Disruption of glucose transport to rods and cones shown to cause vision loss in retinitis pigmentosa

UofL researchers note the metabolic changes are similar to those seen in lung cancer in laboratory
Disruption of glucose transport to rods and cones shown to cause vision loss in retinitis pigmentosa

Douglas Dean, Ph.D., and Wei Wang, M.D., Ph.D.

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a common hereditary eye disorder that leads to the gradual deterioration of rod cells causing reduced peripheral vision and night vision. Subsequent loss of cone photoreceptors cause the loss of high-resolution daylight and color vision.

Ophthalmology researchers at the University of Louisville have discovered the loss of vision in RP is the result of a disruption in the flow of nourishing glucose to the rods and cones. This disruption leads to the starvation of the photoreceptors.

In research published today in Cell Reports, the researchers, led by Douglas C. Dean, Ph.D., and Wei Wang, M.D., Ph.D., of the UofL Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, described metabolic changes that result in the reduced availability of glucose in the cells.

As research provides a better understanding of the progression of RP, this knowledge may lead to therapies that could slow or stop this process before the rods and cones are destroyed. In addition to the relevance for RP, the researchers discovered the failure in glucose metabolism in RP is similar to changes seen in lung cancer and may be useful in developing therapeutic targets for both diseases.

“Interestingly, these metabolic changes appear similar to those we also are investigating in other studies into lung cancer in the laboratory,” Dean said. “Both lung cancer and neurons in the retina use glucose as a primary source for their metabolism. Attacking glucose utilization is a major strategy in fighting lung cancer. This unexpected connection in retinal and lung cancer metabolism has led us to link these seemingly unrelated systems to search for common drugs that target both lung cancer and retinal degeneration.”

RP is an inherited disease in which the photoreceptor cells in the retina – rods and cones – deteriorate over time. Photoreceptors absorb and convert light into electrical signals, which are sent through the optic nerve to the brain. Rods, located in the outer regions of the retina, allow peripheral and low-light vision. Cones, located mostly in the central part of the retina, allow perception of color and visual detail.

In RP, rods deteriorate first, causing the peripheral and low light vision loss typically associated with the disease. In later stages, the cones also deteriorate. Without cone function, RP patients lose the high-resolution daylight vision necessary for reading, facial recognition and driving. As a result, this stage of RP vision loss is more debilitating than the loss of nighttime or peripheral vision. RP affects 1 in 4,000 people globally.

This research is supported by grants from the National Eye Institute, BrightFocus Foundation and Research to Prevent Blindness.

Special ceremonies mark student entry into health professions

White Coat ceremonies hold meaning for medical, dental, dental hygiene and doctorate of nursing practice students
Special ceremonies mark student entry into health professions

Previous White Coat Ceremony

Over the next month, 360 students in the health professions will take their first step in establishing the importance of the provider-patient relationship. 

The Schools of Medicine, Nursing and Dentistry each host a White Coat Ceremony encouraging students to enter into an inner, personal contract, accepting the obligations specific to their practice, as they are cloaked with a white coat. 

University of Louisville President Neeli Bendapudi, PhD, is expected to give the keynote address to more than 160 medical students during the School of Medicine Class of 2023 White Coat Ceremony on July 28, 3 p.m., at the Louisville Marriott Downtown. 

“The ceremony is designed to clarify for students that a physician's responsibility is to take care of patients, care for the patients and practice humanism in medicine,” said Toni Ganzel, MD, MBA, FACS, dean of the School of Medicine. 

Nearly 50 doctorate of nursing practice students will receive a white coat on Aug. 15 during a ceremony on the UofL Health Sciences Center campus. Presiding will be Sonya Hardin, PhD, MBA, MHA, CCRN, NP-C, FAAN, dean of the UofL School of Nursing. 

One hundred, twenty dental and 30 dental hygiene students will participate in a White Coat Ceremony Aug. 24 at The Palace Theatre for the UofL School of Dentistry’s event. 

David C. Johnsen, DDS, MS, dean of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry and Dental Clinics, will give the keynote with UofL School of Dentistry Dean T. Gerard Bradley, BDS, MS, DrMedDent, presiding. Johnsen, a pediatric dentist, will speak on critical thinking in learning and professional environments.



New method developed at UofL enables more extensive preclinical testing of heart drugs and therapies

Researchers extend life of heart segments from 24 hours to six days. Process allows better testing for efficacy and toxicity and saves money and time.
New method developed at UofL enables more extensive preclinical testing of heart drugs and therapies

Tamer Mohamed, Ph.D., Qinghui Ou, B.Sc., and Riham Abouleisa, Ph.D.

Researchers at the University of Louisville have developed an easily reproducible system that enables them to keep slices of human hearts alive for a longer period of time, allowing more extensive testing of new drugs and gene therapies.This new biomimetic culture system mimics the environment of a living organ through continuous electrical stimulation and oxygenation, maintaining viability and functionality of the heart segments for six days. Previous culture systems maintained functional heart slices for no more than 24 hours. The extended viability time will enable improved preclinical testing of new drugs for effectiveness and toxicity.

“This new method maintains fully functional human heart slices for six days in the culture environment. This facilitates testing efficacy of heart failure therapeutics and cardiotoxins on human heart tissue with no need for a living human,” said Tamer M. A. Mohamed, Ph.D., who led the research.

The system provides access to the complete 3D multicellular system that reflects the heart’s functional and structural condition in a living person.

“This system will save time and costs of clinical trials during phase one research, which includes testing for toxicity and proof of efficacy,” Mohamed said. “In addition to drugs, we have demonstrated the system’s effectiveness in testing gene therapy.”

The optimized medium for sustaining the heart tissue slices is described in an article published online last week in Circulation Research, a publication of the American Heart Association. It will appear in the August 30, 2019, print and online issue. Along with Mohamed, the research was conducted by Qinghui Ou, B.Sc., Riham R.E. Abouleisa, Ph.D., and others at UofL, along with colleagues in California, Colorado, the United Kingdom, Germany and Egypt. UofL has a provisional patent application on this technology.



July 25, 2019

Free hep C screenings available on World Hepatitis Day, July 28

“You don’t know how bad it makes you feel until you are well again”
Free hep C screenings available on World Hepatitis Day, July 28

World Hepatitis Day, designated by the World Health Organization, is Sunday, July 28

Amber Bow knew she was sick, but did not seek treatment for hepatitis C for more than two years. She did not realize just how much the virus was affecting her daily health. After completing an eight-week course of treatment in July, Bow said she feels good again.

“You don’t know how bad it makes you feel until you are well again,” Bow said. “I am getting my senses back and remembering what it’s like to live without the virus. You feel good when you get up in the morning.”

University of Louisville Hospital and community partners will be offering free hepatitis C screenings at 13 locations in Louisville and surrounding counties for World Hepatitis Day on Sunday, July 28.

