August 12, 2020 | Volume II, Issue 15
Dear Larner Community:
Five months ago, when the pandemic struck and our lives changed so suddenly, it was hard to imagine how we would begin the next academic year. Thanks to much hard work by faculty, staff, and students across the institution, we retooled on-the-fly. We kept each other safe and well while still fulfilling our missions of education, research, and clinical care. And we did all this while also offering vital aid to our wider community at a time of unprecedented need.
When the governor issued his original Stay Home/Stay Safe order, all medical student learning went remote, as did all but our essential research activity. All elective clinical procedures were postponed, and we made a major pivot to telehealth (one silver lining). In the days since, outpatient and inpatient clinical care now approach pre-COVID levels. Our basic, and then clinical research have resumed and even expanded, with new projects related to the novel coronavirus. And our third- and fourth-year clinical classes have returned for both inpatient and outpatient rotations.
Now a new chapter in our story has begun, as this Monday we welcomed 124 new members of our community, our medical Class of 2024! We did so in a different way than usual, of course, with the class divided into smaller, separated, and safer working groups. But I am glad that Dean Zehle and I were able to actually visit each group–appropriately masked, of course–and greet them personally. Across our institution, our medical and graduate students will be learning in new ways this year, guided by our hardworking faculty and our innovative curriculum and technology. Please join me in welcoming this outstanding new group of students.
As this semester begins, we are resuming our on-campus presence, while many of us will still be accomplishing our work remotely whenever possible. We have done so much so well in the past months that I feel confident in our ability to keep negotiating the changing landscape the pandemic presents. Let’s take a moment at this time to recognize how strong a community we have proven to be, and to commit to building on that strength throughout the coming months.
I look forward to seeing many of you, in a limited way, this semester. But whether we are in-person at a safe distance, or connecting remotely, please stay safe and look out for those around you.
Richard L. Page, M.D.
Dean, The Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine
The University of Vermont
Pictured above: Deans Page (center) and Zehle (far right) speak with a small group of Class of 2024 medical students in the Larner Classroom.
Return to Campus: Class of 2024 Begins Orientation
The eyes of the Larner College of Medicine’s newest group of future
physicians were bright with excitement as they walked through the halls of Given on their first day as medical students on August 10. While Orientation has a different look and feel this year, the poignancy of this moment is no less significant for the
Class of 2024.
After registering and receiving their Larner-branded masks, the freshly-minted students gathered in small groups across the Medical Education Center to view, via Zoom, a warm welcome from Deans Rick Page, M.D.,and Christa Zehle, M.D., and participate in their First Patient Briefing with Chair and Professor of Pediatrics Lewis First, M.D.
Although Orientation is being delivered using a hybrid session format this year, the objective remains the same: to offer activities that provide an opportunity for students to become familiar with the campus, curriculum, and community. To accomplish this goal while adhering to campus safety guidelines, students are being divided into small groups and spread across multiple rooms. “Faculty and staff are engaging with students in their small groups and through synchronous Zoom presentations,” explains Karen Lounsbury, Ph.D., Foundations director and professor of pharmacology. “Sessions that do not require student discussion will be held fully remotely,” she adds. In addition to the first patient interview and reflection, Orientation course highlights include several diversity, equity and inclusion sessions, a remote community service activity, a day of wellness-focused activities, a remote Dean’s Reception, and a virtual Resource Fair.
Cushman and Nelson Receive COBRE Award for Vermont Center for Cardiovascular and Brain HealthThe University of Vermont is now home to a new Center of Biomedical Research Excellence–the Vermont Center for Cardiovascular and Brain Health–thanks to funding from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Co-led by Professor of Medicine Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., and Chair and Professor of Pharmacology Mark Nelson, Ph.D., the center will bring together junior and senior researchers to conduct team science across disciplines to determine causes and suggest optimal treatments for cardiovascular disease, the leading causes of death and dementia in the U.S.
The award is expected to bring nearly $12 million to UVM over five years, with $2.6 million in funding the first year.
"The Center is providing a platform to build sustainable research programs built on the exceptional potential of early career faculty, and addressing vital health problems facing society, in cardiovascular disease, stroke and cognitive impairment,”
said Dr. Cushman.
In addition to Cushman and Nelson, key faculty involved in the project include Neil Zakai, M.D., M.Sc., associate professor of medicine, and Peter Durda, Ph.D., faculty scientist in pathology and laboratory medicine, who will direct the Study Design and Molecular Epidemiology Core. Todd Clason, M.S., researcher/analyst in pathology and laboratory medicine, who will direct the Customized Physiology and Imaging Core. Three junior faculty members from the Larner College of Medicine and the College of Nursing and Health Science will direct projects in the center:
- Katharine Cheung, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine: “Trajectories and Vascular Mechanisms of Cognitive Impairment in Chronic Kidney Disease;”
- Masayo Koide, Ph.D., assistant professor of pharmacology: “Crippled Cerebral Blood Flow Regulation in Chronic Hypertension;” and
- Denise Peters, P.T., D.P.T., Ph.D., assistant professor of rehabilitation and movement science: “Neuromechanisms Associated with Response to Gait Training in Chronic Stroke.”
Pictured above: Drs. Nelson (left) and Cushman.
Larner Grants Lead in Record-Setting Year for UVM Research Funding
The Larner College of Medicine was a major contributor to helping the University of Vermont gain a record-breaking level in research funding–$181.7 million–during the 2020 fiscal year. The total is the largest in UVM history by a wide margin, eclipsing the previous record of $146 million in 2010 and surpassing last year’s amount by $37.4 million.
The number of awards increased overall from 631 in FY19 to 680. Nearly half–316–awards were received by Larner investigators. About 80 percent of the funding came from the federal government, with the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation awarding the most grants.
The surge in funding supports the research goals laid out in UVM’s recently released strategic vision, “Amplifying Our Impact.” Much of the new funding will enable UVM researchers to look for solutions that improve the health of society and the health of the environment, the two research areas prioritized in the vision.
Pictured above (from left to right): Benjamin Lee, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics, Beth Kirkpatrick, M.D., chair of microbiology and molecular genetics and principle investigator of the Translational Global Infectious Diseases Research Center, and Sean Diehl, Ph.D., associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics.
The summer 2020 issue of Vermont Medicine is now online! View the latest issue, including “True Stories of Our Battle Against COVID-19,” featuring research from faculty, media interviews and op-eds written by faculty experts, community outreach initiatives, and more, at http://med.uvm.edu/vtmedicine/magazine
Veal Publishes Essay in Annals of Internal Medicine
An essay by Class of 2021 medical student Christopher Thomas Veal, titled “At the Intersection of Fear, Grief, and Love,” was recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
The essay chronicles Veal’s solo drive in May from his Chicago home back to medical school in Vermont and the reality of doing so as a Black man in America amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter protests.
Accolades & Appointments
Andrea Villanti, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of psychiatry, recently received funding (R21DA051943, U54DA036114) from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to conduct two studies. The “PACE Vermont Study” will assess perceptions and problems associated with vaping in youth and young adults and the “PACE Vape Messaging Study” will focus on identifying effective vaping prevention messaging for Vermont young adults. She also recently received R01 funding from NIDA for her project, titled “Impact of nicotine messaging on nicotine beliefs and tobacco use behavior.” (Read more about the PACE studies.)
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