School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine
Karmanos awards American Cancer Society Institutional Research Grants
In Headlines on July 23, 2014
Five cancer researchers from Wayne State University and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute have received American Cancer Society - Institutional Research Grant funds of $30,000 each for one year to help fund their research.

The focus of their research ranges from preventing breast cancer recurrence to developing new 4D lung cancer imaging techniques to a study of acute graft versus host disease in stem cell transplantation.

The ACS-IRG grant funds are managed and administered by the Karmanos Cancer Institute. Each year applications are solicited from junior researchers at both WSU and Karmanos. This year the grant committee received 14 applications and, following peer-review, selected the following five researchers to receive grants:

Abhinav Deol, M.D., assistant professor of oncology, for “The role of B lymphocytes in human acute graft versus host disease in recipients of allogeneic stem cell transplantation.”

Haipeng Liu, Ph.D., assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science, for “Preventing breast cancer recurrence with albumin-hitchhiking molecular vaccines.”

Kristen Purrington, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of oncology, for “Histopathologic features of triple negative breast cancer in African American women: associations with gene expression and clinical outcomes” (Health Disparities Research Award).

Joseph Rakowski, Ph.D., assistant professor of radiation oncology, for “4D Lung Tomosynthesis Imaging.”

Joshua Reineke, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmaceutical sciences, for “Desmoplastic pancreatic cancer model for novel therapeutic screening and translation.”

ACS-IRG funds provide seed money to support junior faculty members with an interest in cancer research who do not have national grant support. Investigators must be an assistant professor or equivalent and must be within six years of their first independent faculty appointment to be eligible for the grants.
Free MCAT summer prep course supports, recruits talented students to Wayne State
In Headlines on July 22, 2014
A student listens to a lecture at a recent MCAT Summer Workshop session.

A student listens to a lecture at a recent MCAT Summer Workshop session.

Up to 20 applicants per summer are selected for the course.

Up to 20 applicants per summer are selected for the course.

Session teachers are volunteers asked by the program coordinator to instruct on a specific subject.

Session teachers are volunteers asked by the program coordinator to instruct on a specific subject.

Incoming freshman medical student Brenton Kinker took the Medical College Admissions Test in early 2013 and was accepted to nine medical schools. He chose to attend the Wayne State University School of Medicine for several reasons, its MCAT course among them.

At the suggestion of a Wayne State librarian in 2012, Kinker applied and was accepted to the School of Medicine Office of Admissions, Diversity and Inclusion’s MCAT-Summer Workshop. The school has offered the free preparatory course since 2006, when it was launched as part of the school’s ongoing commitment to expand the pool of qualified applicants from underrepresented and underserved populations. The workshop, federally funded in its inaugural year only, was created as one of several pipeline programs designed to develop, promote and recruit talented students.

Applicants are selected based on a number of criteria, including when they plan to take the exam, whether the student has taken the exam before, past scores or likelihood of admission and expressed interest in the School of Medicine. Recent preliminary data shows that more than 30 participants have been admitted to Wayne State or plan to seek admission in the future.

“As a pipeline intervention, the (MCAT workshop) provides underrepresented students the opportunity to earn a more competitive MCAT score and successfully compete for admission to medical school by developing the critical skills necessary to improve their performance on this important exam,” said Premedical Program Coordinator Deborah Holland.

It also serves as a powerful recruiting tool since its teachers promote many of the unique opportunities Wayne State provides.

“I would not have known about the clinical experience or research strengths of the Wayne State University School of Medicine without the MCAT class instructors talking to us about their medical school experience,” Kinker said. “I thought a medical school that cared enough about the community to give free MCAT courses, no strings attached, was something I wanted to be a part of.”

Comparable commercial prep courses can cost thousands, said Kinker, who was hoping to change his career path shortly after graduating from law school.

“Because I was switching careers and rather broke, this class really made a difference to me. Without this class, I likely would not have had the success I did when applying to medical school,” he said.

Every summer, up to 20 students attend 12 three-hour classes in six weeks at the Richard J. Mazurek, M.D., Medical Education Commons. The last class this year is July 31.

“Like many others in the class, I was working full time while balancing prerequisite science courses and MCAT studying. The teachers were excellent, and homed us in on the key areas we needed to know for the test,” Kinker said. “My class had a great esprit de corps, and I still keep in touch with some of my classmates and teachers. More than anything else, this class gave me access to resources that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive. We were given multiple practice tests, books and access to current medical students who not only taught us MCAT tricks, but guided us through the complex process of applying to medical school.”

