Archive for the ‘Medical Professionals’ Category

A Perfect Match

Chrissy Gordon (left) and Ken Vice met with the providers who were part of the bone marrow transplant nearly 20 years ago.

It was a surprise reunion that came from halfway around the world! Lincoln resident Ken Vice (a native of Canada) donated bone marrow to Chrissy Gordon (a resident of Australia) in 2000, saving her life after she developed leukemia. This week, Gordon came all the way from Australia to surprise Vice on his 70th birthday. The two visited the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center on March 11 and reunited with the doctors and other staff members who were a part of the transplant nearly 20 years ago. Oncologist Greg Bociek, MD, and oncologist/hematologist Philip Bierman, MD, were a part of the team here who had harvested Vice’s marrow, were able to be present for the reunion. Sheree Gilmore, clinical research and donor procurement lead, was also on the team that coordinated the transplant, along with Phyllis Warkentin, MD, director of the Unrelated Donor Program. Paulette Dellovechio, donor coordinator with Be The Match, was also on hand for the event. She was the person responsible for transporting Vice’s donated bone marrow from Omaha to Australia. Vice and Gordon first met in Canada in 2006, but have stayed in touch ever since.

Pictured (left to right) Philip Bierman, MD, Sachit Patel, MD, Phyllis Warkentin, MD, Ken Vice, Greg Bociek, MD, Sherre Gilmore and Nicole Godfrey.

Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center Earns Chest Pain Accreditation

Hospitals that have earned ACC Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI Accreditation have proven exceptional competency in their ability to integrate evidence-based science, clinical best practices, and the latest ACC/AHA guidelines to deliver consistent, reliable, safe, and high-quality care to heart and vascular patients.

Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center has again earned full accreditation as a Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI (percutaneous coronary intervention) from the American College of Cardiology (ACC). The designation is awarded based on a rigorous on-site evaluation of the staff’s ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack.

“This designation is an important distinction for Nebraska Medicine and is especially relevant in our journey in becoming a highly reliable organization,” says Melissa Lederer, manager, Heart and Vascular Quality and Outcomes.

PCI is also known as a coronary angioplasty. It is a non-surgical procedure that opens narrowed or blocked coronary arteries with a balloon to relieve symptoms of heart disease or reduce heart damage during or after a heart attack. Hospitals that have earned ACC Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI Accreditation have proven exceptional competency in their ability to integrate evidence-based science, clinical best practices, and the latest ACC/AHA guidelines to deliver consistent, reliable, safe, and high-quality care to heart and vascular patients. “The ACC’s framework has allowed us to demonstrate our commitment and continued efforts around performance improvement, standardization, education, and community outreach. The end result is a dedicated team providing state-of-the-art heart and vascular care to patients presenting with heart attack symptoms. I am extremely proud of the Chest Pain team for their effort and dedication to improving outcomes for this patient population.” In May, it was announced that Nebraska Medicine – Bellevue also earned full accreditation as a Chest Pain Center with Primary PCI from the ACC. This is the first time the hospital has achieved this level of accreditation. It was awarded based on rigorous on-site evaluation of the staff’s ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 735,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year. The most common symptom of a heart attack for both men and women is chest pain or discomfort. However, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms. Other heart attack symptoms include, but are not limited to, tingling or discomfort in one or both arms, back, shoulder, neck or jaw, shortness of breath, cold sweat, unusual tiredness, heartburn-like feeling, nausea or vomiting, sudden dizziness and fainting. To schedule an appointment with a Nebraska Medicine heart and vascular specialist at one of several convenient locations across the area, call 800.922.0000.

The designation is awarded based on a rigorous on-site evaluation of the staff’s ability to evaluate, diagnose and treat patients who may be experiencing a heart attack.

