There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”   -Nelson Mandela


Taking the Lead… For Children

Many of you may have heard that we continue to take important steps in our commitment to our Governor and to the patients and families that may benefit from investigational cannabinoid. No doubt you have heard somewhere the debate about “medical marijuana,” reports of how it has benefited some, and whether this is something we should make more widely available. We believe our state is taking an exceptional path by helping glean objective evidence about whether this drug can help patients. Again, we much appreciate Gov. Deal providing us the opportunity to take the lead on this important endeavor. This week, our university signed a memorandum of understanding with GW Pharmaceuticals that will enable us to offer the company’s investigational cannabidiol product to some children with intractable epilepsy through clinical trials that will help us determine how well it works. We expect final details to be worked out in the coming months and we hope to begin studies this year. We so appreciate Dr. Michael Diamond and Pediatric Neurologist, Dr. Yong Park for taking the lead here. These two have quite a track record seeking better ways to care of patients so this important initiative is in great hands. Definitely more to come on this topic and we hope the bottom line will be that children get better.

Is a Distinct Privilege…

Those who have been here for more than a minute already know that caring for children is a huge commitment and priority of our institution and the amazing individuals who work here. Last week, we talked about how our pediatric emergency room just got a super new look to go with the always awesome care. This week, we want to remind you of an amazing annual event that really catches the flavor of our scope in and commitment to caring for children. It’s the annual Children’s Miracle Network that airs locally this Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. on CBS-affiliate WRDW-TV. You gotta love – and hurt, too – hearing the stories of the amazing children and families we are privileged to treat. You also can’t help feeling a huge swell of pure pride for the people who care for them. Kids like Reese Smith, who was born without a functioning kidney, so his mom gave him one of hers. You just have to check out this too cute picture of Reese with one of his heroes – and one of ours – Dr. Charlie Howell: Or, how about Ken and Ben, adorable identical twins born prematurely who needed to spend 79 days in our Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Our incredible health care team helped – and continue to help – Colleen and Lance Herr’s babies maneuver the significant physical challenge of those two months and the parents manage the emotional ones as well. These remarkable children and families give so much to us in return. We want to thank our incredible partners, WRDW, for helping us tell their stories and we hope you will tune in Sunday.

But Going that Extra Mile for All Patients… Is Who You Are

Going that extra distance really defines our medical school and each of you. Here’s another terrific example: We probably all know about how kidneys can fail – diabetes and hypertension are major reasons. Fortunately, the kidney is one organ where we have an external device that will enable us to continue to live. Not surprisingly, this dialysis machine can’t quite do all the work of our amazingly prolific kidneys and one of the bad things that can happen to patients on dialysis is a rare, but very serious condition called calciphylaxis. Now we had never heard of this before but we are told that the difficult bottom line is that the calcium and phosphorus in the bodies of dialysis patients can start essentially fusing, forming a cement-like substance that clogs their blood vessels and causes a terrible cascade of problems including a big risk of major infection and patches of dying skin. Even though this is a very rare situation, our Dr. Lu Huber wanted to find out more about just how rare it is and those most at risk. So, she combed a database of more than 2 million patients who are mostly on traditional hemodialysis, but also on peritoneal dialysis and some who have had transplants, like Reese. She found the incidence of calciphylaxis was way less than 1 percent in those patients, but for those who get it, about 50 percent die within 100 days of their diagnosis. Like Drs. Park and Diamond and so many others at our fine institution, Dr. Huber wants to do better by these patients. Truly terrific. And, a far more impartial group than her immediate colleagues agreed: her research was among eight of the best abstracts submitted to the 51st European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association Congress that gets underway tomorrow in Amsterdam. We have a news release coming out early next week where you can learn more about this fascinating work but for the moment it suffices to say: Way to go, Dr. Huber. We so appreciate your exceptional efforts for patients.

