By Lisa Brown
Jonathan Woodson, brigadier general, was MED associate dean
A collaborative endeavor, the new institute will focus on expanding health system research initiatives across both the Charles River Campus and the Medical Campus, deepening connections between scholars, policymakers, and corporations and advancing curricular initiatives across the University’s schools and colleges. With Woodson as director, it will focus on bringing together world-class academic, industry, and regulatory resources to address important national and global health care challenges.
Freeman says the institute is extremely fortunate to have a leader of Woodson’s stature, adding that health care and policy is front and center in issues affecting the global economy.
“The institute is a unique opportunity for BU to distinguish itself in the highly competitive universe of research universities,” says Freeman. “I am very pleased and excited that the business school is the home for administering this University-wide institute, which brings at least nine BU schools and colleges together and will drive progress for years and years to come.”
The directorship marks a homecoming for Woodson. Before his appointment to the DOD by President Obama, he was a MED professor of surgery and associate dean for students, diversity, and multicultural affairs and senior attending vascular surgeon at Boston Medical Center. He holds the rank of brigadier general in the US Army Reserve, and served as assistant surgeon general for reserve affairs, force structure and mobilization, in the Office of the Surgeon General, and as deputy commander of the Army Reserve Medical Command.
For Woodson, steeped in every aspect of health care, heading the institute is a perfect fit. At the DOD, he administered the more than $50 billion Military Health System (MHS) budget and was principal advisor to the Secretary of Defense for health issues. With 9.4 million beneficiaries worldwide, the MHS comprises over 133,000 military and civilian doctors, nurses, medical educators, researchers, health care providers, allied health professionals, and health administration personnel worldwide, providing the United States with an integrated health care delivery and expeditionary medical, educational, and research capability.
The recipient of the 2009 Gold Humanism in Medicine Award from the Association of American Medical Colleges, Woodson was deployed in Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Storm, in Kosovo, and in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a former senior medical officer with the National Disaster Management System, where he responded to the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. Woodson’s many military awards and decorations include the Department of Defense Distinguished Public Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star Medal, and the Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster.
Woodson commends the work Questrom has done toward improving intelligent design and operation, as well as in training future leaders in health care. “In the 21st century,” he says, “these leaders need to be equipped with new skills to utilize data and organize multidisciplinary teams to solve complex problems.” He says the institute will consider how all the information out there—about 15,000 biomedical articles published every month—can shape the way we deliver health care. And then, “as you drive innovation, how do you encode it?” he asks. “We must create smart, sustainable public policy that all people will benefit from.”
Describing the new endeavor as “a University-wide institute that will leverage all pockets of excellence across the University and drive innovation across domains,” Woodson says further that there is “a hunger out there for identifying new ways to lead health organizations and meet emerging imperatives and achieve better health for the populations we serve.
“The overarching message is, we have got to move to intelligent design driven by data and integrating new technology, redesign of health promotion and health care delivery, 21st-century leadership, and sound policy,” he says.
Woodson is a graduate of the City College of New York and the New York University School of Medicine. He received his postgraduate medical education at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and completed residency training in internal medicine and general and vascular surgery. He is board-certified in internal medicine, general surgery, vascular surgery, and critical care surgery. He also holds a master’s degree in strategic studies (concentration in strategic leadership) from the US Army War College. In 1992, he was awarded a research fellowship at the Association of American Medical Colleges Health Services Research Institute.
This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson.
The more brand-specific alcohol advertising that young drinkers are exposed to, the higher their consumption of those brands, according to a new study led by researchers from the School of Public Health and School of Medicine.
The study, in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, found an association between past-year exposure to advertising, measured in what the researchers called “adstock” units, and consumption of the brands advertised. Every 100 adstock-unit increase in exposure was associated with an increase of six drinks consumed during the past 30 days, while exposures of 300 or more adstock units were associated with an increase of 55.7 drinks.
The study examined links between exposure to brand-specific TV advertising and drinking among a national sample of more than 1,000 youths, ages 13 to 20, who reported drinking in the past 30 days. Participants were surveyed about their past-month viewership of the 20 most popular non-sports shows that contained alcohol ads. They also were asked about their past-month consumption of the 61 brands in those advertisements.
The study estimated that the advertised brands accounted for almost 47 percent of all alcohol consumed by the young drinkers, and that there was a “dose-response” relationship between exposure to ads and drinking levels.
