All posts by Kelly Edwards

Grant will help Black churches fight COVID-19

Berkley-Patton, JanetteCOVID-19 has infected, hospitalized and killed Black Americans at a higher rate compared to whites. As it has with other health disparities, the University of Missouri-Kansas City is going to partner with churches to fight this one. The National Institutes of Health has awarded UMKC a two-year, $1.9 million grant to do so as part of its Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics-Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) initiative.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City,” said Jannette Berkley-Patton, Ph.D., principal investigator of the grant, director of the UMKC Health Equity Institute and a professor at the School of Medicine. “This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.”

The team of investigators on the grant are from UMKC, Children’s Mercy, University of Kansas Medical Center, University of Massachusetts, University of California-San Francisco and Johns Hopkins University. In addition to churches and their leaders and members, they will work in partnership with Calvary Community Outreach Network and the Kansas City Health Department for testing, contact tracing and linkage to care services.

“By working with 16 churches, which are trusted institutions in the African American community, we will greatly expand COVID-19 testing opportunities and access to care in low-income areas of Kansas City. This RADx-UP grant will help people who probably never would have gotten tested get the support they need.” – Jannette Berkley-Patton

“One of our aims with the grant is to not only expand testing but to also help get the community prepared for the vaccine,” said Mary Anne Jackson, M.D., an investigator of the grant, dean of the UMKC School of Medicine and an infectious disease expert at Children’s Mercy. “Vaccine confidence relies on trust and transparent communication of vaccine science and safety. The mistrust among people of color about the COVID-19 vaccine stems back toward experience in other research impacting this population, namely the Tuskegee trials in 1932 to study syphilis where Black males were not provided treatment.”

Key social determinants contribute to the disparities for Blacks and COVID-19 including essential public-facing jobs, cultural norms like medical and contact tracing mistrust and limited access to health care. African Americans also have a high burden of chronic health conditions including obesity, diabetes and heart disease, which put them at an increased risk for COVID-19.

Studies, including UMKC investigations led by Berkley-Patton, have shown that community-engaged research with African American churches has led to health screening uptake for HIV and STD testing and reducing risks for diabetes. Yet, no proven COVID-19 testing interventions exist for African American churches, which have wide reach and influence in their communities, high attendance rates and supportive health and social services for community members.

At churches, the grant aims to reach people through sermons, testimonials, church bulletins, and text messages. This also includes faith leaders promoting testing – and getting tested in front of their congregations – so that people can actually see what the testing process looks like.

To date, Berkley-Patton’s work has been supported by more than $12 million in federal grants over the past 14 years. The community-engaged research she has conducted in partnership with faith communities has benefited people in the Kansas City area as well as Alabama and Jamaica.

“At UMKC, we fight racial inequity at all levels, and that includes life-saving health care at our public urban research university,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “We are proud of the work Dr. Berkley-Patton is leading through proven strategies at places of worship. We know this team of investigators and their partners will help keep our community safer from COVID-19.”

UMKC Trustees honor SOM’s Peter Koulen for distinguished work in research

Koulen, PeterThe UMKC Board of Trustees has selected UMKC School of Medicine’s vision and neuroscience researcher Peter Koulen, Ph.D., as the recipient of the 2020 UMKC Trustee’s Faculty Fellow Award.

Dr . Koulen is the school’s Felix and Carmen Sabates/Missouri Endowed Chair in Vision Research and serves as director of basic research at the Vision Research Center. Under his guidance, the research center and the UMKC Department of Ophthalmology have secured millions of dollars in grants from the National Institutes of Health and other recognized sources for their groundbreaking work in developing technology and therapies to recognize and treat chronic diseases of the eye and brain.

He has been awarded more than 50 extramural grants totaling over $15 million, and he recently was the recipient of two R01 NIH/NEI awards totaling over $4 million. With a focus on the retina as part of the central nervous system, he has peer-reviewed publications in more than 100 prestigious journals including International Journal Molecular Science, Journal of Cell Science, Cellular Molecular Neurobiology, and Neuroscience. He also has been awarded three patents.

