Team research reveals how cells “eat and sleep” may impact several cancer types

Katherine Aird, center, talks to two members of her research team about their latest work. All three are wearing white lab coats and smiling. Behind them is lab equipment and a refrigerator.

Katherine Aird, center, talks to members of her research team, Kelly Leon and Erika Dahl.

By Katherine Brind’Amour

From aging to cancer—with quite a bit in between—Katherine Aird, assistant professor of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Penn State College of Medicine, and her team have a whole world of research opportunities in front of them. This is not just because they have a lot yet to discover, as Aird insists they do, but because the progress they have made has incredibly broad potential impact.

The team’s latest research reveals that skin, pancreatic, bladder, ovarian and colorectal tumor cells may share a common target for new therapy approaches. In each cancer type, forcing a particular change in the cell’s metabolism (how it uses nutrients) may shut off or suppress its growth, essentially putting it to sleep.

This forced sleep state is known as senescence, and together with cell metabolism, it makes up the heart of Aird’s research.

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September 25, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

From preemie to premed: former NICU baby all grown up, ready for career in medicine

Dr. Charles Palmer, a neonatologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and Tiffany Seibert, an intern at the Penn State ALS Clinic, smile as they look at a photo album of baby photos of Tiffany when she born prematurely 21 years ago. Dr. Palmer is wearing a suit and tie, and Tiffany is wearing a dress. They are standing in a conference room with a whiteboard, cabinet and clock behind them.

Dr. Charles Palmer, left, a neonatologist at Penn State Children’s Hospital, and Tiffany Seibert look at baby photos of Tiffany when she born prematurely 21 years ago.

By Lisa Maresca

One recent August morning on the seventh floor of Penn State Children’s Hospital, Tiffany Seibert shares an embrace with Dr. Charles Palmer, 21 years after they first met.

“Things have changed,” said Palmer. “You look amazing!”

“Thanks to you,” replied Tiffany.

Tiffany, a young woman with curly hair and an infectious smile, returned to the Penn State Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with her parents, Annette and David, for the first time since being discharged more than two decades ago.

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September 18, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

A career for the ages: Eyster revolutionizes understanding of HIV and hepatitis C

An older woman wearing a white lab with the Hershey Medical Center logo on it sits next to a microscope in a research lab. Behind her is a man at a computer, lab equipment and binders on a shelf.

Dr. Elaine Eyster’s work revolutionized the world’s understanding of the natural history of HIV infection in individuals with hemophilia.

By Katherine Brind’Amour

It’s not every day you meet someone who changed the way the world understood the development of HIV and hepatitis C or any other infectious disease. But that is precisely the accomplishment of Dr. Elaine Eyster, distinguished professor of medicine and pathology at Penn State College of Medicine and the 2018 recipient of Penn State Alumni Association’s Honorary Alumni Award.

“In the early 1980s, it became apparent to us that our patients with hemophilia were coming down with unexpected infections,” says Dr. James Ballard, professor of medicine, pathology and humanities at the College of Medicine, who was hired as a hematology fellow by Eyster in 1975 and has worked with her ever since. “Although we didn’t know at the time what it was, we suspected something pretty bad was happening.”

By a stroke of either serendipity or genius, Eyster had stored plasma from her hemophilia patients for years, and as co-founder and long-time director of the Hemophilia Center of Central Pennsylvania, she and fellow clinician-researchers were able to use those samples to research the epidemiology of the emerging infection: HIV.

“She was at the right place at the right time with the right ideas, and that is something that doesn’t happen very often,” says Ballard.

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September 11, 2018 at 10:00 am 1 comment

Bringing ‘Stigma People’ into focus

A man wearing a baseball cap, T-shirt and jeans sits in front of a camera on a tripod and an umbrella lamp. In the background is a table, a stool and a timer.

“If you’ve been that way for so long, you don’t know you’re that way,” said Dan DiFava Jr. about suffering from depression for most of his life. “A fish doesn’t know he’s wet. He’s been in water his whole life.”

By Carolyn Kimmel

For 30 years, Dan DiFava Jr. wore depression like a lead blanket that at times became too heavy to carry.

“You don’t really want to die, but it’s so heavy, and you just don’t want to carry it anymore,” said the Penn State Health Environmental Health Services employee who has attempted suicide five times. “People don’t understand, so they stay away, and then you feel like no one can even help you.”

  • Watch a video about Dan and his photo exhibit featuring people who have been affected by the tragedy of suicide.

