Posts filed under ‘Research’

Meet Dr. Leslie Parent, Penn State Hershey’s new vice dean for research

Dr. Leslie Parent

Dr. Leslie Parent

With a career in retrovirology research, a passion for education, and a 24-year history at Penn State Hershey, Dr. Leslie Parent brings a strong skillset to her new position as vice dean for research and graduate education.

Parent transitioned to the role in early June from her former position as chief of the Division of Infectious Disease.

“I thought it was a great opportunity to help other people do better research,” Parent said. “That was what really motivated me: the opportunity to enhance the research going on here at the College of Medicine. We already have excellent, successful investigators. We can take something that already has such a strong foundation and look for ways to promote our research, engage more people in our research, and build a better and more complete infrastructure for research.”

Parent started in the Division of Infectious Disease as a fellow, completed a post-doctoral fellowship in retrovirology, and started her own NIH-funded laboratory in 1998. She was named chief of the division in 2007 and was later asked to co-lead the college’s M.D./Ph.D. program, helping train future physician scientists.

Parent believes she brings an optimistic attitude and persistence to the role.

“I like to explore all the possibilities and do our best to achieve the things we set out to do,” she said. “I like to set goals and then gather people around to work as a team to achieve those objectives. I think team work is really important and I hope that I can be someone who can build teams and use a lot of different people’s talents to achieve the things we want to do here.”

(more…)

August 26, 2015 at 9:28 am Leave a comment

Unique division brings heart devices to life

An engineer, a surgeon, and a machinist walk into a conference room.

It might sound like the start of a bad joke, but it’s a regular scene in Penn State Hershey’s Division of Artificial Organs, where experts in vastly different fields bring their knowledge together to design, manufacture, implant and test artificial hearts in one location.

Cardio-thoracic surgeon Dr. William S. Pierce formed the team in 1970 when he came to Penn State’s then-new Milton S. Hershey Medical Center after working on artificial heart development for the National Institutes for Health. Penn State’s strong engineering staff and Hershey’s suburban location offered the resources to develop the kind of collaborative program he envisioned.

Eric Yeager

Eric Yeager makes blood sacs in Penn State Hershey’s Division of Artificial Organs by dipping polished stainless steel molds into honey-colored liquid polyurethane polymer.

Forty-five years later, Dr. Gerson Rosenberg, chief of the Division of Artificial Organs, can walk down the hall from his office to a machine shop, plastics lab, metal-polishing station and rooms where mock circulatory testing is done on heart-assist devices for adults and children. An assist device helps a sick heart do its work so it can rest while the patient awaits a transplant, so researchers are always looking for ways to improve the devices to work better and for longer.

<<View a video of Dr. Piece and Dr. Rosenberg’s work>>

At a nearby facility, veterinarians provide pre- and post-op care for animals implanted with pediatric heart-assist devices and a new pneumatic heart pump — operated by air pressure — that could improve the lives of young adults and adolescents born with congenital heart defects.

“We are unique in that everything from start to finish is done in one location,” Rosenberg said. (more…)

August 5, 2015 at 12:15 pm 1 comment

PaTH Network starts studying patients at four institutions with support from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute

Which health outcomes really matter to patients? That’s the question the PaTH Network is starting to investigate with the help of  nearly $7 million in funding from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), a non-profit created through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Four major university health systems—Penn State, University of Pittsburgh, Temple University and Johns Hopkins University—make up the PaTH Network. It’s one of 29 health data networks across the country and a coordinating center, collectively known as PCORnet, funded by PCORI.

PCORI’s mission is to help patients, their caregivers and healthcare providers make informed healthcare decisions based on outcomes that are relevant to those living with a particular condition. That means designing studies that track these patient-centered outcomes.

Dr. Cynthia Chuang

Dr. Cynthia Chuang

“It’s traditionally been the researchers who have determined what the outcomes should be in studies,” said Dr. Cynthia Chuang, professor of medicine and public health sciences and Penn State’s lead principal investigator on the project. “For a long time, that really seemed to make sense, until you think about: How do we know that these are the outcomes that really matter, and who should the outcomes matter to? When you think about it that way, it should be the patients who say, ‘Having my condition, these are the things that are most important to me.'”

While researchers typically focus on scientific measures like lab values, Chuang said, patients might be more focused on their quality of life, whether or not they can walk without using a walker or how they can take fewer medications.

The PaTH Network is using PCORI’s funding to study patient-centered outcomes for atrial fibrillation (AF or A fib, the most common type of irregular heartbeat) and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF, a rare lung disease with an unknown cause). All of the clinical data research networks in PCORnet, including the PaTH Network, are also working together to better understand the development and treatment of obesity, as well as how some people maintain a healthy weight across their lifetime. By joining forces with other institutions, researchers will have far more patients involved in the study—potentially 3 million in the PaTH Network alone—making the study results much more powerful.

The benefits of larger studies are perhaps obvious for rare conditions, like IPF, for which a lone institution might only have a handful of participants. But large groups of participants also help advance research in more common conditions, like atrial fibrillation, that have many treatment options and no gold standard of care.

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July 13, 2015 at 7:06 am Leave a comment

Advances in women’s health highlight of research day at Penn State Hershey

In 1977 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned women “of child-bearing potential” from participating in clinical trials. This was in part due to thousands of children worldwide being born with missing and malformed limbs after their mothers had taken thalidomide — often prescribed in the 1950s for nausea and as a sleep aid.

A decade and a half later, in 1993, the FDA lifted this ban after Congress passed the National Institutes of Health Revitalization Act. However, as Alina Salganicoff noted in her keynote address at Penn State’s 2015 Women’s Health Research Day on April 28, women are still poorly represented in research and clinical trials.

