School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine
Wayne State University, Karmanos Cancer Institute enhance commitment to cancer care, research
In Headlines on October 1, 2014
Wayne State University and the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute have reaffirmed their commitment to promoting excellence in cancer research, education and clinical care with an affiliation agreement that enhances the dynamic partnership spanning more than 20 years.

The affiliation agreement strengthens the relationship between the organizations through a commitment by both KCI and WSU to provide for more funds for research, and through a more integrated governance structure. The agreement, recently approved by the KCI Board of Directors and the WSU Board of Governors, is effective Oct. 1.

“This agreement is crucial for our continued success in fighting cancer, serving our patients and families, and providing the best cancer services available worldwide,” said KCI President and Chief Executive Officer Gerold Bepler, M.D., Ph.D. “It is also important in moving forward with a successful renewal of our status as an National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, a distinction Karmanos and WSU have competed for and earned since 1978.”

The Karmanos Cancer Institute is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers nationwide that has attained the prestigious National Cancer Institute designation, which recognizes scientific excellence, patient care and community outreach. This puts Karmanos at the forefront of developing and offering treatments that define new standards of care.

“I want to thank WSU President M. Roy Wilson, M.D., for his dedication to bringing this affiliation agreement into reality. It serves as a testament to the unwavering dedication of both WSU and KCI to our shared mission,” Dr. Bepler added.

The new affiliation agreement builds upon an agreement signed in 2009. WSU and Karmanos have had an affiliation since 1994. Karmanos Cancer Institute includes 167 members who are among the faculty at Wayne State University.

“We are pleased with this agreement because it provides Wayne State and Karmanos an even greater opportunity to advance our history of providing the very best patient care,” Dr. Wilson said. “Together, WSU and Karmanos Cancer Institute have conducted research that has contributed substantially to therapeutic breakthroughs in cancer. The community can rest assured that our passionate and committed researchers are working every day to develop a cure for a disease that affects so many.”

Under the new agreement, Karmanos will continue to operate and manage on WSU’s behalf the cancer center’s NCI support grant, which is up for renewal in 2015. The KCI president will serve as the cancer center director and principal investigator of the support grant.

The KCI president/cancer center director also will serve as chair of the WSU Department of Oncology, which includes all oncology-related areas. With this new agreement, the WSU Department of Radiation Oncology and the Division of Gynecologic Oncology join the Department of Oncology.

Karmanos and WSU officials said the new affiliation agreement will promote excellence in research and enhance the reputations of both organizations. It will also help them increase and maximize support of cancer research programs from all public and private funding sources. The new affiliation agreement will last three years and will automatically extend on a year-by-year basis.

“As a leader in the fight against cancer, Karmanos Cancer Institute strives to provide its patients with the best treatment options with the best possible outcomes,” Dr. Bepler said. “Our partnership with Wayne State University ensures that scientific researchers will continue to bring safe, effective and groundbreaking treatments from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside as we work to bring cancer under complete control.”
Second-year internal medicine resident selected to present two abstracts at international meeting
In Headlines on September 26, 2014
Sonikpreet Aulakh, M.D.

Sonikpreet Aulakh, M.D.

A Wayne State University School of Medicine internal medicine resident will present two patient case studies at the 2014 World Congress of Internal Medicine, a biannual meeting of the International Society of Internal Medicine to be held Oct. 24-28 in Seoul, South Korea.

Sonikpreet Aulakh, M.D., is a second-year resident at Crittenton Hospital Medical Center in Rochester Hills, Mich. She will present posters on “Gastrointestinal tract as a source of clots in the brain: cerebral venous sinus thrombosis in Crohn’s disease, a rare complication” and “Maggots' infestation as a predisposing condition for heparin-induced thrombocytopenia.”

“It is a great opportunity and proud moment to represent my institution at an international level,” Dr. Aulakh said. “I truly thank God, my parents, husband and mentor for the encouragement, empowerment, support and guidance to pave my way and help chase my dreams.”

