October 28, 2022

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Bone and muscle group get $11 million NIH grant to help us age better

We talked a few weeks back about our chief of Rheumatology and osteoporosis expert Dr. Laura Carbone taking up the mission of helping individual patients and their physicians optimally use a primary class of drugs called bisphosphonates. We promised then more to come on another brilliant group right here delving further into why and how our bones and the muscles that help support them grow weaker with age and seeking new ways to help them (and consequently us) age better. I am pleased to announce now the re-renewal of a Program Project grant funded by the National Institutes of Health to the tune of $11 million to enable this work to keep us upright and moving. Like Dr. Carbone’s work, this effort is spot on in our population where all 73 million of us baby boomers will reach at least age 65 by 2030. The dynamic leadership of this effort includes the calm, collected and accomplished Dr. Carlos Isales, chief of our Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism and co-director of our Center for Healthy Aging; the cool on the outside, insightful on the inside Dr. Mark Hamrick, bone and muscle biologist and Healthy Aging Center co-director, who also happens to be our Senior Associate Dean for Research; the also calm on the outside and decidedly determined Dr. Sadanand Fulzele, aging researcher in the Department of Medicine; and the enthusiastic, collaborative Dr. Meghan McGee-Lawrence, biomedical engineer in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy. That lineup alone makes us stronger. 

Drs. Carlos Isales, Mark Hamrick, Sadanand Fulzele and Meghan McGee-Lawrence are leading this major initiative

This group reminds us that the health of those bones and muscles are indelibly linked, and they have good evidence that helping out one improves the other. With November upon us just next week, we may all be thinking about turkey and Thanksgiving (I do love this holiday) but this group is always focused on tryptophan, an essential amino acid that many of us attribute to making us sleepy after a good turkey dinner. But tryptophan also helps us make and maintain proteins. Cutting down to the chase on this complex work, the enzyme indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase 1, breaks tryptophan down into products that help us accomplish important tasks like making fuel for our cells’ powerhouses. But the healthy balance begins to shift with age and we generally have less tryptophan and more IDO1. An unfortunate bottom line is that cell powerhouses sustain damage rather than being well fueled and our bone and muscle cells don’t work so well. As with any disease we can think of, inflammation is a major culprit here and our team is working collaboratively and independently to better understand exactly how this system goes awry and best points and new ways to intervene.

Decades-old research finding comes full circle to also help with bone, muscle health

You know I love history and I also love MCG, but one of the things this research team is exploring is the potential for an IDO inhibitor to help restore a better balance for our aging bone and muscle. Did you know that one of the first IDO inhibitors ever developed occurred because of people and work right here. Back in 1998 (the same year our Children’s Hospital of Georgia opened its doors) Dr. David Munn, MCG graduate, a pediatric oncologist who now codirects the Pediatric Immunotherapy Program here, and his then-research partner Dr. Andrew Mellor, immunologist who moved back to the UK and to Newcastle University several years back, found that the fetus uses IDO, which is also known for its anti-inflammatory power, as a way to avoid being rejected by the mother’s immune system. The work was originally published in the prestigious journal Science. They subsequently showed that tumors use IDO for protection too, and this dynamic duo worked with Newlink Genetics to develop one of the first IDO inhibitors, which we are now studying in children with cancer. One more connection here, guess how IDO suppressed the immune response? By degrading tryptophan. Really exciting, relevant work then and now and it feels like the work by Drs. Isales, Hamrick, Fulzele and McGee-Lawrence and Dr. Carbone is headed in the exact same direction. Great work all and congratulations on your re-renewal (two renewals in addition to the original grant).

The new Department of Family and Community Medicine

With the help of William Shakespeare, it was Juliet who likely most memorably pondered: What’s in a name? As Georgia’s public medical school we respectfully say the answer is “plenty,” and our Department of Family Medicine agrees. Effective Tuesday, its name is officially the Department of Family and Community Medicine to better reflect its people and purpose. The department has long been a leader in providing medical homes to patients and families. The idea behind these is really not that much different than our actual homes, which provide a sense of safety, security and continuity so we live better. For decades the department has been an advocate for providing care in the community as well, with the oldest organized outreach a downtown clinic to provide care to the homeless and underinsured. I wanted to note here that our students have also always been ardent drivers of this important service and that family medicine physician, Dr. Bruce LeClair has long served as director of Homeless Health Care Services. Let me also note here that Dr. LeClair, a steadfast educator and patient advocate who also helped establish the Women’s Health Free Clinic, is retiring at the end of January. This native of Nürnberg, Germany, who spent his formative years in California, graduated from the UC Davis School of Medicine and served our country in the U.S. Army for more than a dozen years before officially joining the MCG faculty in 1994, will be missed on every front. Let me also note here that this longtime clinic now finds itself looking for a home after years of operating on Eighth Street, so please reach out to Dr. LeClair if you have ideas on how to help. Newer initiatives of the department in the community include the Harrisburg Family Health Care and South Augusta Clinic. The department also is expanding its training by reestablishing a sports medicine fellowship for primary care docs and starting a rural health fellowship, which directly addresses MCG’s expanding focus on improving primary care in more rural regions of our largely rural state by providing additional training in areas like dermatology, so primary care docs working in those areas can expand the services they directly offer to patients. I think you get the idea why “community” got added to the name. My thanks to the department faculty and staff for their service on many frontlines and to Dr. Dean Seehusen, department chair, for his leadership in ensuring the department continues to live up to its new name.

