Category Archives: In the News

GRU Cancer Center Director Joins World Oncology Forum to “Stop Cancer Now”

Dr. Samir N. Khleif, Director of the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center, is one of 100 international cancer experts who were invited to participate in the World Oncology Forum (WOF), which is calling on governments around the world to take urgent action to halt a catastrophic increase in death and suffering from cancer across the globe, and to deliver on commitments they made at the World Health Assembly in May 2012 to cut premature deaths from non-communicable diseases, including cancer, by 25% by 2025.

The STOP CANCER NOW! appeal launched on World Cancer Day and is the statement that the WOF formulated during its meeting in February in Lugano, Switzerland. It raises the alarm about the rapid escalation in the human and economic cost of cancer, and warns that current strategies for controlling cancer are not working. It calls on governments and policy makers to commit to pursuing new strategies that have been shown to be effective and are achievable anywhere in the world. Meeting these commitments could save the lives of 1.5 million people across the globe each year.

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The World Oncology Forum (WOF) was organized by the European School of Oncology in partnership with The Lancet for the purpose of evaluating progress in the fight against cancer. Having listened to the evidence on progress to date in controlling cancer, WOF participants concluded that current strategies are not fit for purpose and need radical overhaul. In launching this appeal, the WOF participants are not just calling on world leaders to wake up to the scale of suffering caused by cancer, but are also presenting a set of feasible strategies that can be carried out anywhere in the world and can make a real difference. Cancer is one of the biggest causes of death in every corner of the globe, and the rate of new cases is increasing so fast that it is expected to double over 25 years, with the heaviest burden falling on countries that are least prepared to detect and treat the disease and care for patients. This catastrophic scenario can be averted, but it will take the sort of determined international action that was mounted in response to the AIDS crisis 20 years ago.

The STOP CANCER NOW! appeal appeared today as an advertisement in the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, El País, La Repubblica and Neue Zürcher Zeitung. It was also published alongside a commentary in The Lancet and in an article in Cancer World. The STOP CANCER NOW! Appeal is available in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

Stroke center makes honor roll for fast, quality care

The Primary Stroke Center at Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center has been named to the Target: Stroke Honor Roll by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for excellence in emergency stroke care.

“When it comes to stroke, time is brain. Treatment within the first three hours – the golden window for stroke – is critical to saving the millions of neurons vital for human function,” said Dr. David Hess, Medical Director of the Primary Stroke Center and Chair of Neurology at Georgia Regents University. GHS Medical Center is currently one of only about a dozen hospitals in Georgia to make the Target Stroke Honor Roll, making it among the fastest in the nation for life-saving care.

Hospital measures include aggressive use of the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator, commonly known as tPA, and a fast-track protocol to diagnose and treat stroke within a 60-minute window. The multidisciplinary stroke team includes physicians, nurses and staff from emergency, neurology, radiology, pathology and other specialists who work together in a seamless process. Target Stroke Honor Roll recognizes hospitals that treat at least half of eligible patients with tPA within an hour of their arrival to the emergency department.

In addition, GHS earned the AHA/ASA Get With The Guidelines® Stroke Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award for the second consecutive year for achieving 85 percent or higher adherence to all Get With The Guidelines Stroke Quality Achievement Indicators for two or more consecutive 12-month intervals and 75 percent or higher compliance with six of 10 stroke quality measures during the same time period.

These measures include tPA use, anticoagulation therapy, cholesterol-lowering drugs and smoking cessation, all aimed at reducing death and disability and improving the lives of stroke patients. Studies have shown that patients who are taught to manage their risk factors while still in the hospital are less likely to have another stroke.

