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UofL Superfund Research Center receives $10.8 million to expand studies into effects of environmental toxins on human health

UofL Superfund Research Center receives $10.8 million to expand studies into effects of environmental toxins on human health

The University of Louisville has been awarded $10.8 million in renewed funding for the UofL Superfund Research Center, part of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. The funds will enable researchers to expand studies to monitor environmental toxins and understand their effects on human health.

The five-year funding renewal represents a 62% increase over the previous funding cycle for the UofL center, one of just 23 multiproject centers across the U.S. conducting research into the health effects of chemicals and compounds found at hazardous waste disposal sites known as Superfund sites.

UofL was named one of five new superfund research centers in 2017. Since that time, UofL researchers in the center conducted research into the health effects of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), gases emitted by combustion and from liquid and solid chemicals, found at the Lee’s Lane Superfund Site in southwest Louisville.

“This funding ensures that UofL researchers will continue and accelerate the important work to reduce the effects of these toxins on the health of residents in Jefferson County, our state and our country,” said Lori Stewart Gonzalez, interim president of UofL. “The significant increase in funding shows just how successful our center has been in advancing this knowledge under the leadership of Dr. Sanjay Srivastava.”

The Superfund program, created in 1980, is part of a federal government effort to clean up land contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a potential risk to human health or the environment. The program was started in part due to the discovery of a waste site near Louisville in Bullitt County known as the “Valley of the Drums,” which contained thousands of steel drums and contamination from 140 different chemicals.

Superfund Research Centers conduct multidisciplinary research in the detection and investigation of the health effects of specific chemicals and compounds and train young investigators in this area of research. The research at the UofL center is focused on understanding how exposure to VOCs contributes to heart disease, inflammation and liver disease, collectively called cardiometabolic disease.

During its first five-year cycle, the UofL Superfund Research Center engaged in three key project areas where they:

  • Developed two portable devices to detect airborne volatile organic compounds in neighborhoods and homes
  • Assessed effects of VOCs and other toxins on cardiovascular and immune health in human participants
  • Conducted lab studies of health effects of VOCs including acrolein, benzene, xylene, vinyl chloride and trichloroethylene

UofL researchers developed two types of technology to detect and monitor VOCs in the environment. First, collaborating with investigators at Washington University in St. Louis, they designed and built a portable device to monitor and measure VOCs inside and outside of homes to compare indoor and outdoor exposure levels.

Second, chemists and chemical engineers at UofL developed a small “lab on a chip” that can be used in a wearable device to monitor an individual’s exposure in various environments, capturing VOCs for analysis in the lab.

Field studies with both technologies will begin in January 2023.

To study health effects of VOC exposure, UofL researchers enrolled about 700 individuals living in south and west Louisville in a human study program to assess exposure and health changes over time. The initial results of this study indicated that low-level exposure to VOCs could increase blood pressure and damage blood vessels and impair their repair. These effects are important markers for heart disease.

Although planned follow-up studies for the human study were delayed by the pandemic, laboratory and animal studies confirmed these effects.

“This research is revealing and decoding the factors that affect our health outcomes,” said Kevin Gardner, UofL’s executive vice president for research and innovation. “By better understanding these factors, such as VOC exposure, we can develop new interventions that help people here in Louisville and around the world live lives that are not just longer, but healthier and more resilient.”

Next studies expand area, add wastewater monitoring and address mitigation

Over the next five years, center researchers will apply the tools and data from the initial phase to expand the studies. They will broaden the human study to include 1,200 participants across Jefferson County, begin monitoring wastewater for VOCs and launch research to develop VOC mitigation methods.

The broader human health study will enable researchers to compare health changes and exposure levels in different parts of the metro area. Participants will be reassessed periodically over several years for changes in their health and to determine whether the toxins have greater impact on older or younger individuals and those with existing health conditions.

The team will begin monitoring wastewater in Jefferson County for the presence of both VOCs and metabolites shed by individuals, indicating exposure to VOCs. It also may reveal sources of VOC contamination.

“We will measure the metabolites of VOCs in the urine of the participants and in the wastewater, so we will have the environmental exposures and personal exposures. Then we will look at all the health outcomes and see the associations,” said Sanjay Srivastava, professor of medicine and director of the center. “We hope to gain better knowledge of how these chemicals exert toxicity and at what levels the toxicity occurs, as well as how exposures may exacerbate other conditions.”

Technology to monitor wastewater for VOCs and metabolites is an outgrowth of methods developed during the pandemic to detect COVID-19 and its variants in wastewater.

Center investigators also will launch remediation research. They will collaborate with researchers at Yale University who are developing methods to break down VOCs using heat to reduce or eliminate VOCs at hazardous waste sites or in a home or business.

In conjunction with the Green Heart Project, UofL researchers also are investigating whether increasing the tree canopy will decrease levels of VOCs and other toxins and improve the health of residents in the area.

“Our work is unique in that it focuses on the effects of these toxins on heart disease,” said Aruni Bhatnagar, director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute. “Most people have heard of cancer-causing chemicals, but we are finding that these chemicals also lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the world.”

School of Medicine Alumni Honored for lifelong work

School of Medicine Alumni Honored for lifelong work

image of Dr. Christa-Marie Singleton being honored at 2022 Alumni Awards

The University of Louisville Alumni Awards are the highest honor bestowed by Louisville Alumni. For more than 30 years, the Alumni Awards have honored and celebrated the achievements of graduates from the University of Louisville. These awards recognize distinguished graduates who are exemplary ambassadors for the university and their college or school. The Alumni Award honorees reflect the high standing and character of their alma mater and are recognized at a ceremony during Homecoming week.

The School of Medicine proudly awarded Dr. Christa-Marie Singleton because of her career accomplishments, philanthropic endeavors, and contributions to her community. Nominations were received in the Spring and reviewed by a select committee at the School of Medicine.

Singleton knew from a very early age that she wanted to pursue medicine, but it wasn’t until later in life that her passion for medicine and advocacy met in the middle, leading her to where she is today. The journey wasn’t easy, but her passion ran deep; she accepted challenges without fear. Her story is inspiring to others facing similar challenges. While in Louisville, Dr. Singleton met with a group of students on October 21 to discuss overcoming challenges and following your dreams. We later interviewed Dr. Singleton on her own inspirations and continued dreams for the future.

1.    What inspired you to go into medicine? 

In my early life, I was a frequent visitor in my pediatrician’s office due to frequent illnesses. By age 11, I knew I wanted to be a pediatrician just like my doctor, Dr. Eleanor Stafford. Dr. Stafford inspired me to go into medicine because she took the time to tell me, and remind me, that it was important to take the time to talk to people and listen to their situation in order to help people heal.  

2.     What are some of your greatest accomplishments you’re proud of; what challenges did you face to get to where you are today?

I consider my greatest accomplishment to be the honor and privilege of being a parent to my now 16-year-old son; I’m also honored to have had the experience and opportunity to be able to use my medical and public health policy training to help translate my patients’ health priorities into better health access for communities. I am very grateful that one day during my pediatric internship one of my teachers or attendings said to me, “You, young lady, I can see, have a career in government.”  He introduced me to the concept of public health as a way to blend science into clinical medicine and not just impact one person’s individual health, but to improve the community’s health.  Instead of being one person’s doctor, I could be the community’s doctor.  I suspect he had heard about my health advocacy experience with the Kentucky Medical Student Section of the AMA that I began at UofL. He convinced my residency program to allow me to take a trial public health class at Johns Hopkins (about 1.5-2 hours down the road – pre online education). The agreement was that if I made a B or better in that class, the program would allow me to go to public health school while in residency. So, I rearranged my residency call schedule so that I could commute from Delaware to either suburban Washington D.C. or downtown D.C. Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings to pursue a Master of Public Health degree in health policy at the same time as my pediatric residency. The thought of a person pursuing two simultaneous programs was relatively unheard of at the time, and as I look back on that time, I think the things that got me through it was a simmering sense of “do” – stoked by seeds of my faith in God planted by my parents and by lots of questioning “why” and “how” evidence-based science could be used at the bedside of patients coming into the world and leaving the world. Those experiences gave me the opportunity to find strength to find my way “to not try but to do.” 

