School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine
Dr. Cote captures Komen grant to cross train breast cancer researchers
In Headlines on October 24, 2014
Michelle Cote, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Michelle Cote, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Michele Cote, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of oncology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine and member of the Population Studies and Disparities Research Program at the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, has received a three-year, $404,997 Graduate Training in Disparities Research Grant from Susan G. Komen®. This is Dr. Cote’s second Komen grant.

Her co-principal investigator is Manohar Ratnam, Ph.D., professor of oncology for the School of Medicine, faculty member of the WSU Cancer Biology Graduate Program and member of the Molecular Therapeutics Program of the Karmanos Cancer Institute. Other faculty members of the Cancer Biology Graduate Program will serve as research mentors.

A component of the program includes a Komen survivor advocate, who will help trainees recognize the impact of their work on women. Katrina Studvent, manager of Breast Cancer Special Programs at Karmanos and Komen Detroit Race co-chair, will serve as the Komen advocate.

Dr. Cote will lead a training program for exemplary doctoral students that will cross train them in basic science and epidemiology. The program will recruit three students from the 2015-2016 academic year and a second set of three students in the third year of the program. Students will be recruited from Wayne State University, as well as from universities across Michigan and the United States.

“We are extremely excited to receive this Komen funding so that we can train student researchers to examine breast cancer and the reasons for differences in diagnosis and survival between women with the disease,” Dr. Cote said. “By providing a solid foundation consisting of cellular and molecular biology, epidemiology and laboratory research, our trainees will be uniquely prepared to carry out original investigations in contemporary breast cancer disparities research.”

Komen GDTR grants are intended to establish and sustain training programs for graduate students seeking careers dedicated to understanding and eliminating disparities in breast cancer. By providing this type of funding, Komen seeks to build a diverse pool of highly-trained scientists who will emerge as the next generation of leaders in the field of breast cancer research focused on reducing disparities.

“WSU has been highly successful recruiting students from various backgrounds, including underserved minority populations, and providing tailored mentoring to ensure they graduate from our program with the skills necessary to become highly sought-after scientists in academia and industry,” Dr. Cote said. “We expect that this program will attract ambitious, high-caliber students who will seek ways to reduce breast cancer incidence and mortality.”

Dr. Cote’s grant is one of more than 50 grants provided to early-career breast cancer researchers, accounting for almost half of Komen’s $34.7 million investment in new breast cancer research funding for 2014. The grants include more than $980,000 in new funding for research conducted in Michigan, bringing Komen’s total research investment in the state to $25.2 million since 1982.

Susan G. Komen’s research program is funded in part by contributions from Komen affiliates across the country. Those affiliates annually contribute 25 percent of net funds raised locally to Komen’s research program with the remaining 75 percent funding breast cancer community outreach programs. Karmanos Cancer Institute is the local presenting sponsor of the Susan G. Komen Detroit Race for the Cure, which has raised and invested nearly $27 million since the first Komen Detroit Race in 1992.

“We’re very proud that funds we’ve raised in metro Detroit are not only providing real-time help to our neighbors, but coming back to our universities and hospitals for research that can save lives,” said Maureen Keenan Meldrum, director of Breast Cancer Special Programs at Karmanos and leader of Komen operations in the tri-county area.

Registration is open for the May 16, 2015, Race at Chene Park:

health programs funded by Komen Detroit can be found here:

Dr. Khan publishes first comprehensive paper on MS in minority populations
In Headlines on October 24, 2014
Omar Khan, M.D.

Omar Khan, M.D.

Omar Khan, M.D., professor and chair of neurology for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, is the lead author of the first comprehensive publication that encompasses the clinical, genetic, imaging and therapeutic investigations related to multiple sclerosis in minority populations in the United States.

The paper, “Multiple Sclerosis in U.S. Minority Populations: Clinical Practice Insights,” is scheduled to be published in the November issue of Neurology: Clinical Practice, an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology, the world’s largest organization of neurologists.

Classically considered to be a disease of young women of European heritage, multiple sclerosis is being increasingly recognized in populations not previously thought to develop the condition. This body of work has been led largely by research conducted by Dr. Khan, director of the Wayne State University Multiple Sclerosis Center, and leading several national multi-center investigations focused on African-American multiple sclerosis.

