School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine
Otolaryngology's Dr. Hu wins $1.6 million R01 grant for stem cell hearing restoration
In Headlines on March 17, 2014
Zhengqing Hu, M.D., Ph.D.

Zhengqing Hu, M.D., Ph.D.

Zhengqing Hu, M.D., Ph.D., has received his first R01 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders to analyze hearing regeneration using stem cell approaches.

Dr. Hu, an assistant professor in the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Department of Otolarygology - Head and Neck Surgery since 2009, is the principal investigator on the renewable $1.6 million grant (1R01DC013275-01A1) over five years, for the project “Regeneration of auditory synaptic contacts using stem cell based approaches,” starting May 1.

The National Institutes of Health estimates that approximately 26 million Americans ages 20 to 69 – 15 percent of the population – have high frequency hearing loss. The severity increases rapidly after age 50.

“Hearing prostheses, such as hearing aids and cochlear implants, have been used clinically to treat these conditions, but the efficacy of these interventions is compromised by severe loss of auditory cells and neural contacts along the auditory pathway,” Dr. Hu said. “Currently, there are no biological approaches to replenish human auditory cells and regenerate auditory contacts. This project utilizes stem cell-based approaches to regenerate the hearing system using an animal model. Completion of this animal study will be fundamental to future pre-clinical trials that aim to regenerate damaged spiral ganglion neurons and neural contacts along the auditory pathway. Identification of molecular mechanisms that are important for auditory contact formation not only will be fundamental to auditory pathway regeneration, but also will provide cues for neural contact regeneration in other sensory systems. The results of this study will provide avenues to explore and promote auditory circuitry regeneration to treat deafness and other inner ear disorders.”

Dr. Hu and his team will focus on regeneration of neural contacts between stem cell-derived neurons and cochlear nucleus neurons using cell culture and animal models. “We will develop and optimize a co-culture model using stem cell-derived neurons and mouse cochlear nucleus neurons to study auditory pathway reconstruction. We will determine the molecular mechanisms that are able to stimulate the regeneration of auditory contacts in this project. When our cell culture and animal models are optimized, we will study whether the hearing function will be recovered in deafened animals,” he said.

The application of the R01 is based on previous research led by Dr. Hu and supported by an NIDCD R03 grant and grants from the American Hearing Research Foundation, the Hearing Health Foundation, the American Academy of Audiology and the Grants Plus Program from the WSU Office of the Vice President for Research.
Dr. Ambika Mathur named WSU Graduate School dean
In Headlines on March 13, 2014
Ambika Mathur, Ph.D.

Ambika Mathur, Ph.D.

Ambika Mathur, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and assistant dean of the Combined Degree Programs and Postdoctoral Affairs for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, has been appointed dean of the WSU Graduate School.

Margaret Winters, WSU provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, announced Dr. Mathur’s appointment March 7. Dr. Mathur has served as interim dean of the Graduate School since July 2012.

“I am honored that President Wilson, Provost Winters and the faculty at Wayne State University have placed their confidence in me,” Dr. Mathur said. “The Graduate School provides oversight to master’s degree and doctoral students across all schools and colleges and I am humbled at this opportunity to lead graduate education at this pivotal time at our institution.”

Her immediate goals as dean, she said, include enhancing research training for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, and to seek funding for these opportunities.

That endeavor has already begun. In September 2013, Dr. Mathur secured a five-year, $1.8 million National Institutes of Health grant to establish enhanced training opportunities to prepare graduate students for research careers outside of traditional academic roles. WSU was one of only 10 academic centers in the nation to receive the NIH's Broadening Experience in Scientific Training grant.

The BEST grant’s goals will be to “broaden the research scientific careers of our graduate students to include industry, government and entrepreneurial pursuits,” she said. “The trainees of this program will serve as the nation's innovators in developing research-related opportunities that will complement careers in academia with relevance to an urban setting to meet the evolving needs of the 21st century economy.”

Most research programs have traditionally focused on preparing students for postdoctoral training and careers in academia. National trends, however, indicate that less than 25 percent of doctoral students obtain tenure-track faculty positions.

“Our recognition of this gap has motivated us to design an innovative initiative whose specific purpose is to transform our biomedical doctoral training such that both faculty and students recognize, appreciate and celebrate diverse career opportunities,” Dr. Mathur said. “The long-range goal is to institutionalize these practices so that our students become the next generation of innovators and leaders in science. The intended outcome of our program is to place students in diverse careers in addition to academia, and to educate the biomedical community that such diverse careers are viewed as desirable and successful outcomes of doctoral research training.”

