Category Archives: Education

GRU theatre students to perform in Louisville, Ky.

Julius CaesarStudents in the Theatre Program at Georgia Regents University have been invited to perform Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” at the 64th Annual Southeastern Theatre Conference, the largest theatre convention in the United States, March 8 in Louisville, Ky.  Conference officials invited 16 GRU students and four actors from Le Chat Noir, an Augusta theater company, to perform after watching a DVD of the university’s Spring 2012 adaptation of the play.

The production is directed by Doug Joiner, GRU Lecturer and Artistic Director at Le Chat Noir. A collaboration between the GRU Theatre Program and Le Chat Noir, the play is set in an action-filled, Mad Max post-apocalyptic world. Twenty percent of the play’s lines have been modernized so that “real people” can understand and enjoy Shakespeare. Last spring’s performance earned a standing ovation from hundreds of Richmond County high school students.

“I think this is the greatest opportunity to showcase Augusta student theater that the university has ever had,” said Dr. Walter Evans, GRU English Professor. “We’ll be appearing before the most knowledgeable and demanding audience that has ever witnessed a theater performance at our university. President Azziz wants to establish the brand. This is going to be one big step in that direction. People from all over will see an excellent production and come away really impressed with the kind of quality that we can produce.”

Charles W. “Skip” Clark, Dean of the GRU Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, has funded the student conference registration fees, and GRU Vice President of Academic and Faculty Affairs Carol Rychly has supplied funds for the set and props. Le Chat Noir is donating material and services, and additional support is expected from the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship committee and the Pamplin Student Research and Travel Committee, but $2,000 is still needed to cover travel costs, Evans said.

The Theatre Program will hold free performances Feb. 27 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 28 at 10 a.m. in GRU’s Maxwell Theatre for the campus community and over 400 local high school students.

GRU symposium to explore women’s health, human rights

Dr. Susan Bordo
Dr. Susan Bordo

The Women’s Studies Program, Women’s Studies Student Association and Iota Iota Iota Honor Society of Georgia Regents University will present the third biennial Women’s Studies Symposium from Feb. 28 to March 2.

The symposium’s theme, “Our Bodies, Ourselves, Our Voices: Health and Human Rights in the Twenty-First Century,” references a book on comprehensive women’s health, Our Bodies, Ourselves,” first published in 1970, which was ground-breaking at the time, said Dr. Marie Drews, Director of the GRU Women’s Studies Program.

“The book, along with its associated women’s health foundation, empowers women to become agents of health and wellness in their communities by providing access to accurate healthcare information,” Drews said. “The symposium, which reflects the vision and mission of the newly formed Georgia Regents University, proposes that accessing information via multiple platforms – inclusive of art, music, literature and theater – strengthens our understanding of the diverse health and wellness issues our community faces.”

On Feb. 28, the symposium will feature the lecture “Sickle Cell Research and Its Relevance to African Women” in the Jaguar Student Activity Center Ballroom on the Summerville Campus from noon to 1:30 p.m. and a play “Sickle Cell: Crisis and Courage” by Dr. La’Veda Wallace Page, followed by a discussion, from 6 to 8 p.m. On March 1, artist Mahera Khaleque will have a gallery exhibit at Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art, 506 Telfair St. from 6 to 8 p.m.

On March 2, the symposium is a day-long event featuring speakers from GRU, University of South Carolina, Auburn University, Norfolk State University and other universities. At the luncheon and keynote address, guest speaker Dr. Susan Bordo of University of Kentucky will discuss “The Anne Boleyn ‘Diet’: What Young Women Today Can Learn from the Story of Henry VIII’s Second Wife.” The event is scheduled from 12:15 to 1: 45 p.m. in the JSAC. The cost of the full symposium and lunch is $20.

The symposium is co-sponsored by GRU’s Student Activities, World Humanities Program, Life of Mind Program Committee, Department of English and Foreign Languages, Division of Professional and Community Education and Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice and Social Work, in addition to Gertrude Herbert Institute of Art.