Hepatitis C, a blood-borne illness, is prevalent in the Louisville area. Kentucky has one of the highest hepatitis C infection rates in the United States. Currently, providers are encouraged to test for hepatitis C only in patients with certain risk factors [SEE SIDEBAR: Known risk factors for hepatitis C] or who are from the Baby Boom generation (born 1946-1964). However, those guidelines may not be leading health care providers to everyone who has the disease.

“A growing body of evidence suggests age and risk-based screening is missing a significant number of people, including children, with hepatitis C infection,” said Barbra Cave, a family nurse practitioner specializing in gastroenterology and hepatology who leads the Hep C Center at UofL Hospital. Cave is helping to organize the local events as part of a global effort by the World Health Organization.

“Up to half of patients who have it may not know they are infected, and people may carry the disease for decades before they have symptoms,” Cave said. “The goal of the World Hepatitis Day screening event is to expand testing and awareness, link more people to curative treatment, and normalize the conversation about hepatitis C. There should be no stigma surrounding hepatitis C. Anyone could have it, including babies.”

Screenings will be offered from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Sunday, July 28, at sites in Louisville and Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby and Bullitt counties in Kentucky and Clark County in Indiana. Screening is done with a simple finger prick and results will be available on site in 20 minutes. Hepatitis C experts will be available at all sites to answer questions and help link those affected by hepatitis C to appropriate care.

Free hepatitis C testing sites on July 28

  • Mall St. Matthews (2 sites within the mall), 5000 Shelbyville Road, Louisville, KY 40207
  • CVS Pharmacy, 1002 Spring St., Jeffersonville, IN 47130
  • CVS Pharmacy, 2169 Midland Trail, Shelbyville, KY 40065
  • Southwest Family YMCA, 2800 Fordhaven Road, Louisville, KY 40214
  • Walgreens, 5900 Timber Ridge Dr., Prospect, KY 40059
  • Walgreens, 12101 Shelbyville Rd., Middletown, KY 40243
  • Walgreens, 2360 Stony Brook Dr., Louisville, KY 40220
  • Walgreens, 6620 Bardstown Rd., Louisville, KY 40291
  • Walgreens, 4310 Outer Loop, Louisville, KY 40219
  • Walgreens, 152 N. Buckman St., Shepherdsville, KY 40165
  • Walgreens, 11099 Highway 44E, Mount Washington, KY 40047
  • Walgreens, 807 S. Highway 53, LaGrange, KY 40031
  • Walgreens, 200 E. Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

“We have a local goal to decrease the stigma about hepatitis C, and let people know it is easy to test for and treat,” Cave said. “Some may still remember the old days of treating hep C when treatment was difficult, involving a triple therapy with interferon that lasted almost a year and multiple side effects. Not everyone was a candidate for treatment and some patients opted to not get treated at all.

“Today, hepatitis C is easily curable and relatively inexpensive to treat. Common treatments for hep C are one or three pills, once a day, for 8-12 weeks – with minimal side effects. It is covered by almost all insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid. Cost and side effects are no longer an excuse to defer treatment.”

Left untreated, the disease can cause major complications. It can cause cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer, and is a leading cause of liver transplant. Hepatitis C may also predispose those infected to diabetes and depression, and has an association with joint pain, certain skin disorders and lymphoma.

Partners with UofL Hospital in the screening event include the Louisville Metro Department of Health and Wellness, the Kentucky Department of Public Health, KentuckyOne Health, Volunteers of America, the Sullivan University College of Pharmacy, the nursing programs of Galen University and Bellarmine University, and University of Louisville Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry and Public Health and Information Sciences, as well as generous sponsors, including Abbvie.



Known risk factors for hepatitis C

  • Born between 1945 and 1965
  • A blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to 1992
  • Had blood filtered by a machine (hemodialysis) for a long period of time because kidneys were not working
  • IV drug use at any point in life, even just once
  • Intranasal drug use at any point in life
  • HIV or hepatitis B infection
  • Health care workers exposed to blood through a needle stick or other contact with blood or bodily fluids
  • Exposure to contaminated tattoo equipment, including ink
  • Men who have sex with other men
  • Prior military service: “Older veterans are particularly at risk due to the use of the old ‘jet gun’ vaccinators by the military and from combat injuries requiring blood transfusion,” Cave said.

Contaminated dental equipment, such as that used before most items were single patient/single use, may also have spread hepatitis C, and Cave said the virus can live on a surface for six weeks if not sterilized properly.




July 25, 2019

Immunotherapy – using the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells – is leading to longer life for more cancer patients

Learn about the state of cancer treatment at Beer with a Scientist July 17
Immunotherapy – using the body’s immune system to attack cancer cells – is leading to longer life for more cancer patients

Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D.

At a Beer with a Scientist event four years ago, cancer specialist Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., described clinical trials in immunotherapy being conducted at the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center. At that time, the new therapies were showing promise in the treatment of melanoma.

At this month’s Beer with a Scientist, Chesney, director of the UofL Brown Cancer Center, will share just how far those therapies have come in improving treatment of cancer.

Chesney will discuss cutting-edge approaches to stimulate the immune system to eradicate previously terminal cancers, focusing on treatments that stimulate white blood cells called T cells to kill cancer cells using antibodies and viruses. These immunotherapies are proving to be effective for multiple types of cancer.

"These novel immunotherapies are translating to previously terminal cancer patients having normal life spans,” Chesney said. “I believe we will experience a 25 percent decrease in cancer-related deaths in the next five years."

Chesney’s talk begins at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 17, at Holsopple Brewing, 8023 Catherine Lane. A 30-minute presentation will be followed by an informal Q&A session.

Admission is free. Purchase of beer or other items is not required but is encouraged. Organizers encourage Beer with a Scientist patrons to drink responsibly.

UofL cancer researcher Levi Beverly, Ph.D., created the Beer with a Scientist program in 2014 as a way to bring science to the public in an informal setting. At these events, the public is invited to enjoy exactly what the title promises:  beer and science.




July 15, 2019

Elder abuse is a growing danger as population ages

UofL Trager Institute and Age-Friendly Louisville urge seniors, loved ones to look for signs of abuse
Elder abuse is a growing danger as population ages

Dr. Christian Furman

With a growing older adult population, the potential for elder abuse is a problem that affects the health and human rights of seniors. Leaders of the University of Louisville Trager Institute and Age-Friendly Louisville encourage older adults and their loved loved ones to take steps toward prevention.  

“As a geriatrician, I routinely check for signs of physical abuse, such as unusual weight loss, bruising or skin breakdown, but the form of elder abuse I encounter the most is financial abuse,” said Christian D. Furman, MD, MSPH, AGSF, interim chief, Division of General Internal Medicine, Palliative Medicine and Medical Education, Margaret Dorward Smock Endowed Chair in Geriatric Medicine and medical director, UofL Trager Institute. “Older adults are vulnerable to financial exploitation, such as scams, especially when they have dementia. This population is targeted as many receive monthly income (such as pensions or VA checks), have savings and may have a reduced ability to fend off scams.”

She encourages older adults and their family members to sign up for the Kentucky Attorney General Scam Alert service to receive notice of how would-be criminals may try to steal money.

Furman urges older adults to plan ahead financially to prevent this type of abuse.