The program will develop university infrastructure with emphasis on career services. Early in their graduate experience, trainees in the biomedical sciences will be encouraged to explore multiple career opportunities and innovative ways to enhance their skills. These skill sets will be developed in partnership with local and national employers through mentored internships to ensure alignment between the employers’ expectations and the skills of WSU trainees. In addition, Dr. Mathur explained, partnerships will be built in specific focus areas emphasizing career opportunities outside of academia. The partnerships will be built upon existing relationships as well as by establishing new ties to strengthen the university’s impact in emerging areas. In addition to specific university-corporate collaborations, students will have the opportunity for cross-training to develop skills that allow them to work effectively in diverse teams and to solve complex problems.

Her other immediate goals include increasing the pipeline of undergraduate scholars to graduate research training, particularly students from underrepresented minority groups. She also wants to provide opportunities for trainees to develop the best skills sets to obtain the most competitive jobs in multiple career pathways.

Dr. Mathur received her doctorate degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of Iowa. Following postdoctoral fellowships, she was appointed associate professor at the University of Minnesota. She joined Wayne State University in 2003 as a professor of pediatrics, and was the first permanent director of the M.D./Ph.D. program in 2003 and first director of the newly created Office of Postdoctoral Affairs in 2008.

Her research and teaching interests involve cancer immunology, the immunological basis for complementary and alternative medicine interventions, and research training of postdoctoral, graduate, medical, undergraduate and high school students. She has received numerous national grant awards for her immunology research and published more than 200 books, articles, chapters, proceedings and abstracts. Dr. Mathur has also published a series of books for children and is passionate about promoting literacy, especially among inner-city children.

In May 2013, she was selected as a member of the 2013-14 class of fellows of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program at Drexel University College of Medicine.
Dr. Fridman awarded $50,000 from Sky Foundation Inc. for pancreatic cancer research
In Headlines on March 13, 2014
Representatives of the Sky Foundation Inc. visit with Rafael Fridman, Ph.D., in his lab to hear more about his innovative pancreatic cancer research. From left, Dave Calver, volunteer; Sheila Sky Kasselman, founder, Sky Foundation Inc.; Dr. Fridman; and Carol Quigley, board president.

Representatives of the Sky Foundation Inc. visit with Rafael Fridman, Ph.D., in his lab to hear more about his innovative pancreatic cancer research. From left, Dave Calver, volunteer; Sheila Sky Kasselman, founder, Sky Foundation Inc.; Dr. Fridman; and Carol Quigley, board president.

Rafael Fridman, Ph.D., professor of pathology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, was awarded the Sky Foundation Inc.’s first competitive scientific research grant of $50,000 for his innovative work in pancreatic cancer.

“It’s a privilege to award Dr. Fridman the Sky Foundation’s first $50,000 competitive scientific grant for his novel, collaborative approach to pancreatic cancer research,” said Sheila Sky Kasselman, a pancreatic cancer survivor and founder of the foundation. “Pancreatic cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, yet it continues to be radically underfunded. Our mission is to raise funds for research grants to help supplement government funding by providing direct support to scientists who offer new approaches in the prevention and early detection of pancreatic cancer. We believe Dr. Fridman’s work is worthy of this distinction.”

Dr. Fridman’s research investigates how pancreatic cancer cells respond to their microenvironment, specifically how the cells respond to collagen, a major protein that surrounds tumor cells. Collagen can promote tumor growth and interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy. Dr. Fridman's research is focused on disrupting the interaction of pancreatic cancer cells with collagen by targeting a key collagen receptor known as Discoidin Domain Receptor, or DDR, that is present in the tumor cells. DDRs signals to the cells, instructing them how to respond to the surrounding collagen. This process encourages cancer cells to grow and to become highly malignant.

“Our research identifies a potential new target for the treatment of pancreatic cancer that holds the promise to improve diagnosis and treatment,” Dr. Fridman said. “We want to contribute to the expansion of the arsenal of drugs against pancreatic cancer.”

He is collaborating with Howard Crawford, Ph.D., at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., on this research. Dr. Fridman and his team will study how DDRs works when pancreatic cells are growing within collagen and then attempt to block its function to see how this affects the cancer cells. In addition, he will study the expression of DDRs in human tissues derived from pancreatic cancer patients. The ultimate goal is to be able to target these receptors and block their function with a specific inhibitor in the hope that this will disrupt communication between the pancreatic cancer cells and collagen, allowing cancer treatments to be more effective.