DiFava traces his depression to childhood taunts about his small stature—always at least six inches shorter than his peers due to a growth hormone deficiency—and an unstable home life. Low self-esteem and loneliness were his constant companions.

When his last suicide attempt finally led to the medical help and therapy he needed, DiFava found inspiration for living in a surprising place—behind the lens of a camera.

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September 4, 2018 at 12:08 pm Leave a comment

Exchanging perspectives: international students see U.S. health care in new light

Students participating in the Global Health Exchange Program through Penn State College of Medicine sit behind long conference tables arranged in a square and smile and nod their heads as they react to comments by Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Dr. Loren Robinson, who is shown from the back.

Global Health Exchange Program students listen to Dr. Loren Robinson, Pennsylvania Deputy Secretary for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, during a meeting at the state Capitol.

By Carolyn Kimmel

As a first-year medical student in Taiwan, Sandra Tsai is learning firsthand about American health care and insurance coverage through Penn State College of Medicine’s Global Health Exchange Program (GHEP)—and realizing her preconceptions don’t always match with reality.

“The most impressive thing I learned about America is that the insurance system is so complicated and the cost of medical care is so high,” she said.

Tsai and nine other international students from Taipei Medical University, China Medical University and the University of West Indies-Cave Hill in Barbados came to the Hershey campus in July to gain a global perspective on an array of public health-related issues.

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August 28, 2018 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic marks 80 years of improving children’s lives

Dr. Donald Mackay sits on a stool and and talks to two parents in a doctor’s office. Their baby’s car seat is on the floor. Two female clinicians stand next to the doctor smiling.

Dr. Donald Mackay, center, discusses follow-up care with the parents of a newborn patient.

By Kyle Hardner

As a medical student, Dr. Cathy Henry knew she wanted to be a pediatrician. Then she did a rotation with pediatric plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr. Donald Mackay at the Lancaster Cleft Palate Clinic.

“It was life-changing,” Henry said. “The clinic just felt special. They really took care of patients the way we wish we could in every aspect of medicine. I knew then I had to become a pediatric plastic surgeon.”

Today, Henry is part of the pediatric surgery team at Penn State Children’s Hospital that performs cleft lip, palate, and other craniofacial procedures for the clinic’s patients. All follow-up is then done at the clinic, where the three surgeons with a combined 47 years of experience—Mackay, Henry and Dr. Thomas Samson —interact with patients, families, and a multidisciplinary team that has been improving children’s lives for eight decades.

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August 21, 2018 at 10:11 am Leave a comment

Make-believe that comforts and cheers at Penn State Children’s Hospital

Three women dressed in princess costumes visit an 11-year-old boy at Penn State Children's Hospital. All four are laughing. The boy is lying in a hospital bed covered with a sports blanket.Three women dressed in princess costumes visit an 11-year-old boy at Penn State Children's Hospital. All four are laughing. The boy is lying in a hospital bed covered with a sports blanket.

From left, Molly Carney as Belle, Maddie Goss as Sleeping Beauty and Elizabeth Profeta as Elsa, share a laugh with 11-year-old Tymere Patterson of Harrisburg during the group’s visit to Penn State Children’s Hospital.

By Carolyn Kimmel

As the minutes ticked closer to his surgery, 11-year-old Tymere Patterson got more and more anxious—which made his parents more and more anxious—until suddenly Sleeping Beauty, Belle and Elsa swept into his room in all their princess glory.

“The timing was perfect,” said Tymere’s mother, Tara Patterson, who with husband Terry Patterson was trying to ease her son’s fear before surgery for an inguinal hernia at Penn State Children’s Hospital. “I don’t think it really hit him about what was going to happen until we were actually in that room, and then he was very nervous—until the princesses showed up.”

The distraction of their visit—even though they were princesses and not Superman—was enough to put a smile on Tymere’s face and help him forget about the butterflies in his stomach.

“They really lightened the mood for all of us,” his mother said. “As a parent, you never want to see your child in the hospital, much less upset about being there. After the princesses left, we were still laughing, and Tymere didn’t talk about being nervous anymore.”

The princesses were actually Penn State College of Medicine students who volunteer with BraveCubs, an organization that brings well-loved characters to life for young patients at the Children’s Hospital. The name honors the bravery of the pediatric patients and is also a nod to the Penn State Nittany Lion.

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August 14, 2018 at 12:21 pm Leave a comment

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