For additional information and to register for the symposium, visit  and

Losing hope of a good night’s sleep is risk factor for suicide

VaughMcCallweb[1]When people lose hope that they will ever get another good night’s sleep, they become at high risk for suicide, researchers report.

Insomnia and nightmares, which are often confused and may go hand-in-hand, are known risk factors for suicide but just how they contribute was unknown, said Dr. W. Vaughn McCall, Chair of the Medical College of Georgia Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Georgia Regents University.

The new study reaffirms that link and adds the element of hopelessness about sleep that is independent of other types of hopelessness, such as those regarding personal relationships and careers, said McCall, corresponding author of the study in Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the journal of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

”It turns out insomnia can lead to a very specific type of hopelessness and hopelessness by itself is a powerful predictor of suicide,” he said. “It’s fascinating because what it tells you is we have discovered a new predictor for suicidal thinking.”

If the findings hold true in larger studies, they wave a red flag about suicide risk and point toward prevention that targets the negative thoughts with pharmaceuticals and psychological intervention.

The finding also is a reminder to physicians that depressed patients who report increased sleep problems should be asked if they are having suicidal thoughts, McCall said.

The scientists used psychometric testing to objectively assess the mental state of 50 depressed patients age 20-80 being treated as an inpatient, outpatient or in the Emergency Department. More than half had attempted suicide and most were taking an anti-depressant. Testing enabled the researchers to filter out other suicide risks such as depression itself and hone in on the relationship between insomnia and suicide risk, asking specific questions about dysfunctional  beliefs about sleep such as: Do you think you will ever sleep again?

“It was this dysfunctional thinking, all these negative thoughts about sleep that was the mediating factor that explained why insomnia was linked to suicide,” said McCall, who specializes in depression and sleep disorders.

He’s seen insomnia patients spiral downward with increasingly negative and unrealistic thoughts about not sleeping, thinking, for example, that their immune system is being irrevocably damaged.  McCall challenges such negatives from his patients and asks other doctors to consider doing the same:  to disagree, strongly stating there is no scientific evidence for the thoughts but there is hope and help.  “People have choices,” he said.

Once insomnia has been diagnosed, some fairly rigid guidelines can help turn the exhausting and potentially deadly tide, including:

  • Wake up at the same time every day no matter when you go to bed
  • Not going to bed until you are sleepy
  • Eliminating caffeine, known to stay in your system up to 15 hours
  • Eliminating alcoholic beverages or tobacco products
  • Complete cardiovascular exercise at least four hours before bedtime
  • Allowing ample time to digest a meal before heading to bed.

The likelihood of being suicidal at least doubles with insomnia as a symptom, McCall noted.

“If you talk with depressed people, they really feel like they have failed at so many things. It goes something like, ‘My marriage is a mess, I hate my job, I can’t communicate with my kids, I can’t even sleep.’ There is a sense of failure and hopelessness that now runs from top to bottom and this is one more thing,” McCall said.

Collaborators include scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina and the University of Louisville in Kentucky.

GRU student wins American Medical Association Foundation Award

Brett Heimlich, a student in the MD/PhD Program in the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, has received the American Medical Association Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Award.
Brett Heimlich, a student in the MD/PhD Program in the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, has received the American Medical Association Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Award.

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Brett Heimlich, a student in the MD/PhD Program in the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, has received the American Medical Association Foundation’s 2013 Leadership Award.

The award provides medical students, residents, fellows and early career physicians from around the country with special training to develop their skills and become leaders in organized medicine and community affairs. The AMA Foundation honored Heimlich and 19 others at its annual Excellence in Medicine Awards Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.

Heimlich lives in Augusta’s historic Harrisburg neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest and most disadvantaged. He has worked tirelessly on the Harrisburg Community Development Project, which immerses him and his fellow medical students in the neighborhood and aims to address health disparities among its residents. His projects have included a Veggie Truck that travels the neighborhood to offer low income families healthier food choices, mentoring youth at a weekly faith-based outreach program and serving as a member of the Harrisburg Family Health Care Board.

