UConn School of Medicine

Healthy Aging

Dr. George Kuchel

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of Americans over 65 is expected to almost double by 2060. An aging population means caring for more Americans living with cancer, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease, among other challenges. UConn Health Journal asked gerontologist Dr. George Kuchel about the key phases of geriatric care.


Dr. George Kuchel Director, UConn Center on Aging; Travelers Chair in Geriatrics and Gerontology, UConn School of Medicine

Q

Why should a patient see a geriatrician?

At our multidisciplinary geriatric clinic, we see older adults who wish to maintain their health, function, and independence, as well as those facing a crisis. Geriatricians are specialists on the complex issues arising from having multiple coexisting chronic diseases, multiple medications, and multiple providers. We work with each patient and their family and referring physician to come up with an optimal plan that meets their unique needs and goals.


Q

What is the Center on Aging doing to address the unique challenges related to hospitalization in this population?

At most hospitals, nearly half the inpatients are 65 years old and older. To raise the overall level of care for these patients, we bring together all of the providers they need — physicians, nurses, physical therapists, social workers.

With older adults, the greatest challenges associated with hospitalization include delirium, falls, and declines in mobility. We’re actively involved in several National Institutes of Health–funded research efforts to improve outcomes after hospitalization, including the Starting a Testosterone and Exercise Program after Hip Injury, or STEP-HI, study to improve function in women who’ve broken a hip. A few years ago, we joined the NICHE program (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders), a nursing-led multidisciplinary strategy to improve outcomes for hospitalized patients. None of this can be accomplished without engagement and leadership by nurses.


Q

What makes older patients more likely to be readmitted during post-op/recovery?

Bed rest leads to loss of muscle strength, which happens quickly in older adults. Many people continue to need monitoring or help with medications after hospitalization, which may require a stay in an intermediate facility for rehabilitation. When transitioning from one institution to another, there’s potential for some real gaps in care, such as medication errors.

Transitional care programs like the ones at our partner rehabilitation facilities — where one of our physicians provides care during post-acute rehabilitation — help to overcome these challenges. The physician’s work is integrated with the work of the discharge planners and the care team here; they’re familiar with the protocols; and they have access to our electronic medical record system. There’s seamless communication and a continuity of care. We’ve seen noticeable reductions in our hospital readmission rates among patients under the care of our physicians in skilled nursing facilities. The best example of this is at Avon Health Center, where we’ve seen a 77% reduction in the 30-day readmission rate in the three-plus years we’ve had a physician assigned there.

UConn Health Leads Search for Syphilis Vaccine

Dr. Juan Salazar, left, and Dr. Justin Radolf in Radolf's lab at UConn Health in Farmington.

Dr. Juan Salazar, left, and Dr. Justin Radolf in Radolf's lab at UConn Health in Farmington.


While cases of syphilis in Europe first were recorded over 500 years ago, no vaccine candidates have ever advanced to human clinical trials. A new, international center led by the UConn School of Medicine and Connecticut Children’s aims to change that.

UConn will receive up to $11 million over five years from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to develop a vaccine for this centuries-old disease.

Syphilis poses serious health consequences internationally and in the United States. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 10.7 million people between the ages of 15 and 49 had syphilis in 2012, and about 5.6 million people contract it every year.

“An effective syphilis vaccine would represent a triumph for biomedical research over an ailment that has defied conventional public health strategies for prevention and control,” says Dr. Justin Radolf, professor of medicine and pediatrics at UConn School of Medicine and co-principal investigator with Dr. M. Anthony Moody of Duke University. “If successful, the scientific and public health impact of our approach will extend well beyond syphilis and establish a model to tackle other pathogens.”

Syphilis is primarily transmitted through direct contact with an infectious lesion during unprotected sex, and can also be passed from expecting mothers to their unborn children. Syphilis is the second leading cause of stillbirth and miscarriage worldwide. If left untreated, it can cause strokes, dementia, and other neurological diseases in any infected person.

