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Medicine and Life Sciences

Deans Appointed to Vice Provost Roles to Advance Health Affairs

The Office of the Provost has appointed two deans to take on additional responsibilities as vice provosts.

Dr. Christopher Cooper, dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and executive vice president for clinical affairs, has been appointed to serve as vice provost for educational health affairs.

Dr. Linda Lewandowski, dean of the College of Nursing, has been appointed to serve as vice provost for health affairs for interprofessional and community partnerships.

In his vice provost role, Cooper will serve as a liaison between the Office of the Provost and the deans of the four health-related colleges with a focus on facilities and college resources related to health education.

In her vice provost role, Lewandowski will serve as a liaison between the Office of the Provost and the external community for targeted health-related partnerships and initiatives, and will be responsible for the development and implementation of interprofessional collaborations among the University’s health-related academic programs.

Fall Enrollment Numbers Reflect Focus on Student Success

For the seventh consecutive year, more students have returned to campus this fall semester for their second year of studies, once again confirming the University’s growing trend of student success.

The University of Toledo’s first-to-second-year retention rate is 76.4%, and the six-year graduate rate improved to a record high of 51.2% as a result of campus-wide increased efforts to support student success.

This year’s entering class has a record high academic profile with an average ACT score of 23.03 and average GPA of 3.48.

Total enrollment for fall semester 2019 is 19,782, according to official 15-day census numbers, which includes 15,568 undergraduate students and 4,214 graduate and professional students. UToledo had 20,304 students enrolled in fall semester 2018, of which 16,065 were undergraduates and 4,239 were graduate students.

“We’re proud to see our efforts to support students having such a positive impact on our retention and graduation rates. We’ve exceeded our Strategic Plan goal three years ahead of schedule,” UToledo President Sharon L. Gaber said. “Our goal now is to continue this positive trend while also refocusing our efforts to strategically grow enrollment so more students can benefit from the UToledo experience.”

This academic year UToledo focused on opportunities to expand programs in the health professions to meet both student and community demand.

The College of Nursing experienced a 10% increase in enrollment with the largest cohort of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing. UToledo added faculty in order to accept more students into the program and launched a new competency-based education RN to BSN program, which is the first of its kind among Ohio institutions. This new online program provides the flexibility for working nurses to advance their careers through self-paced learning that’s personalized, accessible and convenient.

The College of Medicine and Life Sciences grew its graduate programs and recruited a highly qualified class of M.D. students with more than 5,400 applicants for 175 spots. The new class of medical students had an average MCAT score that places it in the top 20% nationally.

Toledo recently hired a new director for the Pre-Health Advising Center, Tess Newlove, to continue efforts to support success for students interested in health professional programs.

Study May Unlock New Diagnostic Tools for Fainting Disorder

New research from The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences strongly suggests postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, or POTS, is an autoimmune disorder and may help pave the way for a simple blood test that could help physicians diagnose the condition.

POTS is characterized by large increases in heart rate and sometimes decreases in blood pressure when standing up. That can cause lightheadedness, heart palpitations and even loss of consciousness. In addition to fainting, POTS patients also regularly suffer from a litany of additional symptoms, including fatigue, pain, gastrointestinal issues, bleeding disorders, anxiety and brain fog.

About 3 million Americans are believed to be affected, but because of its wide-ranging and seemingly unrelated symptoms, POTS is notoriously difficult to identify.

Grubb

“The trouble with diagnosing POTS is that it’s currently principally a clinical diagnosis. It’s based on history, the absence of other illness, as well as the finding of increase in heart rate when standing. There is no blood test right now to aid in the diagnosis. It can be an incredibly frustrating process for patients,” said Dr. Blair Grubb, Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences and director of electrophysiology services at The University of Toledo Medical Center.

In the largest study of POTS patients to date, published Sept. 9 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Grubb and UToledo research collaborators found 89 percent of patients they examined had elevated levels of autoantibodies against the adrenergic alpha 1 receptor.

“People have suspected an autoimmune connection for years, and other small-scale studies have suggested it,” said Grubb, one of the world’s foremost experts in syncope and disorders of the autonomic nervous system. “We did a much larger cross-section of patients than has ever been done before and found that almost all of them tested positive for autoimmune antibodies. That’s a significant finding.”