Drs. Jennifer Tucker, Shilpa Brown take up expanded roles in Academic Affairs

Speaking of enthusiastic educators and student advocates, Drs. Jennifer Tucker, 1997 MCG graduate and pediatric emergency medicine physician, and Dr. Shilpa Brown, 1994 MCG graduate and internist, are the definition of both. I am pleased to share that Dr. Tucker, assistant dean for learner affairs and career advising, has agreed to serve as interim associate dean for learner affairs, a job in which she will be responsible from start to finish of major milestone events in a medical student’s educational life like those first few days with us in orientation, the iconic White Coat ceremony (more about this year’s in a moment) and Hooding, as well as the fun but stressful Match Day and helping ensure our students are ready for that big day as medical school begins to wind down and residency soon begins. Dr. Brown, assistant dean of curriculum for clinical integration, will also take on the broader overall curriculum as interim associate dean for curriculum as she also helps create, implement and oversee this medical education fundamental. Please join me in thanking Drs. Tucker and Brown for their commitment to MCG and to excellent medical education.

Dr. Vanessa Spearman-McCarthy honored for excellence by two national groups

In keeping with this spirit of service and excellence, Dr. Vanessa Spearman-McCarthy, an internist/psychiatrist and associate dean for learner diversity, equity and inclusion, who also is an MCG graduate, is the recent recipient of two top national honors. She is the 2022 recipient of the American Medical Women’s Association INSPIRE Award honoring inspirational women physicians and the President’s Award, the highest award, from the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry. Like so many of you, Dr. Spearman-McCarthy is a leader here and well beyond in important and complex areas of medicine and of life. She chairs the AMP’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and serves on that committee for the AMWA. She was appointed early this year to serve on the Association of American Medical College’s Constructing an Equitable, Inclusive and Antiracist Learning Environment Working Group and reappointed to its Curriculum Subcommittee. Back home, she teaches our students of course, but she also is a core faculty member for other programs like the psychiatry clinical rotation for the doctor of nursing practice and physician assistant programs at AU. You know what they say about the busiest people still being the most likely people to get even more done. Thank you for your service to your alma mater, Dr. Spearman-McCarthy, to our profession and to society.

Brain Health, Lung Cancer are the focus of community events in November

Service is always in order here and in the hearts of people like you who are MCG. For our community, we are hosting Saturday, Nov. 12 the 4th Annual Brain Health Symposium from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the beautiful Harrison Commons, MCG’s official academic home. This event will put you and our community in touch with leaders in the fields of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders. You will hear from folks like Dr. John Morgan, director of our Movement and Memory Disorders Programs, and Dr. Vanessa Hinson, director of the Movement Disorders Program at the Medical University of South Carolina. While this great event is free to the public, you must register by this Monday, Oct. 31. Please take advantage of this opportunity to hear and learn from the best. Later next week is the White Ribbon (the national symbol of lung cancer) Fall Fest, which also puts experts out there on lung cancer, including risks, resources, prevention and treatment. More greats will gather for this including Dr. Daniel Miller, director of thoracic surgery in our Section of Adult Cardiothoracic Surgery who also directs our lung cancer screening program, an ongoing great service to our community. Our Students’ Oncology Interest Group is teaming up with the Georgia Cancer Center, the Concerned National Black Nurses of the CSRA and the White Ribbon Project for this event which kicks off at 2 p.m. Nov. 2 also at the Harrison Commons. The panel discussion starts at 3:30. Again, with lineups like these, how can we help but accomplish great things. Please let me thank everyone out front and behind the scenes for these kinds of community activities. It is a privilege, and often an inspiration, to share what we know with our community.

Alumni Association President Dr. Anil Puri was the keynote for the Class of 2026’s White Coat Ceremony

Finally today and speaking of inspirational, our Class of 2026 White Coat Ceremony was this past Saturday. We had record attendance with the Bell Auditorium nearly full. In her new role, Dr. Tucker welcomed us all and I was privileged to introduce our keynote speaker, Dr. Anil Puri, 2005 MCG graduate, a pulmonary, critical care medicine and sleep medicine specialist who is president of our MCG Alumni Association. While I am very glad he is a physician practicing in his hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia, I am telling you that the man could also be a standup comic and that he has insight and love for his profession that are so worth hearing. You can check him out about 21 minutes in here. He shared with our students the advice he would give himself now if he were again a first-year student sitting on those front rows for White Coat. He reminded our students that they belong here and that having a tough time with a class or one bad grade does not change that. “You have chosen the profession of medicine and it has chosen you,” Dr. Puri said. He encouraged our students to get to know each other and to learn from each other; to learn the information that they need to in medical school but to also nurture the love of learning. Because the learning never stops. That includes learning about our too complex health care system today that is influenced by so many factors, and is taking its toll on physicians and the relationship most of them want with their patients. He reminded our students that they are uniquely poised to learn and to make the future of that system better. That is part of what physicians and medical schools should do. Thank you so much Dr. Puri for your insight and humor. They are a powerful team.

All my very best to you,

David C. Hess, MD
Dean, Medical College of Georgia

Upcoming Events

Nov 2 – White Ribbon Fall Festival, 2-5 p.m., J. Harold Harrison Education Commons Patio

Nov 11 – Annual Body Donor Memorial Service, 1 p.m., Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Nov 18 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Dec 02 – Southeast Community Engagement and Research Conference, 8:30 a.m., MCG Southeast Regional Campus Savannah