Holland organizes a series of instructional activities, including lectures, study groups, discussion, application and practice related to exam elements for each of the 12 sessions. Workshop sessions focus on specific strategies to increase test-taking skills in each of the MCAT subtext areas. Each session is devoted to a particular section to improve knowledge of effective test-taking strategies in the three major topic areas necessary for success on the MCAT: biological science, physical science and verbal reasoning.

While commercial MCAT prep courses focus primarily on test-taking skills, Wayne State’s program utilizes a comprehensive strength-based approach, Holland said.

“This evidence-based approach incorporates several core elements from the exemplary Meyerhoff Scholars Program at the University of Maryland-Baltimore that promotes both collective- and self-efficacy. In addition to test-taking skills, the WSU-MCAT-SW is carefully organized to provide each new cohort with successful role models, peer study group support, supportive values, a sense of community and personal counseling.”

The sessions are taught by volunteer instructors who are usually Wayne State medical students, with some earning financial aid when eligible through the School of Medicine’s work study program.

“An increasing number of the dedicated instructors are former workshop students who were admitted (here) and are a special source of inspiration as role models for current participants,” Holland said.

They include Kinker. The Class of 2018 student scored so well on the verbal reasoning portion of the exam that he is among this year’s crop of volunteer teachers.

“I was given a remarkable opportunity with this class. It would be remiss of me not to help others as I was,” Kinker said. “Sections are assigned based on instructor expertise and comfort with the subject matter. I attended law school at the University of Michigan, and because my verbal reasoning scores on the MCAT were strong, I was asked to teach verbal reasoning.”

Kresge Eye Institute fellow wins grant to investigate post-surgery eye infection treatments
In Headlines on July 18, 2014
Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., sitting, poses in the lab with Ashok Kumar, Ph.D.

Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., sitting, poses in the lab with Ashok Kumar, Ph.D.

Wayne State's Fight for Sight alumni include, from left, Mark Juzych, M.D., Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., and Ashok Kumar, Ph.D.

Wayne State's Fight for Sight alumni include, from left, Mark Juzych, M.D., Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., and Ashok Kumar, Ph.D.

A research fellow at the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Kresge Eye Institute was awarded $20,000 to examine optimal treatments for bacterial endophthalmitis, a vision-threatening complication of cataract and other ocular surgeries.

The New York-based nonprofit Fight for Sight has given Pawan Kumar Singh, Ph.D., one of eight one-year postdoctoral research grants announced last month. He is a research fellow in the lab of Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and of Anatomy and Cell Biology Ashok Kumar, Ph.D.

“Fight for Sight awards are highly competitive and selected by a prominent scientific panel chosen by the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology,” Dr. Kumar said. “We thank the scientific review panel’s enthusiasm for our research endeavors.”

Dr. Singh will utilize a mouse model with bacterial endophthalmitis to investigate the role of neurotrophins in retinal neuronal survival under infectious conditions. Since certain neurotrophins have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for retinal degenerative diseases, assessing their mechanisms of endogenous production and action could be beneficial in the management of intraocular infections, he said.

“I feel very excited about receiving this award and would like to thank my mentor, Dr. Kumar, for his training and support in my career development; Dr. Fu-Shin Yu, professor and director of Research at KEI; and Dr. Mark Juzych (chair of ophthalmology) for providing the letters of recommendation,” Dr. Singh said. “I would also like to thank Dr. Linda Hazlett, professor and chair of Anatomy and Cell Biology, for her constant encouragement. This fellowship is an important first step toward becoming an independent vision research scientist and is definitely a stepping stone in my research career.”

Bacterial endophthalmitis requires prompt diagnosis and treatment to prevent vision loss. It is one of the most severe complications of cataract surgery, one of the most common surgical procedures performed on the aging population worldwide, Dr. Kumar said.

“As the aged population in the United States is expected to grow dramatically in the next few decades, the number of cataract surgeries performed will also increase exponentially, resulting in a proportional increase in the incidence of endophthalmitis,” he said. “Additionally, the increased use of multiple intravitreal (inside the eye) injections for the treatment of age-related macular degeneration and diabetic macula will also add to these numbers.”

Intravitreal antibiotic injections are the standard of care, but the Kumar lab believes an effective treatment for bacterial endophthalmitis should aim for both bacterial eradication and inflammation resolution.

