Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

In the Bubble

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Curtis Ledbetter was a three-year starter at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. In 2005, he helped the Huskers win their first College World Series game in school history.

It started at the age of six. All he needed was a ball and glove. Baseball was life.

“Dad coached me, and my mom played catch with me in the backyard. It was a whole family deal.”

Growing up in Lawrence, Kan., Curtis Ledbetter’s passion for the game only increased with age, and started to shape his future.

“It’s what I wanted to do. The sport I wanted to pursue in college.”

After playing one season at Garden City Community College, Curtis transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He was a three-year starter, earning first-team All-Big 12 honors. During his senior year in 2005, Curtis earned Big 12 Tournament MVP honors, and helped the Huskers win their first College World Series game in school history.

“I fell in love with Lincoln,” says Curtis. “I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to play baseball there.”

After graduation, Curtis was drafted by the Seattle Mariners. He played three years of professional baseball before moving back to Lincoln. That’s when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came his way.

“I was offered the position of Director of Operations for Nebraska baseball. My first interview for the job was with Coach Tom Osborne. Pretty neat experience. Made for one heck of a story.”

In 2009, Curtis’ story got even better. He proposed to his girlfriend, Monica on April Fools Day.

“Gives you a good understanding of our relationship,” he laughs.

The two were married a short time later, and started trying to have a baby.

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Curtis proposed to his girlfriend, Monica on April Fools Day. The two were married a short time later. Monica gave birth to their daughter, Laney on January 12, 2013.

“After about six months, nothing was happening,” explains Monica. “We sought help, and found out that we have male factor infertility, which affects 40 percent of couples. But, we were determined to have a family.”

On January 12, 2013, the Ledbetters’ dreams of having a baby finally came true. Monica gave birth to their daughter, Laney at 12:27 p.m.

“There’s nothing like that feeling,” a teary-eyed Monica remembers. “You talk to people who have children, but there’s nothing like meeting that person you’ve been connected to for nine months. It’s joy. Absolute joy.”

Unfortunately, four months later, joy turned to panic. It was May 16, 2013. Monica and Curtis were both at work, when they received a call from Laney’s caregiver. Their daughter was having a hard time keeping liquids down, and had no energy. Something was wrong.

“The look on Laney’s face. I’ll never forget it,” says Monica. “She was only four months old, but she had a scared look in her eyes.”

The next morning, Laney wasn’t doing any better. Monica rushed her to a hospital in Lincoln. Doctors discovered Laney had a massive brain bleed. She was quickly hooked up to a ventilator and flown by helicopter to The Nebraska Medical Center.

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On May 17, 2013, doctors discovered Laney had a massive brain bleed. She underwent emergency surgery at The Nebraska Medical Center to stop the bleeding. Further testing showed, Laney had no Vitamin K in her blood.

“I was in shock. I didn’t know how to act,” admits Curtis. “Monica went in the helicopter with Laney, and I drove to Omaha not knowing if I’d ever see my daughter alive again.”

When Laney arrived at the med center, Kenneth Follett, MD, chief of neurosurgery, informed the couple that their daughter needed emergency brain surgery to stop the bleeding.

“A blood clot was placing pressure on Laney’s brain, and it caused one side to shift to the other side of the head,” says Dr. Follett. “We occasionally see children with this, but what was remarkable in Laney’s case, was the sheer size and effect it was having on the brain.”

Once they took Laney to the operating room, doctors also discovered her INR (the measure of the blood’s ability to clot) was above 7, the highest INR any surgeon in the room had ever seen.

“A normal INR is 1,” explains Dr. Follett. “People who have a stroke typically have an INR of 2 or 3. Laney’s was exceptionally high, especially for an infant.”

After surgery, the next 48 hours were critical. A large team of doctors and nurses worked together, trying to figure out what caused the brain bleed in the first place.

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Laney was diagnosed with Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis Type 2. Her liver doesn’t produce and move bile the way it should, allowing Laney’s body to absorb all the nutrients it needs. In order to survive, Laney will need a liver transplant.

“With a patient like Laney, you can’t even take a minute off,” says Andrew MacFadyen, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and pediatric intensivist with Children’s Specialty Physicians. “Figuring out what exactly was wrong with Laney was intriguing from an academic sense. We suspected she had either a genetic abnormality that kept her blood from clotting properly, or a severe Vitamin K deficiency.”

A blood test proved, Laney had no Vitamin K in her blood. It was the turning point that eventually led doctors to a rare diagnosis.

