February 10, 2023

Dear Medical College of Georgia Friends,

Georgia is moving on up in university research rankings; the GRA is one of the rockets

Great news recently from the Georgia Research Alliance who shared that our state continues to move up in university research rankings. At nearly $3 billion, Georgia’s higher education institutions currently rank 8th in the nation in research and development expenditures, according to the National Science Foundation.  Georgia was 12th five years ago. Here at home, our university moved from $103 million in R&D expenditures in 2020 to nearly $117 million in 2021 and there are good indicators we are making headway again this year. In my six years as dean, I can assure you I quickly learned that the GRA was one of our best allies and advocates in recruiting and keeping top scientists. GRA President Susan Shows, who joined the GRA team in 2001 and knows the alliance from the ground up, particularly has been a terrific partner on some of our key recruits. If you check out the GRA’s lineup of Eminent Scholars, you will see the quality of individuals we are talking about here and at sister research institutions like the University of Georgia and Georgia Tech. Two of our latest recruits and GRA scholars are Drs. Klaus Ley and Lynn Hedrick, codirectors of our new Immunology Center of Georgia, which is definitely finding its stride. You will also find more familiar faces like Dr. Dave Mattson, chair of our Department of Physiology, who along with a great department is taking on major killers like cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Congratulations to everyone working to better understand how our bodies function in states of wellness and disease. Let’s make it to the top five next year.

Lois Taylor Ellison Lectureship honors MCG matriarch, promotes super science

Speaking of the Department of Physiology, they hosted the 2023 Lois Taylor Ellison Lectureship late last week, which has been going on for about a decade to honor MCG’s matriarch, the late, great Dr. Lois Ellison. Dr. Ellison was a 1950 MCG graduate and a pioneer in many things clinical and scientific, including cardiovascular and pulmonary physiology. The first lectureship honoring Dr. Ellison was in 2011, well before she passed at the age of 95 in 2019. This year’s amazing speaker was Dr. Jennifer Pluznick in the Department of Physiology at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore (my old stomping grounds). Dr. Pluznick is doing some fascinating work in the role of our smell receptors, which she discovered also are present in our kidneys and blood vessels. While we know smell receptors help us get a whiff of our favorite dinner in the oven, Dr. Pluznick is learning more about how they also are involved, for example, in homeostasis bodywide by helping the kidneys regulate blood pressure. They also are a factor in the sex differences that are becoming increasingly clear in blood pressure regulation. She pointed out recent work indicating that while women generally have lower blood pressure than men, they also have lower thresholds for stroke, heart attack and heart failure and that maybe we should be more aggressively treating blood pressure in women. Fascinating work. I really enjoyed her lecture.

When the Ellison family shows back up at MCG, magic happens

The attendees were as great as the lecture and included a large sampling of the extensive Ellison family. Dr. Bob Ellison Jr., a 1980 MCG graduate and retired vascular surgeon from Jacksonville and his wife Penny; 1981 MCG graduate Dr. Greg Ellison, retired general surgeon from here, and his wife Mary; and, last but hardly least, Dr. Mark Ellison, a 1982 MCG graduate and retired urologist in Athens who still teaches at our Athens campus, joined us along with his wife Betsy. BTW, please stop by the Dean’s Office sometime and check out the awesome portrait of our matriarch. Dr. Lois Ellison is a definite standout among the men in what we call the “Hall of Deans.”

Leaders in parsing the sex differences in blood pressure regulation are right here

Speaking of males and females, please know that we have our own stars in this growing field of sex differences in blood pressure regulation, like Dr. Jennifer Sullivan, who also is dean of The Graduate School and a true pioneer in this area.  Right this minute, Dr. Eric Belin de Chantemele in our Vascular Biology Center and Dr. Jessica Faulkner in physiology are authors of a review article on salt sensitivity as a factor in blood pressure regulation in women that is featured on the cover of the latest issue of the American Heart Association journal Hypertension. The first author on the paper is Graduate Student Candee Barris, who works in Dr. Belin de Chantemele’s lab. AU Medical Illustration Student Megan Reeves designed the cool cover. Salt sensitivity basically means your kidneys hold onto more salt rather than eliminating excess (from consuming salty foods like French fries, buttered popcorn and processed foods) in the urine, and salt attracts fluid so as you can imagine that drives up blood pressure. There is increasing evidence that females are more salt sensitive than males, and this special February issue of Hypertension focuses on women’s health.