“My deepest gratitude to the Sky Foundation for providing support to our research,” dr. Fridman said. “I am honored and humbled to receive this generous award to further our research and hopefully contribute to the common goal of improving current treatments for pancreatic cancer patients.”
Dr. Scott Gruber now president-elect of Central Surgical Association
In Headlines on March 12, 2014
Scott Gruber, M.D.

Scott Gruber, M.D.

Scott Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., F.A.C.S., F.C.P., F.A.C.H.E., C.P.E., chief of staff of the Detroit VA Medical Center and associate dean for Veterans Affairs and professor of surgery for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, was recently named president-elect of the Central Surgical Association.

“This is the highest and most meaningful honor I have received during my academic surgical career, and it has been a pleasure to serve this wonderful association,” said Dr. Gruber, who received the title at the CSA’s 71st Annual Meeting, held in Indianapolis March 6-8.

Dr. Gruber will serve as the CSA’s 73rd president with his term running March 2015 through March 2016. He previously served as treasurer, program committee chair and local arrangements chair of the organization. The CSA has a membership of approximately 1,000 academic surgeons in the United States and Canada.

“We are very proud of Dr. Gruber and his accomplishments,” said Pamela Reeves, M.D., director of the Detroit VA Healthcare System. “Each day, as a surgeon and as a leader in this medical center, he is an outstanding advocate for the health and well-being of each and every veteran we treat.”

Before his appointment as chief of staff in October 2010, Dr. Gruber served as professor of surgery and chief of the Section of Transplant Surgery for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, and as director of the Organ Transplant Program at Harper University Hospital since 2001.

During his tenure at the Detroit VA, Dr. Gruber has worked closely with facility and surgical leadership teams to significantly increase the number of general and orthopedic surgery cases performed; establish a gynecology center of excellence; launch a successful robotic surgery program; and obtain approval for a state-of-the-art hybrid endovascular suite in the operating room.

Dr. Gruber initiated successful pancreas transplant programs at Albany Medical College and University of Texas at Houston; co-directed the translational research effort at the University of Louisville, leading to the successful performance of the first hand transplant in the nation; and led the Houston team that performed the world's first living-donor adult-to-pediatric nerve transplant from mother to an 8-month-old infant with obstetric brachial plexus palsy.

Dr. Sondheimer appointed to Michigan Board of Medicine
In Headlines on March 11, 2014
James Sondheimer, M.D.

James Sondheimer, M.D.

James Sondheimer, M.D., associate professor internal medicine for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, has been appointed to the Michigan Board of Medicine by Gov. Rick Snyder.

Past-president of the Wayne County Medical Society of Southeast Michigan, Dr. Sondheimer serves as director of ambulatory medical services in the WSU Department of Medicine. He is a faculty member of the Division of Nephrology.

The Board of Medicine, which consists of 19 voting members, is responsible for the promotion and protection of the public's health, safety and welfare. The board ascertains the minimal entry level competency of medical doctors in the state and requires continuing medical education during licensure. The board also takes disciplinary action against licensees who have violated the Michigan Public Health Code.
Golf Outing to support Robert Frank Free Clinic set for May 18
In Headlines on March 11, 2014
The Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Robert R. Frank Student-Run Free Clinic will hold its second annual spring golf outing at Oak Ridge Golf Club in New Haven, Mich., on May 18 to benefit the nonprofit clinic.

The outing will be in scramble format, with each group consisting of four golfers.

Tickets for the event are $80 per person for WSU medical students and $100 per person for others. Tickets include golf, driving range practice during the two hours before the event, breakfast, lunch at the turnaround point, three beverages from the beverage cart during the scramble and dinner, which includes a buffet and three hours of free draft beer and soda.

Funds raised will support clinic’s mission and purchase medical supplies and prescriptions to provide free medical care to Detroit's medically uninsured. The clinic, Michigan’s first student-run free clinic, provides primary and preventive care, health education and awareness, patient advocacy, social work and counseling, prescribed medications, basic on-site lab testing and specialty care referrals.

Those interested in signing up for the golf scramble can do so on line at http://frankclinic.org/shop/golf/. Individuals can sign up as a single, twosome or foursome and should indicate the other members of their group in the "order notes" section during checkout.

Oak Ridge Golf Club is located at 35035 26 Mile Road, in New Haven.

For additional information and questions, send emails to ccrawfor@med.wayne.edu.

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