“Laney was diagnosed with Progressive Familial Intrahepatic Cholestasis Type 2,” explains Monica. “Her liver doesn’t produce bile and move bile the way it should, allowing Laney’s body to absorb all the nutrients it needs. Unfortunately, the lack or build-up of bile means, her liver cells are choked off and eventually start to die. In order to survive, Laney will need a liver transplant.”

While doctors still aren’t sure when Laney will need a transplant, the Ledbetters are relieved to know, a plan and team of doctors are in place.

“We’re able to live our lives each day,” says Curtis. “Right now, Laney is doing so well. Her blood tests have been great, and she keeps progressing as a little person. The doctors at the med center gave Laney a second chance. I can’t thank them enough. They kept our family together.”

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“The doctors at the med center gave Laney a second chance,” says Curtis. “I can’t thank them enough. They kept our family together.”

A family that now includes a few more faces.

“Our head baseball coach, Darin Erstad, has a saying, ‘You’re either in the bubble or you’re not,’” smiles Monica. “Baseball life is a different life. You have people that you know you can open your life to. Now that bubble includes our nurses, doctors and surgeons at the med center. They helped us heal emotionally, mentally and physically for our daughter. I don’t know if we would have had that experience anywhere else… they’re in our bubble now.”

Neck manipulation may be associated with strokes

August 11, 2014

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Pierre Fayad, M.D.

Pierre Fayad, M.D. Treatments involving neck manipulation may be associated with stroke, though it cannot be said with certainty that neck manipulation causes strokes, according to a new scientific statement published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke.

Pierre Fayad, M.D., professor in the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences and director of The Nebraska Medical Center Stroke Center, was part of the 13-member team that co-authored the statement.

Stroke symptoms

You should seek emergency medical evaluation if you develop neurological symptoms after neck manipulation or trauma, such as:

  • Pain in the back of your neck or in your head.
  • Dizziness/vertigo.
  • Double vision.
  • Unsteadiness when walking.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Jerky eye movements.

The group was headed by Jose Biller, M.D., of the Loyola University Health System in Chicago, and Ralph Sacco, M.D., of the University of Miami Hospital, with other members representing the Mayo Clinic, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Connecticut, Tufts University, and the University of Kansas, among others.

Cervical artery dissection (CD) is a small tear in the layers of artery walls in the neck. It can result in ischemic stroke if a blood clot forms after a trivial or major trauma in the neck and later causes blockage of a blood vessel in the brain.

“Cervical artery dissection is an important cause of stroke in young and middle-aged adults, and it is often unrecognized,” Dr. Fayad said.

“Most dissections involve some trauma, stretch or mechanical stress,” Dr. Biller said. “Sudden movements that can hyperextend or rotate the neck – such as whiplash, certain sports movements, or even violent coughing or vomiting – can result in CD, even if they are deemed inconsequential by the patient.”

Although techniques for cervical manipulative therapy vary, some maneuvers used as therapy by health practitioners also extend and rotate the neck and sometimes involve a forceful thrust.

There are four arteries that supply blood to the brain: the two carotid arteries on each side of the neck, and the two vertebral arteries on the back of the neck. The influence of neck manipulation seems more important in vertebral artery dissection than in internal carotid artery dissection.

“Although a cause-and-effect relationship between these therapies and CD has not been established and the risk is probably low, CD can result in serious neurological injury,” Dr. Biller said. “Patients should be informed of this association before undergoing neck manipulation.”

The scientific statement is endorsed by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons

A decade of success

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations

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Jialin Zheng, M.D., speaks at a gathering of Asia Pacific Rim Development Program colleagues during a recent visit to China by UNMC faculty and leadership. For Jialin Zheng, M.D., it’s all about friendships.

This week, Dr. Zheng will see the Asia Pacific Rim Development Program, the institutional collaboration he helped develop in 2004 between UNMC and universities in China, celebrate its 10th anniversary.

For a program timeline, click here.

“Time really flies,” said Dr. Zheng. “When you reach the 10-year mark, it gives you the opportunity to look back at what’s been achieved and look ahead to how you can achieve more.”

