Posts filed under ‘Research’

THON support for pediatric research is even more than a dream come true

Dr. Valerie Brown, associate professor of pediatrics at Penn State College of Medicine, thought THON was too good to be true when she came to Hershey in late 2013.

“I just didn’t believe that this support existed,” she says. “It was a dream come true, but even more.”

THON, or the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports the families of children with cancer Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine. The 2014 THON, held this past weekend in State College, raised a record $13,343,517.33 for the Four Diamonds Fund.

Portrait of Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D.

Valerie Brown, M.D., Ph.D., clinical director of the Experimental Therapeutics Program at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital

With the help of THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, Dr. Brown is growing a cutting-edge experimental therapeutics program for pediatric patients with cancer and has brought the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium to Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. A consortium is a collaboration of physicians and scientists with different areas of expertise working together around a specific disease or type of disease. In a translational research approach, scientists and others work across their fields of study to move discoveries made in the laboratory to use in patients, and take what they learn with patient populations back to the lab for further study.

One of the goals of the consortium is to improve the outcomes for children with cancer by quickly determining a specialized treatment.

“A lot of treatment for patients with a disease that has come back or mutated is like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic after it hits the iceberg,” says Dr. Brown. “You can’t avoid the iceberg, and so you need to have better lifeboats. Early phase clinical trials help us to build a better lifeboat.” (more…)

February 24, 2014 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Researcher calls THON an inspiration for his work

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., director of the molecular oncology program at Penn State College of Medicine, has the same energy and devotion as THON participants about finding the cure for pediatric cancer.

“THON is not simply a fundraising event, it generates inspiration,” he says.

The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon, or THON, is an annual fundraising event that supports the Four Diamonds Fund at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. The Four Diamonds Fund supports families of children with cancer at the Children’s Hospital and pediatric cancer research at the College of Medicine.

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Hong-Gang Wang, Ph.D., Four Diamonds Fund-supported molecular oncology researcher at Penn State College of Medicine

Wang has been studying pediatric cancer since he arrived at the College of Medicine in 2008. As a father, he understands what families with sick children endure. As a researcher, he always looks towards the future. His research focuses on autophagy, a process where the cancer cells eat themselves, resulting in a recycling process.

“Autophagy helps tumor cells survive the assaults of treatment,” Wang says. Cancer treatment causes stress to the cancer cells, which is supposed to kill them. Through autophagy, cancer cells are relieved from this stress and recycle toxic materials for survival.

(more…)

February 21, 2014 at 10:36 am Leave a comment

Moving discoveries to market: How investments in commercialization support can lead to better health

Just as musicians get pleasure from playing in a symphony, researchers at Penn State Hershey enjoy working in an environment of regular discoveries, developments and technological advances.

But just as music doesn’t reach its full potential without an audience to hear it, the discoveries of Penn State Hershey’s faculty, students and staff benefit few if the ideas developed on campus don’t reach the marketplace.

As federal funding for research has decreased in recent years, the College of Medicine has increased its commercialization efforts through the Office of Technology Development to ensure that its most promising work reaches those it is intended to benefit. Penn State Hershey Dean and CEO Dr. Harold L. Paz, wrote in March 2012 that innovation in biotechnology provides the regional economy with ideas, investment and jobs that can drive economic growth and vitality.

In 2011, the College of Medicine named Keith Marmer director of an office that previously managed some contracts with licensing mostly handled by staff in State College.

“There really wasn’t the hands-on support we can now offer,” Marmer said.

Now, he leads a team that evaluates campus research and protects the intellectual property developed there. His office works to commercialize what is known as translational medicine – looking for ways to take drugs, discoveries and techniques from the lab or clinic to market.  (more…)

October 23, 2013 at 1:57 pm Leave a comment

Paz reports on highlights of Medical Center’s fiscal year

Highlights from across all four parts of Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center’s mission were at the center of this week’s annual public board of directors meeting. Dr. Harold L. Paz, CEO of Penn State Hershey Medical Center and Health System, Penn State’s senior vice president for health affairs, and dean, Penn State College of Medicine, addressed faculty, staff and community members. Paz discussed how new and expanded collaborations, growth in its clinical and research missions, and the presence of the first group of medical students in State College were all part of a successful 2011-12 fiscal year.