Past attempts to control the syphilis epidemic by treating infected individuals and their partners have proved unsuccessful, largely due to difficulties diagnosing the disease, limited access to care for certain high-risk individuals, and limited resources for effective contact investigation. Furthermore, syphilis and HIV are recognized as “syndemics,” in which both infections can increase the risk of acquisition and transmission of the other.

The international study team comprises researchers from UConn School of Medicine; Connecticut Children’s; the Duke Human Vaccine Institute; the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases; UNC Project-Malawi; Masaryk University in the Czech Republic; and Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China.

“This center combines the unique capabilities of UConn Health’s Spirochete Research Lab with the rest of the study team, which has world-class vaccine research infrastructure, international health expertise, and unparalleled knowledge of bacterial genomics to achieve our long-term objective,” says Dr. Juan Salazar, chair of pediatrics at UConn Health and physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s.

Leadership in Diversity

High school research apprentices attend a Health Care Opportunity Programs symposium in July.

High school research apprentices attend a Health Care Opportunity Programs symposium in July.


This spring, U.S. News & World Report named UConn School of Medicine among the 10 medical schools nationwide with the most African American students, a validation of the School’s efforts to grow the diversity of its student body.

The School’s African American student population for 2018–2019 was 11.8%, well above the national average for medical schools. The national average, which was 6% in 1980, is now 7.1%.

“The lack of African Americans and other underrepresented minorities choosing to enter the fields of medicine and research is a critical and longstanding national issue,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn’s medical school. “We look forward to further helping curb this national issue and building a stronger, more diverse pipeline of future health care professionals through our medical educational mission and training initiatives.”

Research has shown that racial and ethnic diversity in medical education improves the learning and cross-cultural competencies of all doctors. And minority medical students are more likely to work in underserved communities and, therefore, positively influence access to care.

UConn School of Medicine has worked for decades to increase diversity, with much success. With this year’s incoming class, the medical school’s underrepresented-population enrollment is expected to reach a height of nearly 23%. For more than a decade, UConn’s medical school has maintained its overall percentage of African American students and has doubled the number of black males enrolled.

Having among the highest number of African American students “is very gratifying,” says Dr. Marja M. Hurley, founding director and associate dean for the Health Career Opportunity Programs at UConn Health, sponsored by the Aetna Health Professions Partnership Initiative. For nearly two decades, these programs have aimed to attract more young people from across Connecticut, of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, to medicine and science.

Of the nearly 900 youth from the state’s elementary schools, high schools, and colleges who have participated in the programs since 1996, more than 500 have gone on to enter medical, dental, or other health profession schools. Among the School of Medicine Class of 2019, 66% of the African American graduating students participated in one or more of the programs.

“We are very proud of the successes in growing the diversity of our student body, and also building a greater pipeline for a more diverse future health care workforce,” says Hurley.

Liang added: “This is very good recognition for the UConn School of Medicine and the excellent work of our medical school’s Student Affairs team and Dr. Marja Hurley.”

Treating Traumatized Immigrant Children

Q&A with Julian Ford, Ph.D., Director, Center for Trauma Recovery and Juvenile Justice

Q

How is trauma impacting these young people?

They are impacted by violence in their countries of origin and on the journey to the U.S., as well as by race-related and institutional trauma in this country. Many develop a sense of fear, distrust, and even hopelessness that interferes with relationships, school, adjustment to new communities, and their physical health. These problems can persist for many years.


Q

What behaviors do they exhibit as a result?

These youth are often distrustful as a result of trauma, and can be very withdrawn or impulsive in an attempt to protect themselves from further trauma. This is a form of “survival coping,” which results from chronically not feeling safe. Justice involvement can occur when these youths feel that they must take extreme steps to protect themselves, which can lead to breaking rules — such as at school — or confrontations with law enforcement.


Q

How can physicians provide the best care to these patients?

Immigrant youths and their families, especially recent newcomers, have come to the United States in a period of turmoil and controversy that has heightened the stress they face in coming to a new country and new community. Many may feel reluctant to seek health care for fear of facing prejudice or discrimination. Providing a clear message of welcome and acceptance, in addition to showing interest in learning and respect for their culture and traditions, is essential to forging a positive treatment relationship — and can reduce patients’ anxieties and contribute to better health outcomes.