3.     What’s the greatest piece of advice you would offer to this generation of medical students?

I am a big fan of the character “Yoda” from the Star Wars movies and the line “Do or no do…no try.” In answering these questions related to my “to do,” I’d also like to share with you the “the power of “be.” In the words of Lisa Kohn, it is important, even essential, that leaders don’t just “try” but that they “do.” Leaders get things done, move projects forward, and sometimes too much doing can also be an issue. Lisa’s reminder to add the second sentence to Yoda’s mantra, “There is no do, only be,” makes this concept even more real, and more pertinent to what this generation of medical students can be for this world. Time and time again we can get caught up in too much doing to try to rush to solve a patient’s chief complaint and to move on the next patient. However, there are times when, in order to heal our patients, we must stop and reflect. To sit and simply “be” with the patient issues at hand, so that our next steps to support our patients’ health are intentional, evidence-based, thoughtful, and effective. I’d also advise students to respect the power of be. When we get too caught up in action and doing, we lose sight of who we really are, what we really believe, and, at times, what is really important. When we can look at the world with where we’ve been, as well as the experience of what others have been, we can better make an imprint on the lives we know…and those we may never know. I hope that this generation of medical students will not only go on “to do” – and to “go be great.

4. What’s something you’re hopeful for in the future of medicine?

I hope that this generation of medical students will use their interests and passion in evidence-based medicine, social justice, and holistic health “to do” and to make an imprint on someone’s life. I have had the privilege to work in settings outside the comfortable life all of us have been blessed to have – to see first-hand health access – or the lack thereof – both in our country or challenged by another language and culture ---and most recently, the challenge of creating scientific, evidence-based public policy recommendations to improve community health. My goal when I left high school was to go off to college, medical school and return for private pediatric practice in a comfortable setting like the physicians with whom I had trained. But along the way, by working in public health emergency preparedness in Baltimore communities, at CDC in their State and Local preparedness departments, in my current work on evidence-based prevention policy, and during the COVID-19 response I found my “do” and my “be” – the calling to take evidence-based science and “have the community” as my “to do” that can make an imprint on multiple lives. Public health, particularly through the governmental lens - has been that “do” for me – because it’s the merger of evidence-based science, medicine and public policy that allows the opportunity and the privilege to take the nuts and bolts of clinical science that can physically improve a part of a single person’s life and then “do” that for a larger group of people. I’m now what one calls a preventive medicine public health physician which is a blend of training in scientific methods, clinical patient care, prevention, health policy, and government.  I hope that UofL medical students and all future medical students will now get to “do patient care” through the creation of public policies, social justice, and health programs that hopefully will protect the public’s health for a larger group of people. For me – in order to be effective in trying to improve a community’s health it was - and is important for me to have spent time in multiple facets of the health and policy arenas. I had to have some semblance of not just “do-ing” via classroom theory but “be-ing” – and actually have been there. I am trying to pass that mantra of not just do – but to be - onto the students that come behind me as well. I encourage this generation of medical students to go and to be – to be in as many places as you can be, not just in your comfort zone of what is usual and customary. We aren’t any help to each other if we are only being one same size, one type, one thing.  

UofL and Robley Rex VA Medical Center partnership leads to new state-of-the-art multiphoton microscopes for exposure studies

UofL and Robley Rex VA Medical Center partnership leads to new state-of-the-art multiphoton microscopes for exposure studies

Lauren Garrett, UofL senior bioengineering student, tests one of two new multiphoton confocal microscopes provided to the University of Louisville by the Veterans Health Administration

 

 

As the nation gets set to celebrate Veterans Day on Nov. 11, a pair of new state-of-the-art microscopes have been provided by the Veterans Health Administration to the University of Louisville.

UofL researchers will use the microscopes to continue their close working relationship with the Clinical Research Foundation (CRF) at the Robley Rex VA Medical Center to understand how environmental exposures cause health effects in military veterans.

The multiphoton confocal microscopes, valued at nearly $2 million, will help the researchers discover the mechanisms behind health effects that have been documented by veterans and their health providers and finding ways to prevent or reduce their impact. The new instruments provide 3-D images of thicker tissue samples than were previously accessible, allowing the researchers to better see changes in biological tissues and metabolic functions in response to specific substances such as benzene and aldehydes.

The new microscopes are housed in spaces allocated by the UofL School of Medicine to the VA hospital, one in the Center for Cardiometabolic Science (formerly the Diabetes and Obesity Center), part of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, where it will be used to study heart and vascular functions, as well as immune responses in animal models. The other is in the Hepatobiology and Toxicology Center for Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) and will be used to understand the effects of environmental toxins on the liver.

“We are exceptionally grateful to the VA for providing this new technology, which will allow our researchers to have a greater understanding of the impacts and effects of wartime exposure on the health of our veterans,” said Toni Ganzel, dean of the UofL School of Medicine. “And we are pleased that the UofL School of Medicine is partnering with the VA and Clinical Research Foundation to improve care for our veterans as well as citizens of Kentucky and beyond.” 

Most imaging methods enable scientists to see only small, thin sections of tissue at a time. The images from the larger, thicker samples captured by the new multiphoton microscopes allow scientists to study the metabolic processes taking place.

“The multiphoton microscope uses lasers that can penetrate more deeply into a much thicker section of tissue rather than a very thin slice,” said Steven P. Jones, director of the Center for Cardiometabolic Science and professor of medicine. “Using the system, we can look in real time at what is happening in immune cells that may be trafficking to the liver, skeletal muscle, adipose depots and the heart.”

Matthew Nystoriak, associate professor of medicine, investigates the effects of inhaled substances on the cardiovascular system.

“We can look at the molecular processes behind different disease development that affect a broad section of the population,” Nystoriak said. “One of the things we want to look at is vascular inflammation. With this instrument, we can track immune cells leaving the bloodstream and infiltrating the walls of blood vessels.”

The liver research, led by Matthew Cave and Craig McClain, both professors of medicine at UofL and physicians and researchers affiliated with Robley Rex VA Medical Center, will include evaluating the effects of environmental exposures on liver diseases and the metabolic syndrome, studying interactions of environmental exposures with nutrition and with alcohol intake, and investigating clinically-relevant exposures such as those related to Camp Lejeune and to burn pits.

The VA has increased this research as a result of the PACT Act, recently signed into law to help veterans suffering negative health effects from war and peacetime exposures related to burn pits and other service-related activities. The act improves access to medical care for conditions resulting from these exposures through VA Medical Centers and helps the VA improve research, staff education and treatment related to those exposures.

“The VA enjoys a close relationship with UofL researchers, and this state-of-the-art equipment will be utilized to advance the research agenda of the VA , including allowing VA-affiliated researchers to apply the latest scientific methods to the investigation of respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and metabolic diseases that commonly affect veterans,” said Gerald Dryden, professor of medicine at the UofL School of Medicine and associate chief of staff for research and development at Robley Rex VA Medical Center. “This will be especially important as we begin to look into the causes and effects of chronic burn pit and other environmental exposures on veterans’ health.”

The CRF is a nonprofit corporation that provides the administrative infrastructure dedicated to Robley Rex VA Medical Center researchers under the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The CRF also works with UofL to provide groundbreaking research opportunities to veterans and active military in the Louisville area.

Nonprofit corporations (NPCs) such as CRF were established to provide a more efficient mechanism for VA researchers to participate in research and educational programs funded by private and non-VA public sources. There are more than 80 NPCs nationally, each affiliated with a VA medical center, who collectively have a resource and voice through the National Association of Veteran Research and Education Foundation.