Nebraska Medicine Transplant Team Performs the First Heart-Lung Transplant in the State of Nebraska

“I felt like I was missing out on a lot.” Growing up, 15-year-old Maria Wilmes couldn’t participate in sports. She couldn’t walk down the school hallway without stopping to catch her breath. Couldn’t plan for the future – until now. In December 2017, Maria became the first patient to receive a heart-lung transplant at Nebraska Medicine, marking the first time a heart-lung transplant has been performed in the state of Nebraska. “We’re honored that Maria and her family chose Nebraska Medicine for her transplant and excited that she’s doing so well,” says Heather Strah, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at Nebraska Medicine. “Maria’s attitude has been great and that’s playing a big role in her recovery.” Growing up in Dakota City, Nebraska, Maria was the youngest of seven siblings – all girls. Her parents, Mike and Gina, have owned and operated Wilmes Hardware in South Sioux City, Nebraska, for 30 years. They first noticed something was wrong with Maria at the age of two. “She had a nose bleed one day,” explains Maria’s dad, Mike. “After taking her to the doctor in Sioux City, Iowa, they found a significant heart murmur.”

In December 2017, Maria became the first patient to receive a heart-lung transplant at Nebraska Medicine, marking the first time a heart-lung transplant has been performed in the state of Nebraska.

On Oct. 1, 2004, Maria was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) that was caused by her congenital heart disease known as double inlet left ventricle with transposition of the great vessels. Maria would eventually need a heart-lung transplant so she would have healthy lungs and a structurally normal heart. “The doctors told us it would be 5 to 10 years,” says Maria’s mom, Gina. “She was busy living life and spending time with family and friends, but in September 2017, Maria’s health started declining. She couldn’t sleep at night – her heart would start racing and her breathing would hurt.” Maria and her parents sought advice from Scott Fletcher, MD, Maria’s longtime pediatric cardiologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center. A cardiac catheterization confirmed the progression of her pulmonary vascular disease was getting worse and she likely only had a few months to live. Because Maria and her family wanted the heart-lung transplant to happen close to home, Dr. Fletcher recommended Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center, which has performed more than 300 heart transplants since 2005 and revived its Lung Transplant Program in 2015. Nebraska Medicine is one of a few health care networks nationwide to offer all solid organ transplants under one roof. “Children’s Hospital & Medical Center has a robust heart transplant program, but we do not transplant lungs – very few pediatric medical centers do,” says Dr. Fletcher. “After much thought, we decided Maria’s age was reasonable to proceed in the adult center. I was comfortable knowing she would receive excellent care and that we would have open communication among the adult and pediatric providers. This is the heart of good transitional medicine.”

L to R: Aleem Siddique, MBBS, Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation at Nebraska Medicine; Heather Strah, MD, Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Nebraska Medicine; Mike Wilmes, Maria’s Dad; Maria Wilmes, Heart-Lung Transplant Recipient; Gina Wilmes, Maria’s Mom; and Scott Fletcher, MD, Maria’s Pediatric Cardiologist at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center

“When we decided to go this route, there was an initial, ‘they’ve never done a heart-lung transplant before,’” says Gina. “But at the same time, when we met the team at Nebraska Medicine, we felt very at ease. If we had to go to Texas or California for the transplant, it meant uprooting ourselves from family and friends. This way, we’d only be an hour away from home and Mike could still be involved in Maria’s care while managing the hardware store.” The week of Thanksgiving, Maria’s name was added to the transplant waiting list. On Monday, Dec. 4, Mike went into the hardware store at 6 a.m. and a line of scripture kept playing in his head – fear is useless; what’s needed is trust. After researching the verse online, Mike discovered it came from a story in the Bible where Jesus brings a 12-year-old girl back to life.

“We’re honored that Maria and her family chose Nebraska Medicine for her transplant and excited that she’s doing so well,” says Heather Strah, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at Nebraska Medicine. “Maria’s attitude has been great and that’s playing a big role in her recovery.”