None of the 55 patients who participated in the study had another recognized autoimmune disorder. Fifty-two were female, with an average age of 30.

Researchers screened the patients’ blood for autoantibodies against nine receptors. A handful of patients showed elevated levels against all nine. But it was the prevalence of adrenergic A1 subtype receptor autoantibodies that make their findings so intriguing.

Gunning

“I think that we have identified a biomarker. We now might have the ability to diagnosis this, or at least have an inkling. Like other autoimmune disease, we can take a blood sample and detect if there are increased levels of autoantibodies present. According to our results, autoantibodies against this particular receptor should be present in about 90 percent of patients with POTS,” said Dr. William Gunning, a professor of pathology in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences, and the paper’s lead author.

Gunning and Grubb say much more research is needed. However, this study adds significantly to the evidence that POTS is an autoimmune disorder — and it shows it may be possible to give physicians unfamiliar with the condition an easy way to test for it.

“What this does is prove the concept,” Grubb said. “Other studies had used very expensive research tests. What we used are the same kind of testing methods that would be used by regular hospitals. We wanted to do something that would potentially be a test applicable to the general population, not just a research test.”

While Gunning and Grubb caution they’re still investigating the precise methods by which POTS is established, their study does raise the possibility that existing immune modulating medications could be a viable therapeutic method for some patients.

The study was supported by funding from the Dysautonomia Advocacy Foundation, the Life as a Zebra Foundation, and the Virginia Lounsbury Foundation.

Annual medical student white coat ceremony to take place Aug. 9

The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences will welcome a new class of medical students with an official white coat ceremony Friday, Aug. 9, at 10 a.m. in Nitschke Auditorium.

The white coat ceremony, held during the week of orientation, is a long-established tradition for first-year medical students that emphasizes the principles of their chosen profession and prepares them for the journey to become medical professionals.

This year, 175 students will take part.

“This ceremony underscores the foundation of the medical profession for first-year medical students,” said Dr. Christopher Cooper, executive vice president for clinical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “The white coat serves as a symbol of their entry into medical school. It reiterates their commitment to professionalism, educational excellence, and their service to others through medical care.”

Seventy-six% of the incoming class are from Ohio, and nearly one-third are from northwest Ohio. A total of 14 states — including California, Illinois and New York — are represented.

In addition to the presentation of a white coat, the event will include a welcome from Cooper, a keynote address on humanism in medicine, and a recitation of the Medical Student Pledge of Ethics.

A livestream of the event is available on the College of Medicine and Life Sciences white coat ceremony website.

In addition to first-year medical students, UToledo also has white coat ceremonies for students in a number of other programs.

• The College of Medicine and Life Sciences will host white coat ceremonies for students in the Physician Assistant Program Friday, Aug. 23, and students in the Biomedical Sciences Program Thursday, Sept. 5.

• The College of Nursing will hold a white coat ceremony for incoming undergraduate and graduate students Wednesday, Sept. 4.

• The College of Health and Human Services will hold a white coat ceremony for first-year physical therapy and respiratory care students in their junior year, which is the first year of their professional program, Friday, Aug. 30.

• The College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will hold a white coat ceremony for students in both the Doctor of Pharmacy Program and Pharmaceutical Sciences Program Thursday, Aug. 22.

CommunityCare Clinics to Hold Golf Fundraiser July 27

The CommunityCare Clinics will hold its fifth annual golf tournament Saturday, July 27, at 1:30 p.m. at Heatherdowns Country Club, 3910 Heatherdowns Blvd.

All proceeds from the tournament will benefit the CommunityCare Clinics and its patients.

The free medical clinic run by University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences’ students in collaboration with local medical professionals provides comprehensive care to Toledo’s uninsured and medically underserved community. During the past year, the clinics have provided care to more than 5,000 patients.

“We are so excited to be holding our golf outing again,” said Hannah Staats, a second-year medical student and director of public relations for the clinics. “We work year round to treat patients, and this event is a huge part of that.”

Staats added, “Our patients are mostly the underserved population of Toledo, and many do not have insurance. Because of this, we have to work hard to raise the money to provide medications and services for these patients.”

The cost of the golf tournament is $85 per player, $70 per student player, and $20 for dinner. If you are not a golfer, you can still attend the dinner.