Michael Book, executive editor of the CRF, underscored what this investment means for the partnership in the future.

“These microscopes further advance the research capabilities of the incredible investigators in our region,” said Michael J. Book, executive director of the CRF. “The equipment will aid in attracting other investigators to the groundbreaking work being done at Robley Rex VA Medical Center and the University of Louisville. Beyond the technological advancement, the investment also signifies the importance of the strong relationship between VAMC, the University of Louisville and the Clinical Research Foundation. We are excited to be a part of the innovation that lies ahead.”

UofL researchers discover e-cigarettes cause cardiac arrhythmias

Some cardiac effects of e-cigarette ingredients are similar to or worse than conventional cigarettes
UofL researchers discover e-cigarettes cause cardiac arrhythmias

Alex Carll, assistant professor in the UofL Department of Physiology, front, with Matthew Nystoriak, associate professor of medicine

A new study from University of Louisville researchers in the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute has found that exposure to e-cigarette aerosols can cause heart arrhythmias in animal models — both in the form of premature and skipped heart beats. The study findings, published Oct. 25 in Nature Communications, suggest exposure to specific chemicals within e-cigarette liquids (e-liquids) promote arrhythmias and cardiac electrical dysfunction.

“Our findings demonstrate that short-term exposure to e-cigarettes can destabilize heart rhythm through specific chemicals within e-liquids,” said Alex Carll, assistant professor in the UofL Department of Physiology who led the study. “These findings suggest that e-cigarette use involving certain flavors or solvent vehicles may disrupt the heart’s electrical conduction and provoke arrhythmias. These effects could increase the risk for atrial or ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac arrest.”

The researchers tested the cardiac impacts of inhaled e-cigarette aerosols solely from the main two ingredients in e-liquids (nicotine-free propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin) or from flavored retail e-liquids containing nicotine. They found that for all e-cigarette aerosols, the animals’ heart rate slowed during puff exposures and sped up afterwards as heart rate variability declined, indicating fight-or-flight stress responses. In addition, e-cigarette puffs from a menthol-flavored e-liquid or from propylene glycol alone caused ventricular arrhythmias and other conduction irregularities in the heart.

Conducted in collaboration with Daniel Conklin and Aruni Bhatnagar, professors in the UofL Division of Environmental Medicine, this work adds to a growing body of research on the potential toxicity and health impacts of e-cigarettes reported by the American Heart Association Tobacco Regulation and Addiction Center, for which UofL serves as the flagship institute.

“The findings of this study are important because they provide fresh evidence that the use of e-cigarettes could interfere with normal heart rhythms – something we did not know before,” Bhatnagar said. “This is highly concerning given the rapid growth of e-cigarette use, particularly among young people.”

As e-cigarette use has grown nationwide, the potential advantages and harms of vaping have been debated. Since vaping does not involve combustion, it exposes users and bystanders to little if any carbon monoxide, tar or cancer-causing nitrosamines compared with conventional cigarettes. However, e-cigarettes can deliver aldehydes, particles and nicotine at levels comparable to combustible cigarettes. Vaping might help smokers quit combustible cigarettes, but the appeal and addictiveness of e-cigarettes may encourage youth to vape amidst unknown long-term risks or take up smoking. More than 25% of high schoolers and 10% of middle schoolers in the U.S. reported using e-cigarettes before the pandemic.

Additional research by Carll and Matthew Nystoriak, an associate professor of medicine at UofL, to determine the effects of vape flavorings on the heart recently received $3.6 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health.

“Our team’s findings that specific ingredients in e-cigarette liquids promote arrhythmias indicates there is an urgent need for more research into the cardiac effects of these components in both animals and humans,” Carll said.

UofL research links biological data to workplace factors that can cause chronic disease risk in employees

UofL research links biological data to workplace factors that can cause chronic disease risk in employees

Left to right, UofL researchers Joy Hart, Kandi Walker, Brad Shuck and Rachel Keith form a team that has demonstrated the link between work determinants of health and biomarkers for chronic disease risk.

With employee burnout high and the Great Resignation being felt throughout all employment sectors, pioneering new research from the University of Louisville demonstrates biological links between workplace culture and human health. 
 
The UofL study is believed to be the first to connect biomarkers for chronic disease risk to factors such as stress, employee capacity for work assigned, workplace physical and social environment and whether work is regarded as meaningful to the person performing it. The findings are published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
 
These factors are part of a new “Work Determinants of Health” concept the UofL researchers have identified that they hope will become a model for both employers and employees to better understand the health impacts of workplace culture.
 
“For a long time, we’ve assumed that workplace culture can impact our health,” said Brad Shuck, an author on the study and organizational culture researcher in UofL’s College of Education and Human Development. “This study shows, in biological terms, that assumption is true and improving our understanding of these links could help both employees and employers make better, more informed decisions that keep everyone healthy and happy in their work environments.” 
 
In the study, Shuck and UofL Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute researchers Kandi Walker, Joy Hart and Rachel Keith asked participants to complete questionnaires on their well-being and work determinants of health factors, such as how engaged and positive or negative they felt about their work environment. Walker and Hart hold faculty appointments in the College of Arts & Sciences and Keith is a faculty member in the School of Medicine.
 
The researchers then compared the survey results with biological samples that measure hormones signaling sympathetic nervous system activity. When higher than normal over a long period, these hormones indicate chronic stress and increased risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic health conditions.
 
The results showed participants who reported greater well-being, engagement and positive feelings toward their work environment had lower levels of these stress-associated hormones, while the opposite was true for participants reporting poor well-being, isolation and negative feelings toward work. 
 
“Stress is fine in smaller, short-term doses, and may even help us to finish an important project or solve a big crisis,” Keith said. “But if our work culture puts us under constant stress, this study suggests it can affect our health and our risk for chronic conditions over time.”
 
Stress and related burnout remain a leading cause of employee resignation, especially among younger workers. In a recent survey by Deloitte, about 46% of Gen Z and 45% of millennial workers reported feeling burned out by their work environments. Stress can negatively impact employee health – as the UofL study suggests – but it also can impact worker retention, as indicated by a fair number of both Gen Z and millennials reporting that they hoped to leave their jobs within two years. Shuck said better understanding of work determinants of health could help reduce burnout and improve both employee retention and health.
 
The work determinants of health concept and model, along with Shuck’s previous work to measure employee engagement, are protected through the UofL Office of Research and Innovation and are licensed or optioned to OrgVitals, an organizational metrics company he co-founded. 
 
“Understanding these cultural factors and what contributes to an employee’s health and engagement in their work environment is good for everyone,” he said. “By understanding the work determinants of health, we can create better and healthier work environments that attract and retain great talent who want to be engaged.”

Central High School students experience life in the medical field by shadowing UofL doctors

Central High School students experience life in the medical field by shadowing UofL doctors

The Central High School Pre-Medical Magnet Program is giving west Louisville students an up-close and personal experience with a career in medicine. Students are able to shadow UofL School of Medicine and UofL Health doctors during rounds at UofL Hospital, scrub into operating rooms and witness surgeries, and also get practice performing simpler procedures, like sutures through this immersive curriculum.

“The Central High School Pre-Medical Magnet Program is what I’ve dreamed of being able to create since I graduated medical school,” said Edward Miller, assistant professor and director of maternal fetal medicine at UofL and provider with UofL Physicians – OB/GYN & Women’s Health “This is a chance for students in west Louisville to not only know doctors that look like them, but to call them a mentor and friend.”

“UofL Health is proud to support Central High School and inspire the next generation of health care workers,” said Tom Miller, UofL Health CEO. “This program complements our commitment to reduce barriers to care by reducing barriers for employment. Together, with our fully funded UofL tuition program, we are investing to ensure our community is well prepared for the future.”

