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Spinal cord injury researcher inspires at faculty convocation

Staff Report | Aug. 30, 2016

Photo/Anne Thompson
MUSC convocation honorees include, back row: Drs. Don Rockey, from left, Clint Blankenship, John Bosso, James Sterrett, Scott Bragg and Prabhakar Baliga. Front row: Drs. Gerard Silvestri, Meredith Holcomb, Elizabeth Wallis and James Zoller. Not pictured: Drs. Zihai Li and Bei Liu.

Marking the beginning of the academic year, MUSC staged its annual faculty convocation event on Aug. 23, featuring a keynote address from one of its own and celebrating the achievements of several others.

James S. Krause, Ph.D., professor and associate dean for research from the College of Health Professions, delivered the keynote address.


Anne Thompson, Communications and Marketing
 
Dr. James Krause gave the keynote address at Tuesday’s Faculty Convocation ceremony held at the Drug Discovery Auditorium. Krause directs the Longevity After Injury Project, which seeks to improve health and quality of life for patients after debilitating injuries. 

“There’s no greater honor than speaking for my colleagues, the college and the university,” he said.

Krause, who was paralyzed in a teenage diving accident, spoke of the importance of diversity and inclusion at MUSC, comparing the fight for access for those with disabilities to the civil rights movement.

“We face historical challenges here (in Charleston). We have wonderful, historical buildings. We have, sometimes, historical sidewalks as well,” he joked.

Though MUSC still has a ways to go, Krause said he is proud the university is setting an example for the community by striving to eliminate as many barriers as possible, both literal and figurative. “We’re all going to face some challenges in the years to come. But, if we can make a difference for someone now, someone else will make a difference for us.”

Krause went on to thank several mentors and friends who taught him important lessons over the course of his life and career: mentor Nancy Crewe, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, college roommate Tony, Krause’s best friend who was born with no arms or legs, and colleague Bryan Kemp, Ph.D., a gifted researcher at the University of California who passed away from ALS, a neurodegenerative disease.

“Nancy taught me about compassion in how she could put others so far ahead of her own interests,” he said. “Tony taught me that you don’t need legs to move forward; you don’t need arms to reach for the sky. And, Bryan taught me that you don’t need words to say a lot; and you don’t need eyesight to have vision.”

Faculty awards were given in the following categories: Distinguished Faculty Service, Outstanding Clinician, Peggy Shachte Research Mentor, Developing Scholar and Teaching Excellence.

Following are brief profiles of the award winners.

Distinguished Faculty Service

John Bosso, PharmD
MUSC has risen on the national stage due to faculty members like Bosso. In a stellar 43-year career – half of it in the service of the people of South Carolina – he has contributed immensely to the fields of pharmacy and infectious disease.

He joined the MUSC faculty in 1992 and has provided practical leadership and collaborative research mentoring with appointments in the departments of Pediatrics and Medicine, the College of Pharmacy, the College of Graduate Studies and the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center. He served previously as the vice chairman for Research in the Department of Hospital Pharmacy Practice and Administration and head of the Division of Clinical Pharmacy Sciences. More recently, he has been the chairman of the Department of Pharmacy and Clinical Sciences at MUSC, and then the chairman of the Department of Clinical Pharmacy and Outcome Sciences at the South Carolina College of Pharmacy. In this role, over the past 10 years, he had the demanding task of managing a department with faculty members in Charleston, Columbia and Greenville. He established a reputation as a respected administrator with a strong interest in mentoring junior faculty members and improving scholarships within the department.

Bosso has also served MUSC exceptionally well at the regional and national levels, chairing a number of committees for the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy and the American College of Clinical Pharmacy over a more than 25-year period. He has earned the title of fellow in the Infectious Disease Society of America, where he participated in drafting the Clinical Practice Guidelines for Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy, and in the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. He also has done extensive outreach service in a number of fields.

Gerard A. Silvestri, M.D., M.S.
Silvestri is the Hillebrand endowed professor of medicine and vice chairman of medicine for faculty development. Although he excels in all facets of medicine, Anthony Alberg, Ph.D., interim director of the Hollings Cancer Center, says, “When you think of Dr. Gerard Silvestri's life’s work, think ‘lung cancer.’”