“I see too many individuals who lose their life savings in situations like this,” she said.

Elder abuse can take on different forms: physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. Possible signs include:

  • Physical abuse - frequent injuries; multiple bruises in various stages of healing; individual appears to be frightened
  • Sexual abuse - fear of a particular person; upset when being changed or bathed; irritation or injuries of the mouth, genitals or anus
  • Neglect - obvious malnutrition or dehydration; dirty and offensive body odor; absence  of glasses, dentures or hearing aid
  • Financial exploitation - unusual activity in bank account; lack of food, clothing and personal supplies; missing personal belongings such as jewelry, television or art

Age-Friendly Louisville, through the Social Participation, Respect and Inclusion Workgroup, is working to raise awareness of elder abuse in Louisville. In coordination with various social service agencies, the group seeks to improve community cohesion to guard against elder abuse through education.

“It can be hard to imagine that anyone would deliberately want to harm an elderly person, but unfortunately elder abuse does occur,” said Chris Clements, Louisville Metro Retired Senior Volunteer Program coordinator and facilitator for Age-Friendly Louisville. “Some instances of elder abuse are intended to exploit the person through things like scams, and in other cases, neglect can be unintentional like when an older adult’s caretaker does not provide them with basic necessities.”

The Age-Friendly Louisville Social Participation, Respect and Inclusion Workgroup meets the second Tuesday of every month from 2p.m.– 4 p.m. at the Thrive Center, 204 E. Market Street.

To learn more about elder abuse and other Age-Friendly Louisville initiatives, visit or contact Natalie Pope at 502-852-7733 or


Women’s wellness event centers on preventing cervical cancer

The University of Louisville and several west Louisville community clinics are offering a free June 23 event to educate women about preventing cervical cancer. The disease is preventable by vaccine and treatable if detected early; however, it kills about 70 Kentuckians annually.

The Women’s Wellness event will be 4-6 p.m. Sunday at Louisville Central Community Center, 1300 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. Women can sign up for screenings and vaccinations; learn from experts, advocates and exhibits; and enjoy music and food.

Speakers will discuss HPV and vaccination; cervical cancer screening, prevention and survivorship; and ways to talk to family members about cancer; a question-and-answer session will follow.

Speakers will include patient advocate and volunteer Aquishala Ware and Drs. Bennett Jenson, UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center; Andrea Woolfolk, Family Health Center; Giavonne Rondo, Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center; and Sula Hood, Indiana University Fairbanks School of Public Health.  

Although the event is free, attendees are encouraged to register by calling 502-276-5747 or signing up online at

UofL’s Kent School of Social Work and School of Public Health and Information Sciences are organizing the event, with grant support from the Cooperative Consortium for Transdisciplinary Social Justice Research.

Sponsors include Kentucky Cancer Program, Baptist Health and Gilda’s Club Kentuckiana.

For more information, contact Karen Kayser at 502-852-1946 or

UofL Hospital receives Get With The Guidelines Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award

American Heart Association Award recognizes commitment to quality stroke care at UofL Hospital – Comprehensive Stroke Center
UofL Hospital receives Get With The Guidelines Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award

University of Louisville Hospital

University of Louisville Hospital has received the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association’s Get With The Guidelines® Target: Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award. The award recognizes the hospital’s commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.

UofL Hospital earned the award by meeting specific quality achievement measures for the diagnosis and treatment of stroke patients at a set level for a designated period. These measures include evaluation of the proper use of medications and other stroke treatments aligned with the most up-to-date, evidence-based guidelines with the goal of speeding recovery and reducing death and disability for stroke patients. Before discharge, patients should also receive education on managing their health, get a follow-up visit scheduled, as well as other care transition interventions.

“The UofL Hospital – Comprehensive Stroke Center is dedicated to improving the quality of care for our stroke patients by implementing the American Heart Association’s Get With The Guidelines-Stroke initiative,” said Kerri Remmel, M.D., Ph.D., medical director of the UofL Hospital – Comprehensive Stroke Center. “The tools and resources provided help us track and measure our success in meeting evidenced-based clinical guidelines developed to improve patient outcomes.”

UofL Hospital additionally received the association’s Target: StrokeSM Elite Plus award. To qualify for this recognition, hospitals must meet quality measures developed to reduce the time between the patient’s arrival at the hospital and treatment with the clot-buster tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, the only drug approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat ischemic stroke.

“We are pleased to recognize UofL Hospital for their commitment to stroke care,” said Lee H. Schwamm, M.D., national chairperson of the Quality Oversight Committee and Executive Vice Chair of Neurology, Director of Acute Stroke Services, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston. “Research has shown that hospitals adhering to clinical measures through the Get With The Guidelines quality improvement initiative can often see fewer readmissions and lower mortality rates.”

According to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. On average, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds and nearly 795,000 people suffer a new or recurrent stroke each year.



June 19, 2019

UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center recognized for quality in value-based cancer care

UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center recognized for quality in value-based cancer care

UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Kentucky has recognized the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center with a Blue Distinction® Centers for Cancer Care designation as part of the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program. By combining nationally consistent quality criteria with locally effective value-based programs, Blue Distinction Centers for Cancer Care deliver maximum value to members battling cancer by aligning health care payments with improved health outcomes.The designation is available for all cancer types and various care settings, including physician groups, cancer centers, hospitals and accountable care organizations (ACOs).

The UofL Brown Cancer Center received the designation by incorporating patient-centered and data-driven practices to better coordinate cancer care and improve quality and safety under a value based payment model. Blue Distinction Centers for Cancer Care are reimbursed based on how they perform against both quality and cost outcome targets in order to receive incentives and rewards for better health outcomes – rather than traditional fee-for-service. Research has shown that care delivery transformation to improve quality and affordability is most successful when accompanied by transformation to a value based payment model.

“This designation attests to our daily dedication to providing the very best care for each of our patients and to achieving the best possible results,” said Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., director of the UofL Brown Cancer Center. “While outcomes are our greatest priority, we work hard to make sure the people we treat also have the best patient experience.”

“Cancer patients are unique, and so is the care that they receive,” said Jennifer Atkins, vice president of network solutions for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association.  “Cancer patients often receive different kinds of specialized care in multiple settings with perhaps surgery at a distant medical center but chemotherapy at a local hospital. Medical professionals and facilities designated as Blue Distinction Centers for Cancer Care provide coordinated patient care and communication under a value based payment model.”

In 2018, the UofL Brown Cancer Center also received designation as a Blue Distinction Center+ for Transplants for Adult Bone Marrow/Stem Cell by Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Since 2006, the Blue Distinction Specialty Care program has helped patients find quality specialty care in the areas of bariatric surgery, cancer care, cardiac care, knee and hip replacements, maternity care, spine surgery and transplants while encouraging health care professionals to improve the care they deliver. For more information about the program, please visit


June 17, 2019

UofL ends negotiations over KentuckyOne assets

Risk to university would be too great

The University of Louisville has notified Catholic Health Initiatives and its affiliate, KentuckyOne Health, that it is ending negotiations to purchase KOH’s Louisville assets, which include Jewish Hospital where the university has several service lines and its physicians treat patients and teach medical residents.