The pre-medical pipeline program launched in August and offers educational opportunities, mentorship, college credit and hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships. Its creation is in partnership with UofL Health, the UofL School of Medicine, Falls City Medical Society and Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS).

“I am so proud of our students and so excited to see their success,” Central High School Principal Dr. Tamela Compton said. “Our first pre-medical magnet class has already learned so much – from gaining hands-on first aid and emergency response experience in Central High School classrooms to scrubbing into surgeries at the hospital. Just two months into the program, these students are flourishing.”

More than 20 Central High seniors are currently rotating through different specialties, including OB/GYN, anesthesia and cardiothoracic surgery, while learning from UofL Health physicians and local physicians through the Falls City Medical Society. The Falls City Medical Society is committed to advancing the art and science of medicine for people of African descent and is playing a key role in ensuring student experience in the Pre-Medical Magnet Program is integrated into the Louisville physician community. Students shadow these physicians twice a week, earning college credit.

Later this month, the program will open up to Central High School juniors, who will rotate through each of the 10 core specialties.

“We are proud of our continued and strengthened partnership with Central High School and the opportunities it provides our faculty and students,” said Toni Ganzel, dean of the UofL School of Medicine. “Working alongside school administrators to enact quality learning for underserved youth is a strategic goal of the School of Medicine. We aim to fill our classrooms with diverse and talented students that reflect the world around us, and it is partnerships such as this that will create that transformative change.”

Students in the Central High School Magnet Career Academy (MCA) are selected for admission through a competitive process that includes achievement test scores, grade point average (GPA), personal essays and other teacher recommendations. Central has the second-highest number of Governor’s Scholars in the district. Central is one of two high schools in Kentucky to offer Montessori education.

“This program is already changing lives,” JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said. “Central’s pre-medical magnet students will graduate with knowledge many don’t gain until college. Opportunities like this are what we are working hard to provide to all JCPS students, so they graduate college and career ready.”

Kentucky Cancer Program at UofL highlights events throughout October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the Kentucky Cancer Program is hosting a series of events throughout October to increase access to screening tests and to ensure women across Kentucky are educated about breast cancer. For more information on any of these events, contact: Pam Temple-Jennings, 502-852-6318, pam.templejennings@louisville.edu.

Mobile Mammography Screenings:

 

Women aged 40 and over are encouraged to schedule a mammogram at one of the mobile mammography unit stops. Advance appointments required. Proper ID and insurance card are required. All insurance is filed with University of Louisville Hospital. Financial assistance is available for uninsured patients who qualify.

  • Saturday, Oct. 1 – Redeemer Lutheran Church, 3640 River Park Dr., Louisville
  • Thursday, Oct. 6 – Christian County Health Department, 1700 Canton St., Hopkinsville, Ky.
  • Saturday, Oct. 15 – First Baptist Church, Jeffersontown, 10600 Watterson Trail, Louisville
  • Monday, Oct. 17 – Churchill Downs backside, Christ Chapel (employees and family only)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 18 – Centre on Main, 425 S. Main St. Leitchfield, Ky.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 19 – Oxmoor Center, 7900 Shelbyville Rd., Louisville
  • Saturday, Oct. 22 – Think Pink 5K run/walk for Breast Cancer Awareness at James Beville Park Pavilion, 810 Nature Trail, Leitchfield, Ky.
  • Wednesday, Oct. 26 – Sun Valley Community Center, 6505 Bethany Lane, Louisville

All events are 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. Schedule an appointment by calling Kentucky Cancer Program at 502-852-6318.

All COVID guidelines followed. If you have tested positive for COVID or been in contact with someone testing positive for COVID, you are not eligible the day of the screening. 

 

Free Pink Ribbon Tea Party: 

Mothers, daughters, sisters, friends and ladies of all ages are invited to a fun tea party honoring the memory of Harriett B. Porter, who loved to bring people together to socialize and share information to help others. The event honors Porter whose husband, Woodford Ray Porter established the Harriet Bibb Porter Cancer Education and Prevention Endowment at the UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center. The tea party will include special guests, artists Elmer Lucille Allen and Sandra Charles, refreshments, a breast cancer update and special gifts.

Saturday, Oct. 8, 1:30-2:30 p.m., 1720 W. Broadway, Suite 205, Louisville

Reservations: Call the Kentucky Cancer Program, 502-852-6318.

Sista Strut 3K Breast Cancer Awareness Walk:

Sista Strut's mission is to increase awareness of breast cancer and provide information on community resources and funding to area programs. A portion of the proceeds from the Sista Strut 3k will benefit Kentucky African Americans Against Cancer. Sponsored by REAL 93.1 the Beat of Louisville and Kentucky Association of Health Plans and presented by Baptist Health Cancer Care and Humana Health Horizons in Kentucky.

Saturday, Oct. 15, 8 a.m. - noon.

3029 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., Louisville

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/sista-strut-louisville-2022-tickets-191066413787 

Horses and Hope Pink Mustang Tour across Western Kentucky:

Horses and Hope was started in 2008 by former First Lady Jane Beshear and the Kentucky Cancer Program, University of Louisville, with the support of the Pink Stable, a committee of Kentucky horse owners, riders, trainers, farm owners, jockeys, and others. The mission is to increase breast cancer awareness, education, screening and treatment referral among Kentucky's signature horse industry workers and their families, many of who are uninsured and underserved. Special events are held throughout the state to honor breast cancer survivors and to raise funds for Horses and Hope. Friends of Horses and Hope including Churchill Downs, Keeneland, the North American Championship Rodeo and others who continue to support programs. Today, Horse and Hope has been expanded to offer cancer prevention and early detection programs along with screening and treatment referrals for many different cancers through the mobile van.

The Horses and Hope Pink Mustang was the pace car for the World Sprint Cup.

  • Saturday, Oct. 8 – Twisted Pink Tennis Tournament at Ruff Park, 831 North Dr., Hopkinsville
  • Friday, Oct. 14 – Pink Night in the Park at Calvert City Memorial Park, 1072 5th Ave. SE, Calvert City
  • Thursday, Oct. 20 – Breast Cancer Screening & Awareness Event at Deaconess Henderson Hospital, 1305 N. Elm St., Henderson
  • Friday, Oct. 21 – Horses and Hope at Ohio County HealthCare, 1211 Old Main St., Hartford
  • Monday, Oct. 24 – Breast Cancer Survivors’ Luncheon at Texas Roadhouse, 2900 James Sanders Boulevard, Paducah (RSVP Required)
  • Tuesday, Oct. 25 – Western Kentucky Diagnostic Imaging, 1635 Scottsville Rd., Bowling Green
  • Friday, Oct. 28 – Christian County Pink Out, WKDZ Radio, 19 D.J. Everett Dr., Cadiz

For more information about all events, visit www.kycancerprogram.org or call 1-877-326-1134.

About the Kentucky Cancer Program

Kentucky Cancer Program is the state-mandated cancer control program administered jointly by the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky Lucille Parker Markey Cancer Center. KCP has 13 offices across the state, staffed by cancer control specialists who coordinate cancer prevention and early detection programs, patient and family services, professional education and training and who mobilize communities through coalitions and partnerships to address local cancer problems. Learn more at www.kycancerprogram.org.

 

UofL research extending usable life of heart tissue could speed medical innovation

UofL research extending usable life of heart tissue could speed medical innovation

Jessica Miller, a UofL graduate student researcher, works on methods and cultures that could extend the shelf life of tissue for cardiotoxicity testing of new drug candidates.

University of Louisville research could help spur new medicines by extending the usable life of test heart tissue from one day to 12. The findings were published in the journal Nature - Communications Biology.

