By Lisa Brown

BU Team Takes Innovation Award at Global Health Case Competition

April 2nd, 2015 in Awards & Honors

Global Health Competition 2015A creative and effective interdisciplinary team represented Boston University at the 2015 International Emory Global Health Case Competition in March. The five women representing the Schools of Medicine, Public Health and Business won the “Innovation Award” for their presentation, “Un Cuerpo Unido: Transforming the Judicial System in Honduras to Improve Effectiveness and Access.”

Ariel Falconer, SPH ‘15; Liz Nerad, QSB/SPH ’15; Kim Principe, QSB ‘15; Tess Timmes, BUSM ’17; and Karen Foo, MMSc, BUSM ’17, joined 24 teams representing academic institutions from Denmark, Australia and the US to develop recommendations for the President of Honduras to reduce rates of gun violence in that country by 2020.

The Global Health competition is designed to raise awareness of and develop innovative solutions for 21st century global health issues. Teams receive a global health-related case that requires an interdisciplinary approach to formulate recommendations that may involve issues such as health care policy, public health implementation and planning, business partnership/investment, medical research, logistics management, faith/cultural understanding, and international law.

Robert Lowe Honored by Massachusetts Medical Society

April 2nd, 2015 in Awards & Honors

ROBERT LOWEPhysician honored with Grant V. Rodkey Award for Contributions to Medical Education

Robert C. Lowe, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine, has been honored by the Massachusetts Medical Society as the 2015 recipient of the Grant V. Rodkey Award, an honor recognizing a Massachusetts physician for outstanding contributions to medical education and medical students. He will receive the award, one of the Society’s most prestigious, at the organization’s annual meeting in Boston April 30.

In nominating him for the award, Dr. Lowe’s colleagues cited his “great passion for and visible excellence in teaching medical students. His enthusiasm for teaching is infectious and he goes above and beyond in reaching out to students to give them opportunities for learning…and reform medical education to make it more patient friendly and integrated with other health care disciplines.”

Dr. Lowe received his BA in biology summa cum laude from Harvard College in 1988 and his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1992. He completed his internship, residency and fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Medical Center (BMC). Board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, he has been an attending physician at BMC since 2001, when he was also appointed an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Boston University Medical School (BUSM). He was named an Associate Professor in 2007.

Dr. Lowe has long been active in medical education at the local and national level. He currently serves as a member of BMC’s Graduate Medical Education and Clinical Competency Committees and is a member of BUSM’s Medical Education and Preclinical Curriculum Committees. Since 2004, he has been a member of the BUSM’s Academy of Advisors, providing academic and career advice for students.

His efforts in medical education have extended to the regional and national levels. Dr. Lowe has been a member of the Education and Training Committee of the American Gastroenterological Association since 2011, with responsibilities for improving and maintaining the national curriculum for trainees in gastroenterology and approving continuing medical education courses for practicing gastroenterologists. From 2007-2001, he chaired the Medical Advisory Board of the New England Chapter of the American Liver Foundation, which devised and implemented educational programs for physicians and patients with liver disorders.

The Medical Society’s Grant V. Rodkey Award is the latest in a long list of honors that Dr. Lowe has received. Among them are the Excellence in Inpatient Teaching Award, the Excellence in Subspecialty Teaching Award, and the Robert Dawson Evans Teaching Award, all from BMC; the Faculty Award for Teaching in the Preclinical Sciences, the Faculty Award for Teaching in the Clinical Sciences, and the Stanley L. Robbins Award for Excellence in Teaching, all from BUSM. From 2001-2013, he was voted one of the Best of Boston Doctors by Boston Magazine, and from 2008-2013 was elected to Top Doctors in the U.S. by Castle Connolly Publications.

A published author of textbooks and journal articles on various aspect of gastroenterology, Dr. Lowe is a member of the American Gastroenterological Association and its Academy of Educators, the American College of Physicians, the American Medical Association, and the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Mass. Life Sciences Grants LSC Grants Awarded to BLCS and CReM

March 19th, 2015 in Uncategorized

MLSC logoBoston University’s (BU) Biomedical Laboratory and Clinical Sciences (BLCS) Program and the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) were awarded grants from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center as part of a $17M package targeted for capital projects, equipment and supplies.