Talks were halted because UofL could not find a suitable partner to help fund the acquisition. UofL officials were not willing to put the university at financial risk by taking on the acquisition alone.

“We regret ending our talks with CHI, but we must do what is fiscally responsible for the University of Louisville,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi. “Without a viable partner, we do not have the resources necessary to make the acquisition a reality.”

“KentuckyOne Health is disappointed that the university was not able to secure a financial partner,” said Deborah Lee-Eddie, interim market CEO for KentuckyOne Health. “We will now continue our discussions with other interested organizations.”

UofL and CHI have agreed to several steps as the two parties work on the changes in their relationship.

CHI will extend the Academic Affiliation Agreement to ensure that undergraduate and graduate/resident medical education programs continue at Jewish Hospital and Frazier Rehab Institute. If programs cannot be continued at those facilities, CHI will assign those residencies to another facility requested by the university.

The AAA is an agreement that provides conditions under which the university’s physicians and medical residents provide care for patients, serve in leadership roles for various hospital programs and services and conduct clinical trials that offer innovative treatments unavailable anywhere else in the region.

CHI also has agreed to continue the current professional services, medical directorships and similar provisions included in the Master Services Agreement while it and UofL discuss transition planning. CHI will provide at least 90 days notice before terminating any of those individual agreements.

“Our patients will continue to receive the highest quality care, and our students and residents will continue to receive the education and training they must have to become future providers,” Bendapudi said. “That is our unwavering commitment.”

KentuckyOne’s local properties also include Our Lady of Peace, Sts. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital, Jewish Hospital Medical Centers East, South, Southwest and Northeast, Jewish Hospital Shelbyville and the KentuckyOne Health Medical Group.

UofL and CHI have negotiated in good faith on the purchase of the portfolio only since December 2018.

Services provided by UofL physicians at Jewish Hospital include organ transplantation, cardiovascular medicine and neurological surgery. The hospital is home to the only solid organ transplant facility in the region, and UofL’s renowned clinical care and research in cardiovascular medicine and spinal cord injury are conducted at Jewish and Frazier Rehab.

Bendapudi applauded all those who tried to make a deal for the KentuckyOne assets a reality.

“Everyone involved in these talks put dedication and hard work into them, and I thank them all,” she said. “This endeavor did not fail for lack of effort on the part of either party.”

In her own words: UofL President Neeli Bendapudi, Ph.D., provides more information on ending the negotiations here. 

How plans for a trip to Mars bring home our dependence on Earth’s environment - Beer with a Scientist, June 12

Ted Smith, Ph.D., will discuss insights gleaned from the space program
How plans for a trip to Mars bring home our dependence on Earth’s environment - Beer with a Scientist, June 12

Ted Smith, Ph.D.

At a recent workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to discuss health risks associated with a potential manned mission to Mars, it became clear just how vitally we humans depend on our Earth’s environment.

“Those discussions forced us to think about how our physiology depends on the attributes of our home planet. The question about what to include in the Mars transport vehicle is a wake-up call for those insensitive to the elimination of biodiversity and poorly conceived urbanization globally,” said Ted Smith, Ph.D., deputy director of the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute at the University of Louisville. Smith also is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for NASA’s Translation Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) and organized the workshop.

At the next Beer with a Scientist, Smith will discuss what planning for long-range space travel reveals about the need to preserve our home planet’s health for our own survival.

Smith’s talk will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 12, at Holsopple Brewing, 8023 Catherine Lane. A 30-minute presentation will be followed by an informal Q&A session.

Admission is free. Purchase of beer or other items is not required but is encouraged. Organizers encourage Beer with a Scientist patrons to drink responsibly.

UofL cancer researcher Levi Beverly, Ph.D., created the Beer with a Scientist program in 2014 as a way to bring science to the public in an informal setting. At these events, the public is invited to enjoy exactly what the title promises:  beer and science.

Upcoming Beer with a Scientist events:

July 17:  Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., will discuss recent advances in using our own immune cells to cure cancer.

Facilities, feedback and funding: UofL-administered network supports emerging medical research throughout Kentucky

KBRIN adding electron microscopy resource for early-stage researchers
Facilities, feedback and funding: UofL-administered network supports emerging medical research throughout Kentucky

Amber Onorato, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at Northern Kentucky University, back row center, with students in the 2018 summer research program

For nearly two decades, a program administered at the University of Louisville has been helping scientists at institutions throughout the state get their foot in the door of biomedical research.   

A five-year, $18.2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded earlier this year will continue and enhance the work of the Kentucky Biomedical Research Infrastructure Network (KBRIN), the state’s Institutional Development Award (IDeA). The IDeA program builds research capacities in states with historically low levels of NIH funding by supporting basic, clinical and translational research as well as faculty development and infrastructure improvements. Kentucky is one of 23 states eligible for IDeA funding.

“Our goal is to enhance training in biomedical research for faculty, postdoctoral fellows and graduate and undergraduate students throughout the state,” said Nigel Cooper, Ph.D., director of KBRIN, based at UofL. “Since 2001, federal funding through the Institutional Development Award program has allowed us to work with other higher education institutions in Kentucky to build a network of resources and education.”

KBRIN includes partner institutions who share biomedical research expertise, data processing and infrastructure with early-stage researchers at partner and outreach institutions, including collaborative networks among scientists, funding workshops and access to equipment that may not be available at the researchers’ home institutions.

The new funding allows KBRIN to add an electron microscopy core, offering researchers access to electron microscopes at UofL, the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky University. To launch this resource, KBRIN has issued a call for proposals for electron microscopy pilot projects, enabling students and researchers to prepare samples and use the electron microscopes. Submissions are due July 15.

Through IDeA, KBRIN also provides funding for research projects to assist early-stage researchers in their work. In addition to advancing research itself, the projects support increased student training and career development, including summer programs and mentored research for undergraduate students.

Amber Onorato, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemistry at Northern Kentucky University, recently received funding from KBRIN to support research that involves the synthesis of novel anti-inflammatory molecules. The KBRIN funds will allow Onorato and a group of her students to further advance the research project and work more closely with a collaborator at the University of Cincinnati to learn biological techniques.

“The funding allows me to spend more time with the students in the lab working on the project and to write grants and publications,” Onorato said. “It also allows me to pay the students who work with me over the summer, which gets more of my students in the lab. The ability to do this research in the field has made them more attractive candidates for professional schools as well as for their future careers.”

In the process of securing IDeA funding through KBRIN, the researchers also improve their potential for future direct NIH funding.

“We provide the infrastructure that allows newer researchers to ‘get in the game,’ but we also provide training for those researchers in the form of feedback on the grant proposals they submit to us for funding. This feedback prepares them to compete for NIH funding,” said Martha Bickford, Ph.D., associate program director of KBRIN.

