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…)
For centuries, people have suspected that honey could help with medical problems ranging from wound care to cough suppression. More recently, studies have proven some of those claims to be true. (more…)
By Carolyn Kimmel
In the produce aisles at Harrisburg’s Broad Street Market, six Penn State College of Medicine students in a “Food As Medicine” group are finding that an initiative to help recently resettled refugee families from Syria eat healthy is about a lot more than which vegetables they choose.
“They tell me things I will never forget: bombings nearby; random people breaking glass to get inside their homes. They say they needed to save their children; they had to leave,” said Houda Bouhmam, a first-year medical student from Morocco who speaks Arabic and is helping serve as a translator between the students and the families, none of whom speak English. (more…)
By Jennifer Vogelsong
Kelly Thoman has a high stress job and bouts with anxiety. Dan Coma had just the idea to help: a special program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center using yoga to ease anxiety. It’s part of the emerging field of yoga therapy which Coma, a registered yoga instructor, is completing his training in after teaching group classes at the Medical Center’s University Fitness Center for nine years. He found there was a need for such an evidence-based integrative program after talking with a family medicine doctor at the Medical Center and Deb Tregea, program coordinator at the fitness center.
“We were told that one of the most common conditions people talk with their doctors about is generalized anxiety disorder,” Coma said. Using gentle postures and breathing, Yoga helps balance the autonomic nervous system and increases levels of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain – both good for dealing with anxiety. The program is evidence-based, meaning it is based on research that shows a benefit of using yoga for anxiety. (more…)
Match program doubles donations to student scholarships
By Jade Kelly Solovey
Steven Ma is a first-generation Asian American with a strong interest in global health. A native of Westminster, Calif., he joined Penn State College of Medicine Class of 2020 because of the school’s global health opportunities and its welcoming feel.
His undergraduate degree is from University of California, Irvine, where he volunteered in both Nicaragua and Panama as part of that school’s Global Medical Training organization.
“I really got exposed to the medical field and more and more I started falling in love with what medicine involved,” he said.
The cost of medical school is a reality that was a potential barrier to pursuing his interest in medicine. (more…)