Archive for May, 2013

Community Celebrates Cancer Center Groundbreaking





Glenn A. Fosdick, president and CEO of The Nebraska Medical Center, personally thanked all government entities, as well as those donating from the private sector for their kindness and generosity.



Pamela Buffett (left) and Susie Buffett pose for a photo following the ceremony. Pamela made a donation to the NU Foundation in the name of her late husband, Fred Buffett, the first cousin of Warren Buffett. Fred died in 1997 of kidney cancer.


The sun was shining and the birds were singing the morning of May 7. It was a fitting backdrop for such a happy occasion. That morning, a groundbreaking ceremony was held outside the Durham Research Centers for the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. Approximately 700 people attended the event with featured dignitaries, in addition to local, county and state elected officials.

On May 3, it was announced Pamela Buffett made a substantial donation to the NU Foundation in the name of her late husband, Fred Buffett, the first cousin of Warren Buffett. Fred died in 1997 from kidney cancer. Today, Pamela lives in Beverly Hills, Calif. with her husband Dusty Fleming.

In addition to naming the Fred & Pamela Cancer Center, it was also announced that in thanks to a donation from the C.L. Werner Foundation, the cancer care hospital tower will be named the C.L. Werner Cancer Hospital.

In addition to being the honorary chair of his foundation, Werner is also chairman emeritus of Werner Enterprises.

The research tower will be named the Suzanne and Walter Scott Cancer Research Tower, thanks to a generous gift from the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation. The Scotts are well-known Omaha philanthropists.

Gail Walling Yanney, MD and Mike Yanney were cochairs of the capital campaign for the cancer center.

They donated a great deal of time, effort and ideas to the project. As a result of their dedication, the name of the conference center will be the Gail and Mike Yanney Conference Center.



Approximately 700 people squeezed in and around the tent to take part in the Fred and Pamela Buffett groundbreaking ceremony.



UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, MD, served
as emcee for the groundbreaking event.



Following the ceremony, the actual groundbreaking event took place.
Among those taking part included (left to right) Pamela Buffett, Gov.
Dave Heineman and Susie Buffett, daughter of Warren Buffett. 


Cancer Center Brand Introduced

Many of you have visualized what the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer will look like as a result of the architectural drawings that have been published. Now, you can associate the cancer center with a new brand as well.

  • The new logo features a pair of three-quarter circles to replicate the two Cs in the cancer center name. When viewed together, the right side forms a “B” representing the Buffett name. Linking them all together represents the interwoven collaboration of patient care, research and education.
  • Each color has meaning. The darker red represents The Nebraska Medical Center, the lighter red represents UNMC. The two other colors were selected to signify the energy, personalization and international mission of the cancer center.
  • The logo’s position to the right of Fred and Pamela Buffett’s name, like two gears in motion, represents the center’s continuous commitment to lead the way in the future of cancer care.
  • “The cancer center’s brand will have national and international exposure – which inspired marketing and public relations staff at the hospital and UNMC to work closely together, said Tadd Pullin, senior vice president of Marketing and Strategy Development. The final result is a vibrant logo that reflects the diversity and union of people who will be attracted to the center from around the world – faculty, students, researchers, patients and families. The unexpected use of new colors, beyond the red palette used in The Nebraska Medical Center and UNMC logos, conveys hope, energy, life and diversity – and will create opportunities to infuse color into the new cancer center buildings. Another great strength of this brand is that it anticipates placement in mobile internet applications and social media and can easily adapt to new emerging communication platforms.”

UNMC center aims to help those with low vision

Lisa Spellman, UNMC public relations



John Shepherd, M.D. 

Low vision affects nearly 2.9 million Americans, a number that is expected to double by the year 2030.

The Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation at UNMC helps people with low vision adapt to the remaining vision they do have and live full lives – people like Ann Welton, who at age 83 suffers with macular degeneration and thought she would never be able to knit or bake again.

“I’m just amazed by what I’ve learned and what is offered there,” Welton said.

“There are currently no cures for the eye diseases that cause low vision.” John Shepherd, M.D.

Through a referral from her ophthalmologist, Welton learned how to use the remaining vision in her right eye. Now she can cook, bake and get back to knitting.
“There are different tools you can use to help enhance your remaining vision, but being adaptable and maintaining a positive attitude is a must,” Welton said.
While there are several diseases that can cause low vision, the most common are diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and macular degeneration, said John Shepherd, M.D., director of the center.