Justin Yates, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Northern Kentucky University, is an early-stage biomedical investigator who recently obtained funding from the NIH after working with KBRIN over the past four years. He studies the neuro-behavioral mechanisms leading to addiction.

“Being able to conduct research with funding through KBRIN has made me competitive. It enabled me to have my research published, to pay for an undergraduate student to help with the research and to recruit more students,” Yates said. “When you are applying for an R15 (grant from the NIH), an important aspect is training undergraduate students. By showing I could do that, it helped my application score.”

Robert Keynton, Ph.D., interim executive vice president for research and innovation at UofL, said the program is an important resource for developing future biomedical researchers in Kentucky.

“This project is an excellent example of the value of a multidisciplinary and multi-institutional program at building research infrastructure and capacity across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which testifies as to why this is the longest, continuously funded NIH project at the University of Louisville,” Keynton said.

Since 2001, KBRIN has been funded continuously through IDeA, and has received more than $77 million in federal funding. Partner schools include the University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky University, Murray State University, Morehead State University and Centre College, but the network is available to any college or university in Kentucky.

UofL will host the Southeast Regional IDeA Conference Nov. 6-8 in Louisville. In addition to scientific talks and poster presentations, the conference agenda includes workshops to introduce the new electron microscopy core and other facilities, as well as training in specific skills, such as bioinformatics and grant writing.

Hope Scarves gift will provide patients with metastatic breast cancer access to more clinical trials at JGBCC

Hope Scarves gift will provide patients with metastatic breast cancer access to more clinical trials at JGBCC

UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center

For women undergoing treatment for cancer, a little encouragement can mean the world.

Lara MacGregor, who lives with metastatic breast cancer, started Hope Scarves in 2012 to provide women undergoing cancer treatment a way to encourage one another by sharing a scarf and a story. In 2015, Hope Scarves established a Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Fund to raise funds to support research and patient care.

For 2019, Hope Scarves has provided a gift of $25,000 to the University of Louisville James Graham Brown Cancer Center, with an anonymous match of $25,000 for a total gift of $50,000. The funds are designated to bringing more clinical trials for metastatic breast cancer patients to Louisville.

Kentucky has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the United States, and Jefferson County has one of the highest rates in Kentucky. Participation in clinical trials is one way to improve outcomes, not only for the patients who participate, but by bringing more and better treatments to market for all patients.

“Participation in clinical trials benefits not only the patients involved in the trial, but the field of cancer treatment in general,” said Beth Riley, M.D., deputy director for clinical affairs at UofL’s Brown Cancer Center. “Currently, metastatic breast cancer is not curable with standard treatment. By participating in trials, patients in Kentucky not only have early access to novel drugs or drug combinations, but they are helping physicians and scientists learn more about effective treatments and disease characteristics so we can move closer to a cure for this disease. Clinical trials involvement is vital to improve the lives of cancer patients here in Kentucky and worldwide.” 

One patient who benefitted from treatment in a clinical trial at the center is Brenda Craig, a Louisville native who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013. After several years in remission, her cancer returned; this time it was stage 4 and more challenging to treat.

“The treatments I was getting were not making me feel good and were not doing anything for my cancer,” Craig said. “When my doctor said, ‘Would you like to try the clinical trial?’ I wanted to live, so I said, ‘Yea! Sure, I’d try it.’”

Her condition improved while she was on the trial treatment, nearly bringing her to remission again. Unfortunately, she had to stop the trial drug when she came down with pneumonia. Nevertheless, she is grateful to have had the opportunity.

“The clinical trial brought me a long way. I was on it 8-10 months and I was doing great,” Craig said. She now is on another treatment, but her cancer has remained stable.

Craig said one of her most important missions on her cancer journey is to support others with the disease, a mission shared by Hope Scarves.

“We are human. We cry and we tell our stories to each other. My story helps you and your story helps someone else. We keep it going,” Craig said. “Even if I don’t make it, I hope I can be an example for someone else, that whatever they did for me, it can help someone else.”

MacGregor, a Louisville resident, has seen clinical trials benefit patients at the UofL Brown Cancer Center, and her own treatment includes a drug tested at the center. She wants Hope Scarves’ funds to invigorate that process.

“There is a huge burden to participate in clinical trials that are only available in another city. You have transportation and lodging to consider, and you are away from your home support system – your family and friends – who truly make a difference when you are fighting this disease,” MacGregor said.

By making more trials available in Louisville, not only local women benefit, but also future patients by allowing more people to participate in the trials, advancing medical research more quickly.

“Clinical trials are the future of cancer treatment, not a last resort,” MacGregor said. “These therapies are the next generation of care and may give patients better outcomes, and we are providing these funds to enable more women to have access to them.”

Runners in the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Mini Marathon have raised funds for Hope Scarves as a team, Outrunning Cancer, for the past seven years. In 2015, Hope Scarves presented its first gift to the UofL Brown Cancer Center to support basic research. This year, in addition to UofL, Hope Scarves is providing funds for basic cancer research to Johns Hopkins Medical Center and the Dana-Farber Cancer Center at Harvard University.

“It is our intentional strategy to fund both basic science and patient access to care,” MacGregor said.



June 3, 2019

Evolent Health expands partnership with Passport Health Plan to support Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky

Evolent Health expands partnership with Passport Health Plan to support Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky

Passport Health Plan andEvolent Health, a company providing an integrated value-based care platform to the nation's leading providers and payers, announced on May 29 that Evolent has entered into a definitive agreement to partner with the current sponsors of Passport in continuing to serve the Kentucky Medicaid market. The current sponsors, which include The University of Louisville, University of Louisville Physicians, University Medical Center, Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Norton Healthcare and the Louisville/Jefferson County Primary Care Association, have been seeking a partner to provide expanded management and operational support, as well as capital through joint ownership of the health plan, and haveselected Evolent as its long-term financial and operating partner.

Per the terms of the agreement, Evolent will acquire an ownership interest in Passport Health Plan and will expand the scope and term of its long-term Management Services Agreement with the health plan. Evolent will also provide interim balance sheet support if necessary to meet near-term regulatory capital requirements.

Passport health plan logoPassport has provided Medicaid managed care services in Kentucky since 1997 and currently serves more than 300,000 members statewide. The plan employs more than 600 Kentuckians, primarily at its headquarters in Louisville. Evolent has provided extensive services to Passport since 2016, when the organizations formed a relationship to launch the Medicaid Center of Excellence focused on improving health outcomes for Medicaid beneficiaries in Kentucky and in several states nationwide.

Passport will be jointly owned and operated through a partnership between Evolent, The University of Louisville, the University of Louisville Physicians, University Medical Center, Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Norton Healthcare and the Louisville/Jefferson County Primary Care Association. The plan will be governed by a newly formed board of directors upon closing with joint representation from the current owners and Evolent Health. Evolent intends to maintain all Kentucky operations under the Passport name and looks forward to building upon the plan’s excellent history of service in the Commonwealth.  

