By Lisa Brown

BUSM Researcher Receives Grant from CURE

January 6th, 2014 in Uncategorized

Russek

Shelley Russek

Shelley J. Russek, PhD, professor of pharmacology at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM), and director of the School’s Graduate Program for Neuroscience, was recently honored with an award from the CURE (Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy) Foundation. The prestigious award, given as well to her colleague Amy Brooks-Kayal, MD, from University of Colorado Denver, will fund research studies for new drugs for epilepsy treatment.

Approximately 65 million people worldwide have epilepsy. Although certain brain injuries are known to predispose someone to epilepsy, there are no treatments that reduce this risk. Russek and her colleagues have found that an important cellular signaling pathway, the JAK/STAT pathway, is activated after brain injuries that lead to epilepsy, and that inhibiting this activation reduces subsequent seizure frequency in an experimental model. “We expect to identify lead JAK/STAT inhibitors that can be advanced towards clinical testing to prevent or inhibit development of acquired epilepsy following brain injury,” explained Russek.

CURE was founded by parents of children with epilepsy who were frustrated with their inability to protect their children from the devastation of seizures and the side effects of medications. Unwilling to sit back and accept the debilitating effects of epilepsy, these parents joined forces to spearhead the search for a cure. Each year, grants are funded based on promising trends in the field and the potential for breakthroughs in a specified area. Russek was selected with the assistance of the CURE Scientific Advisory Board, the Lay Review Council, and the scientific peer reviewers who generously volunteer their time to CURE.

CURE has raised more than $26 million to fund research and other initiatives. CURE funds seed grants to young and established investigators to explore new areas and collect the data necessary to apply for further funding by the National Institutes of Health. To date, CURE has awarded 151 cutting-edge projects.

BUSM Student Maya Woodbury Awarded PhRMA Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship

December 24th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Maya Woodbury

Maya Woodbury

BU School of Medicine student Maya Woodbury was recently awarded the Predoctoral Fellowship in Pharmacology/Toxicology through the PhRMA Foundation. The title of her approved proposal is “miR-155/STAT3 signaling: a novel pharmacological target for Down syndrome.” The two-year grant of $20,000 per year is one of 10 grants awarded annually.

According to the PhRMA Foundation’s 2012 Annual Report, “the mission of the PhRMA Foundation is to support young scientists in disciplines important to the pharmaceutical industry by awarding them competitive research fellowships and grants at a critical point at the outset of their careers. The aim is to encourage young scientists who will be the leaders of tomorrow to pursue careers in research and education related to drug discovery.”

Maya is a student in the Graduate Program for Neuroscience and the Biomolecular Pharmacology Program through the Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics at BUSM. She works in the Laboratory of Molecular NeuroTherapeutics under the mentorship of Dr. Tsuneya Ikezu.

Dec. 19 Emergency Preparedness Drill at NEIDL

December 19th, 2013 in Uncategorized

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On Thursday, Dec. 19, Boston University (BU) and the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) will conduct a tabletop emergency preparedness drill as part of the ongoing safety and training program for laboratory personnel and internal and external response officials.  This drill will simulate an earthquake, similar to the one that occurred in 1755 off Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

The participants in this exercise include: NEIDL operations staff and researchers as well as external responders such as, Boston Public Health Commission, Boston Police Department, Boston Fire Department and Boston Inspectional Services.

A tabletop drill tests a hypothetical situation, such as a natural or man-made disaster, and the group’s ability to respond, assess damage, and identify short- and long-term recovery issues. This exercise provides the opportunity to continuously improve response and training at the NEIDL and throughout the University.

While there may be emergency response vehicles at NEIDL during the drill, there will be no impact on traffic in the neighborhood.

Currently, BSL-2 research is being conducted in the NEIDL and BSL-3 research will be starting soon.  BSL-4 research is not being conducted at the NEIDL now and will not commence until the completion of several regulatory and judicial steps.

For more information on the NEIDL go to www.bu.edu/NEIDL

 

MED Physicians Among Boston’s Top Docs

December 17th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Boston magazine’s annual list includes 68 faculty

Boston magazine’s “Top Docs 2013” list includes 68 from the BU School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.

Boston magazine’s “Top Docs 2013” list includes 68 from the BU School of Medicine and Boston Medical Center.