“The exposure-consumption relationship was particularly strong among those with 300 or more adstock units of exposure,” the researchers said. “There were fewer youth with these higher levels of advertising exposure, but they consumed a disproportionately large amount of the alcohol consumed by the entire youth sample.”
The research team noted that while alcohol advertising has been linked with youths’ brand choices in past studies, alcohol marketing remains self-regulated by the industry. Manufacturers have guidelines saying that ads should be limited to media that have a mostly adult audience. But alcohol companies don’t always follow their own guidelines, and there is no penalty for violations. The current study confirms that under-21 audiences are seeing plenty of alcohol ads, the authors said.
“Although previous studies have shown that exposure to advertising is related to which brands underage youths drink, few studies have assessed whether the quantity of exposure is associated with the total quantity of alcohol consumed by these youths,” said lead author Timothy Naimi, associate professor of community health sciences and of medicine at BUSM, and a physician at Boston Medical Center.
Michael Siegel, the study’s co-principal investigator and professor of community health sciences, said the study suggests that advertising influences “how much kids drink, not just what they drink.
“This has important implications because we know that the amount of alcohol consumption is associated with increased risks of harm, including motor vehicle fatalities, suicide and violence. We believe these findings should prompt a reevaluation of the industry’s self-regulatory framework, in order to reduce advertising exposure among underage youth,” he said.
Among study participants, the median number of drinks consumed in the past 30 days was five. The average number of drinks consumed increased from 14 to 33 per month as advertising exposure increased from zero to 300 adstock units. For participants exposed to 300 or more adstock units, per-person consumption skyrocketed from 33 drinks to more than 200 drinks consumed in the past 30 days.
The authors said they hoped the study would prompt research that further examines the exposure-consumption relationship, especially among youths who have high exposure to ads on TV and in other media.
Naimi said that, for parents, the findings offer extra motivation to curb kids’ time in front of the TV, particularly for programming with alcohol advertising. In general, experts recommend that children and teenagers spend a limited amount of time each day in front of a “screen”—whether a TV, computer, or phone.
“This could be yet another reason to limit screen time,” Naimi said.
Co-authors on the study were: William DeJong, professor of community health sciences; David Jernigan of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; and Craig Ross of Fiorente Media, Inc., also research assistant professor of epidemiology at SPH.
Submitted by Lisa Chedekel.
The inaugural class of the Physician Assistant Program graduated on Friday, Aug. 26. Twenty-three students, selected from 1,000 program applicants, were conferred the Master of Science degree by Associate Provost for the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences Linda Hyman, PhD.
Their journey began 28 months ago with a year-long intensive didactic phase that included a full dissection lab in anatomy; physiology and molecular sciences; introduction to research; the second year medical school course that teaches pathophysiology and pharmacology by body system called DRx; preventive medicine and three clinical skills courses. They participated in DRx small group clinical reasoning sessions, took the same examinations and were graded using the same standards as the second year medical students. The clinical phase of the program included 14 one-month clinical rotations and a two-month thesis project.
Founding Director Mary Warner, MMSc, PA-C, welcomed the students, faculty, invited speakers, family and friends. Dawn Morton-Rias, EdD, PA-C, was the commencement speaker. Morton-Rias is the president and CEO of the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants and is the first PA to serve in that capacity in the organization’s 38-year history. She reminded students that they are the first class at Boston University and as such they set the pace, they chart the course … they have the opportunity to positively impact healthcare in Boston and beyond.
PA Students nominated the following for awards: Didactic Instructor of the Year: Robert Lowe, MD, Course Director of the DRx course and GI module; Clinical Site of the Year: Brockton VA CLC, Drs. Juman Hijab and Marcus Ruopp and Sandra Vibrun-Bruno,PA-C; Carl M. Toney Student Society Award: Mary Warner, MMSc, PA-C Founding Director of the program.
Student awards included: Outstanding Academic Achievement, Flora Traub; Outstanding Clinical Achievement, Sarah Grzybinski; and Humanitarian Award, Aline Souza for her work with the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship at Casa Esperanza.
Carl Toney, PA, led the students in reading the PA Oath and closed with, “Welcome to the profession! I am so proud of you.”