Program architects

Three people Dr. Zheng credits as being among the program’s architects offered their congratulations on the 10th anniversary:

“The partnership between UNMC and its sister universities in China is an excellent example of international cooperation at its best. From the first exploratory visit, UNMC has stood by its claim of always doing what it says it will do, and our friends in China have reciprocated in kind. I look forward to seeing what the next 10 years will bring.” – Thomas Rosenquist, Ph.D., former vice chancellor for research

“The strong ties that have developed over the years through these exchanges has been of mutual benefit for students, faculty, patient care and community engagement. In addition, it has fostered enduring friendships between and among institutions, and mutual respect and admiration between the peoples. Although cultures may be different and distances are great, our human needs are the same and overcome all obstacles to collaboration.” – Harold M. Maurer, M.D., chancellor emeritus

“I doubt any of us making our first visit to China in 2004 would have forecast the close relationships that have developed between UNMC faculty, staff and students and our Chinese counterparts. . . . Today, our relationship with China goes beyond education and includes research, clinical care and business relations. Nothing could be more satisfying than to have had the opportunity to witness the growing strength of these many relationships. I am confident that the next 10 years will deepen these relations, and the 20-year anniversary in 2024 will have even more to celebrate.” – Don Leuenbeger, vice chancellor, business & finance

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., said UNMC is committed to continuing to strengthen the collaboration. Dr. Gold said goals going forward will include a focus on joint education, particularly enhancing the new joint family medicine program and the soon-to-be-established physical therapy program.

“We also look forward to potentially advancing our collaborations in dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and public health, strengthening the global impact of our health professions programs,” Dr. Gold said.

Joint research in translational research program development will remain a focus as well, he said — promoting joint research proposal applications and facilitating technology development.

For information on the fifth annual APRDC Joint Research Symposium, to be held Thursday, click here.

In an era when it is increasingly important to be global thinkers, the collaboration has been and will continue to be very important to UNMC, said Dele Davies, M.D., vice chancellor of academic affairs.

“The full value of the economic, sociologic and other intangible benefits of these ties cannot be easily quantified and may not be totally evident until a much later date,” he said.

As Vice Chancellor of Research Jennifer Larsen, M.D., noted, decade-long relationships are not built overnight.

“The growth of our programs and interactions with multiple institutions and leaders in China are a testament to our commitment as well as our vision and desire for this relationship to grow,” she said.

The relationships are the key to the program’s success, Dr. Zheng agreed.

“If there’s one thing I value, it’s the friendships which have been built among the leaders, students and faculty of the Chinese institutions and the leaders, students and faculty of UNMC as a whole,” Dr. Zheng said.

Those friendships, he said, are the foundation of 10 years of achievement, as well as the foundation “for what we can achieve many years beyond.

“We have so many people who really provide support, from the leadership side, from the faculty perspective, from the student perspective,” he said. “This is truly a team effort.”

Book examines cutting-edge robotic surgery

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations

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From left, Nathan Bills, Ph.D., and Dmitry Oleynikov, M.D., have edited “Robotic Surgery for the General Surgeon.” It’s official — Dmitry Oleynikov, M.D., wrote the book on robotic surgery.

Dr. Oleynikov and his Center for Advanced Surgery Technology colleague, Nathan Bills, Ph.D., edited and contributed chapters to “Robotic Surgery for the General Surgeon,” a new textbook that was released earlier this year.

Dr. Oleynikov, director of CAST, said the book focuses on surgical applications of the DaVinci Surgical Robot, which Dr. Bills called the only FDA-approved robot for the general surgeon.

From outline to publication, the project took two years. Dr. Oleynikov created a list of chapters and he and Dr. Bills contacted national and international leaders in the field to contribute.

“It’s an interesting process, writing an academic textbook,” Dr. Oleynikov said. “Science is always moving, so many textbooks on new technology or new techniques become quickly out of date. My goal was to have this book be the foundation for anybody using surgical robotics for at least the next three to five years.”

The goal, he said, was to provide the general surgeon necessary information on performing robotic surgery procedures by getting contributors to lay out the science behind each procedure — hernia repair, gastric bypass, liver resection, etc. — with the established methods for using the technology.

“This is not just a how-to or a cookbook, but a book that looks at each particular application of the robot as it pertains to that surgeon’s practice,” Dr. Oleynikov said. “So while the robot may change a little bit as they come up with newer models, the disease process, the human body and the approach do not change. You still have to fix that hernia or cut out that cancer.”

The book captures a revolution in approaches to surgery.

“We’re moving from open and laparoscopic surgery now to robotic surgery, and how the robot is used — both properly and sometimes not so properly — is going to define the technology in many ways. So I’m hoping that this book, with chapters from some of the brightest and most inventive experts in the field today and likely into tomorrow, will guide those individuals who are starting to do this kind of surgery, use this type of technology.”

Drs. Oleynikov and Bills are pleased with the final product.