“We are delighted that both the Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM) at Boston Medical Center (BMC) and Boston University School of Medicine as well as the Biomedical Laboratory and Clinical Sciences (BLCS) Program have received this honor from the Massachusetts Life Science Center,” said Karen Antman, MD, dean of Boston University School of Medicine and provost of Boston University Medical Campus.  “Their investments in these programs will help patients with pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis, and acute lung injury as well as provide students with the necessary equipment as they train for careers in the biotechnology field,” she added.

CReM was awarded $1.7 M to launch an expansive Lung Regeneration Initiative (LRI) as part of their Center for Regenerative Medicine. The goal of the LRI is the clinical application of recent BU-led discoveries in stem cell research, such as the treatment of lung diseases with personalized therapeutics, as well as the ultimate reconstitution of diseased lung epithelia in patients with emphysema. The LRI also aims to define and launch treatments for pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary hypertension, cystic fibrosis and acute lung injury from inhaled pathogens.

The BLCS Program, which is offered by BU’s Metropolitan College in collaboration with the School of Medicine, received $180,000 in funding to enhance the quality of the training and add to the competencies of the students. The funding from MLSC will enable the BLCS program to obtain essential equipment: a small bioreactor, an HPLC protein chromatography unit and a small bench top fluorescence activated cell analyzer, as well as to implement an electronic laboratory information and management system to train students for the changing environment for record keeping in the biotech industry.

BUSM’s Ramsey Receives Dr. Allen Crocker Health Services Award

March 16th, 2015 in Awards & Honors

Jean Ramsey (l)

Jean Ramsey (left)

Boston University Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Pediatrics Jean E. Ramsey, MD, MPH has been named a recipient of the 2015 Dr. Allen Crocker Health Services Award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, Department of Developmental Services. Presented annually, the award recognizes an individual or organization that mirrors the life of Dr. Crocker and his respect for and value of individuals with a disability.

Dr. Ramsey, BUSM ‘90, BUSPH ’08 who also serves as BUSM Associate Dean for Alumni Affairs and Vice Chair of Education and Program Director for the Department of Ophthalmology, was selected because she excels in including individuals with disabilities in her clinical practice, increasing the cadre of people who joyfully and compassionately care for individuals with disability, focusing on individuals’ capabilities rather than their disabilities, and advocating for equity and social justice.

Celebrating Diversity Week March 16-20

March 16th, 2015 in Events

Belly dancer Aurel D’Agostino performs at 2014 Celebrating Diversity Fair.

Belly dancer Aurel D’Agostino performs at 2014 Celebrating Diversity Fair.

It’s Cultural Diversity Week! Members of the BUMC community are invited to celebrate our campus’s diversity of cultures through a variety of food, entertainment, education, and activities. Activities include:

  • Musical performances in the Newton Pavilion Cafeteria each day, Noon-1 p.m.
  • “Communicating with Persons Living with Hearing Loss,” featuring Jonathan O’Dell, a member of the Massachusetts Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. One CME credit will be available for staff attending this cultural forum.
    Tuesday, March 17, Noon–1 p.m., Keefer Auditorium
  • Celebrating Diversity Fair! Come see a variety of musical and dance performances, including drumming, belly dancing, and a gospel performance.
    Thursday, March 19, 11 a.m.–2 p.m., Shapiro Center lobby

View the full schedule of events by downloading the program.

Being Fit At 40 May Keep Brain Sharp At 60, BUSM Study

March 10th, 2015 in Research

People with poor physical fitness in their 40s may have lower brain volumes by the time they hit 60, an indicator of accelerated brain aging, according to new research presented at the American Heart Association EPI/Lifestyle 2015 meeting.

Nicole Spartano

Nicole Spartano

“Many people don’t start worrying about their brain health until later in life, but this study provides more evidence that certain behaviors and risk factors in midlife may have consequences for brain aging later on,” said Nicole L. Spartano, PhD, lead author and a postdoctoral fellow at the Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM).

