Author: yec14002

Honor Roll – Fall 2017

Dr. Ivo Kalajzic was one of four awardees to receive a Supplements to Advance Research (STAR) award for 2017 from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.


Reinhard Laubenbacher, Ph.D., was named an inaugural Fellow of the Society for Mathematical Biology.


Ephraim Trakhtenberg, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience, won an Interstellar Initiative honor from the New York Academy of Sciences and the Japan Agency for Medical Research and Development.


Dr. Anthony G. Alessi has been inducted into the Connecticut Boxing Hall of Fame for his work to make the sport safer. He is the first neurologist to receive the honor.


A study of a surgical technique to restore shoulder joint stability known as the “J-bone graft” conducted at UConn Health under Dr. Leo Pauzenberger, a former sports medicine research fellow at UConn, with Dr. Augustus D. Mazzocca received a biannual Medi Award from the Society for Arthroscopy and Joint Surgery.

Lab Notes – Fall 2017

E-Cigarettes Not a Safe Alternative

Using a new low-cost, 3-D-printed testing device, UConn researchers found that e-cigarettes loaded with a nicotine-based liquid are potentially as harmful as unfiltered cigarettes when it comes to causing DNA damage. The researchers also found that vapor from non-nicotine e-cigarettes caused as much potentially cancer-causing DNA damage as filtered cigarettes, possibly due to the many chemical additives present in e-cigarette vapors. Several factors impact the amount of DNA damage e-cigarettes cause, says Karteek Kadimisetty, a postdoctoral researcher in UConn’s chemistry department and the study’s lead author. “I never expected the DNA damage from e-cigarettes to be equal to tobacco cigarettes,” says Kadimisetty. “I ran the controls again. I even diluted the samples. But the trend was still there — something in the e-cigarettes was definitely causing damage to the DNA.” The findings appear in the journal ACS Sensors.

electronic cigarette


New Device Tests Heart Health

finger pricked with a spot of blood (for blood sugar test)

UConn researchers from the Department of Mechanical Engineering have developed a device that can test blood viscosity during a routine office visit. The heart must work harder to pump sticky — high viscosity — blood, and studies have shown thicker blood can indicate cardiac event and stroke risk. UConn associate professor of mechanical engineering George Lykotrafitis and doctoral candidate Kostyantyn Partola have filed a provisional patent on the small electronic device, which requires just a finger prick of blood, gives precise readings in minutes, and costs under $1,000. Currently, physicians must send large blood samples to off-site labs for analysis in a rheometer. “With this information, doctors can suggest simple lifestyle changes on the spot to prevent their patients from having a stroke or heart attack,” says Partola.


The Lack of Black Men in Medicine

Male african-american doctor

Medical school matriculation rates for black males have failed to surpass those from 35 years ago, according to a recent UConn Health analysis of data from the Association of American Medical Colleges. African-American men make up just 2.8 percent of the applicants to medical school. Out of all African-American applicants, only 38 percent are men, and black males who are unsuccessful in their first application are less likely to reapply than their white counterparts, the researchers write in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities. “The absence of Black males in medical school represents an American crisis that threatens efforts to effectively address health disparities and excellence in clinical care,” wrote authors Dr. Cato T. Laurencin and Marsha Murray.


Lifting Spirits Doesn’t Require Many Reps

25KG weight

More physical activity is not necessarily better when it comes to improving your mood, especially if you spend most of your day sitting, UConn and Hartford Hospital researchers found in a recent study. The work, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, found that people who led sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate activity showed the greatest improvement in overall sense of well-being. Further, the study found no positive or negative association between high-intensity physical activity and subjective well-being, contradicting a widely reported recent study that found high-intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.

Hurricane Relief

UConn Docs Provide Medical Assistance in Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Dr. Robert Fuller says of the crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.


In the wake of devastation from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, UConn Health physicians were among those who traveled to help with humanitarian and medical relief efforts. Dr. Robert Fuller, department chair and professor of emergency medicine at UConn Health (pictured, bottom), traveled with the International Medical Corps on a mission to assess the damage to, and identify gaps in, medical infrastructure for delivering care to the poor, and to find and coordinate resources to close that gap.