According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women, responsible for about 1 out of 4 cancer deaths. Each year, more people die of lung cancer than of colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.

Silvestri, however, has his own potent combination: clinical expertise, an exceptional bedside manner and an impressive research program that has contributed to an ever-expanding body of knowledge on lung cancer, ranging from prevention and screening to diagnosis and treatment. Silvestri, together with the late Dr. Carolyn Reed, made MUSC a national model for the diagnosis and management of lung cancer. His deep insights into the effective management, use and outcomes of thoracic oncology tumor boards make him a highly sought-after expert on this topic.

His contributions to medicine have gained him a well-deserved national profile. He has served as president of the American Association of Bronchology and Interventional Pulmonology, and in 2017 he will assume the presidency of the American College of Chest Physicians, the world’s largest association of pulmonologists.

James S. Zoller, Ph.D., M.H.A.
MUSC has recorded many achievements since its beginnings in 1824; one of the more recent examples is being the birthplace of the Doctor of Health Administration degree program, a significant step in the constantly changing field of medical center leadership. Zoller, currently serving as interim dean of the College of Health Professions, developed the program for executives in the health care field. He then expanded it into two additional tracks: one tailored for clinicians and another tailored for information technology specialists.

“To this day it remains the largest and most highly regarded program in the nation when compared to the other programs of its type,” states Associate Professor Michael Meacham, J.D., M.H.P., in his assessment of the DHA program. “This expansion makes it possible for non–administrative personnel to pursue doctoral–level education in the field of management as they plan for their future careers.”

The DHA program is just one example of Zoller’s initiatives.  Another is the annual fall Leadership Conference co–sponsored by the College’s Department of Healthcare Leadership and Management and the American College of Healthcare Executives. What once was a “sleepy little” continuing education session has become a “robust discussion of current issues and trends” in health care, attracting attendees from the Carolinas and Georgia, according to Professor Walter Jones, Ph.D. “This event has become a fall highlight for many professionals in the region.”

Outstanding Clinicians

Prabhakar Baliga, M.D.
As excellent a clinician as Baliga is, he is an even better person, say his colleagues. Chairman of the Department of Surgery and Chief of the Transplant, Nephrology and Hepatology Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence, Baliga joined the MUSC faculty in 1992 and has spent virtually his entire professional career here. It was evident from the outset that he would become one of this institution’s most distinguished clinicians. In 1995, he became director of the Liver–Intestinal Transplant Program, a position he held for 14 years. He also has held a number of strategic leadership positions throughout the medical center.

“He is the most elegant and gifted technical surgeon that I have ever worked with,” says fellow surgeon David Adams, M.D., professor and co–medical director of the Digestive Disease Center. “I don’t know how he has done all that he has done.”

The clinical and administrative skills are obvious, but according to his colleagues, what distinguishes Baliga is his genuine concern for his patients. “Even if you remove all his publications, grants and transplant program development accolades, Dr. Baliga, at his core, is a clinician who always puts the patient first,” adds colleague Mark Lockett, M.D., associate professor of surgery.

Meredith A. Holcomb, AuD
MUSC’s Cochlear Implant Program has increased from 15 to more than 120 implant placements over the past decade. One of the driving forces behind this growth — by some estimates one of the three or four largest programs in the Southeast — has been Holcomb, the program’s clinical director.

She came to MUSC in 2005 on an externship as she was completing her doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and subsequently joined the faculty, becoming clinical director in 2011. Prior to her becoming clinical director, she launched in 2010 the first of what has since become an annual event — the MUSC Pediatric Audiology Conference — bringing in experts from around the country to update state audiologists on the latest information in their field. On a more personal level, she organized another annual event shortly after her arrival to MUSC — a cochlear implant picnic that has attracted hundreds of young patients and their families from across South Carolina. She has helped make the program a family affair.

Holcomb's external service, including international mission trips, has earned her a spot in the Charleston Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40.” 

Elizabeth M. Wallis, M.D.
The academic and training credentials of Wallis are impressive: She earned her M.D. from The Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University and did her residency and fellowship at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Even though she has been on the MUSC faculty for only three years, she has established a reputation as a “go–to” physician, willing to take on the difficult pediatric cases, according to Rita Ryan, M.D., a professor of pediatrics.