“There are currently no cures for the eye diseases that cause low vision,” Dr. Shepherd said. “There are different avenues of treatment that can equip individuals to function better with their remaining sight.”

The goal of the Weigel Williamson Center, he said, is to help individuals maximize their residual vision by using devices, technology, training and counseling so they can regain their independence and lead active lives.

Low vision professionals can develop and implement a rehabilitation plan that identifies strategies and assistive devices appropriate for a person’s particular needs. Vision rehabilitation services include training to use adaptive devices, such as reading machines, bioptic lenses and lighted magnifiers, as well as teaching new daily living skills.

For more information about the Weigel Williamson Center visit www.unmc.edu/lowvision/ or call 402-559-2463.


Genome Engineering Core Facility launches TALENs, a new gene editing service

by Tom O’Connor, UNMC public relations


A common question asked by researchers is, “What is the function of my favorite gene?” One way to answer this is to knock it out from the research model – either a cell or an organism.



From left: C.B. Gurumurthy, Ph.D., Rolen Quadros and Don Harms offer the TALENs service through the UNMC Mouse Genome Engineering Core Facility. 

By “knocking out” the gene, researchers can determine the function of the gene by studying the differences between a knocked-out model and a model in which the gene is normal.

Now, thanks to UNMC acquiring a powerful new tool, scientists will be able to knock out genes in their research models very easily. The tool is called TALENs (Transcription Activator-Like Effector Nucleases), and the TALENs service is offered through the UNMC Mouse Genome Engineering Core Facility directed by C.B. Gurumurthy, Ph.D., and his team members, Don Harms and Rolen Quadros.
TALENs are protein tools that work like custom-made DNA cutting scissors.

TALENs that cut and alter any particular gene can be built in less than two weeks. “With TALENs, it is easy to knock out your favorite gene more reliably and much faster than before,” Dr. Gurumurthy said.

He said knocking out a gene is superior to other commonly used approaches such as RNAi, where the gene is only knocked down and the results can be ambiguous. TALENs tools also can be used for creating knockout models of other species other than just the laboratory mouse.

Dr. Gurumurthy said, “The TALENs technology has become a popular method in the past couple years, and many researchers worldwide have been able to learn much more about gene functions using TALENs.” He noted that more than 300 high profile research publications used TALENs in 2012.

“For UNMC to be among the first three universities to launch the TALENs service speaks volumes,” said Paula Turpen, Ph.D., director of research resources. “Guru’s team is always on the forefront of cutting edge technologies and has introduced several services related to gene knockouts and transgenics in the past two years.”

“We can build custom TALENs at much less cost than what it would cost to build TALENs in each individual labs,” Dr. Gurumurthy said.

The service includes bioinformatics analysis of genomic locus, designing and building of TALENs including consultation on how to use TALENs. For more details, contact Dr. Gurumurthy at cgurumurthy@unmc.edu or visit the Mouse Genome Engineering Core Facility website.


Managing Pain, Enhancing the Patient Experience

There is so much to learn when you become a new parent. Keeping our patients comfortable enables them to focus on their new baby and not their discomfort.”

Michelle Bomer,  manager, Women Services and Childbirth
Education and project owner




The patient experience. So many factors contribute to this, including noise levels, quality of care and cleanliness of a room – just to name a few. In order to obtain a measurement on our patients’ experience, inpatients receive a survey at home from Press Ganey, a health care consulting firm. The survey asks several questions related to satisfaction. The results from Press Ganey create our HCAHPS data, allowing our performance to be measured. One of the questions on the survey asks “how often was your pain well controlled?”

For our patients who had delivered a baby or underwent gynecological surgery, the marks were in the 30th percentile. “Our scores demonstrated there was room for improvement,” says Peggy Brown, clinical quality coordinator for Women and Children’s Services. “Our goal was to improve this to the 75th percentile.”

Brown led a quality improvement project that began in April 2012, meeting with a multi-disciplinary team comprised of nurses, anesthesiologists, physicians and
pharmacists. The team analyzed the data and realized the intervention could be fairly straight forward. “We weren’t routinely giving PRN (“pro re nata,” Latin for “as needed”) pain medication as often as we could,” explains Brown. “As a result, medication was not staying steady in their blood stream.”