“Everyone is affected in a serious and ongoing way,” Fuller says. “It is impossible to see or do anything that is not changed by the storm.”

Dr. Natalie Moore, UConn Health’s first International Disaster Emergency Medicine Fellow and a UConn Master of Public Health candidate, went to the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Irma. She treated patients at a temporary triage clinic in St. John before working at a hospital in St. Croix, where she hunkered down for Hurricane Maria. It was the only hospital open in the area, as the hospital in St. Thomas was destroyed.

a fellow volunteer caring for a resident of St. John following Hurricane Irma.

UConn Health’s Dr. Natalie Moore shared this photo of a fellow volunteer caring for a resident of St. John following Hurricane Irma.

UConn Health's Dr. Robert Fuller, center, a volunteer with International Medical Corps in San Juan, discusses logistics with AmeriCares staff.

UConn Health's Dr. Robert Fuller, center, a volunteer with International Medical Corps in San Juan, discusses logistics with AmeriCares staff.

Follow-Up – Fall 2017

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here are updates on past UConn Health Journal stories:


UConn Center on Aging

The UConn Center on Aging is one of 14 planned study sites for the TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) clinical trial led by Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Dr. Nir Barzilai and colleagues from Wake Forest School of Medicine. The researchers hope to test the ability of diabetes drug metformin to slow development of aging-related conditions such as cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular diseases.

the Flu

Spring 2017, “Aches, Age, and Influenza”


Childhood Anxiety Research

Anxiety in children may need to be treated as a chronic condition that requires regular follow-up, reported UConn Health psychologist Golda Ginsburg at this year’s Anxiety and Depression Association of America conference. The results are from a study that followed 488 children and adolescents with anxiety who were randomly assigned to get cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an antidepressant, CBT and an antidepressant, or a placebo. Remission rates five years after treatment were the same, no matter the treatment.

Russian nesting dolls illustrating the pattern of anxiety

Winter 2015, “Breaking the Cycle: How Anxious Parents Can Protect Their Kids from Becoming Anxious Adults

Cooling Off Chemotherapy’s Side Effects

UConn Health’s Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only Connecticut institution outside Fairfield County to offer its breast cancer patients optional scalp-cooling therapy to reduce their chances of hair loss from chemotherapy treatments.

“Chemotherapy-induced temporary hair loss is one of the most common and stressful side effects breast cancer patients experience,” says Dr. Susan Tannenbaum, chief of the Division of Oncology and Hematology at UConn Health. “Anything we can do to limit a woman’s distress while she undergoes breast cancer care is essential for the patient’s overall holistic health.”

Research studies have shown that the FDA-cleared DigniCap, made by Dignitana Inc., is nearly 70 percent effective in reducing hair loss by at least half in breast cancer patients receiving chemotherapy.

While a patient undergoes intravenous chemotherapy treatments, the computerized cooling cap system circulates cooled liquid through a tight-fitting silicone cap. The cooling therapy works to limit chemotherapy’s side effects by constricting the scalp’s blood vessels, which limits the drug’s reach to the hair follicles and also slows the rate of hair cell division.

The technology’s arrival was spearheaded by donations from UConn Health professors Dr. William B. White and Nancy M. Petry, Ph.D., of the Pat & Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, among others, and grant funding awarded to the UConn Foundation by the CT Breast Health Initiative.

Veteran’s Hearing Restored


UConn Health is using advanced cochlear implant technology to restore hearing in patients living with severe hearing loss. U.S. Navy veteran Peter Jacobs, 78, of Harwinton, Connecticut, is one of those grateful patients.

At age 18, Jacobs joined the navy and worked as a naval ship gunner. But the long-term repercussions of loud noise exposure during his military service included severe hearing loss, which surfaced in recent years.

“Anything that involved hearing, I was left out of. I couldn’t even hear at funerals,” said Jacobs. “But when I lost the ability to hear sirens and couldn’t talk on the phone, then I had to do something.”

