Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. Zheng Dong identifies one way diabetes injures the kidneys

Several of us in the Dean’s office have been using intermittent fasting for a while as a way to keep our weight down and energy up. You all know I love to eat, but I also like this technique because the rules are so straightforward. One way intermittent fasting works is by increasing levels of autophagy, a fundamental way the body keeps your cells and organs lean and functioning at a premium. While the literal name “self-eating,” may sound bad, it’s actually an efficient and continual process in which cell debris is packaged up in a double membrane sac so enzymes can eliminate it. Our Dr. Zheng Dong, cellular biologist and Leon H. Charbonnier Endowed Chair in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, has been looking out for our kidneys and what injures them for a long time. Diabetes, which affects better than 10% of the population, is high on the list. Diabetic kidney disease is a major complication of this major health problem, and the leading cause of chronic kidney disease and kidney failure, the CDC tells us.

Study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation

Dr. Dong has found that one way the kidneys are hurt by diabetes is by dramatically reducing the level of autophagy. He also has delineated the path that leads to this reduction. He found that at first, autophagy rates increase, as you might suspect they would in the face of a disease, but then they quickly drop way off. The kidneys become enlarged and less able to carry out their many essential functions, including the continual process of filtering our blood. His paper is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, a high-impact journal, which, as the name implies, is for science with clear clinical implications. More to come on this probably next week on the MCG home page and elsewhere, but these interesting findings provide new points of intervention that may one day enable us to keep autophagy rates up and better protect the kidneys from diabetes. Great job, Dr. Dong. Like so many of you, Dr. Dong, who joined our faculty in 2002, remains clearly excited and invested in the work he is doing each day. That approach, as we talked about recently (and as you play out every day) enables MCG, like a healthy kidney, to function at a premium. I am so proud to be part of such a place.

Monoclonal antibody studies, saliva testing new offerings against COVID

SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 could have quelled your enthusiasm, but again and instead, you continue to let it inspire you to figure out what you can do to help, and the contributions keep coming. We have talked about convalescent plasma therapy, where an individual who has fought the virus and has the antibodies to prove it donates their antibodies to help others fight it. Now were are part of clinical trials of monoclonal antibodies, which are synthetic versions of some of the most effective antibodies humans make, to see if they can help. The initial studies are in hospitalized patients but our chief of Infectious Diseases, Dr. Jose Vazquez, hopes that will soon get expanded to patients who aren’t sick enough to need hospitalization so they hopefully will never reach that stage. More to come. Also, we will soon be offering saliva testing for the virus thanks again to the great work of the Georgia Esoteric and Molecular, or GEM, Lab led by Dr. Ravi Kolhe. The GEM Lab team has done months of side-by-side comparisons that show the results are on par with nasopharyngeal samples. I appreciate the GEM Lab’s continued diligence in looking out for patients and providers as well.

Dr. Justin Moore receives NIH Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award

Part of the MCG magic is that you all are not just great educators, physicians and scientists, you also are marvelous mentors. Cancer Epidemiologist Dr. Justin Xavier Moore has had many great mentors, both in his days earning a master’s of public health and PhD at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and doing his postdoctoral training at Washington University in St. Louis. We were fortunate to recruit this enthusiastic young investigator to our Department of Population Health Sciences and the AU Institute of Public and Preventive Health last year just after his postdoc work. Here he has found many great mentors as well like Drs. Martha TingenSteven CoughlinJie Chen and Varghese George. His hard work and theirs shows. As a man with many plans, Dr. Moore is keeping his eye on a lot of cancers, and, of course, more recently he has his sights on COVID-19 as well.  His passion for breast cancer disparities research began during his graduate work, while he was still in Birmingham. That led to studies identifying the hot spots for breast cancer death in our country. Black and Hispanic women die disproportionately from breast cancer. He found a preponderance of those deadly hotspots for black women clustered along the southern portion of the Mississippi River and portions of the East Coast as well as in the three Georgia counties of Putnam, Jasper and Morgan. Among Hispanic women, he found hotspots in the Southwest, portions of Florida and another small clustering up toward New England.