Biomedical researchers use slices of heart tissue to test the effectiveness and toxicity of new drugs, drug candidates and gene therapies. Until recently, the limited, 24-hour usable life of those slices created a major barrier to drug discovery, slowing down the development of new, potentially life-saving medications.

UofL methods, developed by a multidisciplinary team from the School of Medicine and J.B. Speed School of Engineering, extended the tissue’s usable life first to six days with a discovery in 2019, and now to 12 days, by mimicking the conditions experienced by a living heart. The tissue ‘lives’ in a pneumatic chamber, receiving electrical stimulation and nutrition and pumping air instead of blood.

“We’ve created a complete cardiac cycle within the chamber, so the heart tissue stays pumping and viable for longer,” said Tamer M. A. Mohamed, an associate professor of medicine who led the research. “This system will save time and costs of clinical trials during Phase 1 research, which includes testing for toxicity and proof of efficacy.”

Because of the short shelf-life of human heart tissue, many drug candidates today are tested in ways that poorly emulate living heart tissue or use tests that otherwise don’t show the full range of potential side effects related to cardiotoxicity. This causes some drug candidates to fail Phase 1 clinical trials or, worse, be taken off the market after being launched for clinical use. The UofL team believes their method can help solve this problem, potentially leading to better, safer medications.

“A longer shelf-life, as using our method, gives them more time for proper testing and access to the right materials,” said Jessica Miller, a graduate student researcher and an author on the paper. “That could lead to faster advancements in how we treat heart-related conditions.”

The UofL methods and culture device are patent-pending and available for license through the university’s Office of Research and Innovation. The researchers also have been working with the entrepreneurs in residence team — part of the office’s entrepreneurial arm, UofL New Ventures — to explore potential paths to market.

School of Medicine Welcomes New Faculty

Each new academic year brings new opportunities for advancement in education, research, and patient care. The addition of our new faculty members creates additional excitement for the School of Medicine, and this year the school welcomed 65 new faculty members to its Basic and Clinical departments.

Dr. Gerard Guillot and Dr. Les Gilmer are two of the newest members to the Departments of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, respectively.

Both Dr. Gerard Guillot and Dr. Les Gilmer have national reputations in the field of teaching with unique backgrounds and experiences.

Beyond his training in medicine, Guillot has a robust history in the arts; notably, a degree in medical illustration. Guillot has a large grant sponsored by the American Anatomical Association designed to provide anatomical images of different ethnicities, races, and genders. It is the first of its kind and will create opportunities for the School of Medicine to further its mission to create an equitable healthcare system in our Commonwealth. Understanding patients from different backgrounds will better prepare our students for a lifelong career in medicine.

Gilmer was raised in the rural Appalachian area and has a deep commitment to providing educational opportunities for those in marginalized parts of Kentucky. As an institution, we are being intentional about recruiting diverse faculty to expand our perspective and promote our new vision of health. Gilmer will help amplify our presence in underserved areas, shrinking the equity gap in healthcare.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the team at the University of Louisville School of Medicine,” Gilmer said. “This position offers another opportunity to funnel resources into reaching unmet needs in populations typically underrepresented in medicine. Beyond helping and educating those in Appalachian Kentucky, UofL School of Medicine students can learn from a new perspective to better prepare a responsible workforce.”

The University of Louisville strives to increase representation in the workplace and classroom. “Our faculty help to shape the future generation of physicians,” said Dr. Chris Seals, assistant dean for Faculty Affairs and Advancement, “by increasing the diversity in our faculty presence, we are in turn, changing the landscape of medicine.” Seals recently teamed with the local Fall City Medical Society to host a welcome event titled “Cookout for the Culture.” This event particularly welcomed all new underrepresented minorities in medicine faculty, trainees, students, and postdocs to the School of Medicine community.

“Bringing our faculty together outside the workplace is extremely important to the School of Medicine,” said Dr. Toni Ganzel, dean of the School of Medicine. “It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations; it’s easy to feel isolated, especially if you’re new here. The work Dr. Seals brings to the School of Medicine improves the faculty experience ten-fold, thus improving the overall health and vitality of the community.”

All faculty hired between October 1, 2021-September 30, 2022, will be welcomed at an in-person workshop on September 29. 

UofL awarded $3.7 million for research to fight future pandemics

UofL awarded $3.7 million for research to fight future pandemics

Donghoon Chung, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Louisville, will lead the NIH Midwest Antiviral Drug Discovery Center for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern.

The University of Louisville has been awarded $3.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to further innovative research that could help combat future pandemics.

Infectious disease researcher Donghoon Chung will lead the work at UofL as part of the newly created NIH Midwest Antiviral Drug Discovery (AViDD) Center for Pathogens of Pandemic Concern. The multi-institution center, led by the University of Minnesota, is one of nine across the U.S.

At UofL, Chung’s research will target the viruses’ genome – viral RNA. Inside the body, viruses use this RNA as a blueprint to create copies of themselves, spreading the infection. Chung hopes that by finding a way to stop this process, new therapeutics to fight potential pandemics can be developed.

“Once inside the body, viruses ‘commandeer’ host cells as factories and the viral genome becomes manufacturing instructions on how to make more Zika virus, for example,” said Chung, an associate professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. “The goal is to stop them from successfully copying that genome.”

As part of this research, Chung will work closely with UofL’s Center for Predictive Medicine and its Regional Biocontainment Laboratory, one of only 12 regional and two national biocontainment labs in the United States and the only one in Kentucky. Established with support from the NIH to conduct research with infectious agents, the lab includes Biosafety Level 3 facilities built to the most exacting federal safety and security standards.

The new funding supporting Chung’s work is part of a $577 million effort by NIH to develop antiviral candidates to combat COVID-19 and other viruses with higher potential to cause a future pandemic. Researchers like Chung will identify and validate the candidates, with the most promising moving toward late-stage preclinical development.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for new antiviral drugs, especially those that could easily be taken by patients at home while their symptoms are still mild,” Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said in a release. “Decades of prior research on the structure and vulnerabilities of coronaviruses greatly accelerated our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we hope that similar research focused on antivirals will better prepare us for the next pandemic.”

Students Compete in Annual School of Medicine College Cup

Students Compete in Annual School of Medicine College Cup

Medical students participating in rock-paper-scissors tournament

Friendly competition ensued as students competed in the annual College Cup on August 6 at the Student Recreation Center on the Belknap Campus. Tony Simms, director of student wellness for the School of Medicine, stated this was the 11th year the event took place. Teams were divided up based on the student’s assigned Advisory College, which is determined upon matriculation to the School of Medicine.

“The Advisory Colleges are a unique aspect of the School of Medicine. Few other universities offer such programs, so when we started it here in 2011, it was a big draw for students to have an automatic built-in support system,” said Simms. Each college is named after either a past Dean of University of Louisville School of Medicine or a significant historical member of the medical community.

“The Advisory Colleges are great because they focus on connecting our incoming students with upperclassmen. It fosters strong relationships and reminds students that wellness is extremely important while in medical school,” said Simms.

College Cup is one of several events over the course of the academic year involving the Advisory Colleges. The event itself contains few events requiring serious athleticism, but instead focuses on activating the mind, creativity, and spirit. “We try to host multiple events that aren’t reliant entirely on physical strength and are welcoming to all sorts of people,” said Cynthia Morse, coordinator of student programs. This year’s events included dodgeball, tug of war, rock-paper-scissors tournament, art competition, relay race, capture the flag, musical chairs, and eating competitions.

Morse said College Cup reminds students to have fun, take care of themselves, be social, be a part of a community, be a whole person, and take breaks from studies to avoid burn out. “The event is a comradery building event to foster community among the [advisory] colleges that students are assigned to when they enter their M1 year.  It is a great way to get to know people and share in a common goal.”

