Author Archive

The best of both worlds: James Powell, M.D., combines his love of teaching and pediatrics

Photo of alumni group

(L-R) Fred Michel, M.D., ’71, chief medical officer, Medical Group, James Powell, M.D., ’92, winner of the Cheston Berlin Service Award, and Cheston Berlin, Jr., M.D., professor of pediatrics and pharmacology.

While growing up in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, James Powell M.D., ’92, knew he wanted to be a doctor from an early age. His experience with his own childhood pediatrician, Robert Childs, M.D. (also an alumnus of the College of Medicine as he completed his residency in 1975), was another deciding factor for Powell.

As an undergraduate and a College of Medicine student, Powell had the opportunity to shadow Childs and James Caggiano, M.D., ’77, at their Hazleton pediatric practice when he was home on weekends. This experience, along with the wisdom of his College of Medicine advisor, Cheston Berlin Jr., M.D., was influential in Powell’s decision to study pediatrics.

Powell received his undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology from Penn State. Unsure of a specialty when he started at the College of Medicine, it was this background that ultimately led him to choose pediatric hematology/oncology.

He completed his pediatric residency at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, followed by a fellowship at Duke University Medical Center in pediatric hematology/oncology.

In 2003, he returned to the Medical Center to work in the Division of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology. During that time, Powell was instrumental in starting a sickle cell disease clinic. He also spent time working with several satellite clinics, including Mount Nittany Medical Center in State College.

He served on the Penn State Alumni Association’s Alumni Council from 2004-2010 and the College of Medicine Alumni Society Board of Directors from 2005-2010, which was a way for him to give back and stay connected.

“It’s important for me to give back to the school that helped me get where I am today,” Powell said. “I’m glad I chose Penn State for both degrees since I received an outstanding education.” (more…)

August 24, 2012 at 3:00 pm Leave a comment

Today’s Research – Earlier tracheostomies improve outcomes

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.

A tracheotomy performed within the first seven days after a severe head injury results in better overall patient outcomes, according to a team of College of Medicine researchers. This is especially true for patients who have a greater chance of surviving when admitted to the hospital. A tracheostomy is an opening created in the front of the neck directly into the trachea to allow unimpeded breathing (a tracheotomy is the act of making that opening).

“The CDC estimates that more than 200,000 individuals are hospitalized annually for traumatic brain injury,” said Kevin M. Cockroft, M.D., ’02, associate professor of neurosurgery at the College of Medicine. “Severely head-injured patients, particularly those with additional injuries, often require tracheostomy at some point during their hospital stay.”

Previous studies have shown mixed results. “Traditionally, tracheostomy, or ‘trach,’ has been recommended to prevent airway complications,” Cockroft said. “Early trach has been advocated as a means to improve outcome, with various studies suggesting that it may decrease the incidence of pneumonia, reduce intensive care unit days, and shorten overall length of stay. Some evidence also exists to suggest that early trach does not improve outcomes. As a result, the timing of trach in these critically ill patients remains controversial.” These results indicate a complex relationship between tracheotomy timing and outcome but suggest that a strategy of early tracheotomy, particularly when performed on patients with a reasonable chance of survival, results in a better overall clinical outcome than when the tracheotomy is performed in a delayed manner. Researchers reported their results in the journal Neurocritical Care.

The project was funded by the Departments of Neurosurgery and Public Health Sciences, at the college.

Read more about tracheostomy research >>

August 24, 2012 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

Advancing to the next level of technology

With the addition of the new Leksell Gamma Knife® Perfexion™, Penn State Hershey Medical Center welcomes the first significant advance in Gamma Knife technology in the past thirty years. Gamma Knife surgery is a well-established method used to treat selected targets in the brain. More than 50,000 patients undergo Gamma Knife surgery every year.

There are many additional benefits of the new stereotactic radiosurgery system. In particular, the new positioning system moves the entire table during the procedure, rather than just moving the patient’s head back and forth. This enables physicians to treat a greater area, including the upper cervical regions.

“With the current Gamma Knife technology, we have to be concerned about the location of multiple tumors,” says Sandra J. Brettler, M.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N., C.N.R.N., nurse coordinator, neurosurgery. “Sometimes, we have to treat them twice, because we cannot reach all of the tumors in the same session. Now, with Perfexion, we can treat them all at once.” (more…)

August 23, 2012 at 11:00 am Leave a comment

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

PNC Foundation helps kids be kids at Children’s Hospital

Rendering of Learning Wall in new Children's HospitalPatients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital will soon have even more opportunity to play and learn thanks to the continuous generosity of the PNC Foundation, which receives its principal funding from The PNC Financial Services Group, Inc.

The freestanding Children’s Hospital is the latest and boldest addition to the campus, and PNC wanted to be a significant partner in seeing it through to fruition. With a $1 million contribution to the Medical Center in 2005 toward the construction of the new children’s hospital building, the PNC Child and Family Resource Center was designated to provide a place for the Injury Prevention Program to educate children and families about child safety as well as distribute PNC Grow Up Great educational materials. Developed with Sesame Workshop, the educational kit and other materials helps prepare children, from birth to age five, to arrive at school ready to learn. (more…)

August 21, 2012 at 10:30 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

Founding leader and advocate for Penn State Hershey passes

Dr. John A. Waldhausen and wifeJohn A. Waldhausen, M.D., professor emeritus, College of Medicine, and founding chair of surgery, the Medical Center, died in mid-May after a remarkable and distinguished career that helped chart the course for Penn State Hershey.

Arriving at Hershey in 1969, Waldhausen provided some of the earliest leadership to the Medical Center when it was still in its infancy. But coming to Penn State was a surprising decision for someone who was already a rising star at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), an established and well-known medical center. Despite being on the ground floor of launching an independent cardiac service at CHOP under the supervision of C. Everett Koop, M.D., Waldhausen still jumped at the opportunity to build his own department at Hershey. In just a few years, he was named interim dean and provost, but when he was offered the title of permanent dean, Waldhausen wrote in his memoir Finding Home in a World at War that he “chose not to, for I wanted to continue to build the department and felt committed to those I had recruited to Hershey. To achieve something, I felt I had to stick to one job.”

Waldhausen was already a nationally respected cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon and, now at Hershey, he quickly became known for his work in the lab. Soon after recruiting William Pierce, M.D., the two embarked on what would become Penn State’s Artificial Heart Program. His pioneering work in the 1980s led to an innovative therapy for coarctation of the aorta, a congenital heart defect that had few successful treatment options. In the following decades, Waldhausen’s protocol became universally-accepted and has reduced the infant mortality rate in patients born with this defect from 60 percent to 3 percent. (more…)

August 17, 2012 at 3:00 pm 1 comment

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