Women’s Health Research Day was held at the Penn State College of Medicine campus for the second year in a row and researchers from both the Hershey and University Park campuses attended. Due to the number of applications this year, two more research presentation slots and 11 more poster presentations were added.

Poster presentations featured the work of faculty members, residents, graduate students and medical students. The researchers’ fields of expertise ranged from obstetrics and gynecology to kinesiology to public health sciences, and seemingly everywhere in between, covering a vast array of women’s health topics.

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June 2, 2015 at 8:16 am Leave a comment

New associate dean for research innovation nurtures ideas to the marketplace

Dr. Jilka

Dr. Joseph Jilka

Joseph Jilka is in the business of innovation. As Penn State College of Medicine’s newest associate dean for research innovation and director of the Office of Technology Development, his focus is helping faculty bring new technologies from their research labs to the marketplace.

Since joining Penn State Hershey in March, Jilka has been impressed with the culture of innovation he’s experienced here.

“Although I expected it, I still was pleasantly surprised by the open, collaborative atmosphere here,” Jilka said. “Everybody is pulling together, everybody is working together.  I can think of three words when I think of what I’ve experienced here so far: open, collegial and collaborative. I’ve been surprised by that — in a good sense of the word.”

With his mix of science and business backgrounds, Jilka brings a wealth of practical experience and multifaceted interests to his role.

After earning a degree in music, he moved to the scientific world and went on to receive his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, followed by a post-doctoral opportunity at an agriculture company.

“In hindsight, that experience was fun because I was there when they were first starting to understand the rules for expressing a foreign protein in plants.”

His work led him to a seed company, where an effort looking to use corn as a protein warehouse was spun off into a start-up company.

(more…)

April 23, 2015 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

James Broach and Rongling Wu named Distinguished Professors

Dr. Rongling Wu and Dr. James Broach

Dr. Rongling Wu and Dr. James Broach

Dr. James Broach, professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology and Dr. Rongling Wu, director of the Center for Statistical Genetics and professor of public health sciences and statistics, have been named as the 2014-2015 University Distinguished Professors for Penn State College of Medicine.

Broach is a world-renowned scientist whose work has transformed the understanding of genomics and biology. In 2012, Broach was named the inaugural director of the Penn State Hershey Institute for Personalized Medicine because of his significant achievements and his innovative approaches to translational research. Building on a strong foundation, Broach has established Penn State as a national leader in genomics, the next great frontier in medical sciences. He has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1978 and has recruited three bioinformatics faculty who are sought after nationally. In addition to his research, he maintains an extraordinarily high level of activity in teaching and mentoring students. His passion for science education and for encouraging young people to pursue careers in the sciences is immediately apparent to anyone who meets him. Click here to read more about Dr. Broach’s career.

Wu is a statistical geneticist and prolific research whose interests focus on establishing statistical tools for solving problems in genetics and genomics. His scientific contributions include pioneering a dynamic model called functional mapping, which maps genes that regulate the developmental process of complex traits. This is a computational tool aimed at identifying genes and genetic networks that control dynamic traits and can help explain the detailed genetic architecture of drug response by incorporating pharmacodynamics processes. Wu’s research is documented in more than 300 peer-reviewed articles and he has co-authored five books. He has had tremendous success in obtaining funding for his research from the NIH, the US Department of Agriculture, the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy. His contributions to statistical genetics have contributed to the University receiving national and international recognition. Wu has directed more than 20 graduate students in their Ph.D. dissertations and another six are currently under his direction. In 2012 , the Department of Public Health Sciences initiated his biostatistics program. Click here to read more about Dr. Wu’s career.

April 14, 2015 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Four Diamonds assists families like the Hess family during cancer fights

Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 20-22. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $114 million has been raised and donated to Four Diamonds, a foundation that supports the families of pediatric patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, and the cancer research done here. For more information on THON, or to watch the activities live, visit THON.org. For more information on Four Diamonds, visit FourDiamonds.org.

Playing iPad games and shaking a tambourine may not seem special to the parents of most preschoolers.

But, for parents of children battling cancer, it’s the little things like these that can brighten even the darkest of days.

Providing normalcy in the midst of treatment is part of the services supported by Four Diamonds, the sole beneficiary of The Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon (THON) happening this weekend.

Four Diamonds supports children and their families facing the challenges of pediatric cancer by paying for care and treatment not covered by insurance or other means as well as additional expenses that disrupt the welfare of the children.

Lydia Hess

Lydia Hess

One of those families is the Hess family from Harrisburg. Lydia was diagnosed with leukemia in April of 2014 at the age of 2.

Four Diamonds makes it possible for 16 specialty care providers to be available exclusively to Four Diamonds patients and their families – including child life specialists, a clinical nutritionist, a clinical psychologist, nurse specialists, social workers, music therapists, a clinical nutritionist, and pastoral care.

“All of those things have made Lydia’s life and our days so much easier,” said Julie Hess, Lydia’s mother. “Just to make one day easier is a big deal to us. We’ve had a lot of really hard days.”

Lydia’s diagnosis was a complete surprise to the family. Last winter, she had recurring fevers.

“She was 2 and interacting with other kids — going to preschool once a week, swim classes and church– so we figured she was just picking up all the germs,” Julie said.

In April, Lydia’s fever spiked higher than normal and she began complaining of finger pain. Julie and her husband, Brandon, suspected something unusual was happening.

“The pediatrician examined her and said ‘let’s do some x-rays, let’s do some blood work,’ but they never mentioned the word cancer or leukemia,” Julie said.

Two hours after Lydia’s appointment, her doctor called the family.

“You know when you get a call at home that quickly after you’ve been there, it’s not good,” Julie said.

(more…)

February 20, 2015 at 7:01 am Leave a comment

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