Jacobs consulted UConn Health’s advanced ear, nose, and throat team of Dr. Daniel S. Roberts and audiologist Hillary Siddons, Au.D., about his candidacy for a cochlear implant, an electrical device that bypasses the native hearing mechanism to allow a patient to hear.

“Our recommendations for each patient are based on the degree of their hearing loss and how well a patient can understand words,” says Siddons. “If someone can understand less than 60 percent of conversations, they are likely a candidate for a cochlear implant.”

“When they first turned my cochlear implant on, it was amazing,” says Jacobs. “The best sound, other than my wife, is when I open a window and I can hear the birds. That’s wonderful.”

Following his positive patient experience, Jacobs now recommends cochlear implant technology to his fellow veterans and others who may be struggling with hearing loss.

“My message is do it, because it’s going to change your life,” says Jacobs.

“Cochlear implantation is a spectacular technology,” says Roberts. “It takes a patient from not being able to hear at all to being able to talk on the telephone. Some of the most dramatic outcomes that I have seen, and the happiest patients, are those after a cochlear implant.”

Roberts and his team care for patients experiencing hearing loss, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and dizziness. Additionally, his surgery practice encompasses cochlear implantation and skull base surgery for acoustic neuromas and malignant or benign tumors.

To Our Readers

UConn Health Journal magazines


Two years ago, we published the first UConn Health Journal with the goal of giving physicians, dentists, and the public insight into the groundbreaking research and life-changing clinical care happening at UConn Health. As an academic medical center, UConn Health makes the discoveries that shape the future of health care. Our scientists work to understand medicine’s biggest mysteries, design new therapies and treatments, and turn laboratory breakthroughs into advances in patient care.

As our team collaborates to produce each issue, I constantly find myself in awe of everything that drives UConn Health’s innovations. Our stories can be heavy on science or heavy on heart, sometimes in the same issue. This spring, the story “Aches, Age, and Influenza” told of how UConn scientists’ findings in mice may help us prevent influenza-related muscle deterioration in the elderly. In the same edition, we got to know 11-year-old Alyssa Temkin, who since birth has struggled with an unforgiving, deadly disease for which a new UConn doctor is closing in on a cure.

Most of the time, though, our stories walk the line between the two. Because when it comes down to it, these advancements are based on science. But by definition, medical discoveries always impact real people. The mission of UConn Health Journal, like that of the UConn Health enterprise, is to translate that research: What does it mean for you? For your patients? For your loved ones?

In this issue, we’re exploring one topic from several angles. The brain has for centuries fascinated and perplexed. The more we learn about it, the more we find there is left to discover. At UConn, those who work with the brain range from a neurologist with a ringside seat to the evolution of concussion treatment to a radiologist and medical physicist who harnessed 3-D printing technology to give surgeons a practice brain for complicated procedures.

And please, let us know what you think and what else you’d like to read about. Email me anytime at julie.bartucca@uconn.edu.

Thanks for reading,
Julie Bartucca
Editor, UConn Health Journal

Training the Doctors of Tomorrow

Q&A with Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine

Q

This time last year you launched the new MDelta curriculum. How has it gone?

Despite the enormous amount of work, change, and adjustment it takes to change a curriculum, it has gone smoothly and the feedback is validating all the reasons for this change. I believe we are now built to continue to deliver an excellent education to meet the explosive expansion in science and clinical knowledge, and the timing is perfect, as medical school enrollment continues to grow.


Q

Describe how the faculty has grown and how that strengthens the UConn School of Medicine.

Faculty recruitment and retention is a central part of my agenda to make sure the School of Medicine is, and remains, strong. I’m pleased that we have hired 280 faculty members in the last five years, growing from 421 to 542, with a net increase of 121 new faculty. That’s a tremendous amount of new energy, expertise, and possibilities to keep the school, and UConn Health, on the rise. That shows in our U. S. News and World Report rankings, where we rose to 56th in research and 34th in the primary care categories among 170 accredited medical schools in the country.


