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Archive for “2013 Research” Category

Women’s Health Research Day set for April 24

The VCU Institute for Women’s Health will present the ninth annual Women’s Health Research Day on April 24.

Women’s Health Research Day is a celebration and promotion of research activities in Women’s Health at VCU. The event will be held from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Jonah L. Larrick Student Center on the MCV campus. Its theme is “Women’s Health: From Bench to Bedside to Community.”

Dr. PonJola Coney, the senior associate dean for faculty affairs at the School of Medicine, will give the keynote address: “Health Disparities: Where Are We Now?”

The program also includes a plenary session showcasing four outstanding researchers at VCU. This year’s featured researchers include Rosalie Corona, an associate professor of clinical psychology, and Dr. Edmond (Trey) Wickham, an associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.

Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required. Onsite registration will be available on the day of the event.

For more information, please contact Tracy McMullin at 804-827-2237.

Fertility problems connected to successful cancer treatments

By Jody Taylor

For some cancer survivors, the price of successful treatment is living with issues that arose from the treatment of their illness.

Dr. Elizabeth McGee’s research on graft-versus-host disease focuses on the consequences of bone-marrow or stem-cell transplantation on women’s hormonal health.

Her training in reproductive endocrinology and infertility included a postdoctoral fellowship in the Reproductive Scientist Development Program at Stanford University Medical Center. There, she began to study the development and regeneration of the ovarian follicle, which remains at the center of her research.  (http://edrv.endojournals.org/content/21/2/200.full)

An ovarian follicle contains a single egg, and is the basic element of the female reproductive system. Part of Dr. McGee’s research on ovarian follicles studied the effect of gonadotropins, which are protein hormones that can act as follicle stimulators.

And that formed a rather unlikely connection to problems she began seeing in patients who had undergone cancer treatment. The patients were suffering from fertility problems that were connected to graft-versus-host disease.

“I started learning about vaginal graft-versus-host disease because of the women who were being sent to me,” said Dr. McGee, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the VCU School of Medicine. Methods used to treat cancer were successfully fighting the disease, but those same methods were spawning other problems in patients.

In her research on what makes a healthy follicle and a healthy egg, she was able to draw parallels with hormones and female sexual tissue. Tissue is at the heart of graft-versus-host disease because it stems from receiving any kind of cells from someone else. Those cells contain different proteins which the host immune system hasn’t seen.

That can manifest itself in joint and muscle problems, eye problems and autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. It can also affect the reproductive system, but McGee noted, the problems were only beginning to be traced back to graft-versus-host disease. Some women were experiencing daily pain and discomfort, and it in its most severe form, the disease produced scaring that could close the vagina.

The commonality?

“This is all dealing with hormones and growth factors and female tissue,” Dr. McGee said.

“These women are having problems and truly suffering,” she said. “The quality of their life is truly diminished – and the quality of their partners’ lives, as well. That’s a big motivating factor, to find ways to keep this from happening or to treat it – to use what I’ve learned in science to help.”

About VCU and the VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 222 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-six of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

Gates Foundation supports HIV researchers

VCU is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

With the $100,000 grant, researchers from the VCU Institute for Women’s HealthVCU schools of MedicineNursing, and World Studies in the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, will work with community partners in Ségou, Mali, to pursue an innovative global health and development research project, titled “Reducing Harmful Inflammation and Attenuating Immune System Deterioration in HIV-Infected Malian Women.”

“This award will help us determine how certain beneficial intestinal bacteria in HIV-infected women in Africa relate to immune system function,” said principal investigator Daniel Nixon, D.O., Ph.D., director of the VCU HIV Center and associate professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. Patricia Cummins, Ph.D., professor of French in the VCU School of World Studies, and Saba Masho, M.D., associate professor of epidemiology and community health in the VCU School of Medicine, serve as co-principal investigators of the study.

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Community-based research reduces poor birth outcomes

By Jody Taylor

Saba Masho, M.D., associate professor of Epidemiology and Community Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology, says it is all about the communities we serve. Her work with Richmond Healthy Start is centered upon a goal of reducing poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight and premature delivery, among African-American women.

Masho has worked on the Richmond Healthy Start initiative since 2003. Healthy Start is a federally funded program designed to provide care to low-income pregnant women. The services include screening, referral and comprehensive case management that encompass home visitation programs. She first became involved in the Healthy Start program as a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley.

The Oakland Healthy Start project allowed her to understand issues surrounding racial disparities in perinatal health. Additionally, it provided her the opportunity to witness the complexity of this important public health problem. She learned that there are so many unanswered questions, which led her to focus her research in maternal and child health. She says one of the most important problems faced by public health professionals is the lack of evidence-based practices to guide interventions.

The project allowed her to work with stakeholders, including patients, providers and researchers. Most importantly, she says, the project allowed her to work with underserved communities who are in need of services. It is clear Masho enjoys working with the community.

“I wanted to be involved in community-based work – that has been my passion for a very long time,” she said. “I wanted to work with mothers and children. Clearly, they are vulnerable, underserved and voiceless, and I have always wanted to be a part of the solution and engage in the area of health service research, policy evaluation.”

Moving to Richmond provided her with the opportunity to work with the Richmond Healthy Start initiative. “After completing my doctoral work, it made it very natural to continue with initiative in Richmond,” she said. “The project opened doors to work with communities.”

Her research questions revolve around relevant areas identified by community partners, including patients and providers. She believes that communities and providers are in need of evidence-based practices to inform effective interventions.

“For instance, there once was a recommendation that women should gain as much weight as possible to reduce poor birth outcome,” said  Masho. “This was regardless of the women’s prepregnancy weight. It is only recently that we have learned that the weight gain should depend on the prepregnancy weight of the mother.”

In general, infant mortality and perinatal disparities are complex issues that require the collaboration of multidisciplinary sectors.

“The whole idea is to bring different partners together,” she said. “This is not something one particular agency could address. It is really a collective approach. To successfully improve outcomes, it is imperative that we engage the community.”

About VCU and the VCU Medical Center 

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 222 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-six of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University compose the VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.

 

 

NIH renews research grant for VCU Center on Health Disparities to examine preterm birth

The Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Health Disparities has been awarded a five-year grant renewal totaling $6.2 million from the National Institute of Health’s Institute on Minority Health Disparities for research, research training and community outreach in the area of preterm birth.

The high rate of premature births in the United States remains a public health concern. Preterm or premature birth is the leading cause of neonatal mortality and morbidity in African Americans. The causes and mechanisms explaining preterm birth — and especially the disparity in African Americans — are poorly understood.

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