Forty-three percent of the graduates have accepted clinical positions as physician assistants. Sixty percent of those will be employed at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital in Emergency Medicine, Hospitalist Medicine, Primary Care, Intensive Care (MICU), Neurosurgery, Orthopaedic Surgery and General Surgery. At this time NCCPA board scores are pending.
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Graduate Medical Sciences Stephen Brady, PhD, has been named an Assistant Dean for GMS, effective Aug. 1.
During Brady’s 25 years of service to Boston University he has held a number of senior clinical and administrative leadership roles on the Medical and Charles River Campuses. In 2004 he assumed a leadership position in the GMS as Director of the Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine Program and it remains one of the Division’s most robust masters programs. In addition, Brady has made significant contributions to GMS as a long-standing member of the GMS Faculty Forum, formerly GMS Faculty Senate. His leadership at BU extends beyond GMS as he is the immediate past Chair of the Boston University Faculty Council and former ex-officio member of the Trustees of Boston University.
Brady is active beyond the classroom where his scholarly and clinical efforts are directed toward HIV and mental disorders. He has led a number of federally sponsored projects, most recently an NIH-NIMH study examining Motivational Approaches for HIV prevention for mentally ill and homeless adults. In collaboration with the Dr. Lena Lungren at BU School of Social Work, Brady is currently the Co-PI of a SAMSHA-funded substance abuse multidisciplinary training grant.
Brady served as past chair of the American Mental Health Counseling Associations Professional Development Committee and past chair of the APA Counsel on AIDS. In addition, he is a member of the American Association of State Counseling Boards, American Counseling Association, International Society for the Study of Traumatic Stress and New England Aids Education and Training Center Advisory Committee.
Brady received his BA in Sociology from the University of Florida in Gainesville, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
He will continue to lead the Master’s Program in Mental Health Counseling and Behavioral Medicine while he joins the front office Division as Assistant Dean.
It may seem surprising to hear teenagers refer to science as “cool,” “exciting,” or “intense,” but those are the adjectives high school interns used to describe their experiences at Boston University Medical Campus (BUMC) labs this summer.
The Medical Campus is partnering with the Museum of Science on initiatives aimed at attracting more students to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). The collaboration includes opportunities for BUMC faculty and students to participate in public programming at the Museum, provide mentor experiences, and increase student exposure to STEM activities and fields.
The partnership grew out of recognition that the US needs more workers proficient in STEM fields, but these disciplines are failing to attract an adequate number of students. According to the US Department of Education, only 16 percent of American high school seniors are proficient in math and interested in a STEM career. What’s more, only half of those who major in a STEM field in college ultimately pursue a career in STEM.
“By creating powerful and engaging experiences for students that highlight BU’s groundbreaking research, we can inspire the excitement of science and spark student interest in biomedical science,” said Karen Antman, MD, BUMC Provost and BUSM Dean.
As part of the new collaboration, teen summer interns from the Museum visited the Boston University National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) and the VA/BU/Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank this summer.
Twenty-five teens toured the NEIDL, located on the Medical Campus. The facility houses state-of-the-art technology used by world renowned researchers to study infectious diseases that pose the greatest threat to public health. Gerald T. Keusch, MD, Associate Director of the NEIDL, talked with the students about infectious diseases such as Ebola and Zika and how they are studied. He encouraged the students to think about all of the careers involved in disease research and the impact those professionals have on public health.
“The visit reminded me that there are so many cool careers out there that I’ve never thought about, so I should keep my mind open,” said one student.
Keusch also gave a tour of the labs and mechanical space and explained the stringent safety protocols in place at the NEIDL. Students learned about the special suits and other equipment required for working in biosafety levels two, three and four, including extensive didactic, simulation, and mentored training.
The visit concluded with an opportunity for Q&A. One student asked Keusch how he felt when a disease that has been eradicated, or nearly eradicated, resurfaces due to people not vaccinating their children.
“We as scientists need to be better communicators,” Keusch answered. “Perhaps some of you will help with that.”
Research Assistant Katharine Babcock led another group of 25 teens on a tour of the VA/BU/Concussion Legacy Foundation Brain Bank, led by Ann McKee, MD, professor of Neurology and Pathology; Director of the Neuropathology Core and the CTE Program for the Alzheimer’s Disease Center; Chief of Neuropathology, VA Boston Healthcare System.