“What’s so significant is that night at 5 p.m., Nebraska Medicine called, saying they had found a donor for Maria,” says Mike. “When we were driving down to Omaha, it was a very anxious moment for all of us, but I told Maria that story and said, ‘fear is useless; what’s needed is trust.’” “The night before we got the phone call, I found Maria sitting up in bed and it was the first time she said to me, ‘Mom, I can’t do this anymore.’ It was heartbreaking,” adds Gina. “During the day, I kept thinking about the donor. Someone is going to have to die in order for Maria to receive this gift. That day, for whatever reason, it weighed heavily on my heart. I found myself praying for them. So that night when we got the call, it was all very surreal.” Maria’s transplant started around 1 a.m. on Dec. 5, 2017, and took nearly eight hours. The surgical team consisted of Aleem Siddique, MBBS, surgical director of lung transplantation; Michael Moulton, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon; John Um, MD, surgical director of cardiac transplantation and mechanical circulatory support programs; Marian Urban, MD, PhD, cardiothoracic surgeon; and David Berkheim, MD, thoracic surgeon. A team of anesthesiologists, surgeons, physician assistants, perfusionists, pharmacists, nursing personnel and other staff members were also in the room. “Maria’s surgery went very well without any major complications,” says Dr. Siddique. “We are very pleased with Maria’s progress so far and proud of the team’s effort.” Maria spent nearly two weeks at Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center following her transplant. She’s now attending pulmonary rehabilitation sessions to regain her physical strength. Maria’s cardiology and pulmonary teams will continue to work together to make sure her heart and lungs stay healthy. Her doctors are hopeful that Maria can return home within the next few months and start living a normal life.

“Maria’s surgery went very well without any major complications,” says Dr. Siddique. “We are very pleased with Maria’s progress so far and proud of the team’s effort.”

“I feel really good. I can go for a walk without getting tired and even lie down and sleep at night. I’m really excited to be able to think about the future. I want to be on the cheer team at my school and maybe even play a sport or two,” says Maria. “I can’t thank my medical team enough – they saved my life. I know I’ll always have someone to turn to if I have a problem.” Maria says she’s especially grateful for her organ donor and their family. Without them, Maria isn’t sure where she’d be today. She encourages everyone who is able to become a registered organ donor. Currently, 120,000 Americans are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. In Nebraska, there are nearly 500 people in need of a donor. “You should become an organ donor because you can change someone’s life and just mean the world to them,” says Maria. To register as an organ donor, visit or

Maria, her parents and medical team spoke to the media on February 14, which marks National Donor Day, a time to recognize all types of donation including organ, eye, tissue, blood, platelets and marrow. It’s also a day to honor those who have given or received the gift of life, are currently waiting or didn’t receive an organ in time.

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon Stops by for a Tour

From left, Michael Wadman, MD, chair of the UNMC Department of Emergency Medicine; U.S. Rep. Don Bacon; Jim Linder, MD, CEO of Nebraska Medicine; Wesley Zeger, DO, vice chair of Clinical Operations, Emergency Medicine; Robert Muelleman, MD, professor, Emergency Medicine; Suzanne Watson, nurse manager, and Bill Koile, director, Emergency Department Services.

How do you explain the work being done at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center to a retired Air Force Brigadier General? Charles Enke, MD, chair of the UNMC Department of Radiation Oncology, explained it to Rep. Don Bacon this way: “From the military standpoint, this is the war on cancer.” Bacon spent time Dec.17 learning about cancer rates, screenings and treatment as Dr. Enke took him room to room in Radiation Oncology, showing him the latest cancer-fighting technology and explaining how the facility’s design caters to patient privacy and preferences. Bacon studied images of tumors from test cases and asked a lot of questions. “Hardest time of their lives,” he said of the patients who come to the Buffett Center. “And you’re healing them.” The congressman then toured the Emergency Department, listening as Michael Wadman, MD, chair of UNMC Department of Emergency Medicine, explained some of the challenges the ED staff faces, including patients with behavioral health issues or those who come in under the influence of meth or other drugs. The ED is on pace to see 65,000 patients this year, a number Bacon described as amazing. “Hopefully none of us have to go to the Buffett Cancer Center or the Emergency Room,” Bacon said at the end of his tour. “But if you do, you’re going to get first class, great care right here.”

