Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine

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.

Lab Notes – Summer 2016

Researchers Reveal a Secret of Sepsis

human cell rendering

Severe bacterial infections can push the human body into sepsis, a life-threatening cascade of inflammation and cell death that can be difficult to cure. In the May 19 issue of Cell, immunologist Vijay Rathinam and colleagues at UConn Health proposed an explanation for how bacteria trigger such a dangerous reaction: The human cells aren’t really being invaded. They just think they are, at least when sepsis is caused by gram-negative bacteria. Gram-negative bacteria secrete vesicles of lipopolysaccharides (LPS) that can get inside human cells and set off alarms. When the cell detects the LPS, it thinks a bacterium has slipped past its defenses and self-destructs, spilling inflammatory cytokines that prompt the bacteria to emit more LPS, setting off a vicious cycle.


Nanoparticles: guided missiles for drug delivery

Powerful drugs such as chemotherapy and steroids can be devastatingly effective against their intended targets — but they have a tendency to devastate other, healthy body systems as well. UConn chemist Jessica Rouge is working to make these medications more discriminating in their action by bundling them into guided nanoparticles. Her lab is developing aptamers, molecules that bind to a specific target proteins or cell receptors, that can be attached to the nanoparticles to guide them straight to damaged or diseased cells. This approach could help cancer patients avoid the worst side effects of chemotherapy. It could also be useful for asthmatics who need steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. With this strategy, the drugs could be sent straight to the lungs, side-stepping side effects completely.


Walnuts May Improve Your Colon Health

a walnut in its shell

Eating walnuts may change gut bacteria in a way that suppresses colon cancer. A team of researchers from UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine found that mice that ate 7-10.5 percent of their total calories as walnuts (about an ounce per day for humans) developed fewer colon cancers. Walnuts are packed with compounds known to be important nutritionally, but it may be as a whole food that they pack the most significant anti-cancer punch against colon cancer, the third most common cancer in the world. The research, supported in part by the California Walnut Commission and the American Institute for Cancer Research, was published May 23 in the journal Cancer Prevention Research. UConn Health Center for Molecular Medicine cancer researcher Dan Rosenberg and colleagues are now working on a long-term study in humans.


Congestive Heart Failure plus Type 2 Diabetes Worse Than We Knew

Diabetes blood Sugar monitor and test strip

Data from more than 5,300 patients with Type 2 diabetes has shown that these patients face a one-in-four chance of dying within 18 months of being hospitalized for congestive heart failure, according to the global EXAMINE study, led by UConn Health professor of medicine Dr. William B. White. Patients with Type 2 diabetes have two to three times the heart disease risk of the general population. White hopes the results inspire patients and doctors to focus more on preventing cardiovascular disease. The findings were presented June 11 at the American Diabetes Association’s (ADA) annual meeting in New Orleans and published online in the ADA journal Diabetes Care.