Among the 650 physicians named to Boston magazine’s recently released “Top Docs 2013” list are 68 from Boston Medical Center (BMC) and the BU School of Medicine. The list, which provides consumers with information on the Hub’s top doctors across 50 specialties, commended BMC physicians from 30 different disciplines, such as cardiovascular disease, surgery, and pathology, and profiled another—Jeffrey Kalish, a MED assistant professor of surgery and of radiology and BMC director of endovascular surgery—for heroic work during the April 15 Boston Marathon bombings. The list appears in the magazine’s December issue.

“We are delighted that these outstanding faculty are being recognized by their colleagues for providing the highest quality of compassionate care,” says Karen Antman, MED dean and provost of the Medical Campus.

Alik Farber, a MED associate professor of surgery and of radiology and chief of the BMC division of vascular and endovascular surgery, has been included on the list in the vascular surgery category each year since 2010.

“To be nominated in a city that is the center for medicine for the United States and possibly the world is a humbling experience,” Farber says. Having 67 of his colleagues on the list, he adds, is “an important accolade for Boston Medical Center.”

Francis A. Farraye, a MED professor of medicine and codirector of BMC’s Center for Digestive Disorders, has held a spot as a top gastroenterologist on the list each year since 2010. Farraye is especially proud of the gastroenterology department’s recognition, in light of the fact that it is smaller than those at many of the other teaching facilities in Boston. Four gastroenterologists were named to the list this year, which he says is “a testament to the breadth of the clinical faculty.”

The profile of Kalish, titled “Six Heroic Saves,” focused on his work treating Adrianne Haslet-Davis, a professional ballroom dancer whose foot Kalish amputated. The two became close during her stay at BMC. Nearly eight months later, Haslet-Davis is dancing—albeit differently—and her doctor promises to watch her perform again someday.

Kalish says that “when members of the health care system get together across disciplines, we provide more effective and better care for all of our patients.” In the aftermath of the bombings, he recalls, professionals from all specialties and ranks worked in sync to determine the best course of action for the patients. “Forming bonds with these patients through this tragedy reinvigorated for many of us why we actually went into health care,” he says. “It reminds us why we do this.

“I’m just one person that was part of an enormity of people that did amazing work, he says. “While I have this unique bond with Adrianne, there are plenty of others who have done the same.”

Kalish says the medical community learned “amazing lessons” this year. Boston’s December issue should reinforce Bostonians’ confidence in their medical community as it proves “the variety and strength of physicians and the ability of the city’s medical community to address any problem that might arise,” he says.

To be included in Boston magazine’s Top Doc list, physicians undergo a rigorous screening process by national medical research firm Castle Connolly. The firm gathers nominations online from other licensed physicians, conducts phone interviews with medical professionals to corroborate nominations, and checks the professional qualifications of all nominees, among them education, experience, and disciplinary history. The nominees complete a professional biography form, and the information is cross-referenced and confirmed.

“We have an incredible medical community here in Boston, and that was on full display in the wake of the Marathon bombings,” says Boston magazine senior editor Janelle Nanos. Nanos says she relished the opportunity this year “to celebrate the work that they did and acknowledge how lucky we are as citizens of Boston to be surrounded by such amazing medical professionals.”

A full list of 2013’s “Top Docs” and those from Boston Medical Center is here.

This BU Today story was written by Emily Truax.

Strong State Alcohol Policies Protective Against Binge Drinking

December 11th, 2013 in Uncategorized

According to a new study, a novel composite measure consisting of 29 alcohol policies demonstrates that a strong alcohol policy environment is a protective factor against binge drinking in the U.S. The study was led by researchers at the Boston University Schools of Medicine (BUSM) and Public Health and Boston Medical Center (BMC), and is published in the current issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Naimi

Tim Naimi

Binge drinking is a common and risky pattern of alcohol consumption that is responsible for more than half of the 80,000 alcohol-attributable deaths that occur each year in the United States. “If alcohol policies were a newly discovered gene, pill or vaccine, we’d be investing billions of dollars to bring them to market,” said Tim Naimi, MD, MPH, senior author of the study, and associate professor of medicine at BUSM and attending physician at BMC.

