Archive for April, 2014

Researcher takes aim at leukemia in earliest stages

By Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations


Kate Hyde, Ph.D.

Kate Hyde, Ph.D. R. Kate Hyde, Ph.D., a new assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, was a post-grad, already working on the control of gene expression, genes involved in cancer, when her dad got sick.

It was leukemia.

They knew it was serious when he told his wife, who was always cold, that he finally understood what she’d been complaining about all these years.

And as tough as he was, it took him. He died in 2003, just short of two years after his diagnosis, just about typical for the kind of leukemia he had.

Cancer is . . . awful. Uncertainty, deterioration, tests, treatments that seem to beat you down as much as they help. Kate decided something: “I already knew I wanted to do research,” she said.

She knew she needed to pick something that she cared about, that she would work on for the entirety of her career. “So I picked this.”

At UNMC, she’s excited to be setting up her own lab for the first time. She is armed with a National Institutes of Health Pathway to Independence award and an idea.

As a postdoc she was working on a project, but it took forever. She asked her mentor for something to do in the meantime. He gave her something that had been set aside.

The initial experiment at first didn’t make any sense, but the result was interesting. One thing led to another, until she realized: “We could use this model to look at a pre-leukemic state.”

Now, she works with mouse models with a subtype of acute myeloid leukemia. The difference is that now they can study the disease from its first mutation.

“When you see a patient in clinic, it’s only after full blown leukemia,” Dr. Hyde said. “You don’t know what the initial stages are. But with the mouse model, we can control when they start expressing the protein that we know is the first step. We look at the consequences of this one protein by itself without the complications of the other mutations found in patient samples.”

Understanding how this first happens is integral to drug design and drug testing, Dr. Hyde said. This is what she works on.

For her dad?

She had to laugh a little at that: “I’m not in there every day like, ‘This is for you, Dad!’ ”

But, she always knew she was going to be a scientist. All she needed was a direction. Now she has one.

And she can’t wait to get started at UNMC.

The Nebraska Medical Center To Expand Trauma Services To Provide 24-7 Care

Improved access to quality trauma care seen as the primary reason for expansion

Traumatic injury is the number one killer of Nebraskans under the age of 44, and a leading cause of death in older citizens. In Douglas County alone, more people die from trauma-related accidents than stroke. However, research shows that treatment at a Level 1 trauma center reduces the risk of death by 25%. As the premier health care facility in the region, The Nebraska Medical Center is expanding its trauma services to meet the needs of residents in Omaha and surrounding communities by preparing to provide them with a nationally-recognized Level 1 trauma center that will operate 24-hours-a-day and seven-days-a-week.

“This is the right thing to do for everyone who lives here,” said P.J. Schenarts, MD, trauma medical director at The Nebraska Medical Center. “Although the trauma system we’ve used for the last 20 years is functional, we think we have an obligation to provide something more.”

Since 1993, The Nebraska Medical Center has worked cooperatively with Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center in a combined trauma system, one of the few systems of its kind that operates in this fashion in the United States. The joint program results in two part-time trauma centers that can’t be recognized by the American College of Surgeons – the national accrediting body that is the gold standard for trauma centers in the U.S.

Last year, while external, independent reviewers were re-assessing the Omaha trauma system for the State of Nebraska, they noted that while the current system met patient needs, it could be optimized even further. The surveyors specifically noted in their recommendations: “Most importantly; with outstanding new trauma leadership and executive commitment, The Nebraska Medical Center Trauma Center could function independently and provide outstanding Level 1 care to the greater Omaha community. This option should be explored vigorously.”

“The Nebraska Medical Center has been evaluating the possibility of becoming a Level 1 trauma center for several years now,” said Rosanna Morris, chief operating officer and chief nursing officer of The Nebraska Medical Center. “We have the resources and infrastructure in place to establish a dedicated trauma program. The timing is right. Level 1 trauma centers provide the highest quality of care to injured patients. It’s our duty to do everything we can to provide them with that.”

Health care reform was another factor in the decision to expand trauma services. “Nationally, there has been a constant push for health care systems to operate more efficiently,” said Morris. “This is just one of the ways we can do that. The many specialty services that we provide at The Nebraska Medical Center are also available to our trauma patients and will now be there for them every day of the week, around the clock.”

“The patients are our number one priority,” added Dr. Schenarts. “We provide specialty care in areas like vascular surgery, neurosurgery, pediatric trauma, ophthalmology and burn care every day as it is. It’s the right thing to do to provide access to that care for everyone in the region, regardless of what day of the week it is.”

A certification process will be performed by the American College of Surgeons in order for The Nebraska Medical Center to achieve official Level 1 trauma center verification status. Notice has been given to officials at Alegent Creighton Health Creighton University Medical Center of the plan to opt out of the current system August 1, 2014. “We appreciate the partnership we’ve had with our colleagues at Alegent Creighton over the years,” said Morris. “We want to thank them for their teamwork and recognize the contribution they’ve made to trauma patients across the region for so many years.”

Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., joins Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC public relations


Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D. 

Sarah Thayer, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally recognized physician-scientist from Harvard Medical School, will be joining UNMC to lead cancer surgery efforts and have a significant leadership role in the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

Dr. Thayer will start May 1 as associate director for clinical affairs and physician-in-chief for the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center. She also has been appointed Merle M. Musselman Centennial Professor of Surgery and chief of surgical oncology at UNMC.