“We strongly believe in Passport’s mission and have been proud to partner with Passport’s leadership team to serve the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Evolent Health Chief Executive Officer Frank Williams. “We are honored by the vote of confidence the owners of Passport have given us to continue to build on an extraordinary legacy of delivering an excellent member experience to Kentucky’s Medicaid beneficiaries. We are confident that by leveraging our value-based care platform and the full scope of our clinical programs, as well as providing enhanced functional expertise, we can drive strong operational and financial performance. We look forward to collaborating with The University of Louisville and other Passport owners—as well as local and state regulatory agencies and other key stakeholders—to continue driving improved health outcomes and critical support to one of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable populations.”


“The University of Louisville helped create Passport Health Plan in 1997, paving the way for what has become a national model for managed care,” said University of Louisville President Dr. Neeli Bendapudi. “Now, we are proud to partner with Evolent Health to begin a new chapter that will continue to spark innovation in the delivery of care.”

“For the past 20 years, Passport has been proud to work with the Commonwealth, our provider partners and other valued supporters to deliver a quality health plan that promotes our members’ best interests and health outcomes,” said Passport Health Plan Chief Executive Officer Mark Carter. “I am confident that Passport has a bright future ahead, thanks to the solid foundation we’ve built and the significant investment, expertise and support that Evolent brings to the table. Evolent and Passport are dedicated to finding ways to bring the West Louisville Health and Wellbeing Campus to life, as we believe it will significantly positively impact the health of the community. Evolent and Passport will be working with developers and key stakeholders to create a definitive plan and select a real estate developer to bring the project to fruition.”

About Evolent Health

Evolent Health partners with leading provider and payer organizations to achieve superior clinical and financial results in value-based care and under full-risk arrangements. With a provider heritage and over 20 years of health plan administration experience, Evolent partners with more than 35 health care organizations to actively manage care across Medicare, Medicaid, commercial and self-funded adult and pediatric populations. With the experience to drive change, Evolent confidently stands by a commitment to achieve results. For more information, visit

About Passport Health Plan

Passport Health Plan is a provider-sponsored, non-profit, community-based health plan administering Medicaid benefits to more than 300,000 Kentuckians. Named the top Medicaid plan in Kentucky by the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) for 2016-17, Passport has been contracted with the Commonwealth of Kentucky to administer Medicaid benefits since 1997. For details, please visit or call toll-free (800) 578-0603. Passport also operates a Medicare Advantage program, called “Passport Advantage,” for residents of Jefferson, Bullitt, Hardin, Nelson, Breckinridge, Carroll, Grayson, Henry, Larue, Marion, Meade, Oldham, Shelby, Spencer, Trimble and Washington counties who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. For details, go online to or call toll-free (844) 859-6152.


Multiple honors for UofL LGBT health education

UofL shares knowledge with Harvard, receives national award, publishes clinical skills toolkit
Multiple honors for UofL LGBT health education

UofL medical education presenters with Harvard hosts

The University of Louisville shared its pioneering work in educating health professionals to provide quality health care to LGBTQ patients with faculty at Harvard Medical School in Boston last month. In New York, the university also received a national leadership award for workforce development for the same work on May 3. Earlier this year, UofL published The eQuality Toolkit, a clinical skills training manual to help others develop the specific clinical skills needed to provide high quality care to LGBTQ patients.

At the Seventh Annual National LGBT Health Workforce Conference, held last week in New York, UofL received the Organization Leadership Award from Building the Next Generation of Academic Physicians (BNGAP), an organization founded in 2008 to cultivate a more diverse workforce in academic medicine. The award highlights commitment, scholarship and dedication to the development of a health workforce that is responsive to the unique health issues and disparities of LGBT communities. Previous winners are Penn Medicine and the University of Rochester Medical Center.

A week prior, leaders from UofL’s eQuality program presented Grand Rounds to faculty at the Harvard Medical School Academy on incorporating training for the care of LGBTQ patients into the medical school curriculum. Amy Holthouser, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education, Susan Sawning, M.S.S.W., director of medical education research, and UofL School of Medicine alumni Rhiannon Ledgerwood, M.D., and Adam Neff, M.D., presented “Lessons from eQuality at University of Louisville: Successful collaborations for integrating sexual and gender minority health into medical education.”

David Hirsh, M.D., director of the Academy at Harvard Medical School, said the presentation from Holthouser and Sawning inspired the participants, who are planning to launch a similar program at Harvard.

“I was so moved by your advocacy and accomplishments and so taken by your style and grace, strength and conviction, wisdom and humility,” Hirsh said of the UofL group. “The grand rounds made an enormous difference. We will be speaking about it for a long time to come.  I am so grateful to learn from you and to have been present for such an important and transformative launch.”

Beginning in 2014, UofL served as the pilot program for the development of curriculum to incorporate competencies published by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) related to provision of care for LGBT individuals and other sexual and gender minorities (SGM). Through the eQuality program, information related to care for SGM patients was embedded throughout the curriculum studied by all students in the UofL School of Medicine.

Jennifer Potter, M.D., professor of medicine and advisory dean and director of William Bosworth Castle Society at Harvard Medical School, invited the UofL team to The Academy at Harvard Medical School, which is responsible for professional development of faculty who teach in the MD program.

You care about the fact that SGM people experience health inequities,” Potter said of the UofL presenters. “You talk with your colleagues and students about the fact that these inequities are unacceptable. Then you go one step further – you actually TAKE ACTION to address the inequities with sheer grace, humility, positivity, a sense of humor and brilliance ... and in true collaboration with your local SGM community.”

“It is so rewarding to see the work that has been done here at UofL to improve health care for LGBT patients is valued by an institution as highly respected as Harvard,” said Toni Ganzel, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the UofL School of Medicine. “In addition, it is an honor to receive a national award from a well-respected organization such as BNGAP. We are pleased to be able to share this knowledge with educators and influencers throughout the United States.”

The eQuality Toolkit, published with funding from the National Institute of Health Care Management Foundation, is available to all health professionals at no charge to enhance competency nationwide in caring for LGBTQ patients.

Not your father’s tobacco: A scientist’s perspective on health risks of e-cigarettes

Beer with a Scientist, May 15
Not your father’s tobacco: A scientist’s perspective on health risks of e-cigarettes

Daniel Conklin, Ph.D.

What would you guess is the average age when someone starts smoking?

Perhaps early 20’s? Maybe even 16?

“The average chronic smoker begins smoking at 13.7 years old,” says Daniel Conklin, Ph.D. “And if you know anything about averages, that’s...not good.”

Conklin, a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville, specializes in cardiovascular research and what environmental pollutants do to our bodies. At this month’s Beer with a Scientist, Conklin will discuss smoking and what we do (and don’t) know about the harm caused by electronic cigarettes.

“Essentially, we’re trying to separate fact from fiction. We’re currently part of an American Heart Association Tobacco Regulation Center to investigate emerging tobacco products and their potential to cause harm to the cardiovascular system,” Conklin said. “We’re trying to figure out the best way to regulate these products.”

Scientists have known that conventional tobacco products are associated with cardiovascular disease risk since the 1960s, Conklin said. However, with new technology comes a new generation of health risks and the emerging science showing what vaping does to the body may shock you.