A member of an NIH study section committee, and active reviewer for prestigious scientific journals, he has been the recipient of more than 20 awards and honors since joining our School of Medicine, including recognition as the NT Veatch Award for Research and Creativity in 2013. Dr. Koulen’s work has been acknowledged worldwide. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, a global organization of researchers, honored Koulen as a member of its 2018 Fellows Class.

He also serves as a mentor and sponsor for students involved in research and he has effectively launched the careers of the next generation of physician scientists. His mentorship has placed graduates in highly competitive research environments such as NIH, FDA, Harvard Medical School, Alcon Laboratories, Fresenius and numerous others.

“I am impressed that Dr. Koulen contributes with passion, grace and enthusiasm and that he truly represents what a faculty scholar should exemplify,” said School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne Jackson, M.D.. “It is my pleasure to call him a colleague and to work with him at our University.”

Each year, UMKC’s Board of Trustees selects an established faculty member for the Faculty Fellow Award to honor a nationally and internationally recognized record of research and creative achievements at UMKC.

Yusheng Liu, Ph.D., vice chancellor for research in the Office of Research and Economic Development, said the award helps the university enhance and pursue its goal to be a major urban research university with excellence, creativity, and scholarship across all disciplines.

 

 

SOM faculty recognized with annual awards, promotions

School of Medicine faculty took the spotlight during an Oct. 28 program to honor those receiving the school’s annual faculty awards and the recognition of 73 faculty members who received promotions and tenure.

The list of honorees included 58 faculty members who have been promoted to the rank of associate professor and 15 who were promoted to professor. Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the ceremony took place as a virtual celebration.

This year’s event recognized eight faculty with special honors for their outstanding contributions, including two new awards.

Clinical Affiliate Teaching Award
Emily Hillman, M.D., assistant professor of emergency medicine, received the first Clinical Affiliate Teaching Award. The honor celebrates a faculty member who is recognized for clinical teaching of medical students, graduate program students and/or graduate medical education residents and fellows at one of the school’s major clinical affiliates.

Hillman serves as director of simulation education at the school’s Clinical Training Facility as well as associate director of the emergency medicine residency program and director of the emergency medicine medical education fellowship.

Faculty Researcher Award
John Q. Wang, Ph.D., professor and endowed chair for research, received the school’s first Faculty Research Award. The honor recognizes faculty for clinical and/or bench research that contributes to the advancement of medicine, demonstrates collaboration and mentoring of medical students, residents/fellows, and/or graduate students and faculty, and also enhances the research reputation of the School of Medicine.

Excellence in Diversity & Health Equity in Medicine Award
Molly Uhlenhake, D.O., assistant professor of medicine and Red 7 Docent, receive the award that recognizes faculty engaged in efforts to create a more inclusive institutional culture that promotes success for all. It also recognizes efforts to advance the understanding of health equity, health disparities, cultural competence in medicine, and greater access and opportunities for our surrounding community.

Christopher Papasian, Ph.D., Excellence in Teaching Award
Darla McCarthy, Ph.D., associate professor of basic medical sciences and assistant dean for curriculum, received the honor for a faculty member who has contributed to medical student pre-clinical education innovation at the School of Medicine.

Louise E. Arnold, Ph.D., Excellence in Medical Education Research Award
Gary Sutkin, M.D., professor and associate dean of women’s health, received the award that acknowledges and celebrates a faculty member who has contributed and influenced the advancement of medical education innovation through scholarship and research.

Betty M. Drees, M.D., Excellence in Mentoring Awards
Fariha Shafi, M.D., associate professor of medicine, Gold 6 and Gold 7 Docent, received the 2020 Excellence in Mentoring Award. Peter Koulen, Ph.D., professor, endowed chair and director of basic research at the Vision Research Center, was honored with the Lifetime in Mentoring Award.