Having two abstracts selected at a resident level is rare, said her mentor, Sarwan Kumar, M.D., associate program director of the internal medicine residency.

“I think my abstracts were accepted as they were uncommon and unique in their presentation, which will be opening doors for further exploration and research in the respective subject for physicians all over the world,” Dr. Aulakh said.

The posters will be displayed from Oct. 25-28, and were co-written by Gulshan Singh Oberoi, M.D., a fourth-year neurology resident at the Detroit Medical Center.

“It’s always wonderful to see our residents grow and be successful in their respective fields in the residency. As a mentor, I feel proud of Dr. Sonikpreet to present her hard work and represent our residency program at a world conference,” Dr. Kumar said. “In addition, having abstracts at an international level for the first time makes this accomplishment all the way more joyous. It’s a great feeling to see a resident utilizing her full potential and bringing new innovations in the internal medicine field. It’s also a source of encouragement for all other residents to work toward their potential aims and goals.”
IOM Digital Health Strategies roundtable set for Oct. 2 at WSU
In Headlines on September 25, 2014

Wayne State University will host the Institute of Medicine's Roundtable on the Promotion of Health Equity and the Elimination of Health Disparities at the School of Medicine on Oct. 2.

The free, day-long workshop, “Digital Health Strategies, Health Disparities and Health Equity: The Promises and Perils of Technology,” is open to the public, and runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

A series of panelists will discuss the opportunities to use digital health technologies as a population health strategy to reduce health disparities and promote health equity in the United States. The focus will be on the potential of new digital strategies to improve access to high quality health information for members of racial and ethnic minority groups.

In addition to presentations from guest speakers, the workshop will feature a "technology speed dating" event from 12:45 to 2:45 p.m. App and software developers are invited to share their technology. To participate, simply bring any necessary equipment. Workshop attendees will spend 10 to 15 minutes at each station. Lunch will be provided. Register now to attend at

The workshop will be held in the School of Medicine's Margherio Family Conference Center, 403 East Canfield, Detroit. Parking is available in Lot 75 for $7 (credit or debit card only) at 545 East Canfield.

For more information contact Colin Fink at, 202-334-2258, or Karen Anderson at, 202-334-2806.

Workshop agenda:

8 a.m.: Welcome and introduction by Toni Villarruel, professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing; Gillian Barclay, vice president of Aetna Foundation; and M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University.

8:30 a.m.: Keynote: Overarching Views by Wendy Nilsen, health scientist administrator of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, National Institutes of Health; and Kimberlydawn Wisdom, senior vice president of community health and equity, and chief wellness officer for the Henry Ford Health System.

10 a.m.: Break.

10:15 a.m.: Panel 1: “How do we engage minority communities in digital health strategies with the goal to reduce health disparities and promote health equity?” with Tessie Guillermo, president and chief executive officer of ZeroDivide; Cameron Norman, adjunct lecturer at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto; Jose Bauermeister, director of the Center for Sexuality & Health Disparities, University of Michigan School of Public Health; and Jimena Loveluck, president and chief executive officer of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center, Michigan.

11:30 a.m.: Discussion with Panel 1

Noon: Panel 2: “How do we engage providers and minority patients in digital strategies with the goal to reduce health disparities and promote health equity?” with Ivor Horn, pediatrician and researcher for the Children’s National Health System; Silas Buchanan, chief executive officer of the Institute for eHealth Equity; and Misha Pavel, professor of practice for Northeastern University.

12:30 p.m.: Discussion with Panel 2

12:45 p.m.: Lunch and Technology Speed Dating: Virtual Poster Session, at the Elliman Building

2:45 p.m.: Panel 3: "Policy and Technology Perspectives," with Brian Raymond, senior policy consultant for the Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy; Tamar Ginossar, assistant professor for the University of New Mexico; Noam Ziv, founder of Kesembe Inc.; and Ruth Parker, professor for Emory University.