A subset of 1,271 participants from the Framingham Offspring Study participated in exercise treadmill testing in the 1970s, when their average age was 41. Starting in 1999, when their average age was 60, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brains as well as cognitive tests. The participants did not have heart disease or cognitive problems at the beginning of the study, and none were taking medication that alters heart rate.

In individuals with low fitness levels, the blood pressure and heart rate responses to low levels of exercise are often much higher than in individuals with better fitness.

Boston University photo by Vernon Doucette

Boston University photo by Vernon Doucette

“Small blood vessels in the brain are vulnerable to changes in blood pressure and can be damaged by these fluctuations,” Spartano said. “Vascular damage in the brain can contribute to structural changes in the brain and cognitive losses. In our investigation we wanted to determine whether exaggerated blood pressure fluctuations during exercise were related to later structural changes in the brain.”

The researchers found:

  • People who had a lower fitness level or greater increase in diastolic blood pressure (bottom number) or heart rate a few minutes into the low-intensity treadmill test (2.5 miles an hour) had smaller brain tissue volume later in life.
  • People who had a larger increase in diastolic blood pressure during low-intensity exercise also performed more poorly on a cognitive test for decision-making function later in life.
  • Poor physical fitness could be associated with accelerated brain aging.

Promotion of midlife physical fitness may be an important step towards ensuring healthy aging of the brain in the population, researchers said.
“It will be interesting to follow up with these participants in another 10 years to determine how many developed dementia, and if that may be related to their fitness or exercise blood pressure or exercise heart rate in midlife,” Spartano said.

Co-authors are Jayandra J. Himali, PhD, Alexa S. Beiser, PhD, Charles DeCarli, MD, Vasan S. Ramachandran, MD and Sudha Seshadri, MD.

National Kidney Foundation Honors BUSM’s Salant for Excellence in Clinical Nephrology

March 9th, 2015 in Uncategorized

David J. Salant, MD

David Salant

David Salant, MD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM)  has been named as the 2015 recipient of The Donald W. Seldin Award.  The Award recognizes excellence in clinical nephrology.

“Dr. Donald Seldin is one of the giants of Nephrology and his legacy is reflected in the successes of many of his former trainees that have gone on to become leaders themselves,” said Salant. “Receiving the Seldin Award is a singular honor.”

Salant, who also serves as chief, Section of Nephrology at Boston Medical Center, is supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He has conducted extensive research on immune disorders of the kidneys. “My research has focused on how the kidneys are damaged when our own immune system goes awry and makes antibodies that attack critical components of the kidneys,” he said.

Salant will receive the award at the National Kidney Foundation’s (NKF) Spring Clinical Meetings held March 25-29 in Dallas, Texas. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) is the leading organization in the U.S. dedicated to the awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease.

Review Article Provides New Insights on How Tumors Metastasize

March 9th, 2015 in Research

In a review article recently published in the journal Clinical and Translational Medicine, researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) shed new light on the underlying processes of tumor metastasis and highlight the role of epigenetics in this process. By comparing embryogenesis with cancer metastasis they hypothesize that reversible epigenetic events regulate the development of different types of metastatic cancers. They also describe that the surrounding cells of the tumors (stromal cells) play a significant role in this process.

The BUSM researchers support the hypothesis that metastasis is more of a gradual process, leading to a heterogenic tumor population with cells of various epigenetic and differentiation statuses. They propose that cancer progenitor cells slow their growth while differentiating into more metastatic forms and then resume rapid division once the cells have metastasized to certain state or grade. Similar processes again take place when that grade of metastatic cancer changes to another grade.

As this process is not a one-time event during tumor metastasis, the slowing of growth and increase in differentiation must happen many times. Once the desired grade is achieved, the reverse process needs to take place. Epigenetics is what allows the cells to transform reversibly. In accordance with this hypothesis, metastasized tumors of various types and prognoses demonstrate known epigenetic markers.