“The book distills the state of the art for every specific kind of surgery, with information from a world expert in that particular surgery,” Dr. Bills said.

College ranked in Top 10 for family medicine

by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations

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Shelley Baldwin, administrator in the UNMC Department of Family Medicine, accepts the award on behalf of the department from AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D.

Shelley Baldwin, administrator in the UNMC Department of Family Medicine, accepts the award on behalf of the department from AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D. The UNMC College of Medicine recently received another accolade for its efforts in boosting the number of family physicians in Nebraska.

Rural recruiting

Some results from UNMC programs that focus on boosting numbers of health professionals in rural Nebraska:

•434 students have graduated from the UNMC Rural Health Opportunities Program (RHOP) since 1990. Currently, 65 percent of the graduates practice in Nebraska. Of those practicing in Nebraska, 73 percent practice in a rural setting.

•172 college students are in the pipeline to attend UNMC through RHOP and the Kearney Health Opportunities Program (KHOP). •100 physician residents have graduated from the UNMC Rural Training Track program making it one of the largest and most successful rural training tracks in the country.

•285 high school students attended UNMC Rural Health Care Career Day last fall.

•419 eighth-grade students participated this spring in six regional competitions across Nebraska to qualify to attend the annual 8th Grade Health/Science Meet in June.

•680 high school and college students have participated in the Behavioral Health Education Center of Nebraska’s (BHECN) Ambassador program since it started in 2012.

The College of Medicine recently received an American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) Top 10 Award for its consistent contributions to building the family physician workforce.

The award comes on the heels of U.S. News & World Report rankings, which earlier this year, recognized UNMC as ninth among rural medicine programs and sixth among primary care medical programs.

The AAFP award was presented during a recent conference of the Society of Teachers of Family Medicine. Family physicians are qualified to treat most ailments and provide comprehensive health care for people of all ages — from newborns to seniors.

The award honors medical schools that, during a consecutive three-year period, graduated the greatest percentage of students who chose first-year family medicine residency positions.

“We are pleased to be honored by our peers. This award is a testament of the contributions by many at UNMC, by the full-time and volunteer faculty, the students who ultimately choose family medicine as a career and our health care partners across Nebraska,” said Michael Sitorius, M.D., chairman of the UNMC Department of Family Medicine. “The department has a long-standing commitment to training future family physicians and will continue our efforts to increase the family medicine workforce for all of Nebraska.”

At a time when the United States is facing a shortage of primary care physicians, filling the family physician workforce pipeline is vital to the health of Americans, said AAFP President Reid Blackwelder, M.D.

Awardees employ several initiatives that support students who are interested in and most likely to become family physicians, including:

•student outreach,

•faculty involvement in medical school committees,

•admissions policies that target students from rural and medically underserved areas,

•clinical rotations that emphasize positive experiences in family medicine,

•strong, student-run family medicine interest groups and

•financial aid packages that minimize student debt.

Facility offers state-of-the-art clean space

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations

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The 20,000-square-foot Biologics Production Facility opened in 2010.

The 20,000-square-foot Biologics Production Facility opened in 2010. The nondescript brick building on the corner of 42nd and Emile streets is a “clean building,” and it has numerous features and checks and balances in order to make and keep it that way.

It has few crevices in which particles might settle. Its air flows one way, through filter after filter after filter. There are air locks and pressure differentials. The people who work in it sometimes wear gowns and gloves or “bunny suits.”

Equipment, environment and quality are monitored by computer.

Phyllis Warkentin, M.D., the site’s medical director, a professor of hematology and oncology, had dreamed of the possibility of a building like this for a long, long time.

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The facility features an in-house United States Pharmacopeia (USP) purified water system for cleaning and terminal sterilization. 

This is the Biologics Production Facility (BPF) at UNMC.

The closest comparable facility is likely the Mayo Clinic. The med center’s 20,000 square-foot facility opened in 2010.

“When it comes to translational research, bench top to bedside,” Dr. Warkentin said, “what we do is somewhere in the middle.”

They store, change and make things. Things like stem cell products, cellular vaccines and gene therapies, tissue therapies, regenerative medicine therapies and nanomedicine.

“The facility strategically equips us to keep up with the rapid expansion of personalized and regenerative medicine,” said operations manager Charlie Branson.

The blood stem cells collected in The Lied Transplant Center (and other places around the country), for example, are processed, frozen and stored here.

Or, the team at BPF can also make more advanced products, products that need to be manipulated, processed, incubated, stored, cultured, transfected, and more.