The tournament will be run with teams of four.

Casual attire is recommended, as well as nonmetal spikes.

”We can’t help our patients without the assistance of the Toledo community, and we would love to have your support of the CommunityCare Clinics through this event,” Staats said.

The deadline to register is Friday, July 19. Go to the CommunityCare Clinics Golf Tournament website.

For more information, check out the CommunityCare Clinics’ website.

Medical Student Earns Fellowship to Study Blood Clotting in Cancer Patients

Innovative research that may explain the precarious connection between lung cancer and serious blood clotting disorders has earned a University of Toledo medical student a fellowship with the North American Society for Thrombosis and Hemostasis.

Adam Meisler, who will be entering his second year of medical school, was one of only three students in the country to receive the 2019 award. The fellowship includes a $5,000 stipend and a $1,000 award to the lab.

Medical student Adam Meisler took a blood sample for his research focusing on the connection between lung cancer and blood clotting disorders. Meisler is one of three students in the country to receive a fellowship with the North American Society for Thrombosis and Hemostasis for his research.

“This is a huge honor for him,” said Dr. Randall Worth, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, and assistant dean for student affairs in the UToledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “You don’t often have students who have a fellowship on their resumé when it comes time to apply for residency. Adam is an outstanding student. If he maintains that, it’s going to put him at the top of the national competitive scale.”

Lung cancer patients have an elevated risk of strokes, heart attacks and pulmonary embolisms. Approximately one-fifth of the 150,000 annual deaths tied to lung cancer in the United States are the result of large blood clots.

Meisler’s project is focused on whether cancer-fighting T-cells bonding with blood platelets in those patients might explain why.

“We suspect that the interaction between platelets and T-cells is largely contributing to that phenomenon,” Meisler said. “If we can find a way to break up those aggregates, I think that would be huge.”

In healthy individuals, a relatively small portion of T-cells are attached to blood platelets — somewhere around 15 percent. However, in lung cancer patients, Meisler and Worth have found as many as 65 percent of their T-cells are bonded with platelets.

Worth said science has already shown that a portion of lung cancer patients who have had a stroke or heart attack don’t respond to the normal anti-coagulants that would be prescribed to prevent a second event.
“There’s a big push from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute of Heart, Lung and Blood trying to understand why that is,” Worth said. “I think with these platelet T-cell aggregates, we may have discovered the time bomb.”

With the fellowship, Meisler will continue his research and present his findings at the North American Society for Thrombosis and Hemostasis conference next spring.

“To apply my research to something as high impact as lung cancer is really special,” Meisler said. “This project and the fellowship is definitely making me lean toward a future specializing in hematology-oncology.”

UToledo professors invent safer way to treat prostate cancer

Two innovative professors at The University of Toledo from different fields of expertise teamed up to create a clever, common-sense way to solve a problem in treating prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer in men.

Recognizing the potential, the Ohio Third Frontier Commission awarded $150,000 to the startup company founded by the mechanical engineer and medical physicist to develop and commercialize the new technology they invented that allows a higher level of radiation to safely be delivered at each session, decreasing significantly the number of treatment sessions needed to eradicate the cancer, while reducing damage to nearby, healthy tissue.

Dr. Mohammad Elahinia, left, and Dr. Ishmael Parsai developed the rectal retractor, which could help treat prostate cancer. The Ohio Third Frontier Commission awarded $150,000 to their startup company to commercialize the new technology.

Dr. Mohammad Elahinia, professor and chair of the UToledo Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, and Dr. Ishmael Parsai, professor and chief medical physicist in the UToledo Radiation Oncology Department and director of the Graduate Medical Physics Program, created the company called Retractor with the support of UToledo Launchpad Incubation, Rocket Innovations and the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps program.

The new, patent-pending technology, which is being tested on cadavers, is a minimally invasive device that moves the rectum away from the vicinity of the radiation fields targeting the prostate cancer. This allows for the delivery of higher doses of more focused radiation beams, resulting in shorter treatment days while reducing damage to healthy rectal tissue.

the rectal retractor

“The rectal retractor provides a safer, more efficient way to treat prostate cancer,” Elahinia said. “The medical device is inserted into the body and set in motion by passing a small electrical current in a reliable, clean, silent process known as nitinol actuation, solving the persistent challenge in radiation therapy of prostate tumors.”