Q

In what ways is the Bioscience Connecticut investment paying off for the School?

Progress is everywhere as we work to deliver on the aspirations of the investment. We have begun to expand class sizes in the medical school and draw more talented graduate students pursuing advanced or terminal degrees, who will develop into the doctors and scientists serving Connecticut in the future.

Research expenditures, funded by grants, contracts, and gifts, have approached nearly $90 million annually, helping us attract and retain talent and increasing the biomedical science jobs available here. We are already seeing a bioscience hub take form right here in Farmington, where our Technology Incubation Program is 70 percent full, housing 24 start-up companies, of which 15 are linked to UConn Health and the faculty.


Q

A centerpiece of the bioscience project was bringing the Jackson Laboratory to Farmington as a collaborator. What has that relationship meant for UConn School of Medicine’s academic and research objectives?

The relationship has grown in the last three years to the mutual benefit of UConn Health and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX-GM). However, the collaboration is young and will grow in ways none of us today can imagine. JAX-GM already has exceeded the 10-year, 300-job benchmark, and together we have hired five new joint faculty members, with five more planned. In addition, nearly 20 JAX-GM faculty members have joint appointments at the School. Our existing faculty and new JAX-GM faculty have worked together to secure grant funding. This opens a door to academic and research collaboration in new and interesting ways.

This past summer, together we hosted the International Congress on Ethical, Legal, and Social Issues in Genomics on the UConn Health campus. Our faculty and those at JAX came together with the brightest minds and thought leaders from around the world to share, learn, and advance genomics. That kind of opportunity for our students and faculty, and exposure for Connecticut on the world stage, cannot be overstated for its long-term impact to the school and the University.

Transgender Care in Focus

Britta Shute, FNP, (left) talks to Dr. Rebecca Andrews in the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion. Both are primary care and family medicine practitioners who treat a number of transgender patients.

Britta Shute, FNP, (left) talks to Dr. Rebecca Andrews in the UConn Health Outpatient Pavilion. Both are primary care and family medicine practitioners who treat a number of transgender patients.


UConn Health’s trans-competent health care providers are on a mission to enhance access to comprehensive care for the 12,400 transgender adults living in Connecticut.

Transgender is an umbrella term that may be used to describe individuals whose gender expression does not conform to cultural norms and/or who identify differently from their sex assigned at birth. There are 1.4 million transgender adults in the U.S.

Though individuals may self-identify as transgender, it’s not a term that all gender nonconforming people use: individuals may not identify as the male or female gender they were born or as any gender at all, or they may consider themselves to be gender fluid, with both male and female traits.

“Our hope is to raise greater gender-identity awareness among health care providers to improve the transgender patient experience,” said Dr. Rebecca Andrews, associate professor of medicine at UConn Health. “Given our societal norms, transgender patients can often feel pressure to characterize their gender as either male or female. But during their health care visits and beyond, they should just get to be whoever they truly want to be, while having their unique health needs addressed.”

Providers should be aware that not all transgender patients choose to alter their physical presentation with hormone replacement therapy or surgery.

Transgender persons often encounter extra daily stressors during childhood through adulthood that place them at greater risk for psychological and mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and suicide. In a national study by The Trevor Project, 40 percent of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. Most of these cases are thought to be due to lack of access to appropriate mental health support and medical care, so the World Professional Association for Transgender Health advocates for collaboration between medical and mental health providers for most trans individuals.

In addition to providing appropriate care, “our goal at UConn Health is to empower transgender patients to be more comfortable seeking health care, and also to arm health care providers with the latest information they need to best care for the patient population,” said Britta Shute, FNP, of the Department of Family Medicine at UConn Health, who specializes in transgender patient care. “Spread the word. We are here at UConn Health for transgender patients,” Shute says.

To train the next generation of physicians, UConn School of Medicine’s new MDelta curriculum incorporates more education about transgender care.