“College Cup is a great way to showcase all the various talents and enthusiasm that ULSOM students have to offer, but more than this, College Cup is a time for first-year medical students to continue meeting their classmates be encouraged by upperclassmen to remember there's a work-life balance to value when entering medical school,” said Alexis Harris (M2).

Participation in College Cup is voluntary, but this year saw nearly a quarter of the SOM student body population compete. “My favorite part of College Cup is when there are events that widdle down to only a few participants (musical chairs/paper-rock-scissors tournament) and so the entire focus of all attendees shifts to one place and a few people.  Everyone circled around a small group of people.  It is really fun to see the entire crowd cheering on the remaining participants, start chants, and cheer on someone they just met a week prior,” said Morse.

The winning team takes home the College Cup trophy and receives bragging rights for the year. Looks like this year bragging rights will be shared amongst two colleges as there was a tie! Congratulations to Fitzbutler and Moore colleges on winning the Cup!

UofL researcher receives $2 million to find ways to reduce liver inflammation caused by high-fat diet

UofL researcher receives $2 million to find ways to reduce liver inflammation caused by high-fat diet

Zhong-bin Deng, Ph.D.

It is estimated that about one in four individuals worldwide have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), in which fat builds up in the liver. NAFLD can advance to inflammation and damage in the liver, a condition known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH.

University of Louisville researcher Zhong-bin Deng has received a new grant from the National Institutes of Health to investigate how a high-fat diet contributes to these conditions and identify processes that may reduce liver inflammation and lead to new treatments.

Deng’s previous research revealed mechanisms in which dietary fat causes changes in the structure of epithelial cells, which comprise the lining of the walls of the intestines. When gaps form between these cells, toxins are allowed to move directly from the gut to the liver, where they cause an immune response and inflammation.

Building on this work, Deng, assistant professor in the Division of Immunotherapy, within the Department of Surgery in the UofL School of Medicine, has been awarded $2 million from the NIH over five years to further investigate how these toxins cause the immune response in the liver, as well as test interventions that may reduce it.

“We are looking at how a high fat diet affects epithelial cells, allowing toxins to escape the gut and travel to the liver, leading to an immune response by macrophages in the liver and inflammation,” Deng said. “Also, we are trying to find a new therapy that could modulate the gut environment to control fatty liver disease.”

Deng’s research seeks to further understand the mechanism that leads to the gaps in the epithelial cells, which allow toxins produced by bacteria in the gut to move to the liver via the portal vein, known as the gut-liver axis. Deng and his team believe that the toxins cause the immune response of inflammation by changing Kupffer cells, white blood cells that reside in the liver. That inflammation can lead to liver cell damage.

“We propose that gut microbiota or the gut epithelial cells produce a signal that affects the Kupffer cells, causing inflammation in the high fat condition and may damage hepatocytes,” Deng said.

As part of the project, the researchers also will test whether an oligosaccharide found in human breast milk can be used to regulate the gut environment and mitigate the impact of the high fat diet on liver inflammation.

“We are trying to find out how to regulate this macrophage condition from an inflammation condition to an anti-inflammation condition,” Deng said.

"Dr. Deng's new research evaluates highly novel aspects of nutrition in NAFLD,” said Craig McClain, professor and associate vice president for health affairs/research at UofL.

Jun Yan, director of the Division of Immunotherapy, said the research may lead to increased understanding of the causes of liver cancer.

“The research findings from this grant may also help understand how this type of liver inflammation leads to hepatocellular carcinoma, which causes approximately 30,000 deaths annually in the U.S.,” Yan said.

Results from Deng’s previous research were published in the journal Hepatology in 2021.

Class of 2026 School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony

Class of 2026 School of Medicine White Coat Ceremony

SOM Class of 2026

The University of Louisville School of Medicine continued its 185th anniversary year with the orientation and induction of the class of 2026. On Sunday, July 31, the students were officially welcomed into the School of Medicine at the annual White Coat Ceremony.

The ceremony marked the official start of the students’ medical education. Each of the 159 students was welcomed individually by faculty, staff and other respected school leaders and a white coat was placed on their shoulders. As part of the ceremony, the students recited the Declaration of Geneva, a commitment to the humanitarian standards of medicine.

Joseph Holland, a second-year medical student, offered seven points of advice to the incoming class.

“Do not listen to everyone all at once; find a dedicated study space; practice questions make perfect; do not panic, channel your anxiety; always ask for help; failure sets you up for success; and, to build endurance, you must endure. Remember, you’re in this for the long haul. This was never a sprint; it’s a marathon,” Holland said.

For the School of Medicine, the event represents another opportunity to cultivate the next generation of health care professionals.

“We are thrilled to welcome our new class of medical students,” said Toni Ganzel, dean of the School of Medicine. “The White Coat Ceremony is a momentous occasion that signifies the hard work these students have put into their studies already and the opportunities they have to look forward to with a life in medicine.”

Christopher M. Jones, endowed professor in transplant surgery and the event’s keynote speaker, advised the students, “to innovate, collaborate and deliver care with the highest integrity.” He implored them to, “strive for mastery, humbly learn from our shortcomings, seek self-improvement and build mutual trust with all of our patients, especially those in marginalized communities.”

The White Coat Ceremony was the culmination of a week-long orientation for the students, which included basic life-support training, student wellness sessions, the introduction of the curriculum and course directors, lunch with the Advisory Colleges and a session led by Ganzel on the joy of medicine.

The class of 2026 represents 21 states, 62 colleges and universities and 30 undergraduate majors. It is one of the most diverse cohorts in the school’s history, with 61% of the class identifying as female, 22% from groups underrepresented in medicine, 16% from rural counties in Kentucky and 14% age 27 and older.

“The variety of backgrounds shared in the classroom will offer an unparalleled educational experience for all of our medical students, better preparing them for a lifelong career in medicine,” said Ann Shaw, vice dean for undergraduate medical education.

Welcome, class of 2026!

View photos from White Coat Ceremony here.

UofL Health Named Official Health Care Provider of the Louisville Cardinals

University of Louisville student-athletes will benefit mightily with a new, comprehensive medical partnership between Cardinal Athletics and an impressive local health provider. UofL Health, a fully integrated regional academic health system affiliated with the University of Louisville School of Medicine, has been named as the Official Health Care Provider for the Louisville Cardinals.

“This is an exciting day for the University of Louisville,” Vice-President/Director of Athletics Josh Heird said.  “Our number one priority will always the well-being of our student-athletes and whenever we can create a partnership that provides our student-athletes with world-class services, we want to celebrate it. The commitment UofL Health is making to our student-athletes and our department will allow us to be a national leader in the medical and mental health care we provide our student-athletes.”

The new partnership that extends for eight years addresses medical coverage for all 23 UofL sports programs, plus basic training coverage for the Cardinals’ cheer and dance teams.   There will be a comprehensive brand presence for UofL Health throughout Louisville Athletics facilities.

“Academic health care offers unique advantages, especially for world-class athletes like those at UofL. Our sports medicine team understands the complexities needed to keep athletes at the top of their game,” said Tom Miller, UofL Health CEO. “We have been taking care of the Cardinal athletes since the 1980’s, starting with the innovative sports medicine program developed by Dr. Raymond Shea. There was a brief hiatus from the sidelines for some of our providers, but we never stopped providing care and this agreement formally puts us all back on one team for the benefit of the athletes, our university and our community.”

The level of support for Cardinal student-athletes will significantly increase with added personnel as well as health and performance equipment upgrades.  UofL Health will provide access to its network of sports health physicians, orthopedic surgeons, neurologists and primary care providers.

“Maintaining good health is essential for any athlete, especially student-athletes,” said Dr. Jennifer Daily, medical director of UofL Heath Sports Medicine. “We have the expertise, and we have technology, such as DARI which provides movement data analytics to help athletes regain their game. We also have the comprehensive resources to make sure they never lose ground in the classroom.”

