Archive for January, 2014

Truhlsens honored as outstanding philanthropists

November 18, 2013


Stanley M. Truhlsen, M.D., and Dorothy Truhlsen cut the ribbon at the Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute earlier this year.

Last week, the Association of Fundraising Professionals Nebraska Chapter honored Stanley M. Truhlsen, M.D., and his wife Dorothy as Outstanding Philanthropists for the state of Nebraska.

The Truhlsens were honored Nov. 12 — National Philanthropy Day — for their generous commitment to improving access to the arts and their work in health care, including the creation of the Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute at UNMC.

“Stan and Dottie Truhlsen are true givers to the Omaha community and the state of Nebraska,” said their nominator Carol Russell. “They are philanthropists, humanitarians and civic leaders, as well as being two of the nicest, most genuine people you could ever meet.”

At UNMC, their philanthropy has funded:

The Stanley M. Truhlsen Eye Institute. The Truhlsen Eye Research Laboratories at the Durham Research Center. The Dr. Stanley M. and Dorothy Truhlsen Campus Events Center in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education.

Elsewhere, their philanthropy has funded:

The Stanley M. and Dorothy Truhlsen Lecture Hall at the Durham Museum. The Joslyn Museum Stanley M. and Dorothy Truhlsen Discovery Sculpture Garden. Many purchases and projects at the Joslyn Art Museum. A contribution toward construction of the Holland Performing Arts Center. Renovations to the sanctuary at Countryside Community Church and a gymnasium addition. Gifts to Prevent Blindness Nebraska, Goodwill Industries and many more organizations.

Dr. Truhlsen, emeritus professor and former chairman of UNMC’s Department of Ophthalmology, is national recognized in the field of ophthalmology. A 1944 graduate of UNMC, he has served as president of the American Academy of Ophthalmology and president of the American Ophthalmological Society.


UNMC researchers work to improve outcomes of lymphoma patients

by Lisa Spellman, UNMC public relations

fu, kai

Kai Fu, M.D., Ph.D. 

Researchers at UNMC have discovered that patients with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma don’t respond well to the standard drug therapy used to treat this type of cancer if they have high levels of a gene called STAT3.

The findings are published in the November issue of the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the medical journal of the American Society for Clinical Oncology.

“These results are significant in that it gives oncologists a better understanding of the best way to personalize medical treatment for these patients and offer them hope for more positive outcomes,” said Kai Fu, M.D., associate professor in the department of pathology and microbiology.

STAT3, or signal transducer and activator of the transcription 3 gene, is part of a family known as the STAT genes that provide instructions for making proteins that are part of essential signaling pathways related to cell proliferation and survival within cells.

When these genes are activated, they move into the nucleus of the cell and bind to specific areas of DNA in regulatory regions near genes. The STAT proteins then regulate whether these genes are turned on or off.

Patients with this type of lymphoma are treated with a combination of immunotherapy using rituximab with a chemotherapy regimen that includes cyclophosphamide, doxorubicin, vincristine and prednisone, commonly referred to as R-CHOP.

“Using this combination of drug therapy usually has very good results but not in those patients with this specific type of lymphoma,” Dr. Fu said. “We wanted to find out why so we could figure out a way to change those outcomes.”

Dr. Fu and his team, along with UNMC investigators Julie Vose, M.D., James Armitage, M.D., John Chan, M.D., Dennis Weisenburger, M.D., and Timothy Greiner, M.D., initiated the study in 2005 with collaborators from 11 institutions around the world.

They began looking at the gene and found patients with high levels of the gene responded poorly to standard chemotherapy compared to those with lower levels.

The next step in the research is to use a specific STAT3 inhibitor to see if it helps the R-CHOP chemotherapy regimen work more efficiently and improve patient survival rates by identifying patients who are at higher risk, he said.

“We are very fortunate to be given the opportunity to be involved with many early phase clinical trials for the treatment of lymphoma including a new STAT3 inhibitor, which is based on this research,” Dr. Vose said.

International student enrollment rises across NU system

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations 


International students at a UNMC orientation event in 2012. 

International student enrollment at the University of Nebraska has reached another record high this fall, continuing NU’s momentum in attracting talent from around the world.

International student enrollment this fall is 3,638, a 4.7 percent increase over last year, according to the university. The students represent more than 130 different countries, with the most common countries of origin being China, India and South Korea. An increasing number of students also are coming to NU from Brazil and Oman. The university has established a goal to double international enrollment to about 6,000 by 2020.

At UNMC, there are 266 international students representing 27 countries. These numbers do not include researchers, house officers, observers and other members of the UNMC community, which bring the total number of international participants at UNMC to nearly 700.

“UNMC differs from the other NU campuses in recruiting efforts, because we have a largely graduate population whose numbers are constricted by lab space,” said Sara Pirtle of the international health and medical education department. “Some of the College of Public Health programs, however, do not have these limitations, and their enrollment numbers have been booming, thanks to the enthusiastic recruitment efforts of (former dean) Ayman El Mohandes and COPH faculty.”

Owing to the efforts of its Global Health Student and Faculty Advisory Committee, UNMC has made great strides in offering services and activities to orient new international students to life in Omaha and the UNMC community, Pirtle said.