Charles Enke, MD, shows Rep. Don Bacon our CT simulator in Radiation Oncology at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center.

Cardiac Sonographer Treats Unique Patient

It was a day just like any other, and Walker Thomas, cardiac sonographer, UNMC Department of Anesthesiology, was about to perform an echocardiogram on a patient. Thomas packed up the Phillips CX50 portable ultrasound machine and drove to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. His next patient? A 24-year-old, 390-pound gorilla named Sampson. “Gorilla hearts look very similar to human hearts,” says Thomas. “They can develop heart disease just like humans. Once you know what you’re looking for, you can do a basic echocardiogram like you can on a human.” UNMC has supplied supplemental health care expertise since 2007 to certain zoo and aquarium animals in need of specialized care. Nearly all animal medical care at the zoo is provided by on-site veterinarians, but some preventative health care requires specialized equipment and expertise, such as the portable ultrasound machine Thomas uses. Heart images of the gorillas are submitted to the Great Ape Heart Project, which monitors the heart health of captive great apes around the nation. Great apes include gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and bonobos. Cardiac disease is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in male gorillas housed in zoos and occurs in the wild with an unknown prevalence. Five of the six adult male gorillas currently housed at the zoo are being treated for cardiac abnormalities.

Walker Thomas performs an echocardiogram on one of the gorillas at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. UNMC has supplied supplemental health care expertise since 2007 to certain zoo and aquarium animals in need of specialized care.

“Anytime we put an animal under general anesthesia we do as many diagnostics as possible while we have hands-on access to avoid having to immobilize again in the near future,” says Julie Napier, senior veterinarian at the zoo and aquarium. This can include, but is not limited to, a physical exam including auscultation of the heart and lungs, and checks of the eyes, ears, teeth, skin, nails, haircoat, and temperature, an ultrasound to evaluate abdominal organs, obtaining urine by cystocentesis, a TB test, and phlebotomy for complete blood count and chemistry. These procedures also provide opportunity to gather data for research projects as requested. “Fortunately, due to excellent training by the supervisor of the gorillas and her staff, we immobilize our gorillas much less frequently, and when we do immobilize, we use a protocol that was developed by a veterinary anesthesiologist,” says Napier. “There are always risks with anesthesia, but the protocol we use is extremely safe. We’ve been immobilizing our gorillas for echocardiograms since 2007 and have not had a complication to date.” Not all heart images are captured under anesthesia. Most of the great apes are trained to stand and press their chest against an enclosure with their arms outstretched so that a sonographer can apply a probe to their chest for scanning. This reduces the instances in which an ape has to undergo anesthesia. Napier says each great ape gets an echocardiogram about every 18 months, but only goes under anesthesia once every three to five years depending on their health. Echocardiograms performed under anesthesia provide an opportunity for a better look at the heart because the sonographer can maneuver around their thick chest pad. Completed scans are read by cardiologists at the Great Ape Heart Project as well as Thomas Porter, MD, director of the echocardiography laboratory. “It’s an honor to have a part in maintaining the health of these animals,” says Thomas. “These two major institutions in our community are collaborating to make a better world for these great apes.”

Physicians Enjoy Big Ten Spotlight

Nebraska Medicine and UNMC physicians recently received nationwide publicity, after being featured in the Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium December newsletter. Pavankumar Tandra, MBBS, medical oncologist, was profiled in the newsletter’s Investigator Spotlight. Matthew Lunning, DO, hematologist/medical oncologist, and David Anderson, PhD, post-doctoral research associate in UNMC’s Mind & Brain Health Labs, shared an article regarding our chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy, encouraging physicians to be mindful about the toxicities patients can experience. Drs. Lunning and Anderson discuss the work underway at Nebraska Medicine to explore ways to develop biological predictors of CAR T-related toxicities.

