Posts filed under ‘Research’
Four Diamonds support brings new pediatric cancer researchers to Penn State College of Medicine
Editor’s Note: Penn State’s THON Weekend is Feb. 19-21. Students will dance for 46-hours to support pediatric cancer patients. To date, $127 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.
Their journeys started halfway around the world, but their shared passion for uncovering the causes of pediatric cancer brought them to Penn State College of Medicine. Dr. Wei Li is originally from Peking, China, and Dr. Vladimir Spiegelman is originally from Moscow. Now both are in Hershey, through funding from Four Diamonds, working to understand how pediatric cancers develop in the hopes of discovering new lifesaving therapies.
Dr. Li, assistant professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, came from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Spiegelman, Pan Hellenic Dance Marathon Endowed Chair in Pediatric Oncology and professor in the Department of Pediatrics, was most recently at University of Wisconsin.
For researchers early in their careers, it’s not just funding that matters—mentorship is also critical for success.
Dr. Dan Morgan has been studying cannabinoid signaling in the brain. Dr. Greg Lewis recently developed simulation software for fracture surgeries. Dr. Joslyn Kirby investigated bundled payments for management of a skin condition. These three Penn State College of Medicine doctors received guidance from senior researchers, along with $200,000 to fund their research, through the College’s Junior Faculty Research Scholar Awards program.
The program, launched in 2011, provides support to early-stage investigators in basic, clinical, and translational science research.
“It’s a way for us to jump start the research programs and career development of researchers here,” says program co-director Dr. Sarah Bronson, who is also director of Research Development and Interdisciplinary Research and co-director of the Junior Faculty Development Program. “We put equal weight on funding the scholar’s research program and recognizing a career and development plan that is going to make that research program happen.”
To that end, applicants don’t just propose the research they want to do. They also submit mentorship “dream team”—at least three experienced investigators who will provide advice and assistance in developing and executing a research proposal and a career development plan. The mentoring team meets with the scholar a minimum of once every six months.
Each scholar’s award is named to honor the contributions of senior investigators at Penn State Hershey who made a difference through their own research and through the mentoring of colleagues and trainees.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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…)