And Reflecting on Where We Stand… Makes Us Stronger

We’ve talked a bit about how sometimes we can learn from looking at ourselves as well as others. We think this is a super cool initiative of the Medical Association of Georgia, which reflects that philosophy. With all the talk about a potential new hospital in Columbia County in recent weeks, there has also been a lot of talk, at least around these parts, about how a certificate of need from the state is required for this significant investment. Well, these kinds of rules affect a lot of individuals and institutions across our state. To date, MAG has been pretty clear in opposing the CON process as anti-competitive and restrictive. But the association has now formed a group of more than a dozen representatives of health systems, multispecialty groups, single specialty groups, and solo physicians to take a fresh look over this summer and make sure the association’s stance fits today’s realities and reflects their membership. We are proud to say our Drs. Norm Thomson and Mike Madaio are part of these reflections. The bottom line is not so much about which way groups like MAG decide to weigh in, but more about the willingness to always keep talking about what matters. We are also always proud to note that our 1963 graduate, Dr. William E. Silver, is MAG’s president!

A Little Fearlessness Doesn’t Hurt Either…

So we step back a bit on this one, but never fear, more good news ahead in a moment. We’ve talked as well on the topic of just how tough it is to get scientific funding these days. In fact, if you call pretty much any of our incredible scientists, they are always on deadline for one or more grant applications. For an in depth national perspective, you may want to check out this recent piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education: The publication surveyed nearly 70,000 researchers with National Institutes of Health or National Science Foundation funding and heard back from more than 11,000. Sadly, nearly half had abandoned what they considered a research area central to their mission and better than three quarters had reduced recruitment of grad students and fellows. Many shared that feeling that many of us have: the exhausting and perpetual pursuit of grant dollars. The story talks about darkened, downsized labs, about postdocs who can’t find jobs and scientists who don’t get their first grant until they are in their 40s. It even reflects that better than 40 percent of our colleagues across the nation have advised their students to seek a career outside academia. The unfortunate bottom line, the piece surmises is that less money equals less science. Whew. Certainly we hope better days are ahead in terms of dollars available for the essential pursuit of new knowledge.

Neither Does Some Help…

Of course, we are super proud of our investigators’ relentlessness and success in pursuing grant funding. And we are proud as well of a new joint initiative with our colleagues at the University of Georgia that we hope will plant seeds for continued success, as well as strengthen research collaborations with our UGA partners. We’ve used some of the ongoing dollars provided by the state for expansion of our medical school to create the GRU-UGA Seed Funding Program that will make up to $250,000 available – a maximum of $75,000 per team – for inter-institutional faculty teams. Enhanced research collaboration was one of the many goals set by both institutions years ago when we started talking about joint educational efforts that would help rapidly expand our ability to educate more medical students. We’ve talked a fair amount about how the first cohort of our medical students completed their education at the GRU-UGA Medical Partnership campus this year and how graduate medical education is now taking hold. We think this is another super exciting step forward that will seriously benefit both institutions and, most importantly, biomedical knowledge and our state and nation. We so appreciate our partners at UGA and in the Office of GRU’s Senior VP for Research, Mark Hamrick, for helping make this happen. You can check out more info here:

Or a Celebration…

Finally today, we want to make sure you are invited to a super cool event Thursday, June 12 at 5:30 p.m. at the Lee Auditorium. We are fortunate that each week in this communication we have so many awesome individuals to brag about. Our annual Investiture Ceremony, celebrating our new department chairs, endowed chair recipients, Regents’ Professors, as well as those who have received Professorship Emeritus status in this past year, gives us a grand occasion to officially honor these esteemed groups. It is so neat to take a few moments and really reflect on the significant accomplishments of these individuals and to look into their smiling, brilliant, accomplished faces. We so hope you will join us!

Upcoming Events

June 12 – Investiture Ceremony, 5:30 pm, Lee Auditorium, reception follows.

Aug. 6 – First day of class for our freshmen!

Sept. 6 – Please mark your calendars for the university’s Day of Service to the community.

Oct. 11 – White Coat Ceremony, 2 pm Bell Auditorium.

Have a warm weekend!