November 12, 2021

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

MCG number two in the nation for research funding per capita

You know I like talking about how MCG punches above its fighting weight because it speaks volumes about each of you and because it is the absolute truth. Here is some of that truth that Dr. Mark Hamrick, senior associate dean for research, recently put together for us. Compared to other medical schools across the country who, like us, have less than 700 faculty members, MCG ranks number 2 out of those 49 medical schools in funding from the National Institutes of Health. Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans is number one, with not quite $2 million more than us in NIH funding. If you want to take the numbers up another notch, MCG ranks number 11 in NIH funding among medical schools with less than 1,000 faculty. Let’s think about that for a minute. Context is important, essential really, for getting a true perspective on pretty much any situation. Those numbers mean that our scientists are working as hard as anyone in the country, and harder than many, and that they are successful and productive in their efforts.

Growth of faculty, Health System needed to enable continued strides

The inevitable “but” is that to take the next steps we need to grow, and the reality is our current ranking as a strong number 2 is in the face of an actual reduction in the number of principal investigators here while our colleagues across the nation have been increasing theirs. As an example, in 2010 we had 114 NIH-funded PIs and last year we had 106. NIH funding went up in the dollar amount from about $53 million to closer to $56 million but the total award numbers went from 156 to 137. You see the math and the reality that to continue to move up, even to hold our own, we have to grow, which means recruiting more great PIs. Based on his review, Dr. Hamrick says we need to grow by probably another 35 to 40 PIs who have one or more NIH grants. We also need to significantly increase the size of our clinical faculty and Health System, whose support is critical to MCG’s success and vice versa. Just for example, we have 518 full-time clinical faculty (2020 data from a report to the AAMC) and our Health System had clinical revenue of $862 million (2017 data). Looking at the University of Alabama at Birmingham for comparison’s sake, they had 1,370 clinical faculty and a health system with nearly $1.9 billion in clinical revenue at the same times. The more like-size University of Mississippi School of Medicine based in Jackson had 667 clinical faculty and clinical revenue close to $1.1 billion. The numbers tell us that we are definitely all in this together because everything we do depends on and potentially benefits everything else we do at AU, like taking care of patients and undergraduates. In fact, our recruitment of more faculty will even help support interdisciplinary programs at AU and support growth of undergraduate enrollment as well. I want to thank the leadership of President Keel, EVP Keen and Provost MacKinnon as well as the University System of Georgia and the state for their support of Georgia’s only public medical school and ask that they continue to help us help others.  Let me also thank Dr. Hamrick for his insightful, straight-shooting analysis and leadership. More to come.

Health System, physicians honored by American College of Surgeons, American College of Cardiology

The recent recognition by the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program of AU Medical Center as one of 90 hospitals with meritorious outcomes in inpatient and outpatient care of patients (in our case specifically high-risk patients), is a great example of what working together produces. The ACS review objectively looked at areas of concern like respiratory problems and infections following surgery. Just a few weeks earlier, the American College of Cardiology recognized our care of patients with chest pain. These kinds of results for our patients is what we all work hard to achieve. Our great faculty and leaders like Surgery Chair Dr. Caprice Greenberg, an established expert in research to improve the quality and safety of surgical care, and Dr. Steve Holsten, vice chair for clinical operations in our surgery department and surgical director of adult surgery for the adult hospital (who also happens to be a trauma surgeon). And Dr. Neal Weintraub, chief of the Division of Cardiology and co-director of our Vascular Biology Center, who also believes in excellence wherever he goes (you can frequently see him scurrying back and forth across Laney Walker Boulevard) are invaluable in our synergistic and truly life-saving mission. As we speak we are putting together a piece for the upcoming issue of MCG Medicine magazine (which should be in hand soon after the new year) that highlights more of this kind of amazing work, like serving as one of some 25 sites in the nation providing innovative care for patients whose stents, placed in their heart to help restore adequate flow of blood and oxygen, now have blockages. Like anything we do and do well, this cool program is a collaborative between interventional cardiologists Dr. Deepak Kapoor, who directs our cardiac catheterization laboratory and cardiology chest pain program, new recruit Dr. Musa A. Sharkawi, who came to us just this summer after finishing his interventional cardiology and structural heart and peripheral vascular interventions fellowships at Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, along with Dr. Catherine Ferguson, radiation oncologist, and clinical director of medical physics Dr. Ahmad Al-Basheer. Key to this team looking out for hearts is Sue Shock, administrative director for cardiovascular services. In fact, I am happy to share that this group just gathered again this week to restart this important program, that like so many things was on hold because of COVID. This is the kind of collaboration that enables growth and greatness so that we can better serve.

MCG graduate Dr. Robin Boineau named director, Office of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

1990 MCG graduate Dr. Robin Boineau exemplifies this as well. After graduation, she completed her internal medicine residency at Brown University’s Miriam Hospital and her cardiology fellowship at Duke University Medical Center. She became an expert in designing and leading large clinical trials like Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy 2, or TACT2. The first TACT was looking for objective evidence of whether chelation therapy, a method used to remove heavy metals from the blood, was really beneficial, because it had sort of moved in and out of favor but people were still using it with no objective evidence. Study findings included that in those patients who also had diabetes, chelation reduced cardiac events, strokes and mortality significantly, which led to TACT2. Her research has focused on atherosclerotic heart disease and heart failure and she also is a primary developer of the Duke Activity Status Index, which is widely used to assess a patient’s functional capacity like their ability to take care of themselves and climb a flight of stairs. She has served as a medical officer at the National, Heart, Lung and Blood Institute for more than 15 years. Now Dr. Boineau has been named director of the Office of Clinical and Regulatory Affairs at the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health of the NIH working to ensure that research is safe for participants and beneficial by helping finalize study designs and other clinical study documents. Great going Dr. Boineau. Thank you for your contributions to our profession and in addressing the nation’s number one killer, heart disease.