Expect that it will take some time, often several visits, for these youths and their families to feel sufficiently trusting and safe to fully and actively engage in dialogue and the treatment process. Patience and consistency on the part of the health care professional are a crucial counterbalance to the often harsh and even traumatic encounters many have had with putative helpers and institutional officials during their journey and once in the United States.

Explaining the nature and limits of confidentiality can help reduce fears about being subject to immigration sanctions.


Q

Is there a plan in place to help youths who suffer from this type of trauma?

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has established more than 15 programs nationally for these youths. [The Center for Treatment of Developmental Trauma Disorders and The Center for Trauma Recovery and Juvenile Justice, of which Ford is the director, are members of the network.] This network was established by the federal government in 2001, and its centers provide public education, counseling, advocacy, and behavioral health treatment services for children and families, as well as consultation to community leaders and policymakers.

UConn Med Students First to Learn With New Handheld Ultrasound

handheld ultrasound tool

Photo courtesy of Butterfly Network Inc


Students at the UConn School of Medicine are the first in the nation to use Butterfly iQ, a new handheld, full-body ultrasound system that plugs into an iPhone and is powered by a microchip, as part of their curriculum.

Guilford, Connecticut-based Butterfly Network Inc. created the first-of-its kind device, which at $2,000 is much more affordable than cart-based portable ultrasound machines that can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Dr. Meghan Herbst, School of Medicine associate professor and ultrasound director in UConn’s Department of Emergency Medicine, is spearheading use of the device in medical education at UConn. She envisions the Butterfly iQ becoming as essential as a physician’s stethoscope.

“I will have an ultrasound unit on me, kind of like my stethoscope but a different tool — I think a better tool — to really look inside patients’ bodies,” she says. “Not only can you do everything that the cart-based machine can do, but the cart-based machine has a different probe for each frequency of sound.”

Butterfly iQ eliminates the need for multiple probes, with the silicon chip system able to create linear, curved, or phased ultrasound beams.

Students who tested out the device were impressed by the ease of use and image quality.

“It’s totally intuitive,” says third-year medical student Sam Southgate.“It’s like a modern tech device rather than a piece of medical equipment.”

Third-year medical student Zach Bovin agrees: “The first thing I noticed was that the [image] quality was as if I had the big ultrasound machine next to me.”

First- and second-year medical students are using the devices in their anatomy lessons, Herbst says, and fourth-year students recently used them during a four-hour ultrasound session as part of their preparation to transition to residency.

Butterfly Network aims to democratize health care, marketing director Guru Sundar says, whether that means providing devices to physicians in underserved areas or to students who might not have previously had the opportunity for such hands-on ultrasound experience.

“I hope to incorporate ultrasound into the first- and second-year Delivery of Clinical Care course, where they can ‘see’ the heart after learning how to listen to it, or ‘see’ the liver and thyroid after learning how to examine these organs,” Herbst says. “I also hope to have some of the fourth-year students independently scan while on certain clerkships, such as emergency medicine and critical care.”

The units are also being used in the Emergency Medicine Residency Program.

Those at UConn and in the health care industry at large believe the technology could revolutionize health care. According to Forbes, the company has raised $250 million in investments, including from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“For us at UConn to be right at that cutting-edge, right at the future, is very exciting,” Southgate says.

School of Medicine Reaccredited

Through a vote at an October 2018 meeting, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited the University of Connecticut School of Medicine medical education program for another eight-year term.

The School of Medicine was deemed satisfactory in 92 of the 93 elements and compliant with all 12 standards of the accreditation criteria by the LCME, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as the authority for the accreditation of medical education programs.

“We are pleased with this positive outcome and would like to thank the various faculty and staff members who were so instrumental in this remarkable achievement,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of the School of Medicine, who directed the effort to prepare for the accreditation of the medical education program.

“Since a new curriculum was recently introduced, there are several elements that will continue to be monitored, but we are committed to working diligently toward strengthening the program even further.”

