Posts filed under ‘Research’

Physician of the Year honor caps off 40-year career of serving hemophilia patients

Dr. Elaine Eyster

Dr. Elaine Eyster

When Elaine Eyster traveled to Dallas in mid-August to receive the National Hemophilia Foundation’s 2015 Physician of the Year award, she was more impressed by those in attendance than the plaque she received.

Many there had survived the HIV epidemic. Others had been cured of their Hepatitis C infections.

“Earlier in my career most would have been in wheelchairs or walking around on crutches,” she said. “Because of the availability of good treatment, they are leading active, productive lives.”

When Eyster was in medical school, half of the boys born with a severe form of hemophilia died before their 19th birthday. Those who survived were destined to spend most of their lives on crutches or in wheelchairs as a result of joint and muscle damage from repeated bleeding episodes.

Eyster has spent more than four decades conducting research, caring for patients, working on teams, mentoring others and providing leadership to bring such changes about. That is why the executive committee of the Mid Atlantic Region III Federally funded Hemophilia Treatment Centers and the Hemophilia Center of Central PA in Hershey nominated her for the award.

James Ballard, professor of humanities, medicine and pathology at Penn State Hershey, was hired by Eyster 40 years ago as the institution’s second hematology fellow.

“She was my mentor, and we have had a long period of collaboration,” he said. “She is an incredibly talented person who has great scientific skills and is a great problem solver.”

He has seen Eyster care for hundreds of patients with hemophilia and advocate for their well-being on a regional and national level.

“She has been a friend and doctor to many, and I think she has reached a point in her career where it is obvious to everyone that she has made significant contributions scientifically and in terms of patient care and advocacy.”

Eyster’s early research focused on the HIV epidemic in the hemophilia population. In 1982, when three people with hemophilia who had been heavily transfused with blood clotting factors developed an immune disorder similar to those described in gay men, her team was in a unique position to investigate this mysterious illness.

She had saved samples of plasma because she was interested in the transmission of hepatitis by clotting factors.

“At that time, we didn’t know anything about what caused AIDS or how it was transmitted,” she said. Those samples played a key role in helping to explain how HIV infections were transmitted and how the immune deficiency progressed after an individual became infected.

Similar research conducted later with her collaborators at the NIH addressed the transmission and the outcomes of the hepatitis C virus infections that were acquired  by  almost all people with hemophilia who had received clotting factor concentrates during the 1970s and 80s, before effective donor screening and viral inactivation methods were developed.

“Hepatitis B was a big problem for people with hemophilia, so I was saving the samples because I thought there would be more to learn and I wanted to be prepared by having materials to study it,” she said. “Or – as my late husband would say – because I never threw anything away.”

Eyster was also instrumental in getting state funding to establish The Hemophilia Center of Central PA, which has grown over the years to serve about 450 active patients who now receive comprehensive hemophilia care at Penn State Hershey.

She hopes the future will bring development of replacement blood clotting factors that remain active for weeks rather than days for people with hemophilia– and that can be given subcutaneously rather than intravenously to prevent and treat bleeding.

Eyster also would like to see researchers find a way to prevent the body from attacking and destroying the transfused clotting factors – or develop an effective gene therapy that will allow people with hemophilia to produce their own clotting factors.

Although she no longer works full time, Eyster gets excited when she talks about the staff at the hemophilia center.

“It’s so gratifying to have such a great team of people to work with and to see what we can accomplish,” she said. “It has been a most rewarding experience to get to know so many families and to help care for so many wonderful people.”

-Jen Vogelsong

September 16, 2015 at 9:24 am Leave a comment

3D printing technology opens up new possibilities

A new printing technology at Penn State Hershey gives doctors and researchers new possibilities.

Instead of ink on paper, a 3D printer can “print” strands of material in layers to create solid items. Doctors can imagine, design and create prototypes of everything from surgical tools to medical devices like abdominal drains and orthopedic screws.

“There is a big splash about 3D printing — and with good reason,” said Dr. Randy Haluck, vice chairman for technology and innovation for the Department of Surgery.

In the past, a doctor who wanted only a few of something for testing or custom use would have to go through a manufacturing process set up to make thousands of the same thing. Now, a single item or a small batch can be printed.

“This is faster, more efficient and cheaper,” said Dr. Peter Dillon, chair, Department of Surgery.

Just as a draft of text can be printed on a two-dimensional surface and then tweaked and revised before printing again, the same can be done with the 3D machine.


September 1, 2015 at 7:38 pm Leave a comment

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.”


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.


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.


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.


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

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