3-D Printed Model Allows Brain Surgeons to Rehearse

by Kim Krieger

Dr. Charan K. Singh, right, threads a catheter through a 3-D printed model of arteries in the brain while speaking with Dr. Clifford Yang, one of the  model's creators, at UConn Health.

Dr. Charan K. Singh, right, threads a catheter through a 3-D printed model of arteries in the brain while speaking with Dr. Clifford Yang, one of the model’s creators, at UConn Health. Peter Morenus


The first time a young surgeon threads a wire through a stroke victim’s chest, up through the neck, and fishes a blood clot out of the brain may be one of the most harrowing moments in their career. Now, a UConn Health radiologist and a medical physicist have made it easier for them to get some practice first. The team made a life-size model of the arteries that wire must pass through, using brain scans and a 3-D printer. They will make the pattern freely available to any doctor who requests it.

Five years ago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved mechanical thrombectomy — using a wire to pull clots out of the brains of stroke victims. A trap at the end of the wire opens like a little snare that captures the clot, which is then dragged out of the patient.

After a couple months of tweaking, a UConn Health radiologist and a medical physicist found they could print a true-to-life teaching model of the brain’s major arteries for about $14.

A lot can go wrong on that journey. One of the most dangerous complications is also one of the most likely: another clot can be accidentally knocked loose from the walls of the arteries and get stuck in the heart, the lungs, or elsewhere in the brain. Computer simulations of the procedure exist, but they are prohibitively expensive for many medical schools to purchase. Yet interventional radiologists and neurosurgeons need to train extensively before they work on a real person.

UConn Health cardiac radiologist Dr. Clifford Yang and medical physicist intern David Brotman knew they could help young doctors feel more comfortable with the mechanics.


Because of the prohibitive costs of computer simulation programs, often the first time a surgeon threads a wire into a stroke victim’s brain to remove a blood clot is during the doctor’s first surgery. Using brain scans and a 3-D printer, a UConn team made a life-size model of the arteries surgeons must navigate during the procedure so they can practice first. The pattern is available for free to any doctor who requests it.


“What matters is the ability of the doctor to be confident in guiding the wire,” says Brotman. He and Yang found a brain scan of a patient with typical blood vessel structure and used the scan to design a 3-D model of the blood vessels. Finding a good scan was easy: UConn has an immense library of scans from computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of patients. The tough part was converting the data into something a 3-D printer could interpret. Brotman and Yang found and modified publicly available software to do that, and after a couple months of tweaking, they found they could print a true-to-life teaching model of the brain’s major arteries for about $14.

Technically called a brain perfusion phantom, the model is surprisingly delicate. Holding it in your hand brings home just how small the arteries are, even in an adult man. The top arch of the aorta in the chest, big enough to slide an adult’s pinky finger through, connects to the carotid in the neck and then on to the Circle of Willis in the brain, which is no thicker than a fat piece of yarn. The circle has six branches. Each branch supplies blood to one-sixth of the brain. It is in these branches that clots are most likely to get stuck and cause serious damage.

“We are using this model to teach students,” says UConn interventional radiologist Dr. Charan Singh. “Obviously, it won’t feel like the human body. But it will improve their knowledge of anatomy and give them basic technique on how to move the catheter.”

What matters is the ability of the doctor to be confident in guiding the wire.

Singh demonstrates how a slight twist can violently flip the catheter, which is dangerous. It could knock off new clots into the bloodstream. The model isn’t perfect — there are several different ways a person’s aorta can be shaped, and the other veins can vary too. But students can get good practice with it, Singh says.

Dr. Ketan Bulsara, UConn’s chief of neurosurgery, also likes the technology. He cautions that individual anatomy varies too much for it to be used as the only training tool to learn mechanical thrombectomy, but says that it could potentially be used to visualize other conditions, such as brain tumors. Surgery for brain tumors has significant lead time, and modeling the tumor in advance could personalize and improve patient care.

“Creating these high-level 3-D models customized for individual patients has the potential to significantly improve outcomes and reduce operative times by enhancing surgical planning,” Bulsara says.