The event marked the first time a large group of students visited the brain bank. Researchers Bertrand Huber, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Neurology and Victor Alvarez, MD, postdoctoral fellow, explained how trauma-related brain disorders, including Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), manifest and how they are studied.
Students were then able to observe and ask questions as Thor Stein, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine worked with a donated brain and spinal cord. Stein explained brain structure to the students as he cut the brain into layers, pointing out areas that researchers look at to investigate injury and illness.
“I am interested in psychology, so seeing a real brain was very exciting for me. The tour also made me think about my interest in medicine and whether I’d like to go more into a research job or not,” said one teen participant.
The collaboration will continue this year with programs featuring faculty and students at the Museum and additional teen field trips to campus during the coming year.
“The experiences at BU generated excitement for the teens around the truth that science lives and is constantly changing,” said Elizabeth Kong, PhD, Manager of the Museum’s Hall of Human Life. “They can see themselves in a career they may never have imagined.”
Submitted by Monica Parker-James.
SPH researcher: Florida outbreak “was only a matter of time”
On July 29, the Florida Department of Public Health reported the first localized cases of Zika virus in the United States, in Miami, Florida. Because the virus has been linked to microcephaly—babies born with small heads and neurological deficits—and to other syndromes like Guillain-Barré (a disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, leading often to temporary paralysis), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released an unusual—some say unprecedented—travel alert, advising pregnant women not to travel to Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, where the virus was found.
David Hamer, a School of Public Health professor of global health, a School of Medicine professor of medicine, and principal investigator for the global infectious disease surveillance network GeoSentinel, has been tracking the current Zika outbreak from its earliest days. BU Today spoke to Hamer about the news from Miami, what this means for summer travelers, and the next steps for scientists studying Zika.
Caption David Hamer, a School of Public Health professor of global health and School of Medicine professor of medicine, has been tracking the current Zika outbreak. Photo by Cydney Scott
BU Today: What’s going on in Miami?
Hamer: They’ve found some people who have become locally infected, who have not traveled outside of Miami. And that seems to have triggered a house-to-house investigation, where they’re trying to identify people who have been symptomatic, or even those who have not been symptomatic, and testing them for Zika. And by doing that testing, they encountered 4 cases initially, and it has increased to 17. And several of those people were asymptomatic, so they discovered them by doing blood testing.
Did they get it from a mosquito in Miami or from something else in Miami?
I think the public health authorities are fairly confident that it’s from a locally infected mosquito, as opposed to sexual transmission.
Were you surprised to hear about these cases?
It was just a matter of time. The mosquitoes are definitely there in much of Miami, or much of Florida, for that matter.
Which mosquitoes are people worried about, and how far north can they go?
Everybody’s worried about both Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, but so far it seems like most of the transmission has been through Aedes aegypti. And its range seems to extend up to maybe Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana. It’s basically a few states in the South, and then it crosses over to Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, but not much further north. Whereas Aedes albopictus extends all the way up to Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It’s much more widespread across the United States.
What do we know now about sexual transmission?
It’s definitely an evolving story. There’s evidence of carriage of the virus in semen—I think there are some cases that have lasted a little more than two months.
I thought semen regenerated continuously. So why is the virus sticking around for so long and where is it actually staying?
I don’t really know. I’m not sure we really understand. The other question is: Is it hanging out somewhere within a woman in the genital tract also? And we don’t know. But now there’s definitely an interest in that, trying to understand where it’s carried and for how long.
Do you think that the sexual transmission might turn out to be a bigger factor in the spread of Zika than mosquitoes?
No, I think mosquitoes are going to remain the real major form of spread, but that sexual transmission is going to make it more complicated. I think there’s going to be a lot more data coming out soon to understand where it’s carried, what allows it to propagate, and how it persists.
Concern is focused on pregnant women or women thinking about getting pregnant, but Guillain-Barré is also an issue. Are other groups at risk? Should people cancel their travel plans to Florida?
I probably would not recommend that people change their travel plans, except to this one specific area within Miami. I think the people who should think twice are somebody who’s pregnant, somebody who’s planning to become pregnant in the next 6 to 12 months, or the significant other (the spouse or male partner) of that person. And that’s really it. We don’t know what the risk factors are for Guillain-Barré syndrome. It probably occurs in only a few people per thousand cases of Zika, so it’s a rare complication. And even though it’s worrisome and potentially dangerous, potentially even life-threatening, it tends to come on quickly and resolve quickly.