“The antibiotics alone, while destroying the bacteria, also release lipopolysaccharides, lipoteichoic acid and peptidoglycan from bacterial cell walls, which in turn add to the inflammatory response, resulting in inflammation-mediated retinal neuronal and photoreceptor cell death,” he said. “The optimal treatment approach for diseases involving inflammation-sensitive tissue, such as the retina, should include the development of immunomodulatory therapies that promote the rapid resolution of inflammation and neuro-protection.”

Fight for Sight was founded in 1946 as the first organization in the U.S. to promote eye research. It has awarded more than $20 million toward 3,000 research grants, including to several KEI staff. Dr. Juzych, KEI director, received a medical student fellowship in 1988; Dr. Kumar was the recipient of a postdoctoral award in 2005 and a grant-in-aid in 2007; and Gary Abrams, M.D., former chair of ophthalmology, received research awards from the organization.

Wayne State medical students secure grant to boost Cass Clinic's critical insulin supply
In Headlines on July 18, 2014
A Wayne State medical student listens to a patient's heart at Cass Clinic.

A Wayne State medical student listens to a patient's heart at Cass Clinic.

A Cass Clinic patient gets his ear examined by a Wayne State medical student.

A Cass Clinic patient gets his ear examined by a Wayne State medical student.

Students listen to a patient during the interview process.

Students listen to a patient during the interview process.

A clinic founded in the 1970s to provide free medical care, prescriptions and flu shots to the uninsured and underinsured in Detroit will soon have a steady supply of insulin, the clinic’s most essential medicine, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the DMC Foundation.

Neha Mehta, a second-year medical student at the Wayne State University School of Medicine who was the clinic’s financial coordinator last year, estimates the clinic turns away a minimum of 12 patients per month because of a lack of insulin. A 10-milliliter vial ranges from $58 to $219. When the clinic runs out, students have to refer patients to other clinics or a pharmacy.

An estimated 23.6 million people in the United States have diabetes, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. About 90 percent to 95 percent have type 2, which is treated with insulin to maintain healthy levels of glucose in the bloodstream.

“Since it is a very expensive medication, and our clinic runs completely off donations, we always struggled to maintain a steady supply,” Mehta said. “Being able to get such a sizable donation will allow us to have a steady supply at least for a few months. Insulin has by far the highest demand and the smallest supply at our clinic, which is why having funding to supply insulin is that much more important.”

First- and second-year Wayne State medical students see more than 500 new patients annually and 2,250 patients total per year at the clinic. The majority of patients come to the clinic for management of chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and hypertension. The students, under the direct supervision of an attending physician, practice taking histories and perform physical exams. Student volunteers earn co-curricular credit for serving at the clinic, which is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays in the Cass Community Center at 3745 Cass Ave. in Detroit.

Jennifer Wolf, a second-year medical student, is in charge of finances for the clinic’s 2014-2015 year. She volunteered during the 2013-2014 academic year as well.

“As a first-year medical student, I was eager to jump right into patient care. I feel that Cass Clinic gives medical students the perfect balance of independence in patient care, while still being under supervision of an attending physician,” Wolf said.

The students present and discuss each patient visit with the physician, then come up with a plan of care.

“Students aren't shadowing a physician here. We are the ones in direct contact with the patients and conducting the entire visit,” she added.

The students are responsible for counseling patients on healthy lifestyle changes and provide referrals to other free or low-cost clinics for care outside of Cass Clinic’s scope of services.

The DMC Foundation is dedicated to promoting the welfare of the general public in the metropolitan Detroit area through the support of health-related research, education and activities that benefit the community. It also awarded a $10,000 grant to support medical student efforts at the Wayne County Family Center in Westland.

The foundation is a supporting organization of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, and was created in 2010 to receive part of the charitable assets transferred from the Detroit Medical Center following its sale to Vanguard Health Systems.
Fundamental research by WSU paving way for development of first vaccine for heart diseases
In Headlines on July 16, 2014
Harley Tse, Ph.D.

Harley Tse, Ph.D.

Researchers at Wayne State University have made a fundamental discovery and, in subsequent collaboration with scientists at La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, are one step closer to the goal of developing the world’s first T-cell peptide-based vaccine for heart disease -- the No. 1killer in the nation.

Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the arterial walls, which thicken due to accumulation of fatty materials such as cholesterols and triglycerides. Blocking of arteries supplying blood to the heart is the underlying cause of many heart diseases. Nearly 600,000 Americans die of heart disease every year. Although cholesterol is believed to be a major factor in creating the plaque that leads to heart disease, immune inflammation is another important contributor in arterial plaque buildup. The goal of the vaccine is to reduce immune-based inflammation in the arteries, leading to decreased plaque buildup.