While previous research demonstrates that individual alcohol policies can reduce risky drinking and alcohol-related harms, this is the first study to characterize the effect of the overall alcohol policy environment.  States with stronger policy scores had lower rates of binge drinking, and states with larger increases in policies had larger decreases in binge drinking over time. Specifically, compared with states with weaker policy environments, states with stronger policy environments had only one-fourth of the likelihood of having binge drinking rates in the top 25 percent of states, even after accounting for a variety of factors associated with alcohol consumption such as age, sex, race, religious composition, income, geographic region, urban-rural differences, and levels of police and alcohol enforcement personnel.

Alcohol policy environments differed considerably between states, with policy scores varying up to threefold between them. Among all states and Washington D.C., almost half had a rating of less than 50 percent of the maximum possible score in any particular year from 2000-2010, and states in the bottom quartile of policy strength had binge drinking rates that were 33 percent higher than those in the top quartile. “Unfortunately, most states have not taken advantage of these policies to help drinkers consume responsibly, and to protect innocent citizens from the devastating second-hand effects and economic costs from excessive drinking,” added Naimi.

Overall, analyses showed that the policy environment was largely responsible for state-level differences in binge drinking.  “The bottom line is that this study adds an important dimension to a large body of research demonstrating that alcohol policies matter — and matter a great deal – for reducing and preventing the fundamental building block of alcohol-related problems,” said Naimi.

The study was supported by NIH grant AA018377. Co-authors include Jason Blanchette, MPH; Toben Nelson, ScD, MPH; Thien Nguyen, MPH; Nadiua Oussayef, JD, MPH: Timothy Heeren, PhD; Paul Gruenwald, PhD; Jame Mosher, JD; and Ziming Xuan, ScD, SM.

$30 Million from AHA Bolsters Framingham Heart Study

December 9th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Sponsors collaboration between BU, University of Mississippi

Philip Wolf, a MED professor and principal investigator of the Framingham Heart Study, says AHA’s support will allow further exploration of the genetics underlying cardiovascular disease. Photo by Cydney Scott

Philip Wolf, a MED professor and principal investigator of the Framingham Heart Study, says AHA’s support will allow further exploration of the genetics underlying cardiovascular disease. Photo by Cydney Scott

Thanks to a $30 million commitment from the American Heart Association (AHA), researchers from Boston University and the University of Mississippi will collaborate for at least five years on a shared mission to find better preventive measures and treatments for heart disease—the leading cause of death in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

The Framingham Heart Study (FHS), with more than 15,000 participants and 65 years of data, is the nation’s longest running heart study. It has been supported almost since its 1948 beginning by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, and run by Boston University since 1971. The study was the first large-scale investigation to link risk factors—such as smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—to cardiovascular disease. In 2000, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, along with its partners at Jackson State University and Tougaloo College, replicated the FHS model in creating the Jackson Heart Study (JHS), with a focus on the genetic factors related to cardiovascular disease in African-Americans. With 5,000 participants, it is the largest study in history to focus on this population.

Researchers from both studies have collaborated over the years, but the new renewable funding from the AHA will facilitate a closer working relationship through what the organization has coined Heart Studies v2.0.

AHA CEO Nancy Brown told the Wall Street Journal that the organization sees this project as critical to its goal of achieving a 20 percent improvement in cardiovascular health in the United States while reducing deaths from heart disease and stroke by 20 percent for the decade ending in 2020.

The collaboration “gives us the opportunity to extend what we’ve been doing into the newest avenues of research,” particularly in genetics, says FHS principal investigator Philip Wolf, a School of Medicine professor. Vasan Ramachandran, a MED professor and chief of preventive medicine and epidemiology, will take over from Wolf as principal investigator in January.

Combining the Framingham and Jackson studies’ findings could reveal “differences in the causes of heart disease in the two populations,” says Karen Antman, MED dean and provost of the Medical Campus. African-Americans suffer disproportionately from cardiovascular disease, with annual death rates up to 64 percent higher for black males.

Scientific and oversight committees are still being formed, so details on how the collaboration will play out in coming months and years are not yet available, according to Wolf and Antman.