Localization and growth of the metastatic tumor cells in distant location is another important event in tumor metastasis. For the tumor cells to take hold and form a new tumor at a secondary location, the more motile mesenchymal cells need to convert to an epithelial state to enable them to attach to the distant organ (MET). The reversible epigenetic changes can now turn on the reverse differentiation genes and turn off on the genes for rapid growth; this occurs once the cells are settled in the distance location.

Sibaji Sarkar

Sibaji Sarkar

Embryogenesis is a physiological process that involves growth and differentiation and is regulated primarily by epigenetic events. Opportunistic cancer cells and cancer progenitor cells use this process to their advantage to achieve metastasis. According to corresponding author and principal investigator Sibaji Sarkar, PhD, instructor of medicine at BUSM, the embryonic differentiation epigenetic mechanisms can be hijacked to produce disease conditions including cancer. “Permanent mutations and alterations in the genome certainly do play a role in cancer progression, but in order for the cancer to initiate, differentiate, metastasize and adapt to new locations in the body, reversible epigenetic processes are necessary.”

As an example, Sarkar presents two patients that have the same predisposition for cancer. “Though they may have the same genetic mutations that put them at an increased risk of developing cancer, they will not develop cancer at the exact same time, in the same way or in the same location, if they both develop cancer at all. Epigenetics can, in this case, be seen as the cancer kick-starter, turning on or off the genes necessary for a precancerous cell to become cancer progenitor cell,” he said.

Sarah Heerboth first author

Sarah Heerboth first author

Future studies will determine how epigenetic changes perform this “gene turn on and gene turn off” process to both initiate cancer from cancer progenitor cells and also enable them to differentiate into metastatic tumors. Understanding, and targeting, the ways in which epigenetic changes contribute to cancer progenitor cells undergoing differentiation will be crucial in developing anti-cancer drugs, anti-metastatic drugs and preventing cancer relapse.

Sarah Heerboth, a student of Boston University (BU) is the first author of this article. Other BU student co-authors are Genevieve Housman (currently a graduate student at Arizona State University), Meghan Leary, Mckenna Longacre (currently a student at Harvard Medical School), Shannon Byler, Karolina Lapinska and Amber Willbanks.

University-wide Graduate Neuroscience Program Receives BU CEIT Interdisciplinary Course Development Grant

March 6th, 2015 in Awards & Honors

Shelley Russek

Shelley Russek

The BU Center for Excellence and Innovation in Teaching (CEIT) has awarded the Graduate Program for Neuroscience (GPN), led by Shelley J. Russek, PhD, Professor, Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics and Biology, a Provost CEIT Interdisciplinary Course Development Grant. As a result of this grant, the GPN will create a curriculum spanning cutting-edge developments in systems neuroscience that link basic science to future clinical application. This unique graduate curriculum will complement the BU initiative in Systems Neuroscience and will engage contributions from the community-at-large where teaching efforts are matched with outstanding BU researchers on both the Charles River and the Medical Campuses conducting work that uses both animal models and human subjects.

Promotion to Full Professor for Four MED Faculty

March 6th, 2015 in Awards & Honors

Expertise in cancer treatment, PTSD, antibiotic resistance, blood transfusion

Four faculty members of the School of Medicine have been promoted to full professor in recognition of their scholarship. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Four faculty members of the School of Medicine have been promoted to full professor in recognition of their scholarship. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky

Their research runs the gamut from high-tech cancer-spotting to preventing domestic violence among veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. And their expertise has earned them promotion to full professor on the faculty at BU’s School of Medicine. They are Gregory A. Grillone, Kalpana Gupta, Karen Quillen, and Casey Tyler Taft.

“We want to congratulate our very accomplished recently promoted professors,” says Karen Antman, dean of MED and Medical Campus provost. “These senior leaders are nationally and internationally recognized experts in their disciplines.”