The scientists published their findings in the December 2013 issue of Frontiers in Immunology, in an article titled “Atheroprotective vaccination with MHC-II restricted peptides from ApoB-100.” Their experiments show proof of concept for the development of an autoantigen-specific vaccine for reducing the amount of atherosclerotic plaques in mice. If successful, the vaccine could aid in preventing heart disease and stop or reduce disease progression. In addition to heart disease, the vaccine could target strokes, which are also a product of plaque buildup in arteries.

The published work, performed in the laboratory of Klaus Ley, M.D., a prominent vascular biologist of LIAI, was based on the fundamental discovery by Harley Tse, Ph.D., professor of immunology and microbiology in Wayne State’s School of Medicine, and professor in Wayne State’s Cardiovascular Research Institute, and Michael Shaw, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor of immunology and microbiology at Wayne State. Dr. Shaw and Dr. Tse are the first to demonstrate that two T cell epitopes of the autoantigen apoB100 are deeply involved in the development of the disease. Their novel discovery is reported in the article, “Identification of two Immunogenic T cell Epitopes of ApoB-100 and their Autoimmune Implications,” published in the April-June 2014 issue (volume 2) of the Journal of Immunology and Clinical Research.

“ApoB100 is an apolipoprotein of the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) particle, which is the notorious ‘bad cholesterol’ that contributes to the formation of plaques in the vessel wall,” Dr. Tse said. “Although T cells of the immune system are known to participate in the development of heart disease, by what and how these T cells are directed to act have not been elucidated. The lack of this knowledge has greatly hampered the development of immune peptide-based therapeutics to control the disease. With the discovery of the disease-causing T cell epitopes, we can now manipulate the activities of the T cells responding to these epitopes to control the disease."

Since immune T cells are normally activated by a short sequence (called an epitope), and not by the whole molecule of an antigen, Dr. Shaw and Dr. Tse conceptualized that finding the apoB100 epitopes capable of stimulating the disease causing (atherogenic) T cells is a prerequisite for understanding how these T cells are involved in heart disease development and for finding ways to control their adverse effects.

Based on this idea, they identified two short sequences (3501–3515 and 978–992) of ApoB100 (ApoB3501-3515 and ApoB978-992, also designated peptides P3 and P6, respectively) that were able to direct specific T cells to proliferate, as well as cause worsening atherosclerosis. This discovery is significant because it identifies the target T cells and makes it possible to manipulate this population of pathologic T cells away from their harmful activities.

The subsequent collaboration with Dr. Ley’s laboratory bears the first fruits of this effort.

Substantial funding for Dr. Tse’s research was provided by the Office of the Vice President for Research at Wayne State University.

WSU School of Medicine receives $8.5 million gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch to develop innovative surgery technology in Detroit
In Headlines on July 16, 2014
Celebrating the $8.5 million gift to the WSU School of Medicine are, from left, Dean Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.; Marian Ilitch, Donald Weaver, M.D.; Michael Ilitch and WSU President M. Roy Wilson.

Celebrating the $8.5 million gift to the WSU School of Medicine are, from left, Dean Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A.; Marian Ilitch, Donald Weaver, M.D.; Michael Ilitch and WSU President M. Roy Wilson.

Wayne State University has received an $8.5 million gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch for the Department of Surgery at the School of Medicine. The gift will create the Ilitch Chair for Surgical Innovation and establish an unrestricted fund to support research and development in surgical technologies. In recognition of the Ilitches’ generosity, Wayne State University will name the department the Michael and Marian Ilitch Department of Surgery.

“Michael and Marian Ilitch have made a transformative investment in the department of surgery at our medical school,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “Their commitment will help continue the department’s legacy of achievement. It also will advance research, which will inform the future of surgery and position Wayne State as a leader in health care innovation.”

The WSU Department of Surgery – chaired by Donald Weaver, M.D. – is home to many surgical innovations, including the world’s first successful heart pump in 1952, a neutron beam cancer therapy machine and the development of tools that enabled the world’s first pediatric robotic surgery. The department’s work focuses on surgery simulation, medical devices, advanced data analytics and biologic therapies for cancer.

“We’ve made this gift to support the life-saving work of Dr. Weaver and his team at Wayne State University,” said Michael Ilitch. “We think of this as an investment in the future of health care that will support a great educational institution and benefit the people of Detroit, the state of Michigan and beyond.”

“This gift is also about advancing Detroit as a center for health care innovation,” added Marian Ilitch. “Our community is rightfully proud of Detroit’s growing reputation as a center for high-tech health care. We are happy that our gift will help spur even more local innovation in this field, while attracting new people, companies and jobs to Detroit and southeast Michigan.”