Stroke is a leading cause of death and serious long-term disability in the United States. On average, someone dies of a stroke every four minutes. GHS Medical Center, located in the heart of the Stroke Belt, is designated as a Primary Care Stroke Center by the Georgia Department of Public Health Office of EMS and Trauma and the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations

Patients in rural Georgia hospitals have fast access to quality stroke care at GHS through REACH Health, Inc., a telemedicine program pioneered at GRU’s Medical College of Georgia that allows neurologists to diagnose and treat stroke patients remotely. Hospitals in partnership with GHS Medical Center for remote stroke care include Burke Medical Center, Coliseum Medical Centers, Elbert Memorial Hospital, Emanuel Medical Center, Fairview Park Hospital, Jefferson Hospital, Jenkins County Hospital, McDuffie Regional Medical Center, Morgan Memorial Hospital, Palmyra Medical Center, St. Mary’s Hospital, St. Mary’s Good Samaritan Hospital, Tift Regional Medical Center, Ty Cobb Memorial Hospital, Washington County Regional Medical Center, West Georgia Hospital and Wills Memorial Hospital.

Study explores whether sleeping pills reduce insomniac’s suicidal thoughts

Dr. Vaughn McCall and Maryanne RileyResearchers want to know whether a sleeping pill reduces suicidal thoughts in depressed patients with insomnia.

“The more we look at it, the more it looks like insomnia by itself is a predictor of suicide so the next question becomes: Why not treat insomnia strategically as a focus of care and see if that reduces suicidal thinking,” said Dr. W. Vaughn McCall, Chair of the Medical College of Georgia Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior at Georgia Regents University.

McCall is principal investigator on a $1.2 million National Institute of Mental Health grant to objectively assess patient response to this strategy. The study at GRU, Duke University and the University of Wisconsin is enrolling 138 adults over four years. To help ensure their safety, all participants will receive the anti-depressant fluoxetine for the eight-week trial while half will also get the sedative-hypnotic zolpidem.

It’s a complex treatment conundrum that the study hopes to unravel. Some physicians are understandably concerned about giving sleeping pills to people with suicidal thoughts. “We are faced very commonly with a patient who is not sleeping, is depressed, is suicidal and the treating physician is understandably concerned about giving that patient sleeping pills,” McCall said.

In fact, some sleep experts routinely condemn sleeping pills, saying the pills are potentially deadly, independent of suicide. Other people with chronic insomnia never seek professional help, trying home or natural remedies while their negative thoughts about sleep escalate. If they do seek medical care as problems mount, they may find themselves with a doctor hesitant or even adamant about hypnotics, McCall said.

If researchers can show a direct link between insomnia treatment and reduced suicidal thinking, it could help mainstream targeted drug therapy as well as non-drug approaches such as cognitive behavior therapy, a structured talk therapy that targets faulty thinking such as, ‘I will never sleep again,’ said McCall, who also uses this approach.

Researchers have evidence that the intensity of insomnia correlates with the intensity of suicidal thoughts as well as a pilot study linking proactive hypnotic treatment to reduced suicidal thoughts. In fact, 31 studies have linked insomnia to suicidal thoughts, behavior or death. Still suicide risk factors and prevention often overlook insomnia, McCall said.

Acknowledging the very vulnerable population they study, there are numerous safeguards built into the research protocol such as participants only getting one week’s supply of sleeping pills for the first two weeks, then getting a two-week supply if their suicidal thoughts stabilize. Additionally, they will be asked to take the drug shortly before going to bed and to allow eight hours for sleep.

Sleeping pills such aszolpidem accentuate the body’s normal mechanism for sleep by targeting GABA, a neurotransmitter that essentially turns the brain’s metabolism down, McCall said. Existing antidepressants don’t affect GABA.  Many over-the-counter sleep aids are essentially anti-histamines; histamine is another neurotransmitter that helps keep you awake. In insomniacs, GABA tends to be underactive while histamine works overtime.

Insomnia is a symptom and about half of all cases are related to a mental disorder such as depression. About 90 percent of patients hospitalized for depression and 60 percent of those treated as outpatients also have insomnia, McCall said.  Not sleeping also can also be tied to personality, specifically hypervigilant individuals who are always “on.” “They just can’t relax,” said McCall, who admits to at least a small case of that himself. Others have life-issues, such as divorce or illness, that can cause transient insomnia. In others, it’s a long-standing problem with no obvious basis.