Dr. Ravindra Kolhe to lead expanded initiatives in translational research, genomics

Closer to home, Dr. Ravi Kolhe also is technically an MCG alum because he did his residency in anatomic and clinical pathology here, including a year as chief resident, and was a postdoc in cancer epigenetics and therapeutics at the Georgia Cancer Center. He also has a PhD in biochemistry and molecular biology from Mississippi State and completed a fellowship in molecular and genetic pathology at Emory University. Dr. Kolhe joined our faculty in 2012, was named vice chair for translational research in our Department of Pathology in 2019 and has been associate director of our pathology residency program since 2017. He runs the Georgia Esoteric and Molecular Genomics, or GEM, Lab and has been a major player in enabling our university, community, state and nation to take on COVID and the pandemic. Like in those early days, when it took forever to get tested or at least get results, he and the hardworking GEM Lab team developed a test that could be done right here and quickly, and started pulling round-the-clock shifts to make sure to keep the results moving. They would soon make these services available to the whole state and develop a saliva test. Most recently he and his colleagues, including flu powerhouse Dr. Ted Ross, the University of Georgia’s director of the Center for Vaccines and Immunology and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar, developed a panel that detects the COVID virus as well as 40 common respiratory viruses as a way to tell, particularly for really sick patients, if there are coinfections at play in their illness. It uses high-throughput sequencing that spells out a detailed genetic analysis of the viruses that enables us to not only identify the virus but track where it travels. He was already doing these kinds of detailed genetic analytics on cancers, doing things like finding ways to identify patients with an increased risk of dying early from lung cancer, and enabling detailed analysis of an individual’s tumor with the idea of identifying unique treatment targets for that individual. In keeping with this strong move toward precision medicine, a few years back, the MCG GEM Lab became a designated lab for the National Cancer Institute-Molecular Analysis for Therapy Choice clinical trial to look at the effectiveness of targeting cancer causing gene changes in treatment rather than a specific cancer type like lung cancer.

New roles will expand MCG strengths in pandemic medicine, cancer genomics

I say all this to also share that Dr. Kolhe is now our inaugural associate dean for translational research and associate director for genomics.  While he is already the definition of a team player and punching beyond his fighting weight, these new positions will enable him to also lead in areas where he has distinguished himself and has already helped distinguish MCG. He will help us establish the Georgia Pandemic Response Center from lessons learned and still being learned from the current pandemic, so that our public medical school can be both a better servant and leader for our state and its citizens as well as our colleagues in academia and public health. He will help us strengthen our efforts in translational science, pulling together the innovative minds here to do even more work (another good time to mention we need more amazing people) that makes a clear difference in people’s lives. At our Georgia Cancer Center, he will coordinate the genetic profiling of patients to further enable precision medicine for each of them and build databases that help us take what we learn from one patient and help us help many more. He will help expand research in cancer genetics and work with our amazing Division of Hematology and Oncology to develop a genetic tumor board and expand clinical trial offerings and enrollment. He will continue to do a lot of good stuff that improves lives. Congratulations and thank you Dr. Kolhe.

1 p.m. service today in the Lee Auditorium honors body donors

I was a student at the University of Maryland School of Medicine when I really began to understand the aggressiveness of cancer and the need to often be aggressive in response. My unparalleled teacher was our body donor, who had metastatic ovarian cancer. The privilege she gave to all of us gathered around the table in anatomy provided many invaluable lessons about the wondrous intricacies of the human body. As we’ve said, even with the realistic technology we have today for simulation labs, there will never be a true substitute teacher for an actual human body. We are sending out the Dean’s Diary a little early today to make sure you are aware of the service at 1 p.m. today in the Lee Auditorium honoring our body donors. This particular memorial service is held jointly by us, the Dental College of Georgia, The Graduate School, the College of Allied Health Sciences and the College of Nursing, who all are students at this important bedside. Students from each college will share their thoughts including Sholeh Rezaee and Rachel Kaufman, from our Class of 2024, and Alexander Parsons, a senior from our Athens campus, and students will read the names of the 107 donors being honored today. Let me thank David Adams, coordinator of Anatomical Donation Services, and our entire Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy, under the leadership of Dr. Sylvia Smith, for ensuring that our body donors are treated with the respect that they deserve and that our students learn invaluable lessons from them.

Mrs. Bessie Wilborn, who died in 1949, among those honored

Among the names called today will be Mrs. Bessie Wilborn’s. Mrs. Wilborn was from Lincolnton, Georgia, and she died in 1949 at the age of 27 from a rare, progressive condition called Paget’s disease, which interfered with her body’s ability to replace bone. She was a housewife and mother of Francis Oglesby. Her husband John Wilborn also had died too soon. In the most unfortunate but common practice of those times, instead of her body being buried per her family’s wishes, Mrs. Wilborn’s body was brought to MCG and remained here until the last day of October 2021, when her remains were laid to rest at New Tabernacle Baptist Church. Please permit me to thank her family for permitting us to be a part of the beautiful service that was finally held for Mrs. Wilborn, and to thank again our Student National Medical Association for advocating for Mrs. Wilborn and for that service. As I said that day, as physicians, we are privileged to both care for others and to strive to be leaders in the communities we serve. Mrs. Wilborn will forever remind us of the responsibility that comes with both. Thank you.

All my best.

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