The mentoring awards are given annually to celebrate both a junior and a senior faculty member who have made significant contributions to enhancing and developing the careers of faculty trainees as a mentor through their generosity, listening, objectivity and by providing constructive feedback regarding career and professional and personal development.

UMKC Elmer F. Pierson Good Teaching Award
Jennifer Quaintance, Ph.D., associate research professor and assistant dean for assessment and quality improvement, was honored with the university-wide award recognizing outstanding teachers in the Black School and the schools of medicine, dentistry and law.

School of Medicine announces new assistant dean for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion

The School of Medicine announced that Doris C. Agwu, M.P.H., will serve in the newly created position of assistant dean for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

Agwu has 11 years of experience with diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in academics, business and community work. Under the leadership of associate dean Tyler Smith, M.D., Agwu will work to expand the school’s focus on current diversity, equity and inclusion programs. Her new role will also include implementing new programs to recruit, educate and serve students, residents and faculty, and emphasize initiatives to ensure a positive learning environment.

At the University of Missouri-Columbia, Agwu earned a bachelor of arts in psychology, a bachelor of science in biology, a minor in business administration and a master’s degree in public health. She served as a research specialist at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing where she created strategies to address the health care needs of rural Missouri women over the age of 50. She also has served as medical department chair for Bryan University in Columbia, where she spearheaded diversity and inclusion initiatives, taught multiple courses and managed more than 20 direct reports.

In her most recent role as director of engagement and coordinator of underrepresented minority student recruitment at the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Arts and Sciences, she worked to drive inclusion, diversity and equity strategies through best practices to ensure an inclusive culture. She  implemented long-term strategic outreach efforts for the college, and collaborated with senior leaders and key stakeholders on state and community programming.

A 2019 recipient of the University G.O.L.D. award for service to the alumni community, Agwu is the vice president of the Mizzou Black Alumni Network. She is also membership co-chair of the Griffiths Leadership Society for Women. She was selected as a member of the new, chancellor-appointed Equity Resolution Hearing Panel and is a charter member of the central Missouri chapter of The Links, Incorporated, serving as the technology/PR/communication chair.

Agwu said she understands the needs of all students to address issues of marginalization.

“I want all Black students to know that their lives matter,” Agwu said. “I want all students of color, including Asian, Hispanic/Latinx and indigenous students, to know their cultures and unique experiences are significant. I want all women to know they have autonomy over their bodies. I want all LGBTQIA students to feel embraced and supported, and for students with disabilities, that they can access everything.”

SOM’s Angela Nwankwo serving national leadership role with SNMA

Third-year medical student Angela Nwankwo has been selected to a national leadership position with the Student National Medical. She is serving as co-chair of organization’s national publications committee.

She took on her new role earlier this year during a virtual meeting of the annual SNMA Medical Education Conference. The educational and networking event is the nation’s largest gathering of underrepresented minority medical students and professionals.

Nwankwo has previously participated in the SNMA’ s National Future Leadership Fellow program. She has served as vice president of the School of Medicine’s group chapter. She has been secretary of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Interest Group and a student representative on the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Council and the Council on Evaluation.

She serves a clinic manager for the school’s student-run Sojourner Health Clinic and the Kansas City Free Eye Clinic.

SNMA is the national oldest and largest student-run organization that focuses on the needs of medical students of color. With chapters across the country, it has a membership of more than 7,000 medical and pre-medical students and physicians.

School of Medicine announces academic appointments

The UMKC School of Medicine has announced four recent appointments to academic leadership positions: John Borsa, M.D., chair of the Department of Radiology; Adam Algren, M.D., chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine; Jennifer Elliott, M.D., interim chair of the Department of Anesthesiology; and Molly Uhlenhake, D.O., director of the Continuing Care Clinic clerkship.