Mental health services were a point of emphasis with the new partnership, with at least 10 dedicated mental health and mental performance professionals planned for UofL student-athletes, in addition to other generally available mental health services.  Two dedicated staff members were in that role previously.

Also included are additional services and equipment for injury rehabilitation, medical coverage at athletics events, and supporting UofL’s new sports science department within athletics.

UofL Health is a fully integrated regional academic health system with six hospitals, four medical centers, 200+ physician practice locations, 700+ providers, Frazier Rehab Institute, Brown Cancer Center and the Eye Institute.

With more than 12,000 team members—physicians, surgeons, nurses, pharmacists and other highly skilled health care professionals—UofL Health is focused on one mission: delivering patient-centered care to each and every patient each and every day.

UofL School of Medicine Professor awarded 2022 Michael Russell Award

UofL School of Medicine Professor awarded 2022 Michael Russell Award

Professor Brad Rodu

Professor Brad Rodu of the department of Medicine was recently awarded the 2022 Michael Russell Award during the Global Forum on Nicotine in Warsaw, Poland. The prestigious award is presented in memory of Professor Michael Russell, a psychiatrist and research scientist who was a pioneer in the study of tobacco dependence and the development of treatments to help smokers quit.

Rodu was awarded for the recognition of his substantial and innovative contribution to the science and understanding of safer nicotine products and tobacco harm reduction. Rodu has been involved in research and policy development regarding tobacco harm reduction since 1994 and has authored 70 medical publications about tobacco (Global Forum on Nicotine, 2022).

Professor Gerry Stimson, Emeritus Professor at Imperial College London and co-founder of the Global Forum on Nicotine, who presented the award, said: “Brad’s ethical and thorough approach, together with his critical analysis of others’ work make him a very deserving recipient of the 2022 Michael Russell Award. His work on smokeless tobacco, its relative safety and his studies involving the use of new products to help smokers switch have advanced the knowledge and understanding of tobacco harm reduction in a significant way.”

Rodu has been appointed the first holder of the Endowed Chair in Tobacco Harm Reduction Research at the University of Louisville’s Brown Cancer Center. Prior to joining UofL in 2005, Rodu served on the faculty of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where most of his research was conducted. Rodu earned his D.D.S. at the Ohio State University, completed a residency in oral pathology at Emory University in Atlanta, and was awarded NCI and ACS fellowships at UAB.

UofL researchers discover protein changes that could lead to new treatments for alcohol-associated liver diseases

UofL researchers discover protein changes that could lead to new treatments for alcohol-associated liver diseases

Irina Kirpich

UofL researchers have discovered four significant alterations in proteins involved in alcohol-associated hepatitis and alcohol-associated cirrhosis, common forms of alcohol-associated liver disease that have poor prognosis and for which standard treatments offer limited effectiveness. Identification of these changes may present opportunities for new treatments for these conditions.

Alcohol-associated liver disease (ALD) contributes to more than 500,000 deaths worldwide annually. Two types of ALD, alcohol-associated hepatitis (AH) and alcohol-associated cirrhosis (AC), have a particularly poor prognosis and few treatment options.

The researchers analyzed liver tissues and liver biopsies from AH and AC patients and observed four significant changes in the proteins involved in biological processes associated with liver disease, including liver fibrosis or scar tissue, low albumin levels, white blood cell function and production of cardiolipin. These alterations may be adapted to serve as biomarkers to diagnose these conditions, assess the level of severity of AH and used as targets to develop new treatments.

“Many patients with ALD are unaware of the severity of their condition, and there are very few medical treatment options available,” said Irina A. Kirpich, associate professor of medicine at UofL, who led the study along with Jon Jacobs of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, Washington. “This problem has intensified over time and the COVID-19 epidemic has exacerbated alcohol-related hospitalizations. There is a real necessity for the identification and development of biomarkers and treatments.”

Results of the study, which involved UofL researchers Kirpich, Professor Craig McClain, postdoctoral associate Josiah Hardesty and researcher Dennis Warner, were published in the July issue of the The American Journal of Pathology.

“This one-of-a-kind study and its novel proteomic dataset will provide a roadmap for the development of novel biomarkers and therapies for AH and AC,” Kirpich said. “We are optimistic that findings from this study will be utilized by investigators in the field for years to come and could help enhance current treatment strategies to improve patient outcomes and open the door to new paradigms and ideas to improve patient care.”

New UofL Health – Eye Institute elevates ophthalmology care

New UofL Health – Eye Institute elevates ophthalmology care

UofL Health Eye Institute ribbon cutting

Offering a unique combination of advanced diagnostics, treatment and research, the UofL Health – Eye Institute offers increased access – and hope – to the estimated 2.7 million Kentuckians in need of vision care, plus more from southern Indiana.

“We already see more than 32,000 patients here each year, and we anticipate that number growing,” said Joern Soltau, chair of the UofL Health – Eye Institute and the University of Louisville Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “The best part about having such a variety of expertise with our physicians is that no matter your vision issue, we have an expert to help and it’s all here under one roof.”

The newly formed institute is located within the Kentucky Lions Eye Center building and expands on the 50-plus-year legacy started by the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation to improve eye care access and make vision services affordable to all.

“UofL Health and the Kentucky Lions Eye Foundation share a passion for serving our community and breaking down barriers to care,” said Tom Miller, chief executive officer of UofL Health. “This eye institute is another example of our commitment to increase access and grow points of care. We’ve done that for emergency care, cancer care, heart care and many more. Today we dedicate this institute because healthy vision is such an important part of healthy living.”

The Eye Institute is home to nationally renowned eye care specialists who are dedicated to serving their patients, from routine eye care, glasses and contact lenses with the assistance of Korrect Optical, to treatment for complicated eye diseases or conditions.

Some of the key services and treatment options provided include:

  • Cornea and external disease
  • Refractive surgery (laser vision correction)
  • Contact lenses
  • Advanced cataract surgery
  • Glaucoma
  • Retina and vitreous
  • Electrophysiology
  • Uveitis
  • Oculofacial and plastic surgery
  • Neuro-ophthalmology
  • Optical shop
  • Ocular prosthetics

Located within UofL Heath’s downtown academic medical campus, the Eye Institute serves as the hub for today’s vision care and the treatments of future. In partnership with the UofL School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, nearly 300 residents and fellows train here to care for patients across the state.

“We are advancing a facility that has been and will continue to be on the forefront of ocular health for decades to come,” said Toni Ganzel, dean of the UofL School of Medicine. “I view milestones such as this through the lens of how we extend the education and training of our students, residents and fellows. And by extension, how these efforts contribute to the care of our patients through clinical care and research.”

The UofL Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences currently has basic science research grants totaling $3.14 million from sources that include:

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)
  • S. Department of Defense (DOD)
  • Research to Prevent Blindness Foundation
  • Foundation Fighting Blindness
  • Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence
  • Robert W. Rounsavall, Jr. Family Foundation

Gibbs Foundation grants UofL $1.5 million to expand clinical trials for cancer immunotherapy

Funds will allow UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center to treat additional patients using TILs technology
Gibbs Foundation grants UofL $1.5 million to expand clinical trials for cancer immunotherapy

George Gibbs

More individuals will have access to new treatments for cancer at UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center thanks to a new gift supporting immunotherapy clinical trials.

The Gibbs Foundation Inc. is giving $1.5 million to the University of Louisville over three years to fund additional research staff and faculty time dedicated to clinical trials, increasing capacity for trial participants in the tumor infiltrating lymphocytes program, or TILs.

“We are so very grateful to the Gibbs Foundation for this gift. By allowing the Brown Cancer Center to expand this clinical trial and treat more patients with this innovative therapy, it provides hope for more families who are battling cancer and advances these therapies, potentially benefitting even more cancer patients and families,” said Lori Gonzalez, UofL’s interim president.