This $30 million in funding is very good news for the Framingham Heart Study, which was notified over the summer that its budget would be cut by $4 million, or about 40 percent of the money it receives through its core contract with the NHLBI. Those cuts forced the elimination of participants’ biennial exams, which Wolf describes as “the lifeblood of the study,” because they engender participant loyalty and include blood pressure readings, MRIs, and CT scans.

The exams are also important because they provide an opportunity for technicians to collect blood, urine, and cell samples, which are eventually frozen in biobanks. The FHS already has more than one million samples, while Jackson holds 40,000. Wolf considers the biobanks genetic gold mines, in that they may enable the development of tests that link certain genes to cardiovascular disease. Researchers could search for the frozen white blood cells or plasma of participants known to have suffered a heart attack or a stroke, analyze the DNA, and confirm a new test’s efficacy for predicting health risks.

Wolf believes the technique will open doors to more personalized health care. For example, he says, people living with hypertension get better results from one drug over another, but the more effective drug is apparent only after weeks of trial and error with a cocktail of medications that could have uncomfortable—or life-threatening—side effects. He and his colleagues think they will someday be able to analyze participants’ genomes and categorize them according to who would benefit the most from a given medication. Wolf hopes Heart Studies v2.0 will allow for the collection of more real-time data, such as daily miles walked or calories consumed by participants, to provide greater context for genetic analyses.

This BU Today story was written by Leslie Friday. She can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday.

The Addiction Puzzle

December 5th, 2013 in Uncategorized

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As part of a week-long series on addiction research, BU Today highlighted the work of Alexander Walley, School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and the medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Program.

Drug or alcohol addiction affects nearly 23 million Americans and costs the United States an estimated $428 billion each year. Modern science has dispelled many misconceptions about the disease and scientists are working hard to find effective treatments. At Boston University, more than 100 researchers have been awarded over $130 million in addiction-related research and services grants since 2006, and faculty currently direct over 50 funded addiction-related research projects.

Still, many questions remain: why do some people become addicted and others don’t? Why are some recovering addicts able to maintain sobriety while others have chronic relapses? Does evidence-based research contradict what has been assumed to be effective screening and treatment programs? In what ways does addiction impact men and women differently?

Brigitte knew there was something wrong with her son. The day after Thanksgiving in 2011 he left their Foxboro home early in the morning, saying he wanted to get some Black Friday deals. “I knew something was up right then,” she says. After all, how many 21-year-old men care about sales at the mall?

When he returned that afternoon, her suspicions were confirmed. “I could just tell from his posture that he had been using,” she recalls. Brigitte (not her real name) had been shocked several months earlier to learn that her son was addicted to heroin. The rest of that day, she followed him around the house, unwilling to let him out of sight. At 1:30 a.m., she checked on him one last time. He was typing on his laptop and told her with a smile, “Mom, don’t worry. I’m too young to leave yet. I’m not going anywhere.”

A half hour later, his father was awakened by the sound of the laptop thudding to the floor. He checked, saw his son wasn’t breathing, and woke his wife and daughter in a panic. “We were all screaming at each other,” says Brigitte. “He looked totally lifeless. His lips and eyes were dark blue. It was horrible.”

While her daughter called 911 and her husband started rescue breathing, Brigitte ran downstairs and grabbed a small pouch from the top of the fridge. It contained two doses of naloxone—often called by its brand name, Narcan—an antidote for heroin overdose. With shaking hands, she sprayed a dose into her son’s nose. Usually, naloxone reverses the effects of an overdose almost immediately, but because the heroin had been laced with fentanyl, an opioid that can be hundreds of times more potent than heroin, nothing happened. She gave him another dose, and when the EMTs arrived, they gave him another.

Her son was finally revived in the emergency room over an hour later, and recovered fully. “All the doctors were surprised we had the Narcan and knew how to use it,” says Brigitte. “It’s a powerful tool to have.”

Source of data: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, Mass. Department of Public Health. View full size

Source of data: Registry of Vital Records and Statistics, Mass. Department of Public Health.

Bringing people back to life

Narcan would not be so accessible to parents like Brigitte if not for Alexander Walley (SPH’07), a School of Medicine assistant professor of medicine and the medical director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Program. Through the program, the state distributes free naloxone kits to people likely to witness an overdose, and teaches them how to administer the drug. “Now they have this tool that they can use to literally bring people back to life, and that is a powerful experience,” says Walley. “It represents something that’s much bigger than just the medication.”