New Surgical Procedure Improves Outcomes for Most Advanced Atrial Fibrillation Cases

The convergent procedure combines cardiac surgery with radiofrequency ablation to terminate abnormal electrical pathways within the heart

Atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating, often starts gradually. At first, you may notice an occasional, brief feeling of a skipped or fluttering heartbeat. As it progresses, it may be accompanied by stronger heart palpitations, fainting, dizziness or shortness of breath. Many cases of arrhythmia are treatable with medications or ablation. Ablation uses radiofrequency energy to destroy the pathways to the heart that are causing the arrhythmia. However, in about 25 to 30 percent of cases, the atrial fibrillation does not respond to either medications or conventional ablation techniques. Are You a Candidate? Make an Appointment! Find out if you are a candidate for this innovative procedure. Call us to schedule an appointment with one of our cardiologists at 800.922.0000. Nebraska Medicine is the only hospital in the state to offer a new minimally invasive technique for patients with resistant atrial fibrillation called convergent. An alternative to open heart surgery, the procedure is providing up to an 85 percent success rate. Atrial fibrillation is one of the most difficult types of arrhythmia to diagnose and treat because the arrhythmia usually occurs from multiple sources in and around the heart. Nebraska Medicine’s advanced 3-D mapping provides doctors a visual map of the heart allowing them to pinpoint the exact origin of these abnormal electrical pathways. The convergent procedure combines cardiac surgery with radiofrequency ablation to terminate abnormal electrical pathways that are in hard-to-reach problem areas within the heart. Using the data gathered from 3-D mapping, the cardiac surgeon starts by making a small incision beneath the breast bone and performs an ablation on the surface of the heart. This is then followed by an internal ablation in which an electrophysiologist threads a catheter to the inside of the heart through a vessel in the groin to destroy any remaining abnormal electrical impulses. The prior alternative for the convergent procedure was a 6 to 8-hour open heart surgery.

HelenMari Merritt, DO, cardiothoracic surgeon

“This procedure is safer, has less down time and has great success rates,” says HelenMari Merritt, DO, cardiothoracic surgeon at Nebraska Medicine. Dr. Merritt has received special training to perform this surgery. “Improving outcomes for resistant atrial fibrillation cases is going to help many people,” says Dr. Merritt. “Atrial fibrillation becomes more common as we age and its prevalence is increasing. The incidence is expected to double by up to 12 million people by the year 2050.” Candidates for the procedure include those who are intolerant to medications; those whose atrial fibrillation that has not responded to medications or ablation; patients with an enlarged left atrium; and young people with atrial fibrillation. “Treatment of arrhythmias is usually required only if the arrhythmia is causing significant symptoms or if it’s putting you at risk for more serious cardiac complications,” says Dr. Delaney. “Our state-of-the-art 3-D mapping equipment combined with our experience and advanced surgical and interventional procedures allows us to diagnose and treat some of the most complex cases.”

Second Hybrid Operating Room Opens

The New Hybrid Room Accommodates Growing Needs of the Heart and Vascular Program A second hybrid operating room opened Nov. 30 and has already been put to good use with more than 50 procedures being done so far. “The opening of a second hybrid operating room allows us to expand our capabilities for performing the most advanced endovascular and structural heart interventions including transcatheter aortic valve replacement, MitraClip and aortic endograft placement for complex aneurysms,” says Mike Moulton, MD, triad-physician leader, Heart and Vascular Network, and chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery. For those unfamiliar, a hybrid operating room is equipped with advanced medical imaging devices and combines several departments to provide the best care for our patients. Heart and Vascular, Radiology, and Surgery staff all work together to have the ability to provide a wide range of procedures, which increases the overall flexibility, and efficiency of the department. One of the main benefits to providing care in a hybrid room is the ability to quickly and efficiently transition from a minimally invasive procedure to an open surgery case as needed.