“Brett’s altruistic spirit and commitment to his community epitomize the type of physician we strive to produce,” said MCG Dean Peter Buckley. “We couldn’t be more delighted to call him our own.”

Heimlich has been active in the AMA and has served the association as a student delegate.

GRU to explore partnership with Albany State University for health professions education

Georgia Regents University and Albany State University are exploring plans to establish a health professions program in Albany, Ga. The GRU College of Allied Health Sciences and the College of Science & Health Professions at ASU will collaborate with the goal of producing a more diverse physician assistant workforce for Georgia. As a first step, officials from both universities will work together to further explore plans to expand educational opportunities for students in Southwest Georgia.

“As the state’s academic medical center, we are committed to the expansion of health professions education and workforce development for the state of Georgia,” said GRU President Ricardo Azziz. “This type of relationship could allow us to leverage our combined academic and clinical resources to produce more health professionals for the region and better serve the citizens of Southwest Georgia.”

“This relationship brings great potential to expand our academic portfolio, to produce better trained African-American physician assistants for our city and for our state,” said ASU President Everette J. Freeman. “As one of the nation’s historically black institutions, my hope is that this collaboration may someday assist in the creation of a more diverse workforce for Georgia and a better experience for our students.”

Albany is also headquarters for the Georgia Regents University, Medical College of Georgia Southwest Georgia Clinical Campus, which provides training opportunities for third- and fourth-year medical students in partnership with Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital. Established in 2010, the campus is part of the university’s strategy to address the statewide physician shortage.

About ASU

Albany State University, a historically black institution in Southwest Georgia, has been a catalyst for change in the region from its inception as the Albany Bible and Manual Training Institute to its designation as a university. Founded in 1903 to educate African American youth, the University proudly continues to fulfill its historic mission while also serving the educational needs of an increasingly diverse student population. A progressive institution, Albany State University seeks to foster the growth and development of the region, state and nation through teaching, research, creative expression and public service. Through its collaborative efforts, the University responds to the needs of all its constituents and offers educational programs and service to improve the quality of life in Southwest Georgia.

Terris co-edits first textbook on thyroid surgery complications

TerrisbookwebDr. David Terris, Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Regents University, is an editor of the first textbook on thyroid surgery complications.

“Thyroid Surgery: Preventing and Managing Complications,” covers the spectrum of potential complications that can result from removing the small gland at the base of the neck that regulates metabolism and calcium levels.

Complications can arise from injury of the thyroid’s numerous, nearby neighbors, including the windpipe, the voice box, the vagus nerve and its branches, carotid arteries, jugular vein and esophagus. While thyroid surgery is extremely safe in experienced hands, the close quarters can potentially compromise any of these important structures. “It’s a small space and everything is kind of resting against everything else,” Terris said.

The most common injuries are to nerves to the voice box, which can result in hoarseness or even trouble swallowing and breathing. A nearby nerve that doesn’t get as much attention is the superior laryngeal nerve, which tenses the vocal cords. “If that nerve is injured in somebody like me, you would never know the difference,” Terris said. “But if you are a singer, for example, that tensing of the muscles allows you to hit the high notes.”

Other common injuries are to the parathyroid glands, four pea-sized glands that regulate calcium in the body and most often rest against the backside of the thyroid gland. In fact, there is a condition in which these glands are encased in the thyroid, Terris said. Damaging the parathyroid isn’t a big problem unless all four glands are impacted which, unfortunately, may happen when both lobes of the thyroid need to be removed. “The first way patients know their calcium level is low is they have numbness and tingling of their fingertips and lips because the sensory nerves start to fire spontaneously,” Terris said. Muscle contractions and seizures can occur without treatment as the motor nerves then start to activate.

“If not for these nerves and the parathyroid glands, a thyroidectomy would be an easy operation that anyone could do safely,” Terris said. “But primarily because of those structures, the surgery is better done by someone who does a lot of them.”