Opioid overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Massachusetts, exceeding even traffic deaths. The overdose prevention program, which costs the commonwealth about $400,000 a year, has been a success: since it began in 2007 the program has trained more than 20,000 people to administer naloxone. They’ve used the drug to reverse more than 2,300 overdoses in Massachusetts, and the death rate from opioid overdose has leveled off.

The program has generated controversy, however, mostly from critics who argue that making the antidote widely available will encourage people to use heroin more recklessly, an argument that Walley dismisses. “For people who reach the point of overdosing, their judgment often has been hijacked by the drive to use,” he says. “Having naloxone around is not going to affect whether they’re going to use or not. It’s going to give them an opportunity to live longer, so they can go into treatment and try to beat their addiction.”

Alexander Walley with public health workers who are participating in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Porgram, which provides overdose prevention education and distributes naloxone rescue kits to people likely to witness an overdose. Photo by Cydney Scott

Alexander Walley with public health workers who are participating in the Massachusetts Department of Public Health's Opioid Overdose Prevention Pilot Porgram, which provides overdose prevention education and distributes naloxone rescue kits to people likely to witness an overdose. Photo by Cydney Scott

The program is unique in that it distributes a prescription medication to nonmedical personnel through trained public health workers under a standing order signed by Walley. Not all doctors like the idea.

“It’s a little edgy,” acknowledges Jeffrey Samet (SPH’92), a MED professor of medicine, a School of Public Health professor of community health sciences, and chief of general internal medicine at Boston Medical Center. “It’s giving a drug to someone to give to someone else, without ever seeing that someone else,” Samet says. “That’s just an uncomfortable feeling for doctors. But you step back, put on your public health hat, and say, ‘Well, it actually works.’”

“When this program started, it was not popular,” says Hilary Jacobs, director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “It was risky business for Dr. Walley to get involved. But he totally understands opioid addiction and is committed to helping this population. He’s been a great partner.”

Overdose is preventable

Walley became interested in addiction volunteering at a homeless shelter in Harvard Square as an undergraduate at Harvard. In medical school at Johns Hopkins, and during his residency in San Francisco, he witnessed firsthand the devastation caused by HIV and intravenous drug use, but also the great potential for healing. He came to Boston University to work with Samet and Richard Saitz (CAS’87, MED’87), an SPH professor of community health sciences and a MED professor of medicine, who also work to treat HIV and addiction through primary rather than acute care. In Boston, as in Baltimore and San Francisco, he watched as many of his patients suffered through—or died from—an overdose. “It’s such a waste and it’s devastating for families,” Walley says. “Overdose is preventable and we have effective treatments now for HIV and addiction. If we can keep people from dying from overdose long enough for treatment to work, their lives get better.”

Heroin has been a problem in New England for decades, but since opioid painkillers like OxyContin became more widely available in the 1990s, use and abuse has risen dramatically. In 2002, 884 people were hospitalized for opioid overdose in Massachusetts; by 2012 that number had more than doubled, to 1,857. Opioids are risky because they bind to receptors in the brain stem, which controls automatic processes such as blood pressure and respiration. Even at low doses, opioids decrease a person’s respiratory rate. Naloxone works by attaching to opioid receptors, kicking the opioids off, and reversing their effects. Naloxone is not addictive and will not produce euphoria, but in someone who has a high tolerance for opioids, it sometimes causes immediate withdrawal symptoms.

Naloxone, administered as a nasal spray or an injection, is an antidote for opioid overdose and has reversed more than 2,300 overdoses in Massachusetts since 2007. Photos by Cydney Scott

Naloxone, administered as a nasal spray or an injection, is an antidote for opioid overdose and has reversed more than 2,300 overdoses in Massachusetts since 2007. Photos by Cydney Scott

About 15 states now have naloxone distribution programs, and Massachusetts has been a national leader. One of Walley’s major contributions has been gathering data to prove that the system works. In a study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the British Medical Journal in 2013, Walley and coauthors found that opioid overdose death rates were reduced by as much as 46 percent in communities where the program was implemented.

“The real success is if we can demonstrate it works and get it out there to the rest of the world,” says Samet. “Even if Alex goes out there and speaks about it, it just doesn’t have the same weight as being written up in a prestigious journal. That was huge.”