The hybrid OR suite opened for business on Nov. 30 and has already been used many times. The technology inside the room allows doctors to perform a wide range of heart and vascular procedures.

“With the growing need for advanced structural heart and vascular interventions, this additional procedural capacity allows us to effectively perform complex cardiovascular procedures for our patients,” says Dan Anderson, MD, PhD, triad-physician leader, Heart and Vascular Network and chief of Cardiovascular Medicine. The types of procedures performed in the hybrid rooms are primarily complex cardiac and vascular cases such as transcatheter aortic valve replacements (TAVR), angiograms, electrophysiology (EP) Lead Extractions, MitraClips, and fistulograms. “All members of the vascular surgery and cardiac teams have been eager for this second hybrid suite,” says Matthew Longo, MD, Vascular Surgery. “It allows the Heart and Vascular Services team to see and treat an increased number of patients both in the community and region. Furthermore, it increases efficiency, decreases patient wait times for treatment and increases collaboration between the vascular surgery, cardiac surgery and cardiology.” It took a little more than a year to complete the creation of this second hybrid operating room, which is located next to the existing one in the southwest corner of level two at Clarkson Tower. “This was a fast moving complex project which required a lot of hard work and dedication from multiple teams,” says Michaela Newman, director, Heart and Vascular Network. “Thank you to all those involved in making this happen. As our Heart and Vascular Program continues to grow, this second hybrid operating room will help us accommodate those needs to continue to provide the expertise care our patients expect.”

UNMC Announces Most Advanced MRI Scanner in Nebraska

From left, UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, Jennifer Larsen, MD, Matthew Rizzo, MD, and Tony Wilson, PhD, spoke at the news conference Jan. 9.

A new arrival has joined UNMC, and it will allow the school to compete with the elite research institutions in the country to better understand the complexities of the brain. The new arrival comes in the form of the most advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanner in Nebraska — a state-of-the-art, 28,000-pound unit that will provide the highest resolution imaging available while cutting the time the subject has to be in the MRI in half. “This is truly a game changer,” says UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD. “Having an MRI dedicated to research is the missing piece of the puzzle that we needed to take our research enterprise to the next level.

“It will not only have a huge impact on research, but it also will enhance our education and clinical care. Ultimately, it will help us unlock the mysteries of the brain and hopefully provide some answers to complex neurological problems such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, which presently don’t have any real solutions.” The unit — the Siemens Prisma MRI scanner — cost $2.5 million with an additional expense of about $1.5 million to install it. It is conveniently located in the heart of the UNMC/Nebraska Medical Center campus on level one of the Hixson-Lied Center, which connects Clarkson and University towers. Primary funding — about $3 million — was provided by the UNMC College of Medicine under the leadership of Dean Bradley Britigan, MD, with the remaining $1 million coming from a National Institutes of Health research grant. In 2016, UNMC landed the largest research grant in its history, the Great Plains IDeA-Clinical and Translational Research award — a five-year, nearly $20 million grant through the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) program and the NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Studies

UNMC and Nebraska Medicine leaders — as well as a young research participant — cut the ribbon to mark the acquisition of the new MRI.