Gregory A. Grillone, MED professor of otolaryngology

Grillone, vice chairman of the otolaryngology, head and neck surgery department, specializes in using spectroscopy for detection and treatment of cancer in the oral cavity and larynx. He has earned international recognition for his work on head and neck cancer screening and early detection in smokers and former smokers, and is involved in two NIH-funded studies, one as principal investigator and one as co–principal investigator. He is program director for the otolaryngology residency program and president of the American Bronchoesophagological Association. His peers have voted him one of the Best Doctors in America as well as one of America’s Best Doctors.

Foremost among Grillone’s several current research initiatives is one using spectroscopy to detect cancer in the oral cavity and larynx. “Spectroscopy is just a fancy way of saying, using light and how it absorbs and reflects off of tissues to be able to tell something about the tissue,” he says. He uses light to identify “satellite lesions under the surface…tissue that looks normal to the naked eye, but in fact is abnormal,” allowing doctors to adjust the margins of their work to be sure they remove all the cancer.

The project is a team effort with Irving Bigio, a College of Engineering professor of biomedical engineering and of electrical and computer engineering, and his Biomedical Optics Lab and others.

Kalpana Gupta, MED professor of medicine

Gupta is an expert on antibiotic resistance and its role in hospital-acquired infections, such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). She is chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases at VA Boston Healthcare System, West Roxbury campus, overseeing its HIV practice and its clinical infectious diseases, antibiotic stewardship, and infection prevention programs. She has served as chair of the International Clinical Practice Guideline for Treatment of Urinary Tract Infections in Women, which took more than four years to put together.

The project, she says, “was people sharing ideas and expert opinion, and also looking at the literature and analyzing it and interpreting it, and figuring out how to put it into a form that clinicians could use as a guide for treating UTI.” Gupta says completing the guideline was only a starting point for the long process of disseminating it nationally and internationally; the guideline will be updated in the next couple of years.  

Karen Quillen, MED professor of pathology and laboratory medicine

Quillen is medical director of both the Blood Bank and the blood stem cell processing lab at Boston Medical Center. “That’s a big part of my job because the area is so heavily regulated,” she says. “Some of the clinical research projects get done on the side; I write manuscripts at night or on weekends. I imagine this is not unique to me.”

Her research focuses on improving transfusion safety for people who need repeated transfusions, notably sickle cell anemia patients. She collaborates with the University’s Center of Excellence in Sickle Cell Disease to determine why some patients become sensitized to donor red cells and other patients don’t. She has published extensively and has served on numerous national and international advisory panels, including the US Department of Health and Human Services Advisory Committee on Blood and Tissue Safety and Availability.

Last fall, Quillen cotaught an undergraduate seminar in the Kilachand Honors College based on Blood: An Epic History of Medicine and Commerce,” by Douglas Starr (COM’83), a College of Communication journalism professor. “It was my first venture into undergraduate teaching,” she says, “and it was a lot of fun.”

As a full professor, Quillen says, “I’ll continue doing what I do currently; I’m not going to change my clinical or research focus. But I might be more adventurous and explore other areas that BU is trying to emphasize, such as global health. Transfusion and treatment of blood diseases in developing countries is less advanced, and one of these days I might want to do some international work.”

Casey Tyler Taft, MED professor of psychiatry

Taft specializes in the investigation of violence in domestic relationships, with emphasis on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as both a risk factor for perpetration and as a consequence of victimization. He was the primary architect of the Strength at Home program, developed with colleagues to prevent and reduce domestic violence in military families. The program has just completed two large-scale clinical trials involving more than 500 people, veterans and their intimate partners, with promising results.

“Most men we see have some form of trauma,” often combat-related, says Taft, whose work is based at the VA Boston Healthcare System’s Jamaica Plain campus. “It’s group therapy, basically, trauma-focused.” The idea is to help veterans “manage their anger better, help them manage the situation better, and interpret other people’s intentions in a more positive light.” He and his partners are hoping to roll out the program at nine VA centers nationwide.

A staff member at the VA National Center for PTSD, Taft is principal investigator on active grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Department of Defense.

This BU Today story was written by Joel Brown. He can be reached at jbnbpt@bu.edu.