It sounds like there are still a lot of unanswered questions about Zika.
Yes, there’s a lot happening quickly. It’s exciting in a sad way, but I think we’ll see more. I think we’ll learn more, and then the real question is: are we going to see more? And I suspect we will.
This BU Today story was written by Barbara Moran.
Program welcomes undergrads from around country
Marissa Baccas says she is a shy person, not a fan of public speaking, but get her talking about the School of Medicine STaRS program, and she has plenty to say.
“When I first got to the lab, I felt out of place,” says Baccas, a rising senior majoring in chemistry at Fayetteville State University. “This is all new stuff to me here, it’s all DNA and PCR [polymerase chain reaction]. As time went by, I read papers, asked questions, watched when they were performing experiments. I learned a lot. Now I’m doing work on my own in the lab.”
STaRS (Summer Training as Research Scholars) is a 10-week summer program that brings together rising juniors and seniors from underrepresented minorities at colleges all over the United States to do biomedical research in Medical Campus labs. Most students plan to apply to PhD, MD, or especially, MD/PhD programs. The program also supports first- or second-year MED students from underrepresented minorities seeking more lab experience—six of them this year.
Baccas wants to go to medical school to become a neonatologist and medical researcher. Her STaRS project explores the way certain proteins affect cardiac marker genes in mice, as part of the larger research program in the lab of Isabel Dominguez, a MED assistant professor of medicine. It’s the kind of project that Baccas would not get as an undergraduate at Fayetteville.
Which is the point of STaRS: it accepts people from different schools so they can experience better, higher, more advanced research.
The STaRS experience was ideal for Baccas, says Dominguez, given her career goals. It exposed her to embryonic development and taught her molecular biology techniques that she will need in her career toolbox.
It has also been good for her personally. “She has opened up so much,” Dominguez says. “She’s joking and interacting with people in the laboratory, and she’s asking questions and volunteering information. She’s gained confidence in herself.”
The program, which started in 2010, is currently funded by a $750,000 five-year grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health. It is run through MED’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences. The undergraduates in the program receive a $4,800 stipend, campus housing, and travel expenses. Medical students get $9,060, but no housing. Each of their labs receives $1,000 to cover supplies and other lab expenses.
“These are students that are not only doing well in college, but also have a drive to excel in whatever they are doing,” says STaRS director Maria Ramirez, a MED associate professor of medicine and assistant dean of diversity and multicultural affairsThis year, the program has 19 students: 10 undergraduates from schools ranging from Brown and Duke to lesser known institutions such as West Chester University of Pennsylvania and Tougaloo College, 3 undergrads supported by their home institutions, and the 6 MED students.
Each student is assigned to a lab that aligns with his or her own interests and is mentored by a faculty member. They get a basic grounding in the lab environment from a grad student or a postdoc supervisor, then move on to their own research projects.
The students all take part in a journal club, where they discuss their lab experiences, and they will present their final work at a symposium today. They will also present their work at the national Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students in Tampa, Fla., in November.
“I’m interested in being a physician and possibly a physician-scientist,” says Denston Carey, Jr., a rising senior at West Chester majoring in cell and molecular biology. Carey is studying neurons in the barrel cortex of mice, the part of the brain that plays a role in whisker sensation. It’s part of the research of PhD candidate Teresa Guillamon-Vivancos (MED’17), Carey’s lab mentor.
Both are supervised by Jennifer Luebke (MED’90), a MED associate professor and vice chair of anatomy and neurobiology. On a practical level, says Luebke, Carey is tackling a labor-intensive part of Guillamon-Vivancos’ project, which has to be done quickly. Because he’s a fast learner, he has made a substantial contribution, she says. And then, in part because he’s the youngest person in the lab, he brings intangible benefits: a certain energy and enthusiasm and his own individual perspective. “We all learn from each other, and that’s always a good thing,” Luebke says.
For many of the undergraduates, it is their first exposure to the cutting-edge technology and collaborative experience at a place like the Medical Campus.
“I think it gives them a different idea: ‘I can leave home, I can be successful, I can go to school here,’ versus staying in an area where they’re comfortable,” says program administrator Lynese Wallace (CGS’09, SAR’11, SPH’17). “It gives them confidence, to say, ‘I can do something new that might be a little scary at first, but overcome whatever challenges might come with that and be successful.’”