“The highlights of this important publication include several facts that deserve careful deliberation,” Dr. Khan said. “Minority populations in the United States, such as African-Americans and Hispanic-Americans, are often underrepresented in clinical research and trials, and thus it is difficult to assess treatment response in these populations. A distinct humoral immune response seems to be characteristic of African-Americans rather than Caucasians with MS, and African-Americans acquire greater gray matter injury and have a more aggressive disease course than Caucasians.”

Additional findings revealed in the paper include the fact that access and delivery of health care need to be carefully addressed in minority populations with MS so that they are not predisposed to greater disability.

“At Wayne State University, we are humbled to have established a deep bond with the community, and today, with more than 700 African-Americans with MS in our center, this is the largest African-American MS clinic in the United States,” Dr. Khan said. “This also puts us in a unique position to serve our community and advance scientific knowledge that may improve outcomes.”

For example, Dr. Khan’s imaging laboratory team showed greater CSF B-cell mediated cerebral gray matter injury in African-Americans than Caucasians with MS, one of the reasons a humanized monoclonal antibody targeting B cells is being pursued as a new approach to treat MS.

Similarly, the laboratory of Robert Lisak, M.D., professor of neurology, has reported a possible B cell secreting protein that may damage myelin forming cells in the brain.

“These types of research endeavors are classic examples of translational work that ends with a single unifying theme: improving patient outcomes,” Dr. Khan said.

The Wayne State University Multiple Sclerosis Center has collaborated with the several national institutions in the clinical, magnetic resonance imaging and genetic studies of MS in African-Americans, including the University of California San Francisco, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School. These collaborations have been supported by multiple continuing grants from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and have led to more than a dozen major publications in journals such as Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Genetics, Annals of Neurology, Neurology and Science. Most recently, the Wayne State University MS Center presented work on retinal structure injury that is significantly greater in African-Americans than Caucasians with MS. This work was presented by research investigator Jessica Chorostecki at the recently concluded American-European International Multiple Sclerosis Meeting, in Boston in September, where she was awarded the young investigators award. The meeting is the world’s largest MS meeting, attended by more than 9,000 clinicians and researchers.

“We are uniquely positioned to take serve our urban, ethnically diverse population, and the body of work we have published on African-American MS, to seek federal grants in the future,” Dr. Khan said

WSU researcher finds key signaling pathway in cause of preeclampsia
In Headlines on October 22, 2014
Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D.

A team of researchers led by a Wayne State University School of Medicine associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology has published findings that provide novel insight into the cause of preeclampsia, the leading cause of maternal and infant death worldwide, a discovery that could lead to the development of new therapeutic treatments.

Nihar Nayak, D.V.M., Ph.D., is the principal investigator of the study, “Endometrial VEGF induces placental sFLT1 and leads to pregnancy complications,” published Oct. 20 in the online version of The Journal of Clinical Investigation.

“Preeclampsia is a leading cause of maternal and fetal morbidity and mortality worldwide, yet its pathogenesis is still poorly understood,” Dr. Nayak said. “Many studies have suggested that elevated circulating levels of sFlt1 (a tyrosine kinase protein that disables proteins essential to blood vessel growth) contribute to the maternal symptoms of vascular dysfunction that characterize preeclampsia, but the molecular underpinnings of sFlt1 upregulation in preeclampsia have so far been elusive. Our manuscript describes the novel, field-changing finding that vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, of maternal origin can stimulate soluble sFlt1 production by the placenta and that this signaling is involved in the cause of preeclampsia.”

Preeclampsia is a sudden increase in blood pressure after the 20th week of pregnancy. Indicated by a sudden increase in blood pressure and protein in the urine, preeclampsia warning signs, in addition to elevated blood pressure, can include headaches, swelling in the face and hands, blurred vision, chest pain and shortness of breath. While the condition can manifest within a few hours, some women report few or no symptoms.

The condition is responsible for 76,000 maternal deaths and more than 500,000 infant deaths every year, according to estimates from the Preeclampsia Foundation. It can affect the liver, kidney and brain. Some mothers develop seizures (eclampsia) and suffer intracranial hemorrhage, the main cause of death in those who develop the disorder. Some women develop blindness. The babies of preeclamptic mothers are affected by the condition and may develop intrauterine growth restriction or die in utero.