3:45 p.m.: Discussion with Panel 3

4 p.m.: Synthesis and Further Discussion Panel, with moderator Toni Villarruel, professor and Margaret Bond Simon Dean of Nursing for the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing; and Andre Blackman, founder and chief executive officer of Pulse and Signal.

4:45 p.m.: Concluding remarks by Gillian Barclay, vice president of the Aetna Foundation.

For additional information, email

Kids Kicking Cancer founder named a 2014 'CNN Hero'
In Headlines on September 23, 2014
Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg

Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg

Goldberg is founder of Kids Kicking Cancer.

Goldberg is founder of Kids Kicking Cancer.

Wayne State University School of Medicine Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg was named one of 24 “CNN Heroes” by the cable television network Sept. 22.

Goldberg, called “Rabbi G” by many, is the founder of the Southfield, Mich.-based Kids Kicking Cancer, an international organization that provides free martial arts training as a method of pain management to children, teens and young adults battling cancer and other life-threatening diseases. The group provides individual support during hospitalizations and medical procedures. It also offers transportation to and from classes, as well as counseling.

A CNN article and video about Goldberg’s work is available online here.

Since 2007, CNN has recognized more than 200 “everyday people changing the world,” according to the news company’s website. The Top 10 CNN Heroes from the 2014 class will be announced Oct. 2. The Top 10 will be saluted on "CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute," scheduled to air Dec. 7 on CNN’s global networks.

Goldberg founded Kids Kicking Cancer in 1999. The global program now has offices and classes in Michigan, California, Canada, Israel and Italy. He lost his daughter to cancer in 1983, and later taught martial arts at a New York-based summer camp for children with the disease. There, he witnessed the struggles of a child about to undergo a procedure, and intervened. “Give me five minutes with this boy,” he heard himself say. “I’m a black belt. Do you want me to teach you some karate?”

Twenty minutes later, the nurse pulled the needle from the boy’s chemo port. “Did you do it yet?” he asked. Kids Kicking Cancer was born.

“If a child is afraid or angry, you can see the level of pain goes up exponentially,” Goldberg said. “Allowing the children to have a sense of purpose is part of pain management.”

The organization’s national medical director is Professor of Pathology Martin Bluth, M.D., Ph.D., who created the framework for expanding the KKC program into new areas such as sickle cell anemia, asthma and obesity. The overall mission is to ease the pain of very sick children while empowering them to heal physically, spiritually and emotionally.

For more information, visit

WSU, Karmanos contribute to study outlining how patient immune systems may affect cancer growth
In Headlines on September 19, 2014
Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Samples from 332 African-American patients in metropolitan Detroit analyzed in a Wayne State University School of Medicine lab have helped scientists at the University of California at San Diego discover that a cancer’s stage can affect whether cell surface sugars promote the cancer or inhibit it.

Associate Chair and Professor of Oncology Ann Schwartz, Ph.D., M.P.H., was contacted by study principal investigator Ajit Varki, M.D., because of her ongoing involvement in studies of the genetic contributions to lung cancer risk and progression.

During cancer development, tumor cells decorate their surfaces with sugar compounds called glycans that differ from those found on normal, healthy cells. Sialic acids at the tips of these cancer cell glycans are capable of engaging with immune system cells and changing the latter’s response to the tumor – for good and bad.

“These cell surface glycans can promote or inhibit cancer progression, depending upon the stage of the disease,” said principal investigator and UCSD researcher Ajit Varki, M.D. “Our findings underscore the complexity of cancer and the consequent challenges in conquering it. The immune system may be a double-edged sword in cancer, tumor-promoting or tumor-inhibiting, depending upon circumstances.”

The researchers found that receptors called siglecs on subsets of neutrophils and macrophages (two types of immune cell) can bind to sialic acids on the surface of tumor cells. Depending upon the stage of cancer and the tumor model used, the scientists reported that interaction between immune cell siglecs and tumor cell sialic acids produced opposite outcomes.