“Instead of a patient undergoing daily radiation treatment sessions for nearly two months in a conventional method of radiotherapy, he can come in and have five sessions,” Parsai said.

Through his work with patients at the Eleanor N. Dana Cancer Center at The University of Toledo Medical Center, Parsai came up with the idea for the rectal retractor and approached Elahinia to engineer a prototype.

“Normally during radiation therapy for prostate cancer, we work to reduce as much as possible the impact of the radiation dose on any healthy organs, such as the bladder and rectum, but often some damage to healthy, nearby tissue is unavoidable,” Parsai said. “This new device, however, allows us to move the rectum out of the field of radiation so we can eliminate the risk of sacrificing healthy tissue while safely delivering a higher dose for more effective treatment of the tumor. This especially is promising when implementing what is called high-dose rate brachytherapy, as well as newer techniques such as stereotactic body radiotherapy for treatment of prostate cancer.”

While the retractor will mainly serve prostate cancer patients, it also can be applied during radiation therapy for all pelvic tumors, such as cervical, uterine, vaginal and endometrial cancers.

The award to Retractor is part of $2.25 million given by the Ohio Third Frontier Commission to develop new technologies and move them out of the lab and into the marketplace.

“Ohio’s world-class research and medical institutions are developing breakthrough technologies,” said Lydia L. Mihalik, director of the Ohio Development Services Agency and chair of the Ohio Third Frontier Commission. “We are helping get these products to market where they can make a difference.”

The Ohio Third Frontier Technology Validation and Start-Up Fund provides grants to Ohio institutions of higher education and other nonprofit research institutions. The funding is to demonstrate that a technology is commercially viable through activities such as testing and prototyping. The ultimate goal is to commercialize the technologies.

Retractor is a success story for UToledo’s Launchpad Incubation program and Rocket Fuel Fund. LaunchPad Incubation provides entrepreneurial assistance, state-of-the-art facilities and valuable resources to early-stage, technology-based concepts and startup companies. The Rocket Fuel Fund is a program in the UToledo Office of Research funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration to support early-stage technology development.

“We serve the community, faculty, staff and students,” Brian Genide, director of incubation and venture development at Launchpad, said. “Our team helps with the advancement of early-stage technology concepts, providing funding support for feasibility testing, proof-of-concept validation and prototyping. Our team also has proven to increase the success of grant applications.”

Launchpad Incubation is located in the Nitschke Technology Commercialization Complex. Go to the LaunchPad Incubation website for more information on how the program helps launch new businesses.

Annual CampMed program shows area students their potential in studying medicine

The University of Toledo will provide more than three dozen teens from across northwest Ohio a hands-on introduction to studying medicine during its annual CampMed program.

The students, all of whom will be high school freshmen this fall, will be on Health Science Campus Thursday and Friday, June 13 and 14.

Now in its 22nd year, CampMed gives students who excel in science and mathematics a window into what it’s like to pursue a career as a physician or medical researcher.

“We want to inspire these students and help give them an outline of how to prepare for an education in medicine,” said Courtney K. Combs, director of the UToledo and Ohio Area Health Education Center programs. “As much as CampMed is educational — and it really is — we also want it to be a fun time for the kids. It’s summer. It’s camp. It might be the first time they’re surrounded by kids their own age who have the same interests. We try to make it as hands-on as possible.”

Under the guidance of UToledo faculty members and physicians, the students will be taught Heartsaver CPR, learn how to suture, and practice forming a cast. They’ll also receive hands-on tours of the Emergency Department at The University of Toledo Medical Center, the gross anatomy lab, and the Jacobs Interprofessional and Immersive Simulation Center.

Second- and third-year medical students serve as camp counselors.

Most of the students who attend CampMed are underrepresented minorities in medicine, from underserved rural or urban communities, or the first in their family planning to attend college.

“We want to encourage these students to help them realize that a career in medicine is a realistic goal for them. Some of them may have never even been on a college campus before,” Combs said. “We want to provide that exposure to let them know if they work hard and are serious about their schoolwork now, this could be an option and The University of Toledo College of Medicine would welcome them.”