UConn, JAX Confront Pain With First-In-State Consortium

illustration of older man holding back in pain


An estimated 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain — more than those affected by heart disease, cancer, and diabetes combined, according to The National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. How best to manage that pain in the face of a nationwide opioid crisis is the question on many practitioners’ minds.

The Connecticut Pain Consortium — a translational pain research and education collaboration between UConn Health, the UConn schools of Medicine and Nursing, and The Jackson Laboratory — aims to help answer it.

Given the broad range of research interests and funding opportunities related to pain, the founders envision that centers across the University and nearly every UConn school and college — particularly the schools of Dental Medicine and Pharmacy — will join the consortium to build mutually beneficial collaborations. Experts from Yale University and hospitals including Connecticut Children’s Medical Center will also be involved.

“There is a clear need for more basic and translational research on human pain and pain management,” says the Consortium’s director, mathematician and computational biologist Reinhard Laubenbacher, a joint faculty member at UConn Health and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

“And there is a critical unmet need for education and training of providers and patients. This is a great opportunity to deploy our capabilities in pain research and addiction together with our Connecticut partners in an exciting and much-needed statewide initiative.”

The Consortium, the first of its kind in the Connecticut medical community, will establish a portal for pain-related health care data and facilitate research collaborations that leverage state and national resources. It will aim to translate that research into cutting-edge pain management solutions and raise awareness of the many facets of pain, pain management, and potential related ramifications including opioid addiction. The Consortium will contribute to a curriculum on pain research and management for health care providers.

The launch is being funded by a $55,000 planning grant from the Mayday Fund, whose mission is to support projects that close the gap between knowledge and practice in the treatment of pain, to the UConn Foundation. The Consortium has also received support from the UConn Office of the Vice President for Research, the schools of Nursing and Medicine, and the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine.

“This new consortium builds upon strengths already existing in the School of Medicine, with an existing core of faculty focused on pain research,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of the School. “Thanks to this grant, we believe there will be numerous opportunities for advancement in the study and treatment of pain.”

Together for the Kids

By Lauren Woods

Dr. Emily  Germain-Lee  with a patient at the Albright Center at Connecticut Children's Medical Center.

Dr. Emily Germain-Lee with a patient at the Albright Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
Erin Blinn Curran/ Connecticut Children’s Medical Center


National recognition by external sources such as U.S. News & World Report comes as no surprise to the thousands who pass through Connecticut Children’s Medical Center each year.

What may be unexpected to those patients is that such success is the fruit of a more than 50-year legacy of the pediatric department at UConn School of Medicine advancing pediatric medicine, research, and education in Connecticut — and putting the health of the state’s tiniest residents first.

The life-changing work done by UConn’s Department of Pediatrics is made possible by a special partnership: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is the teaching hospital where medical students, pediatric residents, and fellows are trained, as well as the home of the faculty’s clinical care work.

“UConn’s Department of Pediatrics’ strong relationship with Connecticut Children’s is excellent and seamless. There is no us and them. We are truly one, and we couldn’t excel without each other,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, the dean of the UConn School of Medicine since 2015. Liang has helped expand the two institutions’ joint recruitment of world-renowned physician-scientists and has led much of their growth in pediatric research.

For the Greater Good

The seeds of excellence in pediatric care in the Hartford area were planted in 1967 with the founding of UConn’s Department of Pediatrics, shortly before the medical school admitted its first class in 1968. UConn John Dempsey Hospital offered pediatric hospital care when it opened in 1975. Hartford-area hospitals had an informal agreement not to duplicate pediatric specialty services — patients were transferred among the hospitals based on their specialty care needs.

Connecticut Children’s was born in April 1996 after Newington Children’s Hospital, Hartford Hospital, and John Dempsey voluntarily closed their pediatric services so a comprehensive children’s hospital could open. It was established by state legislation and a 99-year lease of land on Hartford Hospital’s campus for 1 dollar per year. St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center’s pediatric programs were also incorporated. Uniquely, the leadership structure of the new pediatric hospital required that the same individual serve as both UConn’s Department of Pediatrics chair and Connecticut Children’s physician-in-chief.