Matthew Rizzo, MD, professor and chair of the UNMC Department of Neurological Sciences, is the principal investigator on the grant, which supports clinical and translational research (CTR) among a collaboration of nine institutions in four states — Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas. Initially, the research-dedicated MRI will be used by UNMC researchers in neurological sciences, psychiatry, cardiology and neurosurgery, he says. But, it also will be available for investigators who are part of the four-state collaborative grant as well as any other researchers who can benefit from it. Installation of the MRI was completed on Dec. 3, and research studies are already underway. “This is a key addition to UNMC’s research toolbox,” Dr. Rizzo says. “It greatly enhances our already outstanding research environment, raises our national profile in the neurosciences, and improves our ability to win extramural research awards. It further distinguishes UNMC as the regional leader in brain imaging, while rallying our strong local neuroscience community around an essential core resource.” In fiscal year 2018, UNMC researchers brought in $135.6 million in research funding, an increase of 15.8 percent from the $117 million garnered the previous year. Thanks to the research-dedicated MRI, those numbers should continue to grow, says Jennifer Larsen, MD, UNMC vice chancellor for research. “Having this instrument will not only speed up our ability to conduct this type of research, but it also will allow us to participate in national multicenter trials focused on brain research,” she says. “Neuroimaging is critical to understanding how the brain works or is impacted. This MRI will allow us to explore brain development and brain deterioration. It will help us understand how cancers develop or move to the brain and determine which medications are most effective in treating certain neurological conditions.” Dr. Larsen praised the College of Medicine for providing the majority of funding needed to purchase the MRI. She also noted that obtaining the research-dedicated MRI was a collaborative effort bringing together the College of Medicine, the IDeA-CTR, Nebraska Medicine, the office of the vice chancellor for research, the assistant vice chancellor for business and finance, as well as Tony Wilson, PhD, the scientific director for the project. She specifically cited Dr. Rizzo and Howard Fox, MD, PhD, associate dean for research in the College of Medicine, for their work with the IDeA-CTR grant and others who were instrumental in the collaboration including – Dr. Wilson; William Lawlor, UNMC’s assistant vice chancellor for business and finance; Cory Shaw, executive vice president/chief operating officer for Nebraska Medicine; and Pamela Flax-Laws, chief scientific administrator, Neurological Sciences. Dr. Wilson, director of the Magnetoencephalography Laboratory at UNMC/Nebraska Medicine, will oversee the MRI. As one of UNMC’s top funded researchers, Dr. Wilson’s team currently has five active NIH awards, a National Science Foundation grant and an American Heart Association grant totaling more than $23 million in federal funding. “This advanced imaging tool will allow investigators from around the region to examine the precise structure, function, and chemical composition of all parts of the body, but especially the brain,” Dr. Wilson says. “The brain is considered the final frontier in research – we know far less about the brain compared to the heart and other organs. This scanner will enable investigators to begin to unravel how diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis cause aberrations in the brain that severely affect behavior and quality of life. “The MRI also will enable us to identify how brain activity changes when people perform mental tasks that require our attention, decision-making, and memory capacities. These and other critical abilities make us human, and understanding how these are implemented in the brain will have a major impact on future health care. I think it is fair to say that we are entering a new era for brain research in Nebraska.”

Pancreatic Cancer Team Provides Patients Best Fighting Chance

Pancreatic cancer is expected to become the No. 2 cause of cancer death in the United States within the next few years. It’s a cancer that’s been difficult to beat. In most cases, it has no symptoms until it has reached advanced stages. The multi-disciplinary team of specialists at the Nebraska Medicine Pancreatic Cancer Program combines the expertise of doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer and a variety of other pancreas-related disorders to provide patients with a comprehensive plan to give them the best fighting chance. This team includes medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists and pathologists. Pancreatic Care from the Experts To learn more about our Pancreatic Cancer Program, visit To participate or learn more about the clinical trial, please call 402.559.5600 or visit These doctors meet every week to discuss and collaborate on treatment for challenging pancreatic cancer patient issues, and then meet with the patient as a team to provide a well-researched, coordinated and comprehensive plan.