“Our international population contributes a richness and vibrancy to the fabric of our daily lives at UNMC and in society,” Pirtle said. “They make a priceless and profound contribution to the work place and community.”

NU President James B. Milliken and Gov. Dave Heineman hosted welcome events for new international students at the four campuses to celebrate Nebraska’s continued progress in attracting global talent.

“I’m very pleased that a growing number of talented students from around the world are choosing to study at the University of Nebraska,” Milliken said. “International students add a great deal of diversity and richness to our campuses and communities. Their presence is a tremendous benefit to our U.S.-born students, who are more prepared to succeed in today’s global economy after living and working with students of different backgrounds.”

From colds to deadly lung diseases, one protein plays key role

by Dan Meyers, University of Colorado, and Tom O’Connor, UNMC public relations


Joe Sisson, M.D. 

Joe Sisson, M.D., a UNMC clinician-scientist, was part of an international team of researchers that has zeroed in on a protein that plays a key role in many lung-related ailments, from seasonal coughing and hacking to more serious diseases such as MRSA infections and cystic fibrosis.

The finding, which was reported in the current issue of the journal Nature, advances knowledge about this range of illnesses and may point the way to eventually being able to prevent infections such as MRSA. The researchers on the study hailed from several states, as well as Mexico and England.

The key protein is called MUC5B. It’s one of two sugar-rich proteins, with similar molecular structure, that are found in the mucus that normally and helpfully coats airway surfaces in the nose and lung. The other is MUC5AC.

“We knew these two proteins are associated with diseases in which the body produces too much mucus, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis and COPD,” said Chris Evans, Ph.D., an associate professor in the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the lead author on the study. “We also knew that many patients with asthma or COPD have as much as 95 percent less MUC5B in their lungs than healthy individuals, so we wanted to see if one of these is the bad player in chronic lung diseases.”

The researchers compared mice that lacked one or the other of the proteins. The animals without MUC5B got sick. Those that lacked MUC5AC were fine.

Dr. Sisson, the Larson Professor of Medicine and chief of the UNMC pulmonary, critical care, sleep and allergy section, has been involved in the study over the past two years.

A pulmonologist and NIH-funded cilia investigator, Dr. Sisson’s role was to determine the importance of ciliary motility in mice lacking MUC5B. Cilia are motorized finger-like projections of the cells that line the windpipe and bronchial tubes of the lungs. When cilia beat they create an escalator-like motion producing waves that lift mucus up and out of the lung. This function is called mucociliary clearance and is critical for normal lung health.

“We established that MUC5B is a really important component of the lung’s mucociliary clearance system,” Dr. Sisson said. “If you don’t have MUC5B, airway clearance fails even though airway cilia motility appears to be normal.”

Transplant Allows Teen to Enjoy Birthday Cake for the First Time in Years

For the first eleven years of his life, Tyson Smith did everything a normal kid would do. He went to school, played with friends and had birthday parties. His normal life changed when complications arose after a bout of H1N1 influenza. His parents took him to the doctor in their small home town of Sharon Springs, Kansas. Tyson couldn’t eat; he was weak; he was losing weight.

“By the time we took him to the children’s hospital in Denver, I had to carry him. He couldn’t walk,” remembers Tyson’s father Justin Smith. “In less than a year, he lost half his body weight. Forty-two pounds.”

Over the next several years, there were numerous surgeries and hospital stays for Tyson.

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Tyson Smith and his parents Wendy and Justin enjoy birthday cake together for the first time in six years. His 17th birthday party was held at the Ronald McDonald House Sept. 11, 2013.

“Every holiday, every birthday we spent in the hospital,” Smith says.

His mother quit her job to care for him. His father would make the three hour drive from Denver to Sharon Springs to continue working to support the family. Neighbors and co-workers pitched in. But Tyson’s health was still failing. He could no longer eat and received all his nutrition through a feeding tube.

“I lived for months in the hospital, ICU stays,” Tyson says. “Many times, I had to say my goodbyes to my family. I heard doctors say I wasn’t going to make it; that they could make me comfortable, but that there wasn’t really anything they could do.”

His condition worsened to the point that physicians in Denver said Tyson might be a candidate for an intestinal transplant.

“They first suggested contacting Pittsburgh, which we did,” Smith says. “But we ran into someone in Denver who had been through the same thing. She said, ‘Go to Omaha. That’s what we did. And we’re from Pittsburgh.'”

It’s a decision the Smiths are very glad they made.

“The care has been awesome,” Tyson’s mom Wendy Smith says. “He got his second chance. He’s going to make it.”

Tyson’s transplant team has every reason to be optimistic. One month and three days after having his intestine, liver and pancreas transplanted, Tyson was out of the hospital.

“He’s made an excellent recovery,” says David F. Mercer, MD, PhD, Tyson’s transplant surgeon. “He should be able to do what he wants, what activities he wants to; travel, be whatever he wants when he grows up.”

Tyson had just gotten used to eating again after so many years on feeding tubes. The idea of a birthday party with actual cake was a lot for him to process.

“It’s going to be very emotional. I haven’t done anything like that in over five years. It’s a huge milestone in my life. It’s my 17th birthday, but it’s like the first day of my life. It represents a new beginning.”