Borsa adds the role of the school’s academic chair of radiology to his current position as department chair at Saint Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City. A board certified vascular interventional radiologist, he is a national expert in procedures related to percutaneous treatment of venous thromboembolic disease.

A fellow of the Society of Interventional Radiology, he also is a peer reviewed author and international lecturer in his field. He has been honored three times as teacher of the year by residents and five times as a distinguished faculty presenter.

Borsa completed medical school and an internship at the University of Manitoba, and his radiology residency at the Mayo Clinic. He also completed an interventional radiology fellowship at the University of Washington in Seattle before joining the staff of Saint Luke’s Hospital in 2011.

Adam Algren, M.D.Algren, a 2001 graduate of the UMKC School of Medicine, has served as interim chair of emergency medicine since January. He is also chair of the University Health Physicians Board of Directors.

A member of the UMKC departments of emergency medicine and pediatrics since 2007, Algren has served as the chair of the School of Medicine’s Council on Selection and on the Truman Medical Centers Board of Directors.

He completed his emergency medicine residency and served as chief resident at TMC. Fellowship trained in medical toxicology at the Emory University/CDC program, Algren also served as a clinical instructor in the Emory University emergency medicine department.

Elliott, JenniferIn addition to her new role as interim chair of anesthesiology, Elliott currently serves as medical director of the Pain Management Clinic at Saint Luke’s Hospital. A 1996 UMKC School of Medicine graduate, she has served for many years as a member of the residency education committee in the radiology department.

After completing her anesthesiology residency and a fellowship in pain management at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Elliott joined the staff at Saint Luke’s Hospital. She has been a member of the hospital’s Institutional Review Board, a member of the UMKC School of Medicine Physician Promotions Committee, and the physician chair of the Saint Luke’s Health System Opioid Stewardship Committee. She completed the UMKC Physician Leadership Development Program in 2018.

Elliott has also written numerous articles and chapters on topics in pain medicine and is the primary editor of an acute pain management handbook published in 2011.

Uhlenhake, MollyUhlenhake takes on her director’s role in the school’s Continuing Care Clinic, having previously served on the Council of Selections as vice chair and the scholarship selection committee as chair. She is currently working to develop a multidisciplinary LGBT+ clinic at TMC, where she directs primary care services.

A member of the School of Medicine docent team, Uhlenhake is also medical director of Refugee and Immigration services at the Kansas City Health Department and medical director of community outreach for TMC. She is a core faculty member for the Internal Medicine-Pediatrics residency program at TMC and for Teen Primary Care at Children’s Mercy Kansas City.

After graduating medical school at Des Moines University in Iowa, Uhlenhake completed her internal medicine-pediatrics residency the UMKC School of Medicine, where she also served chief resident. Before joining the staff at UMKC and TMC, she served at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and was the medical director of adolescent medicine at the High Street Clinic in Denver.

UMKC vision researchers repurpose technology to identify early symptoms of multiple sclerosis

Changes in vision detected by microperimetry can be related to early signs of multiple sclerosis.

Technology used in eye exams called microperimetry could prove to be an effective, non-invasive method of identifying early symptoms of multiple sclerosis.

An article recently published by researchers at the UMKC School of Medicine Vision Research Center reports the effective use of microperimetry during routine clinical assessments of multiple sclerosis patients. The article appeared in the research journal BioMed Central Ophthalmology.

Multiple sclerosis is a disease of the brain and spinal cord that affects nearly 400,000 people in the United States and more than 2 million throughout the world. There is no known cure for the potentially disabling disease, but treatment can help manage symptoms and speed up recovery from attacks.

Therefore, a non-invasive, clinically relevant and cost-effective method of identifying damage early would be invaluable to patients and health care providers. It would enable prompt therapy that may slow the progression of the disease and its ocular manifestations before irreversible damage occurs.

The testing method studied by the team of UMKC researchers, students and residents, microperimetry, measures light sensitivity of the center of a patient’s vision and can detect specific areas of decreased sensitivity. It typically takes less than half an hour.