Kelsey Klute, MD, hematologist and medical oncologist

“Because we specialize in these cancers, we have more experience and are current on the newest surgical techniques and treatment approaches,” says Kelsey Klute, MD, Nebraska Medicine hematologist and medical oncologist. “When treating pancreatic cancers, you want to put your best foot forward in every step of the treatment process, and you want your doctors to be as aggressive as possible. That’s where our highly experienced physicians and surgeons can make a difference.” Advancements in radiation oncology is one area that has helped improve the prognoses for pancreatic cancer patients. “While surgery is the primary treatment for pancreatic cancer, less than 20 percent of patients are diagnosed early enough to be candidates for surgery,” says Chi Lin, MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist who specializes in pancreatic cancer. “Studies show that the use of chemotherapy and radiation therapy can convert a tumor that initially cannot be removed surgically to a tumor that can be surgically removed in up to 30 percent of patients,” she says. “Radiation therapy after surgery also can help reduce the chance of recurrence in the original tumor and help with symptom control.” Nebraska Medicine uses one of the most advanced radiation technologies to treat pancreatic cancer called stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). SBRT can deliver treatments up to four times faster than other techniques at higher doses per treatment with more precision resulting in minimal toxicity to other tissues.

Chi Lin, MD, radiation oncologist, meets with other members of the pancreatic research team.

Dr. Lin is also collaborating with other researchers in the investigation of new agents that may make pancreatic tumors more responsive to chemotherapy and radiation. “If we can make radiation more effective, we will be able to improve disease control and quality of life for many of these patients,” says Dr. Lin. Advanced radiation techniques like these are allowing doctors to perform surgery more effectively on patients with locally advanced tumors who might not have been candidates for surgery five years ago, notes Bradley Reames, MD, Nebraska Medicine surgical oncologist who specializes in pancreatic cancer. “Surgery is the only treatment that can offer a chance for cure,” he says. “While we have known that chemotherapy is an essential treatment for every patient, emerging data suggests that patients that receive chemotherapy, and potentially radiation therapy, before surgery, tolerate it better and may live longer.” Nebraska Medicine also treats some of the most complex pancreatic cancer cases in the region. “Because of our experience and the volume of patients we see here, we are comfortable performing surgery on some of the most difficult and complex patient cases that might not be offered surgery by other hospitals or surgeons,” says Dr. Reames.

Bradley Reames, MD, surgical oncologist

Some patients may also be candidates for a minimally invasive robotic approach, which allows surgeons to perform the same surgery through smaller incisions, potentially resulting in less pain to the patient and a shorter hospital stay. “While we have made substantial improvements in pancreatic cancer treatment in the last five years, many promising therapies are currently being studied that have the potential for exciting advancements in the future” he says. Another factor that differentiates the Nebraska Medicine Pancreatic Cancer Program is our comprehensive research program. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) have played a key role in basic science and translational pancreatic research over the years and continue to work toward finding early detection methods and improved treatment techniques. Basic science refers to laboratory research that uncovers the background knowledge necessary for technological and drug development. Translational research involves applying the discoveries found in the laboratory to the development of clinical trials that can be used in humans to determine the effectiveness of a medical strategy, treatment or device. Nebraska Medicine and UNMC are part of the Early Detection Research Network (EDRN), an initiative of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). This network includes dozens of institutions from across the country who collaborate on research and the development of biomarkers and technologies for the clinical application of early cancer detection strategies. One of the medical center’s largest grants is the SPORE (Specialized Programs of Research Excellence) pancreatic cancer project with funding of $11 million from the National Cancer Institute over five years. This is the third time UNMC and Nebraska Medicine have been granted pancreatic SPORE funding. Three of its previous SPORE research projects are on their way to clinical trials. SPORE research projects are unique in that they must follow a model that involves translational research with collaboration between teams led by basic science researchers and clinicians. “We are involved in fighting pancreatic cancer from every angle – basic science research, diagnostics and therapeutics,” says Dr. Klute. “While there is only an 8 percent 5-year survival rate with pancreatic cancer, we believe we are going to start seeing an increase in survival because of a better understanding of the disease and discoveries that are happening right here in our labs.”