Many experts believe preeclampsia results from insufficient blood supply to the uterus and placenta, causing the development of high blood pressure. The increase in maternal blood pressure is a compensatory response to improve the condition of the fetus. Preeclampsia may have evolved to protect the infant, but when the disease is out of control it threatens the health of the mother. The earlier the disease starts in pregnancy, the worse the outcome can be for the baby and mother. Women with preeclampsia often do not feel effects until the condition is severe and becomes life-threatening. Effects on the mother include cardiac problems, possible brain hemorrhage, acute renal failure, blood clotting problems and possible blindness. If left undetected, the condition can progress to eclampsia and the mother may begin convulsing. For the fetus, preeclampsia has been connected to a reduction in placental blood flow, resulting in physical and mental disability, the slowing of fetal development, and in severe cases, infants may be stillborn.

While VEGF is essential for normal embryonic development, Dr. Nayak said, his team’s research has demonstrated that even mild elevation of VEGF levels during early pregnancy can cause severe placental vascular damage and embryonic lethality. The results show that modest increases in VEGF could also be a primary trigger for elevation of placental sFlt1 expression, leading to preeclampsia.

Furthermore,  the findings indicate that sFLT1 plays an essential role in maintaining vascular integrity in the placenta in later stages of pregnancy and suggest that overproduction of sFlt1 in preeclampsia, although damaging to the mother, serves a critical protective function for the placenta and fetus by “sequestering” excess maternal VEGF.

According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, the condition, also known as toxemia or pregnancy-induced hypertension, affects 5 percent to 8 percent of pregnancies. Left untreated or undetected, preeclampsia can rapidly lead to eclampsia, one of the top five causes of maternal death and infant illness and death. Approximately 13 percent of all maternal deaths worldwide – the death of a mother every 12 minutes – have been attributed to eclampsia. The foundation reports that preeclampsia is responsible for nearly 18 percent of all maternal deaths in the United States.

Even if treated successfully, preeclampsia can bring future health problems for mothers. Women who have had preeclampsia have double the risk for heart disease and stroke over the next five to 15 years after they are treated.

The Preeclampsia Foundation estimates that in the United States about 10,500 babies die annually as a result of preeclampsia. The cost of the condition in the U.S., according to the foundation, is $7 billion annually, split between $3 billion a year in treating mothers and $4 billion a year for the cost of treating infants born prematurely because of preeclampsia.

The study, supported by the Wayne State University Perinatal Initiative, included research conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of Calgary, University of Utah and Yale University School of Medicine.

Annual Golden Gala honors five, celebrates scholarship and student organization donations
In Headlines on October 20, 2014
From left are Dr. Lawrence Crane, Dr. John Carethers, Dr. Beth Ann Brooks, Dean Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and James Haveman, A.C.S.W.

From left are Dr. Lawrence Crane, Dr. John Carethers, Dr. Beth Ann Brooks, Dean Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow and James Haveman, A.C.S.W.

Media personality Cynthia Canty emceed the event.

Media personality Cynthia Canty emceed the event.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine held its fourth annual Golden Gala on Saturday, honoring five leaders in the fields of medicine and public policy, and thanking hundreds of donors for their contributions to medical student scholarships and student organizations.

“It is my great privilege to lead a school that attracts students who want to do more for others even before receiving their medical degree,” Dean Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., M.P.H., M.B.A., told the audience of more than 570 during the event at the MGM Grand Detroit Hotel. “Witnessing their dedication and their actions makes the heart soar and leads me to believe that we and our descendants will be in good hands in many ways.”

She announced that in the past year donors contributed more than $3.4 million to support student scholarships and the school’s more than 60 student organizations.

“Tonight is a thanksgiving of sorts,” Dean Parisi told the crowd. “We gather here to celebrate giving, and to thank you for helping others to achieve their dreams.”

Longtime Detroit media icon Cynthia Canty served as emcee for the Roaring Twenties-themed gala, which included a plated dinner, live music and dancing, vintage car displays and a silent auction. Canty also produced a video honoring the evening’s five honorees, who received the annual Ambassador, Trailblazer and Distinguished Service Awards for contributing to the school’s legacy and commitment to the community. WSU President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., reflected on the world of medicine in the era of the theme. Several major medical discoveries were made in the 1920s, including the first use of insulin to treat diabetes, the first vaccine for whooping cough and the discovery of penicillin.

