By Heidi Lynn Russell
The conversation always starts the same way: “My son…” “My daughter…” “My grandchild…. has a drug problem.”
And for years, researchers at Penn State College of Medicine have been trying to solve a yearning question from people whose hearts are breaking:
“Why can’t they stop?”
But research now underway may finally unveil an answer – and some hope. Behind all of the science that goes on in sterile campus laboratories – behind the studies of rats and brain cells and clinical findings – is an understanding that many people, including those struggling with drug use, don’t always see: Addiction to opioids alters a person’s brain chemistry, robbing them of the ability to make free-will decisions, says Dr. Sue Grigson, professor of neural and behavioral sciences. (more…)
By Heidi Lynn Russell
What if your family’s DNA could become the blueprint for your very own precise and personalized treatment for colorectal cancer? Or, better yet, what if it could be used to help doctors screen you earlier for the disease, before it has a chance to strike?
This isn’t a science-fictional, futuristic ideal. Cutting-edge research at Penn State College of Medicine and the Penn State Colorectal Diseases Biobank is revealing how genetics play a role in treating this disease. (more…)
By Jade Kelly Solovey
During future physicians’ four years in medical school, they expect to be exposed to many different environments. They become acquainted with the emergency room, operating room, delivery room and every other room in between. Instructors at Penn State College of Medicine hope to help their students become familiar with one more room-the kitchen.
Fourth year medical students at the College now have an opportunity to participate in a Culinary Medicine course to learn cooking and nutrition basics, which they can then pass on to patients. Culinary Medicine is a new evidence-based field in medicine that blends the art of food and cooking with the science of medicine.
By Jade Kelly Solovey
In a second floor, 300 square foot chemotherapy infusion suite in Penn State Cancer Institute are some dumbbells, some stretchy bands, two treadmills, a recumbent bike, a weight bench, some physical therapy tools, and a raised mat. It’s not much and it’s not very big, but for researcher Kathryn Schmitz, Ph.D., it’s what she wanted.
“What I asked for and got in coming to Penn State Cancer Institute was the exercise medicine unit in an oncology clinical setting,” Schmitz said. She needed it for her work.
With the help of an experienced master trainer, this is where she and her team plan to make exercise part of the standard of care for cancer patients as they research the role of nutrition and exercise in cancer treatment and recovery. She has several clinical research studies underway or in development. (more…)
By Ashley Davidson
When Penn State students hit the dance floor for THON this Friday, Feb. 17 through Sunday, Feb. 19 at the Bryce Jordan Center, they’ll celebrate the culmination of a year-long fundraising effort that’s expected to raise millions of dollars — and mark the 40th anniversary since THON named Four Diamonds its sole beneficiary. But it’ll be an exceptionally bittersweet moment for Four Diamonds’ founders Charles and Irma Millard, who can’t believe how far the partnership has come.
They founded Four Diamonds in 1972 after their 14-year-old son, Christopher, lost his three-year battle with cancer at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. (Read more about the history of Four Diamonds here.) Five years later, Four Diamonds forged the relationship with THON (formally called the Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon), which catapulted the organization’s fundraising efforts and ultimately grew it into the nationally recognized philanthropy it is today. (more…)
By Ashley Davidson
Olivier Noel is only 28 years old, but he’s already changing the face of genetics research.
The Haitian native is in his sixth year of Penn State College of Medicine’s MD/PhD Medical Scientist Training Program and was recently recognized by Forbes as one of the country’s brightest young entrepreneurs on its “30 Under 30” list in the science industry. He’s the founder of DNAsimple, a startup aimed at accelerating genetics research by connecting DNA donors with research scientists. The company provides scientists with access to critically important samples, significantly speeding up the pace for genetics research.
“People don’t realize it can take years to get samples, but really only a month to get an assignment done … which is a little bit ridiculous,” Noel said. “It’s a problem for geneticists across the board. You can have a million dollars to do a study, but waste three years trying to get samples.”
Noel explained a “light bulb” went off when he attended a genetics conference at the recommendation of Dr. Roger L. Ladda, whom he had been shadowing with the intent of focusing his residency on genetics.
“The keynote speaker at the conference was talking about how he was studying a disease not really prevalent in the Western world and the way they were able to get a DNA sample to validate was through Facebook. The joke at the time was that Facebook is the new way of doing genetics. I realized, wow, that worked well for one case but that’s not the way science should get done,” Noel said.
Noel’s big break was when the company was accepted into the Y Combinator program, which includes such notable alumni as Dropbox, Airbnb and Reddit. DNAsimple was one of 32 companies accepted from more than 6,500 applicants worldwide, he said. But he credits his PhD advisors — former Penn State faculty member Dr. Glenn S. Gerhard and Penn State College of Medicine Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology James Broach, PhD — for teaching him about genetics and exposing him to Penn State Institute for Personalized Medicine.
“I think if I didn’t go through the Institute for Personalized Medicine, there’s no question DNAsimple wouldn’t exist,” Noel said. “My whole exposure to the genomics world, biobanking, how it’s done and the status quo, is absolutely from my experience at the Institute.”
While Noel currently is a guest at Temple University’s Lewis Katz School of Medicine — where Dr. Gerhard now serves as the chair of the Department of Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry — he’ll return to Hershey to complete his program at Penn State, which he loves.
“For medical school, I had a few options and Penn State was one of them,” Noel explained. “I knew I was going into the MD/PhD program, which is eight years, so it was really important that not only the academic level was where I wanted it, but also community wise I wanted a place where I could see myself living for eight years, no problem. There was more than just the academics. I love the people. I love the Penn State culture. I’m the biggest Penn State football fan in the world now over the past couple years. But research was the last thing that just got me. Research won me over. Penn State is the place to go.”
As for being named to the prestigious Forbes list, it’s still a little surreal. Even as he begins to close in on seed funding with investors.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” he said. “It’s extremely humbling, to be honest. All the hard work you put in is being recognized.”
A $2.4 million Human Resources Services Administration (HRSA) grant is a potential “game changer” for teaching medicine at Penn State College of Medicine and encouraging students to pursue careers in primary care to address a national physician shortage.
“By bringing together education leaders across our organization, we will break down silos and enhance education,” said Dr. Shou Ling Leong, principal investigator of the HRSA grant and associate vice chair of education in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. “Ultimately, the goal is to improve the health of the nation by creating clinical training that is more integrated across disciplines.” (more…)