In clinical trials at the Brown Cancer Center (BCC), therapy known as tumor infiltrating lymphocytes, or TILs, has been shown to be effective in treating advanced melanoma patients, for whom the median survival is only eight months. TILs treatment involves removing one of a patient’s own tumors, preserving, activating and expanding immune cells from the tumor, then administering these immune cells into the patient. As a result of its success in melanoma patients, BCC is expanding the TILs program to test the therapy for the treatment of other cancers.

TILs patients face a long wait time due to the complex and time-consuming nature of the therapy and demands on clinical research staff. The gift from the Gibbs Foundation will allow UofL to hire additional nurses and coordinators and dedicate more of the oncologists’ research time to support TILs, a complex inpatient procedure. The gift is expected to result in the treatment of at least 25 additional patients.

“The Gibbs Foundation Board of Directors has been dramatically impressed with the success of the Brown Cancer Center’s immunotherapy work conceived and spearheaded by Dr. Jason Chesney.  We look forward to continuing the vision of our founder George Gibbs in helping to facilitate this great effort,” said Ivan J. Schell, Gibbs Foundation board member. “The Gibbs Foundation supports the BCC and its dedicated team of physicians as they gain ground in the search for a cure for all cancers.”  

The Gibbs Foundation, Inc. was established in 2014 by George Gibbs of Louisville who died in January of pancreatic cancer at age 87. The Gibbs Foundation previously supported health research at UofL through gifts of more than $2.5 million to create and expand the lung research program.

Cancer remains one of the most difficult and deadly challenges in health care, killing more than 600,000 people each year in the U.S. and nearly 10 million worldwide. Kentuckians are affected at a higher rate than residents of any other state. BCC serves more than 26,000 cancer patients every year and has the largest early-phase cancer trials program in the region. BCC is a global leader in the clinical testing of new immunotherapies, treatments that activate the body’s immune system to fight cancer and is an early adopter of these treatments.

“My goal is to help make cancer something that people one day study in history classes instead of medical schools, and I truly believe we are getting closer to that day,” said Jason Chesney, chief of the UofL Division of Medical Oncology and Hematology and director of the Brown Cancer Center. “This gift allows us to increase the number of patients and advance this lifesaving technology.”

UofL receives $3.6 million to research health effects of vaping flavorings

UofL receives $3.6 million to research health effects of vaping flavorings

UofL researchers Matthew Nystoriak, left, and Alex Carll, right, have received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration to study the effects of flavorings used in vapes and electronic cigarettes.

The University of Louisville has received a $3.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration to study the effects of flavorings like mango and bubblegum used in vapes and electronic cigarettes.

Researchers in the UofL Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute, which recently inaugurated  the university’s New Vision of Health campus in downtown Louisville, aim to better understand the short-and long-term impacts of these flavorings, specifically on the heart, and catalog which are potentially harmful.

“E-cigarettes are still relatively new, and we don’t yet fully understand what their health effects are,” said Alex Carll, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and co-lead on the project. “Understanding this could help us make better purchasing and regulatory decisions.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of unauthorized flavors used in disposable e-cigarette cartridges, saying some could appeal to kids and help fuel rising rates of youth vaping. However, a wide variety of flavors are still available in liquid form.

Matthew Nystoriak, an associate professor of medicine and co-lead on the project, said some flavors may seem harmless because they taste like or use the same ingredients as in food. But while those ingredients are safe to eat, they may not be safe to inhale.

Some flavors used in vapes, like cinnamon or diacetyl (artificial butter flavoring), have been linked to serious and even deadly health conditions like cell death and “popcorn lung” — damage caused by airway inflammation.

“Our goal is to understand how individual flavoring chemicals impact the heart,” Nystoriak said. “There are many flavor chemicals used in e-cigarettes and if we know which are potentially more harmful than others, it’s possible for people to make more informed decisions about which products they use.” Identifying their biological effects also is likely to help the FDA in regulating flavoring additives in e-cigarettes in the future.

This work builds on significant research already being conducted by UofL and its Envirome Institute that examines environmental factors affecting human health, including the trends and impacts of vaping and e-cigarettes. In 2020, the American Heart Association invested nearly $1.7 million to fund work to better understand the drivers behind youth vaping, the health effects of this use and how to motivate young people to stop using these products.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2022, 4 percent of American middle school students (470,000) and 13.4 percent (2.55 million) of high school students reported recently using e-cigarettes. Nearly 85% of youth who report using e-cigarettes say they use flavored e-cigarettes.

School of Medicine Celebrates its URM Graduates

School of Medicine Celebrates its URM Graduates

Faculty members and trainees from the School of Medicine gathered to celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of the University of Louisville’s graduating minoritized House Staff trainees and Doctoral students. The inaugural event, hosted by the Office of Faculty Affairs and Advancement, the Office of Graduate Medical Education and the HSC Office of Diversity and Inclusion, celebrated 26 URM trainees and six PhD graduates. 

“The medical school accrediting bodies have asked medical schools, nationwide, to focus on increasing the faculty recruitment and retention of underrepresented minoritized (URM) faculty,” said Chris Seals, PhD, assistant dean of faculty affairs and advancement. “The Dean and leadership, at our School of Medicine, are committed to doing so and realize that the pursuit of this goal starts with creating an inclusive cultural environment that celebrates the accomplishments of our own URM faculty, staff, and students. While URM medical students have been recognized and celebrated, this celebratory event honors an additional group that we want to celebrate: residents, fellows, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows.”

The graduating honorees were each gifted items from the Office of Graduate Medical Education and the Office of Faculty Affairs and Advancement.

“We are proud of the success of each of our graduates and take great joy in celebrating their accomplishments. This group of scholars are on the trajectory to becoming faculty members and building a culture that embraces their success might encourage them to return to UofL and join our Cardinal family as faculty members,” said Toni Ganzel, MD, dean of the School of Medicine.

The School of Medicine has witnessed a slow but steady growth of minority faculty in recent years. At count, seven of the honoree graduates will be staying in the area and four of which will add to the school’s minority faculty members.

Seals summed up perfectly the reason for the event: “This event is just one small step toward building a culture of inclusivity which embraces and celebrates diversity and belongingness for residents, fellows and PhD graduates who are of marginalized identity groups.”

The graduate honorees included:

  • Andrew Selk, Department of Emergency Medicine
  • Aaron Kuzel, Department of Emergency Medicine
  • Phillip Giddings, Department of Emergency Medicine
  • Monica Chamorro, Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine
  • Lauren Miller, Department of Family and Geriatric Medicine
  • Diana Otero Mostacero, Department of Medicine
  • Samantha Sears, Department of Medicine
  • Mohamed Eisa, Department of Medicine
  • Cristian Rios, Department of Medicine
  • Chanelle Benjamin, Department of Medicine
  • Armando Bosch, Department of Medicine
  • Laura Sims, Department of Medicine
  • Cristina Salmon, Department of Medicine
  • Meena Vessell, Department of Neurosurgery
  • Zebulun Cope, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Women’s Health
  • Tawana Coates, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, & Women’s Health
  • Terri Mason, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine
  • Stephanie Battistini, Department of Pediatrics
  • Dominique Elmore, Department of Pediatrics
  • Mobolanle Elder, Department of Pediatrics
  • Caroline Jackson, Department of Pediatrics
  • Lauren Hernandez, Department of Pediatrics
  • Mara Harris, Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
  • Raymond McDermott, Department of Radiology
  • Christina Warner, Department of Surgery
  • Michael Keyes, Department of Surgery
  • Andre Richardson, PhD Candidate
  • Sabryna Robbins, Pediatrics
  • Luis Alvarado, Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology
  • Timothy Audam, Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics
  • Henry Nabeta, Microbiology and Immunology
  • Hazel Ozuna, Microbiology and Immunology
  • Samiyyah Sledge, Physiology