Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Dr. John Henson, neuro-oncologist, joins MCG in the new year

We have covered in these biweekly writings lately the growth of our class size and growth of our research. Like pieces of a puzzle, everything we do and grow must fit together to make a strong whole. One clinical piece that has been missing for too long is a neuro-oncologist to strengthen our treatment of patients with tumors of the brain and nervous system. I am very happy to share that we will be starting 2021 off right with the arrival of Dr. John Henson. Dr. Henson is very experienced, a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Medicine, who studied neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center then completed a neuro-oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and a diagnostic neuroradiology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Henson brings 30+ years experience in treating tumors of the brain, nervous system

Dr. Henson was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and Mass General for a while, then about a dozen years ago moved to the Swedish Neuroscience Institute in Seattle, where he has held several leadership positions, most recently medical director of the Ivy Center for Advanced Brain Tumor Treatment and director of the Swedish Neurofibromatosis Center. He also had a stint as chief of oncology services at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. Here he will direct and build a neuro-oncology program with primary appointments in the Georgia Cancer Center and Department of Neurology and joint appointments in Neurosurgery and Medicine. A very big welcome to Dr. Henson.

Dr. Martha Tingen receives $3.3 million grant to cut cancer cases, deaths in underserved Georgians

Better care for all patients is a bottom line for most of us here, and I am also happy to share that our Dr. Martha Tingen, associate director for Cancer Prevention, Control and Population Health at the Georgia Cancer Center, is PI on a new $3.3 million grant from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation. The focus is taking on health disparities in cancer treatment and death with an emphasis on breast, multiple myeloma and prostate cancers in urban and rural underserved areas. Foci will include some of the many things Dr. Tingen is great at, like enhancing awareness and recruiting community members as educators, enabling access to screening along with making genetic testing available to those most at risk and making treatment available to those who need it. The goal is enrolling 600 Black Georgians from 20 faith-based sites, which have some of the poorest health indicators and outcomes in both our state and the nation. There is also a parallel initiative working with health care leaders in six African countries to develop a version of this c-Care II initiative. Cervical cancer will be added to the initiative in Africa, which has 19 of the top 20 countries with the highest cervical cancer rates, according to the WHO. Dr. Tingen’s partners in the great effort include Drs. Samantha Sojourner, Anand Jillella, Zach Klaassen, Stephen Looney, Justin Moore, Priyanka Raval and Marlo Vernon. Thank you all.

Dr. Chunhong Yan receives $1.7 million NCI grant to study DNA damage repair

This research is complex in a different way, but it shares the important bottom line of improving cancer treatment. Most of us know the benefit of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in the war on cancer, but there are tradeoffs, as with most treatment. In this case, one is lethal double-strand breaks in the DNA of healthy cells, which puts those cells at risk of dying or even becoming cancer. It feels ironic that a key way both these mainstay cancer therapies work is by causing lethal double-strand breaks in the DNA of cancer cells. So our Dr. Chunhong Yan, molecular biologist at the cancer center and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, recently received a $1.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to further explore the complex process of DNA damage repair, with the goal of identifying proteins that might help healthy cells survive cancer therapy. Dr. Yan is making great progress, and already has his eye on the protein ATF3, which senses cell stress and shows up early when there is DNA damage. More cool and important basic science going on right here. More to come on this soon on the MCG home page and elsewhere. Congratulations and thank you Dr. Yan.

Dr. Haidong Zhu’s salt intake study recognized as high impact paper

On another science note, Dr. Haidong Zhu’s recent study about how, particularly for females with untreated high blood pressure, reducing salt intake is good for both blood pressure and gut microbiome, not surprisingly stirred a lot of interest. Now the study has been recognized by the editors of the journal Hypertension, a top-ranked journal in the field, as a high impact paper in clinical science for Fall 2020. Congratulations to Dr. Zhu, a molecular geneticist at the Georgia Prevention Institute, and please keep up the great, highly relevant work.

Online Master of Clinical and Translational Science program now available

Speaking of clinical research, those of you who want to hone your skill and success in this important research area, please know that The Graduate School now offers a totally online Master of Clinical and Translational Science program. Like our newly unfolding curriculum in the medical school, this two-year program enables you to tailor-make your learning to ensure you get what you need to be even more successful. There are two tracks, health economics and data science, designed to enable you to work with some of our most established clinical and translational researchers, while developing your skill in securing research funding. The MCTS program is recruiting practicing physicians, including residents and fellows, as well as basic scientists, along with our colleagues in dentistry, allied health and advanced practice providers. Even a PhD and MD are codirecting: Dr. Jennifer Waller, professor of biostatistics, and Dr. Adam Berman, chief of the Division of Health Economics and Modeling (and electrophysiologist), both in our Department of Population Health Sciences. Check it out here.

Emergency Medicine, telemedicine are good partners for rural health

We shared earlier this year — before COVID changed pretty much everything — that our Department of Emergency Medicine had received a U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to help five rural Georgia hospitals get the equipment needed to connect with our ED. Goals were for us to help those hospitals take care of patients when needed, so the hospitals could take care of themselves by keeping more patients. More recently, because of COVID, we talked about the expansion of this telemedicine service to medical/surgical wards and ICUs starting with Wills Memorial Hospital in Washington, Georgia, Washington Regional Medical Center in Sandersville and Emanuel Medical Center in Swainsboro. The success there has now resulted in growth to Jefferson Hospital in Louisville, Burke County Hospital in Waynesboro and Candler County Hospital in Metter this month and next. From July 20 to October 28, 111 patients have been evaluated and treated via this Tele Critical Care program; about 23% of the patients were transferred to our hospitals and, fortunately, all but two of these sickest patients that came to us survived. Great thinking, partnering for Georgia and patient care.

Abdominal, chest pain, stroke and trauma are common reasons patients come to our Emergency Department

This perspective on who comes directly to our ED was provided by Emergency Medicine Department Chair Richard Schwartz for something else, but gave additional insight on who needs us here. About two- thirds of our ED patients are adult and one-third pediatric. The trauma team is activated about 220 times a month and the stroke team about 125 times. The most common reason people come to us is abdominal pain, which is a tough one as Dr. Schwartz says because it can indicate anything from gas to a life-threatening problem. Other common complaints are psychiatric, chest pain and complications of sickle cell anemia. We also see a fair number of farming- and hunting-related injuries. You may not know that we are also the receiving facility for the Savannah River Site so, in addition to everything else, our docs and staff are well prepared to treat radiation contamination. Great team. It gives comfort knowing they are always there.

White Coat ceremony pushed to late Winter, early Spring with safe, in-person event the goal

Finally today, when we announced a Nov. 14 virtual White Coat ceremony recently, our students made it clear that they would prefer instead a safe, in-person event like the December graduation event the university is planning. That seemed both reasonable and understandable, so we are now looking toward late Winter or early Spring for the White Coat event, likely in an outside venue unless the pandemic has ebbed by then, which is what we all hope for. Stay tuned for details, but I want to thank our students for their forthrightness and their excitement about the iconic rites of passage at their medical school. Please continue to take good care out there and “mask up”.

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