Jagwire https://jagwire.augusta.edu Augusta University News Fri, 24 Sep 2021 15:21:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2016/01/cropped-AU.Social.Augustus_Blue-1-32x32.jpg Jagwire https://jagwire.augusta.edu 32 32 Kountakis named honorary member of European Rhinologic Society https://jagwire.augusta.edu/kountakis-named-honorary-member-of-european-rhinologic-society/ Fri, 24 Sep 2021 15:21:29 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104403 Dr. Stilianos Kountakis has been named an honorary member of the European Rhinologic Society.]]>

Dr. Stilianos Kountakis, chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, has been named an honorary member of the European Rhinologic Society.

The honor is given to a select few members of the society, based on past significant contributions to the group and the wider specialty of rhinology, a medical field dedicated to the study and treatment of diseases of the nose and the paranasal sinuses. Kountakis, who also serves as Edward S. Porubsky Distinguished Chair in Otolaryngology, will receive the award Sept. 27 during the opening ceremonies of the group’s annual Congress.

In addition to serving as department chair, he also directs the AU Health System Georgia Sinus Center and MCG’s Rhinology-Skull Base/Sinus Surgery Fellowship Program. Kountakis came to the medical school in 2003 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, where he was director of the Division of Rhinology and Virginia Sinus Center.

He has served as vice president of the Southern Section of the Triological Society, and as member of the Board of Directors and past president of the Georgia Society of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. In 2015, he was the recipient of that group’s Gerald S. Gussack Memorial Award for outstanding teaching in Otolaryngology. He is a past president of the American Rhinologic Society and received the society’s 2015 Golden Head Mirror Teaching Award for teaching and contributions to the society, and its 2017 Presidential Citation.

Kountakis has served as associate editor of the American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy, and the International Forum of Allergy &Rhinology. He is editor-in-chief of the first Encyclopedia of Otolaryngology-HNS and has edited 4 additional textbooks, the first and second editions of The Frontal Sinus, Rhinologic and Sleep Apnea Surgical Techniques, Revision Sinus Surgery and ENT- Core Knowledge. His research interests include pathophysiology and pathogenesis of sinusitis and polyps, medical and surgical outcomes and allergic fungal sinusitis. He is consistently ranked among America’s Best Doctors.

Kountakis received his medical degree from the University of Texas-Houston. He completed a general surgery residency at University of Texas-Houston Medical School, Hermann Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Hospital System of the Texas Heart Institute, and an otolaryngology residency at UT-Houston Medical School, Hermann Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, and MacGregor Medical Associates. He completed a PhD at the University of Crete Medical School.

Georgia Cancer Center receives $1.7M grant to study why aggressive form of breast cancer can resist treatment https://jagwire.augusta.edu/georgia-cancer-center-researcher-receives-1761375-grant-to-study-why-aggressive-form-of-breast-cancer-can-resist-treatment/ Thu, 23 Sep 2021 14:29:08 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104339 Understanding the role a certain molecule plays in both cancer cells, as well as the cells tasked to kill foreign invaders in the body, could be the key to unlocking the benefits of treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.]]>

Understanding the role a certain molecule plays in both cancer cells, as well as the cells tasked to kill foreign invaders in the body, could be the key to unlocking the benefits of treatment for one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer.

“Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) gets its name from the fact that these cancer cells do not have estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and do not produce very much of the oncogene called HER2,” said Dr. Hasan Korkaya, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Medical College of Georgia. “This form of cancer is usually diagnosed more frequently in African American women under the age of 40 and those women who test positive for the BRCA-1 gene and display even more aggressive disease than their Caucasian counterparts.”

According to the American Cancer Society, around 10-15% of breast cancers are triple-negative breast cancer. As part of a $1,761,375 grant from the National Cancer Institute, Korkaya and his research team at the Georgia Cancer Center will be studying a molecule found on both the cancer cells, as well as the white blood cells tasked with attacking and killing the cancer cells before they can move from the breast to vital organs like the lung, brain, or liver and grow leading to an increased risk of death for the cancer patient.

“In cancer research, we want to understand this metastasis to learn how tumor cells can spread from the primary tumor, survive in the circulation system against the immune system’s attempt to kill them, and colonize secondary organs to grow new tumors,” Korkaya said. “This new grant will allow us to study the tumor cells and tumor entrained immune cells, as well as the microenvironment inside those secondary organs to see what they contain that allows the tumor cells to thrive.”

Previous studies in cancer research have shown how important the HSP-70 molecule is in protecting the cancer cell from being attacked and destroyed by the conventional therapies as well as immunotherapy.

But Korkaya believes HSP-70 is just as important and maybe even more important in tumor entrained immune cells that suppress the anti-tumorigenic responses of immune system and therefore blocking HSP70 can