Archive for March, 2015

UNMC to take part in Ebola treatment study

by Jennifer Routh and Vicky Cerino

Andre Kalil, M.D.

UNMC researchers will take part in a clinical trial to obtain safety and efficacy data on the investigational drug ZMapp as a treatment for Ebola virus disease.

The study, run by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in conjunction with the Liberian government, is a randomized controlled trial enrolling adults and children with known Ebola virus infection.

UNMC expects to receive approval of the study, currently being reviewed by the Institutional Review Board, in a few weeks.

“Although ZMapp has been used to treat several Ebola-infected patients in recent months, we cannot determine if the drug actually benefitted those patients because it was not administered within the context of a clinical trial,” said Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the NIAID, at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

ZMapp, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., is composed of three different proteins called monoclonal antibodies. ZMapp is designed to prevent the progression of Ebola virus disease within the body by targeting the main surface protein of the Ebola virus.

“Our Biocontainment Unit research team has been actively involved in the development of this research protocol and looks forward to participating in the implementation of the research here in Nebraska,” said Christopher Kratochvil, M.D., UNMC associate vice chancellor for clinical research and vice president for research, Nebraska Medicine.

“The invitation to participate in this research project once again recognizes the world-class facilities at Nebraska Medicine as well as the expertise of the researchers and staff of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit.”

Andre Kalil, M.D., professor in the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine and infectious diseases physician at Nebraska Medicine, said that the “adaptive” clinical trial will provide answers about the safety and effectiveness of ZMapp and other potential treatments in patients with Ebola virus disease.

“This is really a very important study with an innovative approach,” said Dr. Kalil, who has been involved in the design of the study with Dr. Kratochvil. “We must scientifically and rigorously evaluate the experimental treatments that have been given to date to determine what is safe and effective to our patients. We will find out what is working and what is not while the clinical trial is ongoing and adapt the study based on patients’ clinical response.”

“The idea is to discover and offer the safest and best therapies in the shortest period of time,” Dr. Kalil said. “We look forward to working with our national and international research partners.”

Routine Colonoscopy Leads to Shocking Diagnosis


It started on the first anniversary of 9/11. Duane Johnson, a retired schoolteacher, wanted to make a difference. He stopped by a local Red Cross blood drive and rolled up his sleeves. From there on out, it became a trend.

“I pretty much donated blood every 53 days or so,” says Johnson. “It’s easy, painless and so important to the recipients. I enjoyed helping.”

But, a few years ago, a routine visit to the Red Cross left Duane a bit concerned.

“They told me my iron count was low, which had never happened before,” explains Johnson. “A couple months later, same problem. They told me to go home, eat some spinach and steak and come back. But, when I did, the same thing happened.”

Johnson was due for his annual exam at Nebraska Medicine, so he scheduled an appointment with his primary care physician, Dennis Goeschel, MD, with plans to discuss this with him. In April 2014, hospital staff ran a series of tests, including a colonoscopy. Five days later, Johnson received a shocking call from his gastroenterologist, Gary Volentine, MD.

“They found lymphoma in my small intestine. I couldn’t believe it,” he recalls. “I was puzzled by my low iron count, and felt fatigued at times, but had no inkling that anything serious was wrong. At 69 years old, I just contributed it to getting older.”

Dr. Volentine told Johnson, finding the lymphoma explained his anemia. He was immediately referred to Nebraska Medicine oncologist/hematologist Philip Bierman, MD, who was also surprised by the diagnosis.

“Lymphoma is very uncommon to find during a colonoscopy,” explains Dr. Bierman. “Typically, when we perform a colonoscopy, we’re looking for the more common types of colon cancer. Lymphoma would be an unexpected finding.”

Dr. Bierman decided the best course for treatment would be six sessions of chemotherapy. Johnson lost his hair, along with his appetite.

“At first, chemo affected my taste buds and made me feel like a groggy doggy,” jokes Johnson. “By the third week, I was doing much better. I remember telling the staff, ‘it feels good to feel good.'”

After completing the six chemo sessions, Johnson had another colonoscopy in September 2014. This time, the results were much different. Johnson was cancer free.

“It was such a relief to hear those words,” says Johnson. “My wife and I were very optimistic throughout the entire process, and that’s because we knew I was at the right place. No doubt about it. We’re really fortunate that Nebraska Medicine is here in Omaha. They did a wonderful job.”

These days, Johnson enjoys gardening and taking long car rides with Clara, his wife of 40 years. Because of his cancer diagnosis, Johnson can no longer donate blood at the Red Cross. But, he’s found a new way to make a difference. He encourages others to get a colonoscopy – especially during March, which is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

“Starting at age 50, low risk patients should get a colonoscopy every 10 years. This includes men and women,” explains Dr. Volentine. “If you have a family history of colon cancer, it’s best to get screened earlier and have a colonoscopy every five years. Work with your doctor to develop an individualized screening plan.”

Nebraska Medicine is ranked by U.S. News and World Report for having one of the nation’s top gastroenterology programs. They offer two convenient locations for colon cancer screenings. To schedule an appointment, call (800) 922-0000.

“I cannot stress how important it is,” says Johnson. “Getting a colonoscopy saved my life. It’s the best, most thorough way of finding cancer cells. Without it, I may not be here today.”

Nebraska Ebola team draws presidential praise

by John Keenan, UNMC public relations

From left, Angela Hewlett, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D.

World-class care.

That’s the verdict of President Barack Obama while discussing the treatment received by Richard Sacra, M.D., at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine’s Biocontainment Unit.

President Obama was speaking Wednesday at an event to recognize the U.S. response to the Ebola crisis. He mentioned Dr. Sacra, “who received world-class care at Nebraska Medical Center.”

The event highlighted how the U.S. government has worked with other governments, international organizations, private sector leaders and non-government partners to support a focused response to the virus.

See the president speaking here.

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, M.D., Phil Smith, M.D., medical director of the Biocontainment Unit at Nebraska Medicine-Nebraska Medical Center, and the unit’s associate medical director, Angela Hewlett, M.D., attended the event.

“It is both humbling and gratifying to be praised by President Obama for the level of our care in the face of this crisis,” Dr. Gold said. “This is a compliment for the dedicated health care professionals of our Biocontainment Unit, but also for the professionals of Nebraska Medicine and UNMC as a whole. We also should see it as a challenge to maintain our national and international leadership position in the worldwide fight against Ebola and other highly infectious agents as we continue our global educational efforts and regional preparedness.”

UNMC/Nebraska Medicine has one of three biocontainment units in the nation that have treated Ebola patients. Having drilled for countless hours since the unit opened in 2005, the Nebraska biocontainment team was uniquely qualified to answer the call. The original team was soon joined by other experts on campus.