Benign growths, called goiters, and cancer are common reasons for thyroid surgery and thyroid cancer cases are “skyrocketing” likely because enhanced imaging techniques today detects even the smallest cancers, Terris said.

He notes that the minimally-invasive approaches, which he has helped pioneer, have not increased complication rates since cases are carefully selected. Also, to enhance visibility through the smallest incisions, surgeons use telescopes that magnify the anatomy 10 times, making even the miniscule parathyroid look giant, Terris said.

Other editors include Dr. Paolo Miccoli, Professor of Surgery, University of Pisa, Italy; Dr. Michele N. Minuto, Assistant Professor of Surgery, University of Genoa, Italy; and Dr. Melanie W. Seybt, Columbia Ear, Nose and Throat Associates, Columbia, S.C.

For more information, visit the companion website,, which includes video of the surgeries covered in the textbook.

Terris is Porubsky Professor and Director of the Endocrine-Head and Neck Fellowship at MCG and the Georgia Regents Health System. He is a member of the Residency Review Committee for Otolaryngology of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education. He recently completed a four-year term as Chair of the American College of Surgeons Advisory Council for Otolaryngology and is Secretary-Treasurer of the Southern Section of the American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society Inc., also known as the Triological Society. Terris received the 2012 American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation’s Distinguished Service Award and is a member of the academy’s Endocrine Surgery Committee. Other memberships include the American Thyroid Association Clinical Affairs Committee and the American Head and Neck Society Endocrine, Publications and Relative Value and CPT Advisory Committees and Advanced Training Council.

He is an Associate Editor for the journal Head & Neck and serves on the editorial boards of Laryngoscope, Operative Techniques of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.

New technology provides rapid diagnosis of respiratory illness

Dr. Christine LitwinGeorgia Regents Health System physicians now have a quick, thorough method to identify the viruses and bacteria causing respiratory illness.

Within an hour the technique, called polymerase chain reaction, determines which of 21 common viruses and bacteria are causing coughing, hacking, wheezing and other respiratory symptoms. That information tells physicians how best to treat – or not treat – the illness. It’s also giving physicians an accurate snapshot of circulating pathogens and when they occur.

“Our goal is to get patients the most rapid, accurate diagnosis,” said Dr. Christine M. Litwin, Medical Director of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at GR Health System and Professor in the Medical College of Georgia Department of Pathology.  “You don’t have to grow a virus, that takes days and we don’t always have days. You can go right to the molecular level to identify it and you don’t need much material to do that. PCR is very, very sensitive.”

PCR enables rapid copying of DNA, in this case found in a small nasal sample, to determine whether it’s the rhinovirus which causes the common cold, several different Variations of influenza virus or the new metapneumovirus that is making people sick. Since in the majority of respiratory viruses RNA actually carries the genetic information, it first converts RNA back to DNA.

“This is the wave of the future for more rapid diagnosis,” said Dr. Dennis L. Murray,  Chief of the MCG Section of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.

At the Health System, most of the PCR testing is done in children age 5 and younger, who are most vulnerable to respiratory infections. The elderly, who may have multiple other medical conditions, are another vulnerable population.

“Children have many more viral infections than adults because kids get closer to each other,” Murray said. “They pass colds and other viral kinds of diseases around.” Young children also are more susceptible because their immune systems are less experienced than adults’ and not as prepared to fight an infection.

While there is not a proven treatment for every viral infection they can now detect, Murray notes in the case of viruses causing respiratory illness it can be as important to know what not to give: antibiotics, which are effective only against bacterial infections and are overprescribed in the United States. Overuse is hurting the effectiveness of the drugs when they are needed and, while use is finally trending downward, Murray says he regularly runs across cases of antibiotic resistance. There are conditions, such as certain pneumonias, caused by both a virus and bacteria, but in children pneumonia it’s usually viral, Murray said. Drugs such as Tamiflu, can diminish the duration and intensity of the flu. The kind of detail provided by PCR will become even more useful, as more therapies emerge, he said.