“I am honored to have seen firsthand the strong evolution in pediatrics since my 1980s UConn pediatric residency training,” says Dr. Juan C. Salazar, who has served in that joint leadership role at UConn and Connecticut Children’s since 2013. “It is amazing that the strengths of four different Hartford hospitals came together for the greater good of our children and continue to offer the best pediatric care. It’s been an incredible success, allowing us to grow pediatrics clinically and educationally, along with our research mission.”

Salazar cites pediatric endocrinologists Dr. David Weinstein and Dr. Emily Germain-Lee as “two of several perfect examples of how the partnership of Connecticut Children’s and UConn really works seamlessly, with clinical services provided at Connecticut Children’s while robust laboratory research and clinical trials are under way at UConn.”

For 2018–19, U.S. News & World Report ranks Connecticut Children’s among the best hospitals in four pediatric specialties: cardiology and heart surgery, diabetes and endocrinology, neonatology, and urology. As one of the state’s largest care providers with 300 faculty members, UConn’s Department of Pediatrics has 31 medical and 13 surgical specialties.


Dr. David Weinstein, head of the Glycogen Storage Disease Program at UConn Health and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, walks with Alyssa Temkin through the new clinic at Connecticut Children’s.

Dr. David Weinstein with a patient
Peter Morenus


For a Brighter Future

In addition to translational research and top clinical care, UConn Health’s mission includes a third focus on teaching the practitioners of tomorrow. UConn is the largest educator for the state’s pediatric medicine workforce, as up to 60 percent of pediatricians in Connecticut have graduated from UConn’s medical school or its pediatric training programs.

Historically, UConn has also provided the largest pipeline of medical students into the state’s pediatric residency programs — each year up to 20 percent of UConn’s graduating medical school class chooses to specialize in pediatrics, entering residency training programs here or around the country.

“Along with research advancements, our significant focus is the education and training of our next generation of pediatricians and pediatric specialists, many of whom stay right here in Connecticut to serve the state,” says Liang.

UConn and Connecticut Children’s continue to strengthen their partnership in all three areas by building relationships with other organizations.

The two institutions in 2016 joined with another collaborator, The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine located on UConn Health’s campus, to recruit Dr. Ching C. Lau, an internationally recognized pediatric brain and bone tumor clinician and researcher.

UConn and Connecticut Children’s look forward to growing their alliance, Liang says, and are planning joint physician-scientist recruitments in the fields of medical genetics and gastroenterology, as well as further collaborations in maternal-fetal medicine.


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World-renowned physician-scientists across specialties bring to life the vision of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and UConn School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics. Read on to learn about three of the groundbreaking physician-scientists who are currently dedicated to improving the lives of children in Connecticut and around the world.


A Vision for the Future of Pediatric Cancer

In 2016, Connecticut Children’s and UConn joined with another collaborator, The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine located on UConn Health’s campus, to recruit Dr. Ching C. Lau, an internationally recognized pediatric brain and bone tumor clinician and researcher, from Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

As medical director of hematology-oncology at Connecticut Children’s and head of the Division of Pediatric Hematology-Oncology in the Department of Pediatrics at UConn, Lau’s JAX-based laboratory aims to leverage new, sophisticated genomic medicine techniques, mouse models, and therapeutic treatments to choose the best therapy for patients and discover new treatments.

When he was awarded the inaugural Martin J. Gavin Endowed Chair in Hematology/Oncology at Connecticut Children’s, Lau said he was attracted to the vision and dedication of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

“I dream that one day when I look at a child diagnosed with cancer, I can look him or her in the eye and say, ‘You will be cured without having to come to the hospital for therapy. You just have to go home and take this medicine,’” he said.

Lau is focused on accelerating the pace and success rate of clinical trials in pediatric cancer patients. “Although the incidence of cancer among children is much lower than that in adults,” he says, “it can be just as deadly. And because of the smaller number of patients available, clinical trials of new treatments for pediatric cancers are conducted at a much slower pace. Typically patients are enrolled in clinical trials after their cancers progress or are found not to be responsive to standard therapy.”
As a result, he says, pediatric cancer patients are exposed to side effects of standard therapy without therapeutic benefit. “This is a particularly serious problem for children because they are still undergoing normal growth and are particularly vulnerable to the side effects of anticancer drugs.”