Researchers from the school’s Vision Research Center have previously found the technology to be effective in diagnosing early stages of other diseases of the nervous system such as mild cognitive impairment in Alzheimer’s.

The vision research team of Landon J. Rohowetz, Qui Vu, Lilit Ablabutyan, Sean M. Gratton, Nancy Kunjukunju, Billi S. Wallace and Peter Koulen collaborated to determine subtle changes in visual function related to otherwise undetectable signs of multiple sclerosis. It is the first peer-reviewed study to assess the use of microperimetry, a straightforward and non-invasive vision test, as a tool to detect disease progression in early stage multiple sclerosis patients.

“The findings from this study provide a rationale for the use of microperimetry in the clinical assessment of patients with multiple sclerosis,” said Rohowetz, the study’s lead author. “By identifying visual dysfunction associated with multiple sclerosis, we hope physicians and researchers are able to use this technology to ultimately preserve and improve quality of life for patients with this often-disabling disease.”

More than 80 percent of the patients with multiple sclerosis show signs of impaired vision and 73 percent of MS patients experience visual impairment within the first 10 years of diagnosis, which is comparable to the prevalence of abnormal or impaired muscle function in the disease.

This initial study indicates that light sensitivity measured by microperimetry is lower among multiple sclerosis patients who have otherwise normal vision and no other history of issues with the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain. It also revealed a significant correlation between this impaired function and a reduced thickness of the retina in MS patients that is not seen in control subjects.

The report says further studies would look to monitor and evaluate ongoing changes in retina sensitivity and thickness as they correlate to a progression of multiple sclerosis. It will also broaden the approach to include MS patients who have a history of optic neuritis, where measurable damage to the optic nerve has already occurred.

Traci McDonald joins Office of Research Administration

Traci McDonald has joined the UMKC School of Medicine Office of Research Administration as a grants support specialist.

She comes to UMKC from Hallmark Cards, where she worked as a demand/inventory analyst. She was later promoted to product execution specialist. She has a bachelor’s degree from Ottawa University in Ottawa, Kansas.

McDonald enjoys crafts, party planning, wedding decorating, and shopping. She has two children.

The newest member of the Office of Research Administration says she is looking forward to working with researchers at the School of Medicine and School of Nursing and Health Studies, and with clinicians and residents who conduct research activities at Truman Medical Center.

Med student’s message for those contemplating suicide: ‘Let’s Talk’

UMKC medical student Casey Rose, left, has led a project to promote awareness of help for those contemplating suicide.

Young people face a myriad of stressful events throughout their college years from academic pressures to family and relationship issues. Studies say as many as 20 percent of students will experience suicidal thoughts during college and 9 percent will actually attempt it.

Those facts struck a chord with Casey Rose, a fourth-year medical student at the School of Medicine.

“I was going through my behavioral health class with Dr. Trenton Meyers and he made it evident that suicide is a big problem,” Rose said. “I started thinking that I’ve been doing all this studying and getting prepared for my boards, and the things I’ve been doing are pretty much for myself. I haven’t really put myself out there to help others.”

That is when Rose got the idea to increase awareness of suicide prevention and offer help to students that might be contemplating suicide.

With the support of the medical school, Rose was able to get stickers printed that offer suicide help with hotline numbers. Currently, the stickers are in restrooms throughout the medical school and will be placed in all restrooms throughout the UMKC Health Sciences and Volker campuses.

Rose said Myers, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and course director for behavioral sciences at the School of Medicine, was one his strongest proponents for the project.

“He helped me design the wording for the stickers, using what’s worked for him to help his patients reach out for help when they’ve needed it,” Rose said. “With that and with student feedback, we created these stickers.”