Despite the sophistication of the information generated, the PCR system is simple to use: the self-contained reagent pouch goes inside the machine, the hydrating solution goes in one side and the nasal sample goes in the other. Litwin notes its simplicity and rapidity dramatically improve lab efficiency.

The long-time standard has been growing a sample in culture for about three days, which requires virology skills to run and read and days to get results. It’s also limited in what it can find and some viruses and bacteria grow better in culture than others. Antigen tests also are available for certain pathogens, but also are not as rapid or as specific as PCR, which can reduce the need for multiple tests in a single patient.

Previously, for example, the lab could not diagnose the new metapneumovirus infection much less determine its incidence in the region, Litwin said. They also have numerous examples where the older tests produced negative findings while the more sensitive PCR was able to identify the infection type, she said.

PCR enables relatively inexpensive and rapid replication of DNA, making millions or even a billion copies available within a few hours rather than a few days. First used as a research tool, it’s moving into clinical settings to help diagnose divergent maladies such as cancer and genetic disorders.

For respiratory infections, GR Health System is using the FilmArray® Instrument, developed by BioFire Diagnostics, Inc., a spinoff biotech company of the University of Utah.  Litwin, who came to MCG and GRU last year from the University of Utah where she was Medical Director of Microbial Immunology, worked to bring the PCR technology to Augusta. She is supplying BioFire Diagnostics with stool samples from area children as the company finalizes similar technology that can determine the source of diarrhea.

Smith named Chair of MCG Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy

Dr. Sylvia Smith, Interim Dean of the College of Graduate Studies and Co-Director of the Vision Discovery Institute at Georgia Regents University, has been named Chair of the Medical College of Georgia Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy.

Smith, a faculty member in the department for more than 20 years, assumes her new duties Feb. 1. Smith will maintain co-leadership of the Vision Discovery Institute with MCG Ophthalmology Chair Julian Nussbaum. GRU Provost Gretchen Caughman has selected Dr. Patricia Cameron, Acting Vice Dean of the College of Graduate Studies, to serve as the college’s Interim Dean while the national search for that position is completed.

“Sylvia already is an accomplished leader who inspires by the excellent example of her strong work ethic, upbeat nature and tireless sense of the importance of teamwork,” said Dr. Peter F. Buckley, MCG Dean.  “In her two decades with us, she has been an enthusiastic educator, a strong mentor and colleague. She takes the reins of a solid department with excellent faculty that was wonderfully managed by Dr. Sally Atherton who retired from MCG this month and is now Executive Director of The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.”

“Sylvia’s willingness to step up to serve our university as Interim Dean of Graduate Studies and the skill she has shown in that role are much appreciated and another clear gauge of her excellent leadership skills,” Caughman said. “We congratulate her on this new position.”

Smith, a retinal cell biologist and Fellow of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, is renowned for her research on retinal function, particularly retinal degeneration. In 2010, she was one of 54 women in North America selected a Fellow in the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine, or ELAM, Program, the nation’s only in-depth national course preparing senior female faculty for leadership positions at academic health centers.

She received the GRU Research Institute’s 2007 Mahesh Distinguished Research Award for significant and sustained contributions to research, sustained external funding and outstanding mentoring and leadership. Smith, currently the principal investigator on two National Institutes of Health grants totaling more than $2.24 million, has been continuously funded by the NIH since 1992. She has served on numerous NIH Study Sections, is an editorial board member of the journal Ophthalmology and Eye Diseases and a guest editorial board member for Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science, Current Eye Research and Molecular Vision.

Smith is a member of MCG Faculty Appointments/Promotions/Tenure Committee and Pre- and Post-Tenures Committees. She also is a member of the M.D./Ph.D. Advisory Committee. She served as the medical school’s Associate Dean for Students from 2004-08. As a founding Co-Director of the Vision Discovery Institute, she has helped grow vision-related science and education at GRU in the past five years.

She completed postdoctoral training at NIH’s Laboratory of Retinal Cell and Molecular Biology.