By using the combined approach of genomic medicine and accurate mouse models to choose the best therapy for each patient, Lau hopes to improve the speed and outcome of clinical trials as well as to reduce unnecessary side effects for children with cancer.

One way he’s speeding up the process is through Smash Childhood Cancer, an initiative he’s spearheading for the U.S. alongside international researchers and IBM to find prospective treatments for childhood cancers by conducting millions of virtual experiments to help pinpoint promising drug candidates for further study using IBM’s World Community Grid.

“This kind of research expedites finding new treatments for childhood cancers,” Lau says. “Crowdsourcing computer processing power enables us to perform millions of experiments virtually and will save us years of experiments. It is bringing us that much closer to finding the right drug for each type of cancer.”

 

Administering New Therapy — and Hope

In late July, a patient named Jerrod received a drug infusion that he’s been waiting for his entire life.

Jerrod was the first patient to receive a promising investigational gene therapy to treat glycogen storage disease type Ia, the rare, potentially deadly genetic disorder he was born with. Dr. David Weinstein, a world-renowned pediatric endocrinologist and director of the Glycogen Storage Disease Program at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center and UConn Health, has been working to develop the treatment for two decades and calls the trial “a big leap forward for GSD.”

Healthy livers store excess sugar from food and release it into our bloodstreams when we need it as processed sugar enzymes called glycogen. However, in the seven forms of GSD, the liver fails to break down glycogen into glucose, causing the body’s blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low, which can lead to seizure or death. Patients stay alive by consuming a cornstarch mixture every few hours to keep their blood sugar up.

The gene therapy undergoing the Phase 1/2 clinical trial, approved by the FDA in April, delivers a new copy of the gene to the patient’s liver to replace deficient sugar enzymes and jumpstart the body’s glucose control. Studies in animal models have already shown the promising gene therapy to be safe, effective, and long-lasting.

The clinical trial is in conjunction with the biopharmaceutical company Ultragenyx and will soon expand from UConn Health in the U.S. to other sites including Canada, Spain, and the Netherlands.

“This gene therapy is hope for all us GSD patients,” says Jerrod, who asked that his last name be withheld. “We are all extremely excited. Dr. Weinstein is a savior and so is the entire GSD program.”

Weinstein moved his GSD program — the largest in the world — to Connecticut Children’s and UConn Health in early 2017. His multidisciplinary team cares for 600 patients from 48 countries.

“The strong synergies and collaborative team science happening at UConn and Connecticut Children’s are world class and the most fertile ground to make a GSD cure reality,” says Weinstein.

 

Writing the Rulebook

Dr. Emily Germain-Lee, a professor of pediatrics and chief of pediatric endocrinology and diabetes, moved her first-of-its-kind Albright Center from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Kennedy Krieger Institute to UConn and Connecticut Children’s in October 2016. She has cared for more patients who have a specific rare set of endocrine diseases than any other doctor in the world.

“She has redefined the field of pediatric endocrinology,” Salazar said when the hire was announced. “Patients and families travel from all over the world seeking Dr. Germain-Lee’s care.”

Germain-Lee’s patients suffer from pseudohypoparathyroidism and its related disorders, including Albright hereditary osteodystrophy (AHO), a rare inherited bone disorder caused by a genetic mutation that often leads to short bones and short stature. It is also frequently accompanied by severe multihormonal dysfunction in the body.

This summer, Germain-Lee co-authored the first international guidelines to help doctors around the globe diagnose and manage patients with the diseases. The new guidelines call for human growth hormone treatment for the vast majority of the patients who are at risk for short stature due to growth hormone deficiency. Germain-Lee was the first to discover that part of the reason why AHO patients are short is that two-thirds of them have a growth hormone deficiency.

