COM celebrates research

The annual College of Medicine celebration of research exposes the great minds and history-makers in the college. This year’s festivities were held Monday, April 19 through Tuesday, April 20. Among other activities was the poster session, keynote speech and Faculty Council Dinner & Awards ceremony.

Poster Session Highlights
by Czerne M. Reid

Tamekia Jones, Ph.D., presented her work at the UF College of Medicine Celebration of Research 2010 poster session. Photo by Czerne Reid

The ballroom at the Hilton UF Conference Center teemed with hundreds of people Monday, April 19, but it wasn’t Gator boosters in town for a football game — it was College of Medicine researchers getting together for the 2010 Celebration of Research.

The poster session showcased the work of scientists from departments across the college on topics covering basic as well as clinical science.

Researchers were not grouped by discipline but by area of interest. For example, people from various departments working on cancer therapeutics from different angles got a chance to see the different approaches colleagues take to similar problems.

That layout presented an opportunity for attendees not just to learn what others were doing and how, but also to form new collaborations.

Stephen Anton, Ph.D., explains his research to Joe Nocera, Ph.D., during the UF College of Medicine Celebration of Research 2010 poster session. Photo by Czerne Reid

“We’re in a different time, when team science is the way to go,” said Stephen Sugrue, Ph.D., senior associate dean of research affairs. “I hope people remember faces and names, exchange a card or two and take it to the next level and pursue the possibility of working together.”

Indeed, aging and geriatric research department colleagues Stephen Anton, Ph.D., Todd Manini, Ph.D., and Joe Nocera, Ph.D., said they found the event useful because they had a chance to learn what other researchers were doing around the College of Medicine campus, and they received good suggestions and comments from people who came to look at their posters.

Senior biological scientist Amy Wright points out some of her research results to a Martha Campbell-Thompson, D.V.M., Ph.D., during the UF College of Medicine Celebration of Research 2010 poster session. Photo by Czerne Reid

Sarah Mondello, a fourth-year graduate student in the department of neuroscience who is mentored by Dena Howland, Ph.D., was also happy to hear from others. She presented her work on functional recovery after spinal injury, and was interested in one visitor’s suggestion that she look into the use of gene therapy.

Such interactions are just what the session’s organizers hoped to ignite.

“It is important for the posters to be viewed together so our faculty, staff, and students have the opportunity to understand the breadth and depth of the college’s research program,” Sugrue said.

A keynote presentation with speaker, Rex Chisholm, Ph.D.
by Czerne M. Reid

Modern medicine has helped saved the lives countless millions of people, still, only a fraction of patients are helped by many standard therapies. Eventually, medical cures tailored to different individuals could help save even more lives.

Rex Chisholm, Ph.D., research dean and a professor of medical genetics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. Photo by Priscilla Santos

A genetics-based personalized approach to medicine could help quickly determine who might benefit from typically prescribed medication and who should explore different treatment options, said Rex Chisholm, Ph.D., research dean and a professor of medical genetics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who gave the keynote lecture at the University of Florida College of Medicine’s Celebration of Research, 2010.

Such an approach would help bring patients relief faster, and eliminate much of the health-care cost associated with the trial and error process of finding the right medication.

“We can do a better job diagnosing diseases and treating people if we have a better understanding of biological and genetic factors that affect them,” Chisholm said.

The sequencing of the human genome has presented new possibilities for addressing why many people do not respond to available medicines, and finding new therapies that will work better for individuals.

Several common but complex diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and hypertension have been shown to have a genetic component although that is not completely understood.

And treatments that work for some people don’t work for others. A third of people with hypertension do not respond to standard treatment with ACE inhibitors, for example. And up to 70 percent of people with cholesterol are not helped by cholesterol-lowering statins.

A personalized genetics-based approach to medicine could improve diagnosis, therapy and health outcomes by bypassing medications or therapies that will not work for a certain individual and go directly to a treatment more likely to have a positive effect.

Michael L. Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine. Photo by Priscilla Santos

“I think this is going to have an impact on medicine in the coming years, and UF is particularly well-poised to link genetic, clinical and translational medicine,” said Michael Good, M.D., dean of the UF College of Medicine.

But getting to the point where personalized medicine is a reality means starting with existing resources.

Chisholm and his team have turned to electronic medical records as a foundation on which to build a framework for personalized medicine.

“The question is, can we use electronic health records to answer genomic questions?” he said.

They have spent the last decade exploring that question by creating databanks that link DNA records from patients to clincal test results and health questionnaires. So far they have information for 10,000 people, but the potential is far greater, as available electronic medical records databases contain hundreds of millions of laboratory values for millions of people.

To test the value of the database for a genomics application, the researchers used it to develop an algorithm to predict which individuals would develop type 2 diabetes based on a number of variables. The test proved successful.

The data can be used in many genetics-based studies since it allows for selection or exclusion of certain characteristics or combinations thereof. The researchers have shared their data with other investigators for various studies.