“When you think about it, the genesis of scientific discoveries and medical advances stem from inquisitive, agile minds that are nurtured in an environment that encourages and supports innovative thinking and research – an environment like that found at the Wayne State University School of Medicine,” he said.

The WSU Board of Governors was represented in the formal program by board member Sandra O’Brien, who spoke about the importance of the School of Medicine’s community partnerships, designed to improve the lives of the area’s residents and neighbors, and to assist those most in need. “This is the spirit of the Wayne State University School of Medicine and it’s a vitally needed spirit and institution as we work toward the newest renaissance of the city of Detroit,” she said. “It’s also the spirit reflected in the dedication, compassion and deeds of the honorees we recognize this evening.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow received the Distinguished Community Service Award for making access to quality, affordable health care a top priority. She ensured that the landmark Affordable Care Act protected comprehensive health coverage for women, including maternity care, and has been recognized for her efforts to make prescription drugs more affordable. She was instrumental in getting hospitals and providers to adopt electronic medical records to reduce medical errors and save money in the health care system, and is a leading advocate of community health centers, which provide affordable, high-quality care in more than 180 communities in Michigan.

Grand Haven resident James Haveman, A.C.S.W., the former director of the Michigan Department of Community Health, received one of the evening’s two Distinguished Service awards, given to physicians, researchers, non-medically related individuals or alumni who have made major contributions to humanitarian causes or community participation. Haveman has had a strong relationship with the School of Medicine for more than 20 years, collaborating in the early 1990s with the WSU Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences to ensure patients in Detroit received the best mental health care possible. He also worked to provide annual funding to support academic and community-based programs.

His co-honoree, former St. Clair Shores resident Beth Ann Brooks, M.D, earlier this year retired from her position as resident mentor and director of the department’s general psychiatry program and child and adolescent psychiatry residency programs. She has been named to the peer-reviewed Best Doctors in America 10 times. She is nationally recognized for her contributions to resident education, and now lives in Nebraska.

The Ambassador Award honors individuals and corporations who, through acts and deeds, epitomize the spirit of Wayne State University and the School of Medicine. The 2014 honoree was Ann Arbor resident John Carethers, M.D., a 1989 graduate of the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Dr. Carethers, who called himself “just a kid from Detroit” in his remarks Saturday, is the John G. Searle Professor of Gastroenterology and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School. He is the 10th of 12 children and grew up on Detroit’s northwest side. After graduating from the School of Medicine with honors, he completed his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1992. Dr. Carethers was elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine in 2012.

The Trailblazer Award went to Dearborn resident Lawrence Crane, M.D., ’66, F.A.C.P., F.I.D.S.A., a professor of medicine in the WSU Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases. In the early 1980s, Dr. Crane changed the lives of thousands living with HIV when he decided to provide medical care to those with Gay-Related Immune Deficiency, later renamed AIDS. He has been a vocal advocate for patients, championing access to HIV care regardless of insurance status, race or sexual identity. He was instrumental in getting local patients the first antiretroviral AIDS drug, zidovudine, or AZT, which was discovered at the School of Medicine. Dr. Crane directs Wayne State’s Adult HIV/AIDS Programs and Infectious Diseases Outpatient Clinic, the largest of its kind in Michigan.

Students present safety exercise to demonstrate Interprofessional Team Visit program at state conference
In Headlines on October 17, 2014
From left, Briana Rosinski, Claude Leblanc, Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., and Huixia Sharon Wei, at the conference.

From left, Briana Rosinski, Claude Leblanc, Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., and Huixia Sharon Wei, at the conference.

Session members participate in the Mr. Potato Head activity led by Wayne State University.

Session members participate in the Mr. Potato Head activity led by Wayne State University.

Three Wayne State University students led a workshop at the Northern Michigan Interprofessional Conference held Sept. 26-27 at Treetops Resort in Gaylord, Mich., outlining the school’s Interprofessional Team Visit Program.