Her long-term global clinical trial studies have shown the promising benefits of growth hormone treatment, including its ability to drastically increase a patient’s short stature to their original destined height potential while also improving their lipid levels and reducing obesity. With her research in the final stages, Germain-Lee is working toward gaining FDA approval of the therapy, which would be the first new therapy for the disorder in 70 years.

“I am thrilled to be a part of the combined power of UConn School of Medicine and Connecticut Children’s Medical Center for advancing children’s health and discovering new treatments of disease through research,” says Germain-Lee.

Follow-Up – Fall 2018

Research doesn’t stop when we report it. Here is an update on a past UConn Health Journal stories:


Glycogen Storage Disease

Dr. Annabelle Rodriguez-Oquendo, professor of cell biology at the UConn School of Medicine, was recently issued a diagnostic patent to test for a genetic predisposition for an abnormal inflammatory response that causes several life-threatening disorders, like coronary artery disease and chronic inflammatory disease. Lipid Genomics, the start-up Rodriguez-Oquendo founded in 2010, has exclusively licensed the technology from UConn Health. The company is currently in discussion with potential investors to continue commercialization of this product, as well as other therapeutic innovations for HDL-cholesterol dysfunction.

Winter 2015, “Getting to the Heart of the Matter”

New Neuroscience Chair Establishes UConn’s First Alzheimer’s Lab

a digital rendering of orange amyloid plaque on blue healthy neurons.

In this rendering, healthy neurons afflicted with amyloid plaques are colored orange. Studies suggest this plaque leads to cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s.


Internationally recognized neurodegenerative disease researcher Riqiang Yan, Ph.D., joined the UConn School of Medicine this spring as chair of the Department of Neuroscience. He has established the medical school’s first research laboratory dedicated to studying and discovering new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Prior to his appointment, Yan served as the Cleveland Clinic’s Morris R. and Ruth V. Graham Endowed Chair Professor and Vice Chair of Neurosciences and professor of molecular medicine at Case Western Reserve University. His five studies that focus on identifying the biological culprits behind Alzheimer’s disease are funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Yan’s studies build upon his co-discovery of the BACE-1 protein, the critical molecule that he revealed fuels the production of β-amyloid peptides, or plaque buildup, in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients. Studies suggest that these peptides are toxic and lead to cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer’s.

Yan and his team are currently testing in mouse models the power and safety of several promising molecules to target BACE-1 and inhibit its biological function in order to prevent or stop further β-amyloid growth. Just before he arrived at UConn Health, Yan’s team published significant findings in the Journal of Experimental Medicine that showed that removing the BACE-1 enzyme in adult mice with Alzheimer’s reverses the plaque formation that inhibits cognitive function. The study was widely covered by national media.

In addition, Yan and his team are gaining greater insight into the important role reticulon 3 protein (RTN3) plays in the formation of dystrophic neurites in the brain, which can lead to memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease in the elderly. The Yan lab is also exploring treatment that aims to enhance neurogenesis to replenish the loss of brain cells in patients with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“We welcome Dr. Yan to UConn School of Medicine and Connecticut, as he and his research programs are very highly respected by leaders and other scientists in the field,” says Dr. Bruce T. Liang, dean of UConn School of Medicine.

Yan’s recruitment brings with it a host of research collaboration opportunities across the School of Medicine and its departments of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry; with the UConn Center on Aging; with neurobiology and brain investigators at the University; as well as with the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine on UConn Health’s campus.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues at UConn to expand creative research in neurosciences,” says Yan, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of Kentucky and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at The Rockefeller University. “It is my passion and desire to mentor our talented UConn neuroscientists and staff and watch their lists of research, discoveries, and accomplishments grow even greater, along with more national recognition of their efforts.”

He adds: “We all have a hope that in 5 to 10 years, with academia collaborating with pharmaceutical companies, we will indeed have an effective drug to finally treat Alzheimer’s disease.”

There has not been an FDA-approved drug to try to treat the disease since 2002, Yan says. “It’s our big hope, and we will continue to try hard at UConn to discover and test a new, effective drug therapy to make this hope a reality to help those struggling with Alzheimer’s and ease the burden of future patients and their families.”