The Massachusetts program, under Walley’s medical direction, has also expanded the number of trained health workers who can distribute naloxone, and has helped put it into the hands of parents whose children are addicted to heroin. One of them, Joanne Peterson, founded and directs a support network for parents called Learn to Cope. In 2007, health workers began coming to the group’s meetings to train parents and distribute naloxone kits, but access wasn’t meeting demand. At Peterson’s request, the Department of Public Health and Walley authorized Learn to Cope to distribute naloxone, and the group now has 35 parents who train others. Since 2007, 16 parents have used it to save their children.

Peterson says that Walley’s help has been invaluable. “He just cares so much about this problem,” she says. “Think about the number of lives he’s saved. To me and other parents, he’s a hero.”

This BU Today story was written by Barbara Moran (COM’96.) She is a science writer in Brookline, Mass and can be reached through her website WrittenByBarbaraMoran.com.

Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care Ceremony Celebrated at BUSM

November 21st, 2013 in Uncategorized

BUSM Dean Karen Antman, BUSPH Dean Robert Meenan and Harvard School of Public Health Dean Julio J. Frenk pose with Mayor Tom Menino at the Boston Public Health Commission's 2013 Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care award ceremony, honoring Boston Medical Center for their work in addiction medicine.

BUSM Dean Karen Antman, BUSPH Dean Robert Meenan and Harvard School of Public Health Dean Julio J. Frenk pose with Mayor Tom Menino at the Boston Public Health Commission's 2013 Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care award ceremony, honoring Boston Medical Center for their work in addiction medicine.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Dr. Paula Johnson, Chair of the Board of the Boston Public Health Commission, honored recipients of the 2013 Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care at a reception hosted by the Boston University School of Medicine. The annual celebration, now in its fourth year, raises awareness about best practices for improving the delivery of primary care services in health care, community-based and workplace settings.

“Five years ago we convened a task force of leaders from health care, academia and the community to create a roadmap for improving Boston’s primary care system, and I couldn’t be more proud of the successes we’ve had since then,” Mayor Menino said. “Access to affordable health care is a hot button issue these days, but Boston will continue to be a model for other cities thanks to innovative efforts like those of our award winners.”

This year’s awardees included Boston Medical Center’s (BMC) Office-Based Opioid Treatment program (OBOT). It received the Mayoral Prize for Innovations in Primary Care in a health-care setting for expanding access to addiction treatment. BMC’s OBOT, the largest such program in New England, provides medication-assisted treatment integrated into primary care and targets underserved hard-to-reach patients in a setting that also reduces the social stigma associated with substance abuse treatment.

The model relies on physician-supervised nurse care managers, which has dramatically improved access to addictions treatment. Within a year of opening, the hospital eliminated a treatment waiting list that exceeded 300 patients. Patients now can access treatment within 1-4 weeks of their first contact.

 

 

MED to Launch Physician Assistant Program

November 15th, 2013 in Uncategorized

More than 1,000 apply for 28 slots in inaugural class

The School of Medicine will welcome its inaugural class of physician assistants in April. Photo courtesy of Life Mental Health

The School of Medicine will welcome its inaugural class of physician assistants in April. Photo courtesy of Life Mental Health

In an effort to address the critical shortage of physicians—especially in the field of primary care—forecast for the coming decade, the School of Medicine recently announced a new Master of Science Physician Assistant (PA) Program, to be administered by MED’s Division of Graduate Medical Sciences.

The Association of American Medical Colleges estimates that the United States will face a shortage of 91,500 doctors by 2020, up from the 62,900 forecast for 2015. The reasons for the shortage? An aging baby boomer generation that will require increasing medical resources and the health insurance coverage to some 32 million currently uninsured Americans made possible by the Affordable Care Act by 2019.

Physician assistants are licensed to practice medicine as part of a team that includes physicians. They have become a growing part of medical practices, along with nurse practitioners, largely because the bill for their services is less than that for physicians. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the number of PA jobs is expected to grow by 39 percent between 2008 (74,800) and 2018 (nearly 104,000).

“The United States needs a larger health professional workforce to care for aging baby boomers, and the demand for midlevel medical providers is increasing rapidly,” says Karen Antman, MED dean and Medical Campus provost and John Sanderson Professor of Health Services. “The currently available PA programs are turning down very qualified candidates for lack of slots.”