“Surgery is becoming more minimally invasive, more technology oriented and more image guided,” Dr. Weaver said, “and it’s going to be a completely different world in 20 to 30 years. This gift from Michael and Marian Ilitch provides an enormous opportunity to ensure that we are a world-class program in surgical technology and that we are on the front lines leading innovation.”

Surgical innovations underway within the department include the development of the world’s first patient-specific surgical simulator. This technology will enable a surgeon to practice procedures on a 3-D replica constructed from a patient’s CT scans. With practice, surgeons can identify the best approach for treatment and discover potential problems before making an incision. This simulation platform also may be used to design and test virtual models of medical devices, which can then be 3-D printed as physical prototypes. Other devices under development by the department include a “robotic finger with eyes” that will work inside the abdomen of a patient and send what it “sees” and “feels” directly to the surgeon’s finger. The Ilitches’ gift will support similar technological advances.

The WSU Department of Surgery is strengthening its advances in surgical technology through an affiliation with the Center for Smart Sensors and Integrated Microsystems at Wayne State University. Advanced minimally invasive surgical skills and image-guided surgery techniques have been integrated into the surgical training curriculum to complement the strong clinical surgery program and to prepare new generations of high-quality surgeons trained in Detroit.

The Department of Surgery at Wayne State University’s School of Medicine is comprised of sections in general surgery, surgical oncology, trauma, cardiothoracic, plastic surgery, transplantation, pediatric surgery, and vascular and minimally invasive surgery. The department is home to more than 70 residents and fellows, with 47 full-time faculty members and more than 90 clinical faculty members, as well as about 1,200 medical students performing surgical rotations. Beyond training for residents and students, the department provides a range of surgical and pre- and post-operative care to a diverse population, including many underserved patients from Detroit. The funding from the Ilitches ensures the entire community will have access to advanced health care technologies.

For Wayne State University, Michael and Marian Ilitch’s gift represents a significant leadership investment as the university moves toward the public launch of its comprehensive fundraising campaign this fall.

Michael and Marian Ilitch are prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists in southeast Michigan. The couple shares a commitment to developing and revitalizing the city of Detroit through high-profile investment projects and support for Detroit-based initiatives and organizations.

The Ilitches founded Little Caesars in 1959, and grew the company from a single storefront into the world’s largest carryout pizza chain. This venture laid the groundwork for the development and acquisition of numerous other businesses and sports teams. Ilitch companies include Little Caesars, the Detroit Red Wings, the Detroit Tigers, Olympia Entertainment, Uptown Entertainment, Blue Line Foodservice Distribution, Champion Foods, Little Caesars Pizza Kit Fundraising Program and Olympia Development. The companies collectively employ more than 21,000 people and have a combined annual revenue of $3.1 billion.

In 2000, the Ilitches established Ilitch Charities Inc., which supports efforts focused on community development, human services, education and recreation. In addition to their charitable endeavors, the Ilitches have championed significant investment projects in Detroit. The couple purchased the Fox Theatre in 1987 and completed a full restoration of the space, returning the building to its original opulence. Milestones over the 46 years include: Little Caesars opens its first restaurant inside the City of Detroit in 1967; purchasing the Detroit Red Wings in 1982 and turning the then-struggling franchise into four-time Stanley Cup champions and one of the most respected franchises in professional sports; purchasing and restoring the historic Fox Theatre and adjacent Fox Office Center in 1987; purchasing the abandoned Hughes and Hatcher clothing store in 1987 and renovating it into what is now the Hockeytown Café and City Theatre; moving the Little Caesars world headquarters from the suburbs to downtown Detroit in 1989 during a time when most businesses were leaving the city; purchasing the Detroit Tigers in 1992 and providing the majority of funding to build Comerica Park in 2000; and opening MotorCity Casino in 1999, followed by expansion to include the MotorCity Casino Hotel in 2007.

Today, the organization plans to develop dozens of underutilized blocks into an exciting, walkable and livable sports and entertainment district. This district will be anchored by a state-of-the-art arena that will serve not only as the new home of the Detroit Red Wings, but also as a platform for other sports, entertainment and community events year around.

The couple’s unfailing love for Detroit has garnered them significant recognition for their generosity and vision for the city. The Ilitches have received numerous honors, including the key to the city of Detroit, presented to the family in 2008, as well as the National Preservation Award for the restoration of the Fox Theatre.

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