Conklin’s talk will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, May 15, at Holsopple Brewing, 8023 Catherine Lane. A 30-minute presentation will be followed by an informal Q&A session.

Admission is free. Purchase of beer or other items is not required but is encouraged. Organizers encourage Beer with a Scientist patrons to drink responsibly.

UofL cancer researcher Levi Beverly, Ph.D., created the Beer with a Scientist program in 2014 as a way to bring science to the public in an informal setting. At these events, the public is invited to enjoy exactly what the title promises:  beer and science.

UofL-founded company secures $100 million to advance cell therapy to improve organ transplant outcomes

UofL-founded company secures $100 million to advance cell therapy to improve organ transplant outcomes

Suzanne Ildstad, M.D.

A company born at the University of Louisville has raised $100 million from investors to develop a therapy based on UofL research that could improve the lives of kidney transplant recipients.

Talaris Therapeutics, Inc, formerly known as Regenerex LLC, is using technology developed at UofL to allow living donor kidney transplant recipients to stay off immunosuppression drugs for the rest of their lives. In a Phase 2 study, the cell therapy, called FCR001, allowed 70 percent of living donor kidney transplant patients to be durably weaned off all of their immunosuppression treatments.

The unique cell therapy technology is a result of pioneering research conducted at UofL by the team of Suzanne Ildstad, M.D. Ildstad has spent 21 years as a “Bucks for Brains” researcher at UofL. She founded Talaris around her research and is the company’s chief scientific officer.

“This financing moves us one step closer to helping organ transplant recipients no longer be dependent on immunosuppressive drugs, resulting in a greatly improved quality of life,” Ildstad said. “The support and research infrastructure at UofL have been invaluable in our journey to this important juncture.”

The technology developed by Ildstad’s team was patented at UofL and is exclusively licensed by Talaris from UofL’s Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation. Talaris plans to use the new funding to carry out a Phase 3 clinical trial of FCR001. Longer term, the company plans to study whether FCR001 could be used for other organ transplants.

Talaris has approximately 25 employees in Louisville. Talaris’ research and cell processing facilities are based at UofL and the company also has a corporate office in Boston. As part of its licensing agreement with Talaris, the university will receive royalties from sales of any licensed products.

"This cutting-edge UofL research can have a significant impact on human health,” said UofL President Neeli Bendapudi, Ph.D.. “This is a prime example of our ability to work with industry partners and investors to help turn innovative research into valuable new products.”


UofL researcher developing drug to treat emerging encephalitis viruses

NIH dedicates $21 million to prepare antiviral drug for clinical trials
UofL researcher developing drug to treat emerging encephalitis viruses

Donghoon Chung, Ph.D., in the Regional Biocontainment Lab

Donghoon Chung, Ph.D., a virologist at the University of Louisville, is one of three principal investigators with a new center working to advance new drugs for the treatment of equine encephalitis viruses in humans. The project, Center of Excellence for Encephalitic Alphavirus Therapeutics, is funded by a $21 million grant from the National Institutes of Health over five years.

The center, headquartered at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, will develop therapeutic drugs to treat three mosquito-borne alphaviruses that cause serious illness in humans and horses: Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), Eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) and Western equine encephalitis virus (WEEV). Although a vaccine is available for horses, there are no FDA-approved treatments or preventive vaccines for these viruses in humans.

Chung, an associate professor in the Center for Predictive Medicine and Department of Microbiology & Immunology at UofL, said the center’s goal is to refine potent small molecule compounds the researchers previously identified as promising as antiviral drugs for treating the encephalitis viruses, and enable those compounds to move to the next step of research, clinical trials in humans.

“In my previous research I found that these compounds inhibit the viral replication cycle. However, we want to further understand which target molecules are interacting with the compound,” Chung said. He described the mechanism of the compounds the group is investigating as similar to the way the drug nevirapine, a non-nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, works in treating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

“This project is to develop a new antiviral compound to treat these diseases in humans,” Chung said. “However, we do not limit our applications of this drug to only humans, as it may be possible to adapt it for treating horses as well.”

These equine encephalitis viruses infect humans and horses through the bite of an infected mosquito. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), symptoms of infection include fever, chills, headache and vomiting. Outbreaks of the Western and Venezuelan viruses are uncommon, and an average of only seven human cases of EEEV have been reported annually in the United States over the past ten years. However, the disease may leave people with permanent neurological symptoms, and approximately 30 percent of people who contract the Eastern equine encephalitis virus will die from the disease.

According to Chung, the potential for the viruses to be used in bioterrorism is perhaps even more worrisome. The CDC recognizes viral encephalitis as a Category B human biothreat, making the development of a treatment important.

Chung’s co-principal investigators in the center are Colleen Jonsson, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center who directs the center, and Jennifer E. Golden, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy.

“The goal of our new Center of Excellence is to further develop novel therapeutic molecules discovered by our team that are highly potent across all three viruses, moving the optimal ones forward into pre-clinical development,” said Jonsson, formerly director of the UofL Center for Predictive Medicine.

Chung will test the compounds for toxicity against human cells in vitro, deciphering their molecular mechanisms and determining their resistance threshold utilizing the facilities and staff at the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at UofL. He also will test the compounds’ resistance threshold that inevitably develops over time, along with Juw Won Park, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer engineering in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering at UofL.

Once their work is completed, the researchers expect the new drugs would be ready to begin clinical trial testing in humans.

Immunotherapy drug gives colon cancer patient another chance at life

First approved for melanoma, Keytruda® now can be used with several types of cancer
Immunotherapy drug gives colon cancer patient another chance at life

Rebecca Redman, MD and Lana Boes

Three years ago, Lana Boes of Charlestown, Ind., was at the end of her rope. She had been fighting colon cancer for nearly two years with multiple surgeries, two different chemotherapies, regular blood transfusions and more. But the cancer had returned and the chemotherapy no longer was working.

“I was down to 100 pounds. I really couldn’t eat. I had to take medicine to help me with my appetite. I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Boes said.

First diagnosed at age 43, Boes’s first surgery went well, but the cancer returned. After her second surgery, Boes started chemotherapy. Genetic testing revealed she had Lynch Syndrome, a genetic mutation that carries a higher-than-normal risk for cancer. When the first chemotherapy drug failed her, Boes started another, harsher chemo drug. That drug, too, eventually failed.

At that point, she was offered the chance to participate in a clinical trial for pembrolizumab, better known as Keytruda®, an immunotherapy drug previously successful in treating other types of cancer, but not yet FDA approved for the type of cancer Boes had.

“Lana started to suffer not only from the side effects of her cancer progressing, but also the side effects of treatment. It was clear that we needed something new and different,” said Rebecca Redman, M.D., Boes’s oncologist and deputy director of clinical research at the UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center. “This clinical trial became available right around that time. It was based on some early evidence that suggested immunotherapy would be a really great option for Lana’s type of cancer.”

Keytruda is a type of immunotherapy that engages a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. Cancer cells use a protein called PD-1 to hide from the immune system. Keytruda blocks the PD-1 pathway, Redman said, allowing the patient's immune system to recognize the cancer as something that doesn't belong and destroy it.