“I suggested that we could test our samples for the presence of the Siglec-9 polymorphism in African-American lung cancer cases and African-American controls to determine if presence of this polymorphism was associated with either lung cancer risk or outcomes after a diagnosis,” said Dr. Schwartz, who also is deputy center director of the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute.

The polymorphism studied only occurs in African-Americans.

Siglecs might prove viable drug targets for preventing early cancer progression. Dr. Schwartz investigated the data to assess whether they had a natural siglec variant that reduced binding to tumor cell surface sialic acids. Such patients have a greater chance for survival after two years, but the effect diminishes and disappears later.

Department of Oncology Research Assistant Chrissy Lusk conducted the data analysis, with genotyping from the WSU/Karmanos Genomics Core.

“We have conducted a number of lung cancer case-controls studies funded by National Cancer Institute and were in the process of testing individuals for other genetic polymorphisms. I supported the additional genotyping for the Siglec-9 polymorphism from my research funds,” Dr. Schwartz added.

“Engagement of myelomonocytic Siglecs by tumor-associated ligands modulates the innate immune response to cancer” was published in the Sept. 15 early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Schwartz lab samples came from patients diagnosed over several years at the Karmanos Cancer Institute and throughout the metropolitan Detroit area as identified through the Detroit Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program registry housed at WSU. Dr. Schwartz is principal investigator of the National Cancer Institute-funded Detroit SEER registry. The patients were followed for survival outcomes.

“Lung cancer is the No. 1 cause of cancer death, and while progress is being made to improve outcomes, it is slow,” she said. “Fewer than 20 percent of patients diagnosed with lung cancer are alive five years after diagnosis. There continue to be racial disparities in survival as well, with African-Americans having poorer outcomes than whites. We continue to search for targets that might be exploited to advance therapy. The study suggests that Siglec-9 is associated with altered survival and therefore additional work needs to be conducted to determine if it is a good therapeutic target.”

The research was partially supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Samuel and Ruth Engelberg Cancer Research Institute and the National Institutes of Health (grants R01CA38701, R01CA14176 and R01060691).

Graduate Student Research Day attracts more than 110 students
In Headlines on September 19, 2014

The Wayne State University School of Medicine hosted its 18th annual Graduate Student Research Day on Sept. 18, an event highlighted by a series of oral and poster presentation sessions.

More than 110 students participated in the day-long event, contributing work performed at the School of Medicine, the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, the College of Engineering, the Karmanos Cancer Institute, the Kresge Eye Institute, Henry Ford Hospital, and several Wayne State University departments, including Biological Sciences, Physics, Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, among others.

Topics presented included those drawn from basic science, medicine and a variety of interdisciplinary translational approaches. Exciting new techniques, strategies and technologies were presented as part of the student-run event.

Stephen Lanier, Ph.D., Wayne State University’s vice president for Research, welcomed participants and guests, and Associate Dean of Graduate Programs for the School of Medicine Stanley Terlecky, Ph.D., officiated the meeting on behalf of the Office of Graduate Programs.

Randal Kaufman, Ph.D., professor of the Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute and director of the institute’s Degenerative Diseases Program, presented the invited keynote address, “Is Protein Misfolding in the Endoplasmic Reticulum Oncogenic,” to a standing-room-only audience.

Dr. Kaufman’s talk was followed by the announcement of oral and poster presentation winners, including Mohamad El Chami, Melissa Wrobel and Steven Jones in the oral presentation category, Brittany Haynes (first place) and Gregory Moyerbrailean (second place) in one poster session, and Nihar Mehta (first place) and Aditya Dandekar (second place) in the other poster session.

The meeting concluded with the Graduate Student Research Day 2014 student-organizing committee, led by Andreana Holowatyj and consisting of Chelsea Richardson, Daniel Radecki, Aaron Burr, Leena Kadam, Fatme Hachem, Priyan Weerappuli and Rayna Rosati being lauded for their efforts on behalf of their student colleagues at the school and the university.

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