They can, for example, take a pancreas that isn’t working as it should, and isolate the good stuff — taking out the cells that make insulin, pancreatic islets, and give them back to the patient.

They can select out a certain subpopulation of cells, mix them together with another to make a better product. Using standardized procedures, they can turn individual patients’ blood and marrow cells into personalized vaccines.

The conditions need to be cleaner than an operating room, and are. But the system of quality is “clean” too. Quality isn’t checked at the end, rather, built into everything.

The entire operation is under the auspices of current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP).

“I believe that the successful operation of the BPF to date will play an important role in providing a full spectrum of therapeutics to our patients with the advent of the new Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center,” Branson said.

Dr. Romberger named interim chair of internal medicine

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC public relations

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Debra Romberger, M.D.

Debra Romberger, M.D. A veteran faculty member of 24 years, Debra Romberger, M.D., has been selected as interim chair of the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine.

The appointment, effective July 1, was announced Friday by Bradley Britigan, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine.

“Dr. Romberger is an outstanding clinician, teacher and investigator who brings a wealth of experience and leadership to the department,” he said. “I am very grateful to Deb for her willingness to take on this highly important leadership position at a time of many challenges in academic medicine.”

For the past nine years, Lynell Klassen, M.D., has served as chair of the department. He announced eight months ago his plans to step down from the position and return to a faculty position in the rheumatology division, continuing his clinical, research and teaching activities.

“I would like to express the college’s and my gratitude to Dr. Klassen for the tremendous job that he has done during his term as chair of the department,” Dr. Britigan said. “Under his leadership the department has seen major growth and development in a number of important areas. We wish him continued success in the next phase of his career.”

This marks Dr. Romberger’s second stint as interim chair of internal medicine. She served in this capacity for 20 months prior to Dr. Klassen becoming chair in 2005.

With more than 180 physicians and scientists, internal medicine is the largest department within the UNMC College of Medicine. The department is organized by disease specialty into 10 divisions.

Dr. Romberger is professor in the division of pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy medicine. Since 2000, she has served as vice chair of research for internal medicine. For the past eight years, she also has held the post of associate chief of staff for research for the VA Nebraska-Western Iowa Health Care System.

“I am grateful to be a part of the internal medicine department with its talented faculty, trainees, and staff,” Dr. Romberger said. “Under Dr. Klassen’s leadership, the department has grown in its recognition around the country. It is my goal to help us continue to move forward as a dynamic department through the various changes in academic medicine and health care in general.”

A search committee for the internal medicine chair was announced in February with Carl Smith, M.D., chair of the UNMC Department of OB/GYN and president of UNMC Physicians, heading the committee.

James Armitage, M.D., receives national recognition

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Sandra Swain, M.D., past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), at right, presents James Armitage, M.D., with the Special Achievement Award. (Photo courtesy of ASCO.)

Sandra Swain, M.D., past president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), at right, presents James Armitage, M.D., with the Special Achievement Award. (Photo courtesy of ASCO.) James Armitage, M.D., has received the 2014 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Special Recognition Award for major accomplishments in the fields of oncology and hematology, as well as his many years of ASCO service.

The award, presented May 30, honors individuals for major contributions in areas of clinical oncology, cancer research, clinical trials, reimbursement, and patient advocacy activities, who have given long-term service to ASCO and to clinical oncology.

“It’s an honor to receive this award,” said Dr. Armitage, Joe Shapiro Professor of Internal Medicine in the UNMC Division of Oncology/Hematology. “My association with ASCO over the last 35 years has been a rewarding part of my career. ASCO has never wavered from its commitment to cancer patients in getting patients the best possible treatment and care.”

Dr. Armitage is globally recognized as a leading expert on non-Hodgkin lymphoma and played a critical role in advancing bone marrow transplantation.

Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., UNMC chancellor, said the award is a tremendous honor for Dr. Armitage and great recognition for UNMC.

“He is an internationally recognized leader in cancer care. UNMC is proud to have him as a longstanding member of our faculty and in a leadership role in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.”

Lynell W. Klassen, M.D., Henry J. Lehnhoff Professor and chair of UNMC’s Department of Internal Medicine, said Dr. Armitage joins a prestigious group of recipients.

“Dr. Armitage is internationally acknowledged as one of the world’s foremost experts in the treatment of lymphoma. He established, at UNMC, the lymphoma program that grew into a world-renowned program. The award reflects the dedication, expertise and passion Dr. Armitage has for helping patients.