Patients with insomnia that persists over a year have a 30-fold increased risk of developing depression compared to the insomniac who gets treatment. “That is like the risk of cigarette smoking for cancer: it’s huge,” McCall said. This begs more questions about how insomnia causes depression and, if you’re already depressed, how insomnia aggravates suicide risk, he said.

He notes there is a subset of depressed people, particularly young people, who sleep too much, and that older people generally have a harder time falling and staying asleep.

Wake Forest University will assist in statistical analysis for the study. Individuals with sleep apnea as severe suicidal thoughts will be excluded. Participants will be referred for outpatient management at the end of the study.

For more information, contact Senior Research Assistant Mary Anne Riley at or (706) 721-1011.

MCG at GRU hosts international pathology research group

The Department of Pathology at the Medical College of Georgia at Georgia Health Sciences University is hosting the Winter meeting of the international Group for Research in Pathology Education today through Sunday, Jan. 20.

The 42-year-old organization represents more than 60 institutions across the world that teach undergraduate and graduate pathology.

Dr. Diane Turnbull, MCG’s Director of Phase 2 Curriculum Development, is hosting the 2013 GRIPE Winter Meeting of about 60 participants today at the Robert B. Greenblatt, M.D. Library on GRU’s Health Sciences Campus. Presentations by many MCG educators will highlight today’s session, with a focus on curriculum, evaluation and pedagogy.  Remaining sessions will be at Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center.

DeRemer named GSHP Practitioner of the Year

David DeRemer, a Pharmacy Clinical Specialist at the Georgia Regents University Cancer Center, has been named 2012 Practitioner of the Year by the Georgia Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

DeRemer has been a hematology/oncology pharmacy clinical specialist for the Bone Marrow Transplant program since joining the health system at GRU in 2005. DeRemer is also a Clinical Associate Professor in the University of Georgia’s College of Pharmacy and serves as post-graduate year two oncology residency program director for GRU-UGA.

He earned his Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Kentucky in 2002 and completed both a pharmacy practice residency and a hematology/oncology specialty residency at UK Medical Center. DeRemer completed a one-year oncology fellowship with emphasis in drug discovery and development at the UK College of Pharmacy.

His teaching, clinical service and scholarship interests include drug research, hematological malignancies, bone marrow transplant and supportive care. In addition to GSHP, he is a member of the Hematology Oncology Pharmacy Association, the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, American College of Clinical Pharmacy and the American Society of Health System Pharmacists.

Coroners Symposium slated for Jan. 25 at GRU

Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center’s Tissue Donor Services and the Georgia Coroners Association, District 2, are teaming up for the third annual Coroners Symposium from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25 in the Natalie and Lansing B. Lee Jr. Auditoria Center at Georgia Regents University.

About 100 coroners, deputy coroners and law enforcement officials will participate in this free continuing-education event featuring keynote speaker Joseph Scott Morgan, a criminal justice and forensic professor and author of the book Blood Beneath My Feet: The Journey of a Southern Death Investigator.

Other presenters include Dan Hillman, Executive Director of Child Enrichment, Inc., who will discuss how to recognize maltreatment of children. Eric Emery, Medicolegal Operations Consultant for the National Transportation Safety Board, will speak on mass fatalities and disaster victim recovery; and the Rev. Brennan Francois, a chaplain at Georgia Health Sciences Medical Center and a motivational speaker, will talk about making a difference in the midst of tragedy.

The symposium provides valuable training to the coroners who participate, while also raising awareness about organ and tissue donations.

“One tissue donor can enhance the lives of more than 50 people,” said Carl Eubanks, Director of Tissue Donor Services at GHS Medical Center. “Coroners work with families who’ve lost loved ones. If they can broach the subject of organ donation with the families they encounter, perhaps these families will choose to give the gift of life to another, and maybe experience a touch of hope during their loss.”

For more information about the symposium, call Eubanks at 706-533-4210, or Augusta-Richmond County Chief Deputy Coroner Mark Bowen at 706-821-2383.

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.