School of Medicine third-year medical student Huixia Sharon Wei, College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences occupational therapy student Briana Rosinski and College of Nursing student Claude LeBlanc, R.N., along with Assistant Professor Jennifer Mendez, Ph.D., the School of Medicine’s director of co-curricular programs, presented the hour-long “Delivering Value” session to 85 health care professionals, including nurse practitioners, specialty and primary care physicians, public health workers, community health workers, dentists, dental hygienists, optometrists and more.

The IPTV program, which is a collaboration between WSU's medicine, pharmacy, nursing, social work, physical therapy, occupational therapy and physician assistant programs, serves 450 older adults in the Detroit area annually, and introduces 750 medicine, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, physician assistant and social work students to the demands of assessing older adult health and social needs in a home environment.

View a video about the Interprofessional Team Visit Program here.

“When professionals from all walks of health care work together, with exceptional patient outcomes as the ultimate goal, great things can, and do, happen,” Leblanc said. “I truly believe the goals of IPTV were demonstrated at the seminar, based upon the enthusiastic response from the audience. As seasoned health care veterans, they too grasped the concept of cooperatively and collaboratively working together, as a health care team, to provide compassionate and effective care.”

The students discussed how to create a valuable interprofessional education experience, shared their experiences with the IPTV program and led the audience in an interactive Mr. Potato Head activity to emphasize teamwork and quality improvement in urgent situations. The unconventional teaching tool, suggested by Department of Medicine Vice Chair for Education Diane Levine, M.D., is the same exercise used for the “Better Docs” seminars held earlier this year, Wei said.

“Dr. Diane Levine asked me to be part of this and wanted me to be in charge of running the Mr. Potato Head activity because of my previous experience organizing the Better Docs seminar in which the Mr. Potato Head activity was featured,” Wei added. “It was a confidence booster to be given the autonomy to deliver the content on interprofessional education and values of teamwork from my perspective as a medical student. I was able to share with the audience my personal experiences working on teams in the hospital setting for the first time fresh out of the water as a third year.”

The workshop was noted in follow-up surveys as one of the best at the event, said David Miller, program manager for Interprofessional Education Michigan Health Council, the conference organizer.

“This presentation would not have been successful without students sharing how important it is to learn to work together as a team,” Dr. Mendez said. “They used examples of what they do when they conduct the team visits with older adults; the types of assessment tools they used and how the visits are organized. They were very explicit when responding to audience questions. It was an honor to present with them.”

Public health student earns spot in national policy program
In Headlines on October 15, 2014
Samantha Iovan

Samantha Iovan

The National Association of County and City Health Officials selected Wayne State University graduate student Samantha Iovan as a 2014 Public Health Policy and Practice Scholar.

The competitive scholar program is a guided, academic, practice-based opportunity for graduate-level students to impact public health locally. Iovan is a master’s of public health student in the Wayne State University School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine and Public Health Sciences.

 NACCHO’s members are the 2,800 local health departments across the United States.

"I am pleased to be selected for the NACCHO Policy and Practice Scholars Program. It is very exciting to have the opportunity to work with national public health experts on issues that are relevant to Southeast Michigan. I am looking forward to participating in the program and seeing how public health is practiced at the national level,” Iovan said.

She will work in the area of Environmental Health Practice, specifically on water issues, including drafting and refining policy statements on water and conducting key informant interviews with health departments in making the connection between environmental health and public health accreditation.

"Our program’s mission is to develop future public health leaders prepared to address the health challenges of an increasingly urbanized world. It is recognition of Samantha’s talent and potential that she has been invited to participate in NACCHO’s Public Health Policy and Practice Scholars program,” said WSU Program Director Kimberly Campbell-Voytal, Ph.D., M.S.N. “Her interests in water policy are particularly relevant to the Great Lakes region and to local public health in Detroit. We look forward to supporting her continued development in environmental health practice.”

Iovan will receive academic credit for completing a minimum of 100 hours of public health policy and practice experience with specific assigned tasks.

“Acceptance in this national practicum is a testament to the quality of students enrolled in the master of public health program at the Wayne State University School of Medicine. Practical knowledge and skills are essential to a successful career in public health and a requirement of all public health students,” said Dana Rice, Dr.PH, the program’s practicum director. “Samantha will gain real-world experience from national leaders in environmental health and will bring back this important knowledge to local health departments as well as fellow students, faculty and staff.”

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