ulrich, a 1996 MCG graduate who completed his ophthalmology training at MCG and our Health System including a year as chief resident, is among them. Dr. Ulrich joined our faculty immediately after finishing his training and five years later became director of the ophthalmology residency program. He is a busy clinician specializing in problems like cataracts and glaucoma. He is an honored educator and a coinvestigator with Dr. Ashok Sharma, proteomics and bioinformatics expert, on a National Institutes of Health-funded study looking for better ways to detect glaucoma. He has used his skill in database development and management to improve patient check-in and documentation in his department and resident evaluation. He is now interim chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. Deeper background he was born in Iowa City, moved to Montgomery, Alabama as a toddler, then to Omaha and then Warner Robins when he was a high school senior. He was going to be in Augusta just for medical school but we are glad that was only the beginning.

Thoughts for the year’s end
Finally today, as we continue to move through the holiday season, let me thank each of you again for your amazing effort to enable a healthier, better world. Sometimes I know you get caught up in just making it through a busy day or month or year … and the work seems interminable. Like many years, 2019 has been both great and tough at times. But please look up at least occasionally to see the contributions you make as individuals, as teams and ultimately as Georgia’s public medical school. I believe that in 2020, with your continued incredible commitment, we will look up to see even more great things.


Upcoming Events

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

Feb. 13 – MCG Faculty Senate meeting, noon, Lee Auditorium.

March 19 – MCG Faculty Senate meeting, noon, Lee Auditorium.

April 29 – MCG Faculty Senate Awards, 5:30-7:30 p.m., Lee Auditorium.

May 7 – Hooding, 2 p.m., Bell Auditorium.

May 8 – Graduation, 2 p.m., James Brown Arena.

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