With support from her husband, Tim, Boes decided to enter the trial. She started receiving Keytruda in June 2016, and her condition improved almost immediately.

“With Keytruda, I got my life back. With chemo I went home and went to bed and you didn’t see me for the weekend,” Boes said. “With Keytruda, I didn’t go home and go to bed. I started getting an appetite and some strength back. I was able to enjoy doing things outside of my house again with family and friends.”

She remained on the immunotherapy drug for two years, completing the trial in June 2018. Regular checkups show that as of March 2019, Boes’s cancer is not detectable in scans or exams, and her cancer tumor marker numbers have remained within normal range. Redman considers her cancer in remission.

Boes says she has a fresh outlook on life, and can plan for her future.

“I used to refuse to book anything in advance. Everything we did was always last minute because I didn’t know if I was going to get to go,” Boes said. “I didn’t buy things that were for the future. I couldn’t talk about the future.”

Now she has plans to celebrate a special milestone in 2020.

“I never used to care about birthdays, but every birthday is a big deal to me now,” Boes said. “I turn 50 next November and I told my husband, ‘I never thought I was going to see 50, so I want to go to Italy.’ It’s huge for me in so many ways.”

While she is grateful for having the chance to participate in the trial with Keytruda, Boes also is grateful to Redman and to the staff at the Brown Cancer Center.

“Just seeing Dr. Redman made me feel better. She saved my life. She treats me with so much care. She sits down and she listens to me,” Boes said. “Every person at Brown is just so kind and they genuinely care. That makes such a huge difference when you are not feeling good.”

Redman, also associate professor at the UofL School of Medicine, said she has seen good results with immunotherapy in other patients with cancer like Boes’s. Unlike chemotherapy, which requires continued treatment, in some cases immunotherapy may allow a patient’s body to continue to control the cancer for an extended period of time.

“The most exciting thing about immunotherapy is that not only are we seeing remarkable tumor responses, but those responses seem to last a long time,” Redman said. “For some patients, it appears that once you train the immune system to attack the cancer, it may continue to do so for some time, possibly even after the immunotherapy has been stopped.”

Keytruda is the first drug approved by the FDA for the treatment of cancers based on a specific change in the DNA of the tumor, microsatellite instability (MSI), instead of where the cancer is in the body. MSI can be present in colon cancer but also in other organ cancers, and Keytruda is FDA-approved to treat cancers with MSI anywhere in the body.

Redman said that through her participation in the trial, Boes helped make it possible for other patients to have access to Keytruda for their MSI cancer. FDA approval typically means an insurance company will cover the treatment and makes the drug available to all patients.

“By participating in this trial, she has allowed this drug to move toward FDA approval, so immunotherapy now is a standard treatment for patients with microsatellite unstable cancers,” Redman said. “Thanks to patients like Lana who participate in clinical trials and take that extra step a little bit into the unknown, thousands of people will benefit and will have their lives turned around.”

Boes is most grateful to have the chance to live without cancer.

“I’m living my life normally,” Boes said. “I’m not cancer. Nobody treats me as cancer. I’m just me again and that is the best feeling ever.”

Participate in clinical trials

Volunteers always are needed to assist researchers solve health problems. Even if you do not have a health concern, you can be part of clinical trial research at UofL and at research institutions around the nation by registering at This nationwide database allows anyone to take part in important health research. Learn more by registering today.

To learn more about cancer clinical trials, visit the UofL James Graham Brown Cancer Center’s clinical trials page.

Gift to UofL aids research into biomarkers for cardiovascular disease

Late James Ryan made donation to lab of Andrew DeFilippis, M.D.
Gift to UofL aids research into biomarkers for cardiovascular disease

DeFilippis and Ryan

A half-million-dollar gift to the laboratory of University of Louisville cardiologist Andrew DeFilippis, M.D., by the late James Ryan will aid in research into biomarkers for cardiovascular disease.

The $500,000 gift to the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine at the UofL School of Medicine establishes the James Ryan Fund for Cardiovascular Biomarker Research. Ryan pledged the gift before he passed away at age 81 in 2018.

“Thanks to Jim, we can help physicians everywhere in diagnosing what is one of the most common causes of death in the world,” DeFilippis said. “He was always interested in others and what their dreams were, their goals in life, their happiness and how he could help.”

The fund will support annual operating expenses for the research led by DeFilippis, who is director of Cardiovascular Disease Prevention and an associate professor in cardiovascular medicine at UofL. DeFilippis is an expert in cardiovascular diseases and cardiac intensive care. His research focuses on cardiovascular risk prediction and the identification of biomarkers that will allow physicians to diagnose the cause of different types of heart attacks, also called myocardial infarction.

A heart attack is death of heart muscle. There are many causes, including the most well-recognized that occurs when one of the heart’s coronary arteries is suddenly blocked or has very slow blood flow secondary to the formation of a blood clot.

Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease progresses over time, allowing time for screening and early detection. Advances in biomarker research and other developments have led to more sensitive screening methods and a greater emphasis on early detection and diagnosis.

“We’re working to develop biomarkers that will allow clinicians to differentiate among the many different types of heart attacks that can occur,” DeFilippis said. “Not all are the same, and even in the medical community that’s not always given much thought. But if we can differentiate, it will help us better treat patients, allowing us to limit or stop heart damage.”

A biomarker is a biological characteristic that can be measured and evaluated as an indicator of normal biological or pathological processes or a response to a therapeutic intervention. Examples include patterns of gene expression, levels of a particular protein in body fluids or changes in electrical activity in the heart.

Ryan, an active philanthropist and retired insurance executive, suffered from a heart condition himself. A native of Pittsburgh who graduated from UofL and lived most of his life in Louisville, he was on a quest to ensure his estate went to good use. He and DeFilippis forged a friendship through their activities with the American Heart Association. He visited DeFilippis’ lab within the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine several times, even bringing a group of friends.

“He was really involved – he was more than a donor,” DeFilippis said. “He gave advice and offered assistance in business, enabling us to partner with industry to bring our discoveries to market. We really enjoyed his company. The two of us went to lunch several times and talked about lots of things – the lab, his struggles with congestive heart failure and his bucket list. He had a great sense of humor.

“He was an extraordinarily happy man with a deep voice that was very distinctive,” DeFilippis said. “We will certainly miss his presence and his inspiring words about the work we were doing. We take it as a tremendous compliment that he chose to donate to us. Jim was looking for a quality program, great ideas and things that really make sense to improve the health of world.”

DeFilippis and one of his colleagues, Patrick Trainor, Ph.D., recently were invited editorialists for a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine that indicates current risk calculators for heart attack and stroke can sometimes be wrong, significantly overestimating some people’s risk while underestimating others' risk. As a result, many people may be unnecessarily taking medication to control risk factors such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and others may not be getting enough treatment. The researchers developed a new risk calculation method with a more sophisticated statistical model and newer population data, suggesting it could be more accurate.