“This is a prominent example that the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center will attract the brightest minds in cancer care and research who will look to take advantage of our world-class infrastructure and collaborate with what is already an outstanding team,” said UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to realize what the very best of cancer care can be,” Dr. Thayer said. “I’m extraordinarily excited and honored to be part of this innovative cancer center and to be working with the wonderful intellectual powerhouse that already exists. There’s a great synergy between clinical care and scientific progress that works really well at UNMC – and we believe that translation between the two is where our next inventions and innovations in patient care will come from.”

Dr. Thayer comes to UNMC following a 13-year stint at Harvard Medical School and its teaching hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital. She has served as the W. Gerald Austen Scholar in Academic Surgery since 2002 and as director of the pancreatic cancer biology lab since 2008.

She has been continuously funded since 2003 and has been part of five National Institutes of Health research grants, three as overall principal investigator. Dr. Thayer currently has a $2 million pancreatic cancer research project funded by the NIH’s National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Thayer is an active surgeon with a clinical and research focus on pancreatic cancer. Clinically, she also specializes in cancers of the breast and gastrointestinal system.

Dr. Thayer arrived on the national scene with a 2003 publication in the journal Nature in which her work revealed the role of a developmental gene (Shh) as an early initiator in pancreatic cancer. Later, her group was the first to categorize and classify three distinct forms of pancreatic ductal lesions and their role in regeneration and cancer. In 2010, her team identified a novel ductal compartment and named them “pancreatic duct glands.”

Genetic information a possible guide to drug treatment

by Karen Burbach, UNMC public relations


Julie Oestreich, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

Julie Oestreich, Pharm.D., Ph.D. Julie Oestreich, Pharm.D., Ph.D., knows prescription drugs don’t work the same for everyone.

But she wants to better understand how genes influence individual drug responses so doctors can prescribe the drug and dosage that works best for the patient being treated.

“I want to know how medicines work and how they change the body to create good — and to sometimes cause harm. Throw genetics into the picture and it’s an interesting and important area of study.”



This article originally appeared in the most recent issue of Discover, currently on newsstands throughout the UNMC campus or available online.

Although the field of pharmacogenomics is relatively new, it has the potential to one day eliminate the “one size fits all” medicinal approach and lead to more effective, safe medications and doses tailored to a person’s genetic makeup.

The use of genetic information to guide treatments is growing as physicians better predict who will benefit from a drug, who will not respond at all or who will experience a negative side effect.

An assistant professor of pharmacy practice in the College of Pharmacy, Dr. Oestreich (pronounced ace-try) researches personalized anti-platelet therapy (which medicines, and how much, work best) and genetic tests for risk factors for cardiovascular events among the area’s American Indian population.

She drives to Martin, S.D., and its surrounding area to find and interact with her research participants. Together, the UNMC team collaborates with Lyle Best, M.D., and Turtle Mountain Community College at Belcourt, N.D. Both entities also work with Missouri Breaks Industries Research Inc., which is American Indian-owned and has offices on both the Pine Ridge and Cheyenne River Sioux Reservations in South Dakota.

The project goes through not just UNMC’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) but one with the tribe itself, and one with the Aberdeen Area Indian Health Service.

Dr. Oestreich previously had been interested in the variability of platelet function and response to antiplatelet agents with regard to protecting people from adverse cardiovascular events. She was intrigued by the idea that ethnicity might be one factor in this variability.

After studies with a small group of American Indians, the team now plans to expand its research to a larger population and further test whether genetic variants impact drug response. Finding answers, she knows, will benefit patients far into the future.

“We don’t want to leave a population behind,” she said.

UNMC ranked in top 10 for primary care, rural medicine

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations


UNMC is ranked in the top 10 in two areas in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of the nation’s top graduate schools.

UNMC remains the sixth-ranked primary care medical program in the United States, tied with the University of Minnesota. In addition, UNMC tied for ninth in the list of top rural medicine programs.

“The recognition of UNMC in the fields of primary care and rural medicine is gratifying,” said Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., UNMC chancellor. “These are areas of vital importance to the people of Nebraska, and it is a testament to the physicians, researchers and staff members at UNMC that their efforts have been acknowledged as among the nation’s finest.”

U.S. News surveyed 153 institutions during 2013 and 2014 while compiling the rankings, which were released Tuesday. Schools surveyed included medical schools accredited in 2013 by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education and schools of osteopathic medicine accredited in 2013 by the American Osteopathic Association.

“Education is a vital part of UNMC’s overall mission,” said Dele Davies, M.D., vice chancellor for academic affairs. “This recognition of our educational programs underscores the excellent skills and abilities of our faculty and students. Our outstanding rankings in primary care and rural medicine reflect the priority the university has placed on expanding access to health care in Nebraska’s rural communities and creating a national model for other regions seeking to do the same.”

According to the U.S. News website, rankings are based on two types of data: expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators.

Primary care rankings included indicators such as the student admissions statistics (MCAT, GPA and acceptance rate), the proportion of graduates entering primary care specialties, peer assessment, assessment by residency directors and other factors.

Rural medicine rankings, like other specialties, were established through ratings by medical school deans or senior faculty, who identified up to 10 schools offering the top programs in each specialty.

UNMC remained at No. 64 for research in the new rankings. Although new rankings aren’t available in all categories for 2015, UNMC continues to be rated in four other programs:

  • 16th in physician assistant programs (last ranked in 2011);
  • 32nd in pharmacy programs (last ranked in 2012);
  • 34th in physical therapy programs (last ranked in 2012); and •36th in nursing master’s programs (last ranked in 2011).