Like their medical school counterparts, physician assistant students enrolled in the new BU program will learn medical sciences, clinical sciences, and clinical skills. The 28-month curriculum, divided into seven semesters, will consist of 12 months of traditional lectures and seminar sessions, followed by 16 months of hands-on clinical education in hospitals and clinics. PA students will also be required to submit a thesis proposal.

Physician assistants are educated as generalists, says Mary L. Warner, a MED assistant professor of medicine and program director of the Physician Assistant Program. “Unlike physicians, physician assistants change specialties at least three times over the course of their career,” Warner says. “The most common way PAs learn to practice in new specialties is the apprentice model, with on-the-job training by their supervising physicians.” While PAs are not required to do residencies after earning their degree, short-term residency programs in specialties like obstetrics are available.

Physician assistants perform many of the same tasks as doctors. Among their responsibilities are performing physical exams, ordering lab tests and diagnosing illnesses, prescribing medications and developing treatment plans for patients, and when working in surgical settings, assisting in surgery.

First launched in 1965 at Duke University, the physician assistant profession was initially intended to address the primary care shortage in rural and underserved areas. The BU degree program is designed to educate PAs who will care for a diverse population of patients in a variety of health care settings.

BU’s PA program will offer several innovations not found at most other schools. Students will benefit from a flipped classroom, where professors assign video lectures and online reading to be completed at home, with classroom time reserved for problem solving and answering questions. The anatomy lab, says Warner, will offer a full dissection lab, unusual for PA programs, and a physiology lab, also not widely available at other programs, as well as a strong research curriculum. “In our partnerships with Boston Medical Center and the VA Boston Healthcare System,” she says, “the clinical education will focus on learning to care for patients from vulnerable populations.”

Warner says that more than 1,000 people have applied for the 28 slots in the inaugural class. She attributes the strong interest in the program to the shortage of primary care providers and the strong projected growth prospects for the profession, as well as MED’s national reputation. Those accepted into the program will be notified by December 1 and will begin their studies in April.

More information about BU’s Physician Assistant Program can be found here.

This BU Today story was written by John O’Rourke. He can be reached at orourkej@bu.edu.

University’s Health, Clinical Rankings Climb

November 14th, 2013 in Uncategorized

Times Higher Education puts BU 22nd among schools worldwide

Health and clinical education at BU have been ranked 22nd in the world by a UK-based Thomson Reuters survey. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Health and clinical education at BU have been ranked 22nd in the world by a UK-based Thomson Reuters survey. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

For the second year in a row, BU’s health and medical education programs have been named among the top 100 worldwide in the 2013–2014 Times Higher Education World University Rankings, conducted by Thomson Reuters. The influential survey ranked BU 22nd for clinical, preclinical, and health programs, an advancement from 29th place last year.

The ranking applies to the School of Medicine, the School of Public Health, the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine, Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences, and the School of Social Work, according to Thomson Reuters.

The Times Higher Education (formerly part of the Times of London) uses 13 criteria to compile the ratings. The criteria are grouped in five areas—teaching, international outlook, research, research income from industry, and citations of faculty research. “While BU received an overall score of 74.8 out of 100, our citation of research influence score is 95.8, highlighting the widespread impact of our research,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED, provost of the Medical Campus, and the John Sandson Professor of Health Sciences.

“I join my fellow deans from the Medical Campus in celebrating the high ranking that Boston University received,” says Jeffrey W. Hutter, dean of the Henry M. Goldman School of Dental Medicine. “I am particularly proud of the role that the faculty and staff of the School of Dental Medicine played in achieving the Times ranking.”

The rankings examine research influence by tracking the number of times a university’s published work is cited by scholars globally. This year Thomson Reuters examined more than 50 million citations to 6 million journal articles published over five years in assembling the rankings, according to the Times website.

“This recognition is gratifying and is made possible by the hard work, talent, and dedication that you and all in our educational community contribute to the University’s health sciences programs,” Antman wrote in an email to MED, SPH, SDM, SAR, and SSW faculty and staff.

This BU Today story was written by Susan Seligson. She can be reached at sueselig@bu.edu.