Our Department of Pediatrics makes an outstanding showing at the Southern Society for Pediatric Research

While I am on a research roll, we also had a stellar lineup in New Orleans at the recent annual meeting of the Southern Society for Pediatric Research. We had about 30 students, residents, fellows and faculty participating in this three-day event. Their presentations ran the gamut from how pediatric emergency departments, like ours in the Children’s Hospital of Georgia, save lives to a report on a rare case where a child with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, presented with acute liver failure. Pediatric Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ingrid Camelo talked about a case where a teenager who came to our children’s hospital was diagnosed with an also rare monkey pox virus infection. A thorough examination determined that the teen also had human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, and AIDS. Dr. Camelo and her colleagues tell us that those infected with both viruses are at greater risk for severe problems with the monkey pox virus if the HIV has not been treated. It turned out the teen had been sexually active but had never been tested for a sexually transmitted disease. Lessons learned include the importance of advocating for and practicing routine screening, the physicians say. Thank you for your diligence on behalf of this patient, Dr. Camelo and team. Dr. Camelo joined our faculty last March as medical director of CHOG Antibiotic Stewardship, Epidemiology and Infection Prevention.  She came to us from Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, and is a great fit for our dynamic Department of Pediatrics. Please note that our next issue of MCG Medicine magazine, which is scheduled to be in hand by early March (we are a little behind on this one), will talk about the great history and future of our pediatrics department and our children’s hospital. Exciting things are happening here for children that directly address their changing needs. Stay tuned.

Neonatologist Dr. Quyen Pham elected council member of pediatric society

Talk about another advocate for children and for pediatrics, Neonatologist Quyen Pham is definitely looking out for our smallest patients. This 2013 graduate of the Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine came to us in 2013 to do her pediatric residency and neonatal fellowship then joined the faculty in July 2019. Her duties include directing the neonatal fellowship program where she once trained. Check out this great video Dr. Pham resolutely made happen, with the magical help of Video Production Supervisor Tim Johnson, AKA our very own Franco Zeffirelli. Dr. Pham has also served as medical director of our High Risk Developmental Clinic, which she revamped, and as director of the Resident and Medical Student NICU Clerkship. This clear advocate for putting the best foot forward in all things for children has been a member of the Southern Society for Pediatric Research’s Communications and Social Media Committee since last year. At the society’s annual meeting this year, she was elected as a Council Member where she will do a ton more like review abstracts, moderate sessions during meetings and participate in the international Pediatric Academic Societies gathering. Congratulations to you Dr. Pham and to everyone here who takes care of children. Children are our future and as chair Valera Hudson reminds us, it is a privilege to be their doctor and to walk beside them and their families.

Dr. Paul Dainer honored for mentorship of students who make a difference

The hits keep coming (fingers and toes crossed that my Philadelphia Eagles will be a hit in the Superbowl this weekend as well! Go Eagles!). Dr. Paul Dainer, a hematologist/oncologist who has served our country in the U.S. Navy and joined our faculty more than 30 years ago, has received the Elizabeth Hurlock Beckman Award, honoring a current or former academic faculty member who inspired former student(s) to create an organization that clearly benefits the community. The award was created by Dr. Beckman’s daughter to also honor the pioneering psychologist and educator who was one of the first female psychology professors at Columbia University. One student who Dr. Dainer helped inspire is Dr. Koosh Desai, an internist and 2016 MCG graduate, who has been honored with our Distinguished Young Alum award. As a second-year student, Dr. Desai got to know Dr. Dainer, who would help inspire Dr. Desai’s interest in cancer treatment and prevention. As a fourth-year student in hematology/oncology clinic, Dr. Dainer’s compassion in taking care of vulnerable patients, inspired him again, Dr. Desai shared. Dr. Dainer became Dr. Desai’s academic advisor, helped him through a stressful residency pursuit and helped convince Dr. Desai to stay right here at Georgia’s only public medical school and help take care of Georgians. It was a good decision. We have talked about Dr. Desai before, who has helped develop programs to increase colon cancer screening. Today he is practicing in rural Georgia and the assistant dean of our Southwest Georgia campus based in Albany, where he spent his last two years of medical school. Dr. Dainer’s steadfast commitment to medicine, to the education and inspiration of future physicians and to MCG is inspiring to me as well and no doubt to countless other students, residents and fellow faculty members. As icing on the benevolence cake, Dr. Dainer donated a significant portion of the proceeds from his award to further student education at our Southwest Campus. Thank you and congratulations Dr. Dainer.

State of the College address, noon Friday, Feb. 17, Lee Auditorium

Finally today, I hope you will join me next Friday, Feb. 17 at noon in the Lee Auditorium for the State of the College Address. While I will be doing most of the talking, it will be about what each of you have done, are doing and will do. I hope you will take this time to celebrate you and your colleagues. There are amazing days ahead for us.

My best to you always,

Dean Hess Signature

Upcoming Events

Feb 17 – MCG State of the College Address, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Mar 17 – MCG Match Day

Mar 24 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Apr 21 – MCG Faculty Senate Meeting, noon, Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditorium

Apr 28-30 – AU Alumni Weekend, schedule