“With Jim receiving ASCO’s Special Recognition Award and with Julie Vose beginning her term as ASCO president, UNMC’s Division of Oncology/Hematology was recognized nationally at the world’s largest oncology meeting,” Dr. Klassen said.

Julie Vose, M.D., said Dr. Armitage has helped shape the progress of treatment and research in lymphoma and has been a key leader in ASCO.

“Dr. Armitage is a pioneer in hematology/oncology, a special teacher and mentor to all of us at UNMC for the last several decades, and he has built the foundation for our future at UNMC,” said Dr. Vose, Neumann M. and Mildred E. Harris Professorial Chair and chief of the division of oncology/hematology.

(Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations, contributed to this story.)

Meet Dr. Armitage

James Armitage, M.D., developed and directed the bone marrow transplant programs at the University of Iowa and later at UNMC, where he also served as vice chair of internal medicine, chief of the section of oncology and hematology, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine, and dean of the College of Medicine.
The bone marrow transplant program at UNMC was one of the first to focus on autologous transplantation -— a process that involves storing a patient’s bone marrow stem cells so that the cells can be reintroduced after chemotherapy. The process helps patients tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy while reducing rates of complications, such as graft-versus-host disease, that often result when a patient receives donor bone marrow.
Dr. Armitage’s contributions span well beyond his work at UNMC and the University of Iowa. He has held many leadership roles at ASCO and other hematology and oncology associations, including ASCO president and president of the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation.
He contributed to ASCO in many other capacities, including serving multiple terms on the board of directors and chairing the Cancer Education Committee, the Ethics Committee, and the Hematology-Oncology Task Force. Dr. Armitage is presently a member of the Journal of Clinical Oncology editorial board and is editor of The ASCO Post.

Intercampus effort may impact cancer treatment

by Charlie Litton, UNeMed

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Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman of UNMC’s Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman of UNMC’s Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology A $250,000 grant from the Nebraska Research Initiative will use complex computer simulations to identify top drug candidates that could lead to the next generation of pancreatic and ovarian cancer treatments. Researchers and resources from three university campuses are involved in the project.

Surinder Batra, Ph.D., professor and chairman of UNMC’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, is now on the verge of proving the potential of a molecule he originally discovered more than a decade ago — a gene called pancreatic differentiation factor 2, or PD2. New funding will use supercomputer simulations that researchers hope will demonstrate the potential power of PD2 against cancer.

PD2 is involved in the growth of stem cells, but becomes a problem if it gives cancer cells the same set of growth instructions. Cancer cells that express high levels of PD2 act like stem cells, growing tumors that can resist most forms of treatment.

“It has a lot of potential, this molecule,” said Dr. Batra, a two-time UNMC Distinguished Scientist and the 2012 Scientist Laureate. “It is in many cancers, not only pancreatic stem cells.”

Nick Palermo, a computer expert with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, will try unlocking PD2′s power with the supercomputer at the Peter Kiewit Institute’s Holland Computing Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Palermo will build a computer model of PD2 and then simulate its interaction with millions of other known molecules. Renowned UNMC drug development researcher and College of Pharmacy professor Jonathan Vennerstrom, Ph.D., also will collaborate on the project.

“In general, the strength of the university is when people from different disciplines can work together,” said James Linder, M.D., interim president of the University of Nebraska.

Grant funding for the PD2 project will also increase the supercomputer’s “horsepower” — an improvement that will benefit future projects. UNeMed, the technology transfer office at UNMC, already has received interest from drug discovery companies that want to collaborate on other new drugs using the same process.

“If this project works,” said Joe Runge, UNeMed’s director of business development, “then we can take discoveries about diseases and translate them to medicines — all within the university system.”

Even if the perfect fit to PD2 doesn’t appear to exist naturally, Palermo can combine elements of the best matches to custom-build potential candidates.

“I think this is a matter of time and effort,” Palermo said, “and we will get it done.”

ASCO Today: Science and Society

The ASCO Post is pleased to present this special video series of interviews by and with leaders in oncology as recorded live at ASCO’s 50th Annual Meeting in Chicago. Click on the thumbnail to view the entire interview.

Here, James O. Armitage, MD, Editor-in-Chief, The ASCO Post, and Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, speaks with Clifford A. Hudis, MD, FACP, ASCO Immediate Past President, about his term as ASCO President, which concluded at the Annual Meeting in June. Dr. Hudis discusses his thoughts on ASCO today and shares his perspective on a number of important issues in oncology today, including value in cancer care, big data, and much more.

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