Nominating materials for Outstanding Clinician awards normally include letters of support from fellow faculty members and supervisors. The supporting material for Wallis, however, included the rare letter from a patient’s family member. This letter, from a foster parent of a young child with a life–threatening ailment, was compelling to say the least. The following is an excerpt:

"During the most recent terrifying trip to the ED, resultant stay in the PICU, and step–down unit, I experienced a very dark night of the soul. I doubted my ability to care for this child properly. The toll of the past 20–plus months of near constant illness and the terror of a near-death experience had shaken me to my core. I questioned my ability to keep her alive and my suitability as her foster/potential adoptive mother. I was sitting in the dark by the child's bedside when Dr. Wallis dropped by. Upon seeing the fragile emotional state I was in, she pulled up a chair and ministered to me. She allowed me to pour out all my doubts and fears, while dripping tears. She listened with nothing but compassion in her eyes and then she gently, but firmly, propped me back up with kind, encouraging, compassionate words. She brought me back from the brink and reminded me how far we had come from that initial hospitalization during my child's first week of life. She gave me back my confidence and helped me move past the fears that were gripping me. She healed me.”

Peggy Schachte Research Mentor

Zihai Li, M.D., Ph.D.

In the increasingly competitive arena of research funding, the impact of scientists like Li cannot be praised enough. Li holds the Smart State Sally Abney Rose endowed chair in cancer stem cell biology and is chairman of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and leader of the Cancer Immunology Program for MUSC’s Hollings Cancer Center.

Since his fellowship at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle, he has mentored more than 60 trainees and faculty. Many of his mentees have gone on to successful careers in academia, the corporate sector and medicine.

That trend has continued during his six years in Charleston. Since 2010, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology has seen an increase in NIH funding, with its ranking improving from 79th nationally to 39th during a five-year span. Under Li’s leadership, the Cancer Immunology Program has increased to 20 active members with more than 25 grants totaling nearly $6 million in annual research project funding. Currently, he mentors 13 junior faculty members in various departments throughout the College of Medicine. His trainees have a combined 16 grants with direct funding in excess of $9 million, which include six R01s, a P01 (Core), 2 K08s, a DOD award and four grants from private institutions.

Chrystal Paulos, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and immunology, agrees, saying, “I have had the great privilege of being mentored by some of the best tumor immunologists in the world …. Among them, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Zihai has been the most influential on my career and the best mentor I have ever had.”

Developing Scholar

Bei Liu, M.D., M.S., M.P.H.

Biomedical science has made incredible advances in cancer treatment over the years, prolonging life and enhancing the quality of life for those patients whose cancers cannot be cured.

Myeloma, a cancer of the blood of which multiple myeloma is the most common form, remains one of those without a cure. Liu, however, is pursuing a course of investigation that holds promise for future treatment for this form of cancer.

The object of her pursuit is the role of Grp (Glucose–regulated protein) 94, a so–called chaperone, in regulating plasma cells and myeloma. Liu, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, has been a key member of Li’s team in their investigation of Grp94, an often neglected protein operating in the shadow of its more tractable cousin, Hsp90. She is the first in the field to utilize a genetic targeted approach to uncover the function of Grp94 in chaperoning Toll–like receptors and regulating B cell immune response in vivo.

Li, understandably, is effusive in praise of his colleague: “Dr. Liu has established herself as an outstanding independent investigator with special expertise in plasma cells and dendritic cells in the context of multiple myeloma and colitis–colon cancer respectively. These areas of research expertise dovetail into MUSC’s mission of research expansion, and have made Liu a valued key investigator and collaborator in the Department of Medicine, Department of Microbiology & Immunology and the Hollings Cancer Center."

Teaching Excellence

The four recipients of the Teaching Excellence awards, Scott W. Bragg, PharmD (Developing Teacher); Clint C. Blankenship, PharmD (Educator–Lecturer); Don C. Rockey, M.D. (Educator–Mentor: Academic-Scholarship) and James J. Sterret, PharmD (Educator–Mentor: Clinical-Professional) were featured in the
May 27 issue of The Catalyst.

 
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