CampMed, which began in 1998, was implemented by and is coordinated through the UToledo Area Health Education Center program, which works to improve the well-being of individuals and communities by developing the health-care workforce.

The competitive scholarship program requires students to submit a letter of recommendation from a science or math teacher or guidance counselor, grade transcripts, and a personal essay to be chosen to participate.

UToledo precision medicine researcher edits premier textbook on cellular response to stress

Within every living cell are microscopic proteins that play the role of chaperone when things get dicey.

Called heat shock proteins, the molecules have a starring role in a cell’s response to external stresses such as excessive temperatures, infection or exposure to toxins.

Asea

“There is always motion in the cell, but when stressors come, those motions can actually stop. When they stop, the cell dies,” said Dr. Alexzander Asea, a professor in The University of Toledo College of Medicine and Life Sciences. “Heat shock proteins prevent that from happening.”

By wrapping themselves around other proteins, heat shock proteins preserve order and essential functions within the cell, ensuring it can survive.

Asea has studied heat shock proteins for more than 20 years. His work has been key in identifying and developing potential targets for cancer vaccines and in identifying new cancer biomarkers.

Recently, Asea collaborated with Dr. Punit Kaur, an assistant professor also in the Department of Medicine, to edit a new textbook called “Regulation of Heat Shock Protein Responses.”

Kaur

“The book provides the most comprehensive review on contemporary knowledge on the regulation of heat shock protein responses and the consequences to human diseases and disorders,” Asea said. “Since we know heat shock proteins have a very important role in regulating a sort of immune response against stress, many have been working on designing drugs targeting that action.”

The book, published by Springer Nature, is available in both digital and print versions.

Asea, who also is director of the new Precision Therapeutics Proteogenomics Diagnostics Center, joined UToledo in 2018 from MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, where he was a visiting professor of radiation oncology. He also has taught at Harvard Medical School, the Boston University School of Medicine and the Morehouse School of Medicine.

At UToledo, Asea is playing an important role in furthering the precision therapy cancer treatment program by using proteogenomics to better understand an individual patient’s disease so doctors can identify the specific targeted therapies that are most likely to help them.

“It’s a more wholistic approach. For precision medicine, we have to look at the whole human and not just part of the human,” he said. “That’s what makes medicine now really exciting.”

UTMC dysautonomia expert wins patient choice award

The University of Toledo and Dr. Blair Grubb have been recognized by the Dysautonomia Support Network for innovative research into a group of conditions that affect the body’s autonomic nervous system.

The accolades are part of the nonprofit patient support and advocacy group’s first Patient’s Choice awards and will be presented Thursday, June 6.

Grubb

Grubb, a Distinguished University Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, and director of electrophysiology services at The University of Toledo Medical Center, is one of the world’s foremost experts in syncope and disorders of the autonomic nervous system, including postural tachycardia syndrome, or POTS.

“As a leader in the field for over a decade, Dr. Grubb continues impacting standards of practice and expanding treatment options for various forms of dysautonomia,” said Amanda Aikulola, president and executive director of Dysautonomia Support Network. “Over and over again, patients return to him because of his passion and desire not only to practice medicine, but also to leave a lasting impression on those he has cared for.”

Grubb will receive the Revolutionary Research Award. UToledo will receive the Powerhouse Research Award. Nominations and voting were done by patients.

The autonomic nervous system controls our most basic life functions, regulating our breathing, heart rate and blood pressure without us ever thinking about it.

When the system malfunctions, the body can no longer control those functions. Symptoms can include rapid heart rate or slow heart rate, excessive fatigue, thirstiness, shortness of breath, blood pressure fluctuations and bladder problems.

“People with these conditions can be really devastated. They’re frequently wheelchair-bound or bedridden. We often see some of the worst cases, but we have a good track record of making people better,” Grubb said.

Grubb pioneered many of the diagnostic and treatment modalities that now are commonly used for these disorders, and UTMC was the first center to describe that POTS could occur in children.

“We are one of the world’s leading centers for research on this and in finding new and innovative therapies looking for new ways to treat people,” Grubb said. “I think this recognition is an acknowledgement of that.”

Grubb previously has been named Physician of the Year by Dysautonomia International and received the Medical Professional of the Decade Award from the British Heart Rhythm Society and Arrhythmia Alliance.