New studies will explore geographic, racial disparities in mammography screening, barriers to care

Those studies led to more questions about why and now what. This spring he was awarded the AU Career Development Scholar Award for his program to look again across the country, this time at geographic and racial disparities in mammography screening. His many goals include eliminating barriers to screening and care, improving health literacy and being a catalyst for better collaboration between institutions like us who provide care and the people who need us most. Now he has received a K01 Award, or Mentored Research Scientist Career Development Award, from the NIH to help him explore these screening and care disparities that no doubt contribute to higher death rates from the most common cancer in women. Dr. Chen is his primary mentor on this great opportunity for Dr. Moore and for the women he wants to help. In fact, once he gets more data in hand, his plans for the final years of this five-year grant from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities include sitting down to talk with black and Hispanic women about the barriers they face to the good screening and care. He also plans to develop community-based programs that directly address what they say. More to come on this just a few weeks from now during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s the individuals like Dr. Moore with a passion for doing the work that is needed, and the amazing people willing to help that define MCG. Thank you all. Let me add that Dr. Moore is involved with many efforts on health equity here. I seem to be in Teams meetings with him all the time. During these meetings, I have realized he is also a big baseball fan. Although I am a congenital Phillies fan, I can appreciate his passion for the Atlanta Braves and the picture of Freddie Freeman hanging in his office.

“Virtual” Regional Receptions resume for Alumni

I know most of us are a little weary of “virtual” meetings, but being able to put your eyes on somebody has value even when it’s an electronic eye, and I have missed seeing our alumni. So we are restarting our MCG Alumni Association Regional Receptions with virtual ones. They will happen at the usual 6 p.m. time, but rather than at one of our graduate’s homes or some local favorite spot, we are meeting via Microsoft Teams. Our students will remain very much a part of these events, sharing with our graduates particularly how the pandemic has affected their education and how, just like you, they and our Academic Affairs team, under the leadership of Dr. Doug Miller, have rallied. Former Alumni Association President and 1999 graduate Dr. Buffi Boyd, a urologist in Savannah, will be our host for the Savannah meeting October 8. Dr. Bill Fricks, a 2000 MCG graduate who completed his family medicine residency at Phoebe Putney Health System and now directs that program in one of our favorite cities (home of our first regional campus), will host the October 15 event for Albany. Our current Alumni Association president, 1985 graduate Dr. Joseph J. Burch, will host us in Rome October 29. Dr. Burch is a radiologist with the Rome Radiology Group. MCG has such an impact across our state through the work of fine individuals and physicians like these and so many more. I can’t wait to see them. These are the folks that make MCG great and our regional campus system the strongest in the nation.

1984 graduate Dr. Kay Kramer makes $100,000 pledge to honor her mentor, Dr. Margaret DeVore

Finally today, and in keeping with the themes of great alumni and faculty committed to a better future, Dr. Kay Kramer, a 1984 MCG graduate who also did her postgraduate training in anesthesiology at MCG and our health system, recently made a $100,000 commitment to honor her mentor, the late Dr. Margaret DeVore. Dr. DeVore completed her anesthesiology residency with us in 1964 then joined our faculty because she loved to teach. In fact, Dr. DeVore was MCG’s first associate dean for students and was honored with the department’s first Anesthesiology Residents’ Choice Award, which would be renamed for her. She retired in 1991. The Margaret DeVore, MD, Professorship in Anesthesiology was established 10 years ago. Dr. Kramer, who retired from her Atlanta practice in 2019, hopes her gift will inspire others to give and move the professorship to an endowed chair. Thank you Dr. Kramer. Please know that either way, the gifts will help recruit and retain more great faculty. If you’d like to help, please contact Eileen Brandon, executive director of foundation and corporate philanthropy, at ebrandon@augusta.edu or 706-721-2515.

Please continue to take good care out there and “mask up”.  

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