January 22, 2021

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Continued success in unprecedented times

These surges of COVID-19 have exhausted all of you, and I appreciate the resilience and perseverance you show in continuing to step up and work on the frontlines taking care of our patients. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, with the COVID-19 vaccines we are at not at the end, but at the end of the beginning of this pandemic. And throughout this pandemic you have continued to excel across the board. Here’s a few recent examples. Dr. Jorge Cortes, director of the Georgia Cancer Center, is among the database Web of Science’s Highly Cited Researchers list for 2020, for publication of multiple, frequently cited papers over the last decade. Neuroscientist Dr. Alexis Stranahan and sickle cell researcher and pediatric hematologist/oncologist Dr. Betty Pace are listed among 1,000 Inspiring Black Scientists in America by Cell Press.  Dr. Stranahan also has been invited to join the editorial board of the Journal of Neuroscience and Dr. Pace has been appointed a counselor of the American Society of Hematology. The new Siemens Vida 3T research MRI has arrived on the first floor of the adult hospital and will further enable expanding clinical research here. Dr. Nathan Yanasak, magnetic resonance imaging scientist, and Marcy Kessinger, office coordinator in our Department of Radiology and Imaging, are the primary contacts for this great new equipment; and I want to thank Radiology Chair Dr. Annette Johnson for her leadership on this big, important project as well. There will soon be a call for pilot funding on this Human Research MRI and a new Core, a Core we have needed for a long time

A new group of US Army residents joins us; Drs. Jennifer Jones, Sharon Beall take on new roles

Our Department of Emergency Medicine, which has a special training program for residents in the military through an affiliation with the United States Army, has just successfully matched eight outstanding U.S. Army residents. The department’s telehealth program to help provide critical care to rural Georgians and support rural hospitals in the process has now treated more than 340 patients. Dr. Jennifer P. Jones, an MCG graduate and assistant professor in our Department of Family Medicine, whose special clinical interests include diabetes, has been asked to serve on the editorial board of the American Diabetes Association journal Clinical Diabetes. Fellow MCG graduate Dr. Sharon Beall has rejoined our Department of Pediatrics as director of the new Palliative Care and Hospice Service for our Children’s Hospital of Georgia. We’ve been thankful for Dr. Beall a long time, as she has been helping our hospice program for more than a decade as a consultant, and are glad she is now officially back with us. The list goes on and again, these are just a recent handful of your accomplishments. 

The new Math and Science Building, Interdisciplinary Research Building connect

If you looked out the fourth-floor window of Sarah Ming Gross, office specialist in the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine, this week you will see what almost looks like a big metal hand. It’s actually the base for a connector between the Interdisciplinary Research Building and the new Science and Math Building that will house the College of Science and Mathematics. But, in addition to being a literal bridge, I hope it will also become a figurative bridge that fosters increased collaboration, including generating more great future medical students, much as the BS to MD program at AU has done. The fourth floor of the building, which originally was going to be left unfinished, also will now include new and much-needed wet lab space for our expanding basic science operation when it opens this Spring. Our basic science researchers are desperately in need of new space as they have been so successful getting NIH grants and recruiting that we need space to expand our research footprint. In fact, three Program Project grant applications are going out the door next week.

$1 million gift enables endowed chair in medical research

Sometimes good things do come from surprising places. Dr. David Parks, a 1984 MCG graduate, who also completed his training with us and is now a head and neck surgeon in Atlanta, is the son of the late longtime attorney Sidney Parks, who was the longtime attorney and friend of pool industry pioneer, the late Leon Bloom. Mr. Bloom was a self-taught chemist who started his international BioLab Inc., in the basement of his Decatur, Georgia home. Like so many of you, Mr. Bloom was a pioneer in his field, who would improve elimination of bacteria and other disease sources from chicken hatcheries as well as pool water. He was also a philanthropist considering a gift to a medical school. Dr. Parks’ dad knew how much his son enjoyed being at MCG so he got Mr. Bloom to come see us in the mid-1980s. Apparently it was his tour of our NICU with then-neonatology chief and MCG stalwart Dr. William P. Kanto that really stuck with him. Now the Leon and Dorothy Bloom Chair in Medical Research has been established at our medical school with a $1 million gift from the Bloom estate. Please let me thank everyone involved in this generous gift and assure them that the timing is perfect and that their investment will be put to good use.

Mason Trust continues to enable innovative science, treatment at MCG

The Georgia-based Carlos and Marguerite Mason Trust investment at MCG is a good example of what can be done. The Mason Trust has provided nearly $16 million to MCG and to our Health System over the years to support both research and clinical initiatives, including helping fund the Carlos and Marguerite Mason Solid Organ Transplant Center that opened in 2017. Their most recent gift is in support of telehealth initiatives to enable remote care of patients at our Savannah and Albany transplant clinics. This new initiative is led by Dr. Muhammad Saeed, section chief and Carlos and Marguerite Mason Distinguished Chair in Transplant Surgery. MCG immunologist Dr. Anatolij Horuzsko’s longtime scientific studies to improve organ transplant success have long been a focal point for their support. Dr. Horuzsko’s focus in this effort has been on HLA-G, an immune molecule that helps protect a developing fetus from becoming the focus of the mother’s immune response. Dr. Laura Mulloy, chief of the Division of Nephrology, is his longtime clinical collaborator. One of many things they already have shown is that kidney transplant patients, who for some unknown reason have naturally higher levels of HLA-G, do much better than those with lower levels. One of their many goals is clinical trials of a synthetic HLA-G that can bolster the levels of patients. One of the neatest things about their latest studies is they also want to reduce organ rejection risk by improving the donor-recipient match. With their humanized mouse models that have a patient’s immune system, they can see before transplant how the immune system responds to the blood of potential living donors. Very exciting work that will change the field of transplant medicine and the lives of patients. Our continued thanks to the Mason Trust and to Drs. Horuzsko and Mulloy for their relentless work.

The Georgia Research Alliance, Dr. Jin-Xiong She and MD/PhD student Paul Tran making headway against brain tumors

Here’s another. The Georgia Research Alliance is a public-private partnership that supports science in our state including helping startups get started. We have eight GRA Eminent Scholars and Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine, is one of our most senior. We’ve talked about his work here and many places, particularly with his leadership in a prospective study to help determine how genetics and environment collide to cause type 1 diabetes. Cancer is one of his newer passions, and one of the latest results is that he and MD/PhD student Paul Tran have devised a new classification system for gliomas. Rather than looking at the histology, including the shape, of cancer cells or newer efforts to look at gene mutations, they devised a method that looks at gene expression, which they have evidence may be a more efficient and objective measure of the specific brain tumor type. Gene expression tells us what a cell is doing and knowing that information helps steer determination of both patient prognosis and best treatment, they tell us. They suspect this new approach will yield new treatment targets as well. Great work. These kinds of studies are the definition of translational science: studies that are not only interesting on their face, but that can make a difference in the lives of people.  

MCG Medicine magazine is now available

Finally today and as promised, the latest issue of MCG Medicine magazine is online and should have been delivered to you or on the way. Like these biweekly writings, I hope the biannual magazine (we did skip the Spring/Summer issue of 2020 because of COVID, and made this issue bigger) gives us all pause to think about all the important work happening right here. And to see which faculty member is also a goat herder. Let’s keep it up.

Please continue to take good care out there, wear a mask and get vaccinated.

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