The MED students started and finished their STaRS time a little early to accommodate their fall semester class schedules. Joanna Ortega (MED’19) used antibody strains to test for correction of a gene in the liver, hoping to learn if gene-splicing efforts had worked. She decided to enter the program to get a research background that she did not get as an undergrad at the University of the Incarnate Word.
The students also improve in areas such as creating a presentation and public speaking, with the help of workshops run through StaRS. “I saw a lot of developmental workshops I felt would help me in my future. I really wanted a stronger sense of how to present well, which is going to be a useful skill,” Ortega says.
“I come from a state school, so I haven’t really had the opportunity to be involved with a research lab that’s really doing things that are going to make a difference,” Carey says.
“It’s like a whole new world that opened up to me.”
This BU Today story was written by Joel Brown. Photos by Cydney Scott.
A MBTA pass subsidy benefit of 35-50 percent is now available to all regular faculty and staff who order a monthly MBTA pass through Boston University. Please view the rules and regulations
View the list of monthly MBTA pass types and costs and to enroll in the program please visit the BU employee subsidized MBTA pass application. You may print it out and return the completed form to the Transportation Office at 710 Albany St. or fax to 617-638-6816
The deadline to order your September MBTA pass is now August 14. Those currently enrolled in the MBTA pass program do not need to fill out the form. Payroll will automatically adjust the price with the new subsidy.
For more information please visit the TranSComm website.
A Diversity Advisory Group has been established on the Medical Campus. The group, conceived by Rafael Ortega, MD, BUSM Associate Dean for Diversity and Multicultural Affairs, includes members from the Schools of Medicine, Dental Medicine and Public Health as well as Boston Medical Center.
The Group will serve as a bi-directional communication channel between the Offices of Diversity in the three schools and the hospital, and the respective diversity-related domains. It will be a sounding board to discuss diversity-related matters on Campus, and to provide balanced guidance.
The creation of the Group is in concert with BUSM’s strategic planning goals. Several student organizations are represented, including the Latino Medical Student Association (LMSA), the National Medical Student Association (NMSA), and the Muslim Student Organization respectively representing Hispanic, Black and Muslim students. Advisory group membership includes: Chioma Anyikwa (BUSM ll/NMSA); Barbara Catchings (BMC/Human Resources); Sheila Chapman (BUSM/Medicine); Yvette Cozier (BUSPH/Diversity and Inclusion and Assistant Professor, Epidemiology) ; Larry Dunham (GSDM/Diversity & Multicultural Affairs and Clinical Assistant Professor, General Dentistry); Jason Hall (BUSM/Surgery); Faryal Hussain (GSDM lll/Muslim Student Organization); David Keough (BUMC/BUSM Communications); Justin McCummings (BMC/Minority Recruitment); Michael Paasche-Orlow (BUSM/Medicine); Lucero Paredes (BUSM ll/LMSA); Jason Sherer (Medicine Resident/EMSSP); Ann Zumwalt (BUSM/Anatomy & Neurobiology).
If you would like more information about the Group, please contact Rafael Ortega.
Patricia Hibberd wants to leverage technology to save young lives
When Patricia Hibberd looks at her smartphone, she sees a chance to save young lives.
Hibberd, the new chair of the School of Public Health’s Department of Global Health, has been working in Malawi, India, and Pakistan to develop a low-cost thermal imaging system for smartphones that would help to detect bacterial pneumonia in children in countries where standard chest X-rays are not available. The prospect of giving resource-strapped clinicians a way to diagnose the world’s leading cause of death of children under age 5 marks a new chapter in her 25-year quest to stem childhood pneumonia, sepsis, diarrhea, and other illnesses.
“X-ray machines are not going to magically appear in the health clinics of poor countries. We can’t wait for that,” Hibberd says. “Smartphones are everywhere. This is about giving clinicians the tools they need to save lives, now.”
A physician and epidemiologist, Hibberd came to SPH this summer from Harvard University, where she has been a professor of global health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She also has headed the Division of Global Health in the Department of Pediatrics at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).