“This is an area of great potential for health care moving forward, as more people use electronic medical records for research,” said Win Phillips, D.Sc., UF vice president for research.

Faculty Council Award Ceremony
by HSC Staff

2010 Lifetime Achievement Awards:

Melvin Greer, M.D., professor of neurology, department of neurology
After earning his medical degree at New York University and service in the U.S. Navy, Melvin Greer, M.D., joined UF’s faculty in pediatrics and neurology in 1961. He became the first chairman of neurology when the departmental status was attained in 1974 and remained chair until 2000. Greer served in a number of positions for the American Academy of Neurology, including president from 1985-1987. He has earned a reputation in the medical legal arena and was called on to consult on the Terri Schiavo case. He received several teaching awards from UF, including the 1970 Hippocratic Award and the 1975 and1979 Awards for Clinical Teaching Excellence. He served on the National Board of Medical Examiners from 1971 to 1975.

Irvin F. Hawkins Jr., M.D., F.S.I.R., professor emeritus
Irvin Hawkins Jr., M.D., earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland in 1962. He then completed an internship at Mercy Hospital in San Diego and was a captain in the U.S. Air Force from 1963 to 1965. Hawkins completed his residency training in diagnostic radiology at The Ohio State University from 1965 to 1968. Hawkins began his career at UF’s College of Medicine in 1968 as the NIH fellow and special trainee in cardiovascular radiology and advanced to chief of interventional radiology in 1969, a position he held for 30 years. He became professor of radiology in 1976 and professor of surgery in 1981. Hawkins’ contributions to the field of interventional radiology include the development of carbon dioxide angiography. This technique is widely used and is gaining popularity due to cost concerns and nephrotoxic effects of other contrast and imaging agents.

Carl J. Pepine, M.D., M.A.C.C., professor of medicine, division of cardiovascular medicine
Carl J. Pepine, M.D., M.A.C.C., an internationally recognized leader in both clinical and scientific cardiovascular medicine, began his distinguished career in Gainesville as the chief of cardiology at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 1978. There he led the division of cardiovascular medicine to national and international recognition as a center of excellence in research and training. Pepine has continued this legacy of remarkable work as a faculty member of the UF department of medicine, where he has successfully mentored hundreds of faculty, fellows and students; received numerous significant awards and honors; co-authored more than 600 original contributions to scientific literature; and authored/edited various consequential academic textbooks.

James M. Seeger, M.D., (posthumously) professor and chief of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy
James M. Seeger, M.D., created, fostered and led UF’s division of vascular surgery and endovascular therapy for 20 years, devoting all but one year of his medical career to the UF College of Medicine and Shands at UF. Dr. Seeger died  Oct. 21. He joined UF in 1982 as an assistant professor and rapidly rose through the academic ranks. In 1989 he established the division of vascular surgery and in 2008 he was named the Cracchiolo Professor. An internationally recognized leader in his field, his research interests included peripheral arterial disease and aortic surgery. He established the UF vascular surgery fellowship program, training more than 25 physicians, many of whom are current leaders in the field. He also served as president of the Southern Association for Vascular Surgery, the Florida Vascular Society, and the Association of Program Directors in Vascular Surgery.

2010 Basic Science Research Award:
William Hauswirth, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmic molecular genetics, department of ophthalmology

After receiving his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Oregon State University and an NIH Fellowship in biochemistry at Johns Hopkins University, William Hauswirth, Ph.D., joined the UF faculty in the department of molecular genetics. In 1985, just nine years after coming to UF, he was named the Rybaczki-Bullard Professor of Ophthalmology and Molecular Genetics at UF. Hauswirth is in part responsible for determining the mechanism of replication of adeno-associated virus (AAV) DNA and the discovery of mitochondrial DNA heteroplasmy in mammals, the basis of mitochondrial disease. More recently he collaborated on the first successful rescue of a dominant genetic disease in animals and the first restoration of vision for a recessive retinal disease. Hauswirth also demonstrated that AAV mediated gene therapy could cure red-green color blindness in monkeys, a finding that ranked as the third most important scientific discovery of 2009 by Time Magazine. More recently, he collaborated on the first successful rescue of a dominant genetic disease in animals.

2010 Clinical Science Research Award:
Phillip P. Toskes, M.D.
, professor of medicine, division of gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition
Phillip P. Toskes, M.D., joined the faculty of the College of Medicine in 1973 and has since served as both director of the division of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition and as chairman of the department of medicine. During his nearly 40-year tenure he has proven himself to be an outstanding clinician-scientist, establishing national and international reputations as an expert in pancreatic function and maldigestion/malabsorption. Toskes has made innumerable major contributions in these areas, including developing a number of sensitive diagnostic tests, which are currently used worldwide to more accurately detect pancreatic disease, as well as the numerous causes of maldigestion/malabsorption.