Rose surveyed more than 100 students and used the responses, as well as input from other mental health professionals, to land upon a simple message: “It’s OK to not be OK. Let’s talk.” Included with the message are ways students can get help. Each sticker provides the Suicide Hotline number 1-800-273-TALK and a text option HOME to 741741. Medical students also have access to help through a program called Well Connect with a 24-hour number, 1-866-640-4777, that is included on the decals placed in the School of Medicine.

Myers said suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students today in the United States. He believes the issue flies under the radar because people generally do not like to talk or think about it, or are nervous to speak about it.

“My hope is that when students see these stickers, it will give them the permission they need to spark a conversation with others and openly communicate about it,” he said. “I also hope that it will help those who are silently struggling to know that they are not alone or forgotten.”

For college-aged students, traumatic or difficult to handle events that can cause stress leading to suicidal thoughts can include academic and future career issues, death or other family issues, issues with intimate and other social relationships, personal health problems or even sleep disruptions. And now, these issues may be exacerbated with students returning to campus and dealing with anxieties related to coronavirus.

But Rose said the stickers are not just for those who may be thinking about suicide.

“I’m aware that the chance someone sees a sticker and it saves their life is not exceedingly high,” he said. “But you might see the sticker and remember the number you saw the next time your friend texts you and is like, ‘I’m having a horrible night, having thoughts of being better off dead.’ You could send that number you remember seeing. Maybe the sticker is just the nudge that you need.”

While Rose is quick to share the credit for creating the stickers, Myers finds inspiration in his drive to initiate and see the project through.

“I think Casey’s project speaks volumes about the virtuosity, humanism and caritas demonstrated by our amazing students here at the School of Medicine,” Myers said. “Casey was not looking for any kind of recognition with this project and did this purely with the intention to help those in need. This exemplifies the type of compassion and altruism I wish we could see in all physicians today.”

InDOCtrination Ceremony kicks off new chapter for 107 medical students

Second-year med student Akash Guruswamy, the 2020 Richard T. Garcia Award winner, addressed the new first-year class during this year’s virtual InDOCtrination ceremony.

The excitement and anticipation of students beginning a new chapter of life at the UMKC School of Medicine wasn’t lost on second-year medical student Akash Guruswamy.

The school’s 2020 Richard T. Garcia Award winner, Guruswamy reflected on his first days as a medical student and offered encouragement to his newest colleagues during the annual InDOCtrination Ceremony on Aug. 21.

After moving into their dormitory rooms on the UMKC Volker Campus just days earlier, most of the first-year class watched the virtual ceremony online from their new homes as a precaution to the ongoing coronavirus. The annual event kicked off a full day of orientation, marking the initial step for 107 medical students along their journey to earning a medical degree.

The class experienced the traditional elements of the InDOCtrination ceremony. One is the presentation of the Garcia Award, given annually to a second-year student for outstanding leadership, compassion toward fellow students and first-year academic performance.

Receiving the Garcia award, Guruswamy encouraged the class to enjoy the experience of meeting new people, exploring new places and, for many, a new independence. He also recognized the apprehension that comes with starting medical school, saying his first year was filled with times of anxiety.

“You’re not alone,” he said of those who feel anxious about starting medical school. “It’s totally normal. This program is hard, but look at it this way, you were selected for a seat in this program because the admissions council knew that you are capable.”

The ceremony also included a welcome from School of Medicine Dean Mary Anne, Jackson, who added her encouragement by reminding the class that they are the future of health care.

The highlight of the program followed with the introduction of each of the individual students with their first-year docent units and listening to the Oath of Physicians that each will recite when they receive the medical degrees.

This year’s class is a diverse group made up of 73 women and 34 men from a dozen states across the country from California to Maryland with hometowns as small as 200 and metropolitan areas of more than 9 million people. Some are the first in their families to pursue a career in medicine, while others are the first in their family to attend college.

Members of the class was also reminded that in preparing for medical school they have demonstrated that they deeply care about people and possess an aptitude for scientific inquiry and study that will help them succeed.

“You are on your way to a truly amazing profession,” Jackson said.