A native of Liverpool, England, who earned her PhD from the University of Leicester and her MD from Harvard in 1986—six years after coming to the US—Hibberd has spent much of her research career tackling the alarming rates of morbidity and mortality among women and children in the developing world. Over the last 15 years, she has collaborated with researcher Archana Patel in India on ways to reduce the rates of neonatal sepsis and pneumonia, as a leader of the National Institutes of Health’s Global Network for Women’s and Children’s Health Research at MGH. The group’s most important contributions have included the early recognition of severe hypoxemia and treatment with oxygen for children with pneumonia in resource-constrained settings, and the development of point-of-care diagnostics for neonatal sepsis.
Hibberd also is a Paul G. Rogers Society Ambassador for Global Health Research and chair of the Data and Safety Monitoring Board for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s STRIVE Trial, which is testing a vaccine to prevent Ebola in Sierra Leone.
The author of more than 250 scientific articles, many on pediatric health, Hibberd says she plans to continue her own research work at BU, while supporting the many projects underway in the global health department. She cites as one of her reasons for coming to BU SPH Dean Sandro Galea’s commitment to “leverage new technologies, such as bioinformatics, to drive a new agenda for public health.”
She recently spoke with BU Today about her research interests and what excites her about the new position.
BU Today: You’ve had a long career focused on preventing and treating childhood diseases. How did you become interested in that area of research?
Hibberd: As an infectious diseases physician and epidemiologist, my main interest has always been to make a real difference in childhood mortality. To do that, I have to follow the reasons why children unacceptably keep dying. Today, in 2016, babies die in the first month of life, mostly because of infections, or sepsis, and between two and 59 months, because of pneumonia. This was true in the 1990s—and unfortunately, it’s still true now. To me, that is just not OK.
There are vaccines that prevent pneumonia in children, as long as they survive to age two months. These vaccines are available for all babies in the US, Europe, and Australia, but they’re not widely available in resource-limited settings.
I keep asking the doctors in these places, “Don’t people donate vaccines for the babies here?” Sometimes, the answer is yes. They’ll say, “I got a gift of 100 vaccines—so what I am supposed to do? Save the lives of 33 babies, as each baby needs three doses of the conjugate pneumococcal vaccine and three doses of the Haemophilus influenzae [type] b vaccine? Or should I try and save 50 babies who get two doses of each vaccine, even though that is not recommended?” That’s a terrible decision for a clinician to have to make. In the developed world, these are not decisions that any doctor faces.
You’ve focused on the diagnosis side, more than the vaccine side. Why?
While we figure out how to make sure vaccines are available for all babies, we still need to find and treat babies who are sick and can be treated for the infections that vaccines should prevent.
What everyone forgets is that pneumonia and sepsis in babies are among the most difficult diagnoses to make—even here in Boston, never mind in remote rural villages in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. The way I think about this is that we need to improve diagnosis of serious infection in babies everywhere, in Boston and beyond. And, at the same time, we need to get lifesaving vaccines to that beyond.
I’m delighted that I will be moving our NIH-funded Global Network grant to BU and continuing the work on early detection and treatment of pneumonia and sepsis. We’re going to continue looking for the best ways to recognize infants at risk as early as possible—in the home—so that they are brought for treatment as quickly as possible.
How promising is the thermal imaging technology you’ve been piloting?
We have some very impressive results here at home, and some exciting preliminary data from India and Malawi. Basically, the technology allows us to diagnose children who have pneumonia caused by bacteria by identifying asymmetric hot spots of high temperatures in the lungs, caused by localized inflammation.
We are studying how to use this technology in urgent-care outpatient clinics and emergency departments in our own backyard, while also conducting rigorous studies to determine whether thermal imaging can be used by first-level health care workers in developing countries to diagnose and start treatment with antibiotics as early, and as appropriately, as possible. This is work we will continue with collaborators across BU, including Muhammad Zaman, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering on the Charles River Campus.
What excites you most about being at SPH?
There is a palpable excitement about public health, in Boston and in the broader community, since Dean Galea arrived. This is a time when the public health agenda is coming to a kind of crossroads: concern over communicable diseases is being overshadowed by attention to noncommunicable, chronic diseases. But we are not done with communicable diseases, by any means. Zika and Ebola remind us of that. So we have to do more, and get more right fast.
Dean Galea and the SPH faculty are focused on pushing the public health community to pursue this dual agenda in innovative ways. I so want to be part of that.
This BU Today story was written by Lisa Chedekel.