The team determined the intervention should involve providing PRN pain medication, such as Ibuprofen, every four, six or eight hours, depending on the physician orders.

“We no longer waited for the patient to ask for pain medication. This allowed their blood levels to stay therapeutic,” says Brown.

“It is very important to keep levels of analgesic steady to avoid the ebbs and flows of pain,” says Michelle Bomer, manager, Women Services and Childbirth Education and project owner.

“Sometimes patients wait too long and their pain is worse than it needs to be because they’ve waited.”

The pilot began May 14 and went through June 9. “Analyzing our HCAHPS scores during the pilot, it was evident by June 9 this intervention was successful,” says Brown.

Scores for Women and Children’s Services steadily increased through the second and third quarters, hitting the 100th percentile mark for much of June. Scores dropped for quarter four, causing the team to investigate and respond to possible causes.

Brown continues to do spot checks on patients’ charts to make sure pain medication is offered routinely.

The associate nurse manager also rounds with patients asking about their pain control. Scores for February are again showing improvement. Brown is looking forward to reviewing quarter one scores in April. “This was a great group to work with,” reflects Brown. “The culture of this organization is to strive to fulfill our mission. Our mission is real.”

Nebraska Medical Center Surgeons Implant State’s First Total Artificial Heart

Omaha, Neb – Greg Rathe has been here before. Waiting. This time it’s much different than it was 17 years ago. Rathe, 42, said his first heart transplant in 1996 came about after a sudden onset of cardiomyopathy, the weakening of the heart muscles. Early this year, his symptoms returned.

“I felt weak and couldn’t breathe,” Rathe said. ‘When I got here to the med center, they said I’d need a new heart.”

“His condition deteriorated very quickly,” said Mike Moulton, MD , chief of cardiothoracic surgery and heart transplant surgeon at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Rathe lost consciousness the second week in March. His donated heart was failing.

“We knew if we didn’t move forward with the Total Artificial Heart , Greg would not survive,” said John Um, MD , surgical director of cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Drs. Moulton and Um implanted the Total Artificial Heart March 14.

“I woke up and it was all done,” Rathe said.

During heart failure, the heart cannot pump enough blood to supply vital organs with the oxygen and nutrients they need. When one side of the heart is failing, a patient can be put on a left- or right-ventricular assist device . Greg Rathe’s heart needed help on both sides.

“Greg had chronic rejection of his donated heart,” Dr. Moulton explained. “That process affected both the left and right ventricles. Because his heart had deteriorated to such a degree, a Total Artificial Heart was the only option.”

The Total Artificial Heart is not a permanent solution. It is a “bridge to transplant” meaning it can allow a patient to regain their strength until a suitable donor heart is found. It provides high volume blood flow of up to 9.5 liters per minute through each ventricle, which helps speed the recovery of the patient’s organs, making them a better candidate for heart transplant. According to SynCardia , which makes the device, patients have survived nearly four years before receiving a successful transplant. Doctors expect Rathe to have his artificial heart for one to six months.

“The Total Artificial Heart is the most advanced support available,” said Ioana Dumitru, MD , medical director of heart failure and cardiac transplantation at The Nebraska Medical Center. “It can now be used to treat patients from our region who would have a very difficult time traveling long distances to receive this therapy.”
heartTo implant the Total Artificial Heart , surgeons remove most of the patient’s heart; the left and right ventricles and the four heart valves. Only the left and right atria, aorta and pulmonary artery remain. Surgeons then sew in ports called “quick connects” to the left and right atria, aorta and pulmonary artery. The Total Artificial Heart is then attached to the quick connects. Two clear plastic tubes, one connecting to each ventricle, extend through the patient’s skin just below the rib cage. The tubes are connected to a pneumatic driver, which powers the artificial heart with precisely calibrated pulses of air and vacuum. All the device’s motors and electronics are located outside the body in the pneumatic driver. When a donor heart is available, surgeons remove the artificial heart and transplant the donor heart.

The Nebraska Medical Center is the only hospital in Nebraska with this treatment option.

“Bringing the Total Artificial Heart technology to the region continues to demonstrate The Nebraska Medical Center’s leadership and commitment in the treatment of cardiovascular disease,” said Jorge Parodi, executive director of cardiovascular care at the medical center. “We will continue to pioneer new technologies and therapies here and continue to provide the most complete and comprehensive cardiovascular care in this region.”