Read more about Dr. Paz’s presentation in this article >>

The presentation also included the following videos, each highlighting a key story from the past year:

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September 14, 2012 at 8:12 am Leave a comment

The lifecycle of a cancer

Imagine if various types of cancer were caused by a common, though currently unknown, virus. The implications for treatment options and methods of prevention could be enormous. The discovery of infectious agents, such as the human papillomavirus as the root cause of cervical cancer, opens the door to the idea that other viruses might be at work in the genesis of cancer development.

This theory is about to be tested further by Thomas P. Loughran, M.D., and his colleagues at Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute. But Loughran is no stranger to being at the forefront of cancer research.

The LGL discovery

As outlined in this previous Penn State Medicine article, Loughran, who is a professor of medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and director of the Cancer Institute, is responsible for the discovery of large granular lymphocyte (LGL) leukemia while he was an oncology fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Washington. He has spent most of his career researching the development of the disease and establishing a treatment protocol, which has allowed many patients to live healthier and more productive lives. In 2003, he started an LGL leukemia registry to keep track of patient outcomes.

One of the most challenging aspects of LGL leukemia is getting an accurate diagnosis. Patients often present with chronic symptoms, such as joint pain, fevers, and immune system problems that can be misdiagnosed as rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or aplastic anemia.

“The diagnosis is clouded by the fact that the symptoms are not obvious,” Loughran says. “Patients can have morbidity with tiredness, shortness of breath, pain, and swelling of the joints. Ten to 30 percent have classic RA. This is a chronic disease, though, with a major complication being infections.”

>> Hear from Dr. Loughran and a patient whom he treated for LGL leukemia in this edition of Penn State Hershey’s Sound Health podcast. <<

A diagnosis of LGL leukemia is not difficult to come by if medical professionals know what to look for, which is an increased number of LGL cells that can be seen on a blood smear. But because this can easily be overlooked in basic blood tests, it often takes a recurrence of symptoms before an accurate diagnosis of LGL leukemia is reached. (more…)

September 12, 2012 at 3:36 pm 4 comments

Cardiovascular risks related to high dietary salt

Graphic of salt pouring on top of a person's headAccording to the American Heart Association (AHA), cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States in both men and women. Hypertension or high blood pressure, the most prevalent form of the disease, affects at least 34 percent of US adults and an estimated 18-20 percent of adolescents. Because hypertension plays a key role in the development of life-threatening heart disease, stroke, and other serious illnesses, biomedical researchers remain focused on understanding its causes, prevention, and treatment. Although many blood pressure-lowering medications are available, few patients with hypertension have well-controlled blood pressure. One reason for this is that a large component of blood pressure control is neurally mediated, and according to Sean Stocker, Ph.D., associate professor of cellular and molecular physiology at the College of Medicine.

“The key neural pathways and mechanisms that allow our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to tightly regulate blood pressure are still not well defined,” Stocker said. A major factor in the brain’s control of blood pressure is dietary sodium intake. Understanding how the brain responds to plasma sodium levels is likely to be particularly important, because excess dietary salt intake is expected to pose a public health epidemic of hypertension in the coming years. The mechanism by which the brain senses and reacts to plasma sodium concentration is largely unknown, and how to control the process is a major therapeutic challenge for managing hypertension. (more…)

August 22, 2012 at 10:45 am Leave a comment

Today’s Research – Researchers study effects of manganese on brain

Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine are actively working in Hershey, with colleagues at Penn State, University Park and other Penn State campuses, and with colleagues at various institutions across the country to conduct groundbreaking research. Their discoveries continue to contribute to the advancement of health care on all levels.

College of Medicine scientists are researching the effects of the metal manganese on brain functions. This research builds on the results of an earlier, smaller-scale study that looked at welders. Research has indicated that environmental factors, including metals toxic to the neurological system, may play a role in the cause of neurobehavioral disorders. In a preliminary study, Xuemei Huang, M.D., Ph.D., and colleagues looked at a small group of welders and found an association between exposure to manganese-containing metal fumes and decreased motor performance on a test for dexterity/fine motor control in the welders.

The team’s prior study suggests that there is manganese accumulation in many other regions of the brain in welders who are showing no classic symptoms of overexposure, specifically in a part of the brain associated with smell. This suggests that at least some of the manganese is getting into the brain through inhalation. They also showed manganese in the areas of the brain associated with motor control, which correlates to the decreased motor control observed.

The initial study was supported by National Institute of Environmental Sciences, with additional support from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the Penn State General Clinical Research Center (now the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute), and results were published in the scientific journal Toxicological Sciences. The current study has received funding from the National Institute of Environmental Sciences.

More about this research >>

August 20, 2012 at 9:30 am Leave a comment

Unraveling the mystery of a rare, virus-mediated neurological disease

From bench to bedside

Dr. Aron Lukacher portrait

Aron Lukacher, M.D., Ph.D.

Most adults in the United States are asymptomatic carriers of persistent viral infections, such as herpes simplex (cold sores) or varicella zoster (chicken pox). Exposed to such viruses at some point during childhood, our immune systems produced effective antibodies against the virus, which decreased viral titers and eliminated clinical signs of illness. Although persistent viruses remain in some tissues of our bodies, our immune systems keep the viruses in check, and we remain illness-free. For a small subset of people, however, their immune systems fail to control these latent viruses and they fall victim to disease.

Identifying people who are most vulnerable to viral re-activation is one of the major challenges facing physicians who treat patients with compromised immune systems.

Such patients include those with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), those treated with cancer chemotherapy, and those receiving agents to prevent rejection of transplanted organs and to control autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. According to Aron Lukacher, M.D., Ph.D., professor and new chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Penn State College of Medicine, in recent years, major strides have been made in researchers’ understanding of immune responses to persistent viruses and the diverse strategies viruses use to evade immune detection. Ongoing research by many groups seeks to understand and overcome such strategies, so that patients who are often the most desperately ill can avoid falling victim to these viruses. Lukacher’s research focuses on the immunological mechanisms that control persistent viral infections and defining the pathways by which a certain class of viruses called polyomaviruses escape immune control to cause serious disease. (more…)

August 16, 2012 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Physician lack of sleep: Can cognitive “overload” compromise care in a crisis?

Physician napping after a long shiftFor decades, lack of sleep and fatigue have been an unwelcome but accepted part of physician training and everyday medical practice. Medical students and residents are likely to work a full day and then be on call through the night, typically working a full 24-hour shift and getting very little uninterrupted sleep. Sleep researchers, however, have consistently shown that well-rested physicians commit fewer serious medical and diagnostic errors, compared to physicians working extended shifts (e.g., more than 24 hours). Increasing awareness of the negative impact and risks posed by physician sleep deprivation led the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education in 2003 to place duty hour limits on resident physicians. Although the limits have been in place for nearly eight years, the debate about sleep deprivation, resident training, and hospital costs continues unabated.

A research study conducted by Jonathan Tomasko, M.D., research fellow in the Division of Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery, along with Randy Haluck, M.D., ’91, R ’97, and Eric Pauli, ’04, M.D., Division of Minimally Invasive and Bariatric Surgery, sheds light on the duty limit debate. Tomasko explains, “We wanted to assess how sleep deprivation affects not only how well surgeons perform familiar techniques, but also their ability to learn something new and to deal with a mentally challenging task. It touches on clinical issues like dealing with errors, as well as the educational debate about duty hours.” (more…)

August 14, 2012 at 4:08 pm Leave a comment

Understanding addiction: Using Animal Models to Answer the “Why, How, and Who”

Addictive behavior graphic renderingOver the past decade, use of certain illicit drugs, including crack cocaine and methamphetamine, has shown sharp declines in the United States based on data from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). But these encouraging data contradict other disturbing facts. Compared to 2002, use of marijuana and prescription pain relievers has jumped by approximately 20 percent and heroin use has shown an alarming 44 percent increase.

“Drug addiction persists as a major problem in the United States,” said Patricia Sue Grigson, Ph.D., professor, Department of Neural and Behavioral Sciences. “Drug use data does not reflect the devastating, long-term impact that drug addiction has on individuals and their families. This is why it is so important to continue to search for answers about why some people become addicted and others do not. Understanding and identifying risk factors for the development of addiction will lead to more effective prevention and treatment plans.”

Grigson uses an animal model to study the environmental, behavioral, and neurological underpinnings of addiction. “Humans and the rats in our studies have more in common than not,” she said. “For instance, about 17 percent of humans who try cocaine eventually become addicted; studies have shown the same percentage of rats that try cocaine also show addiction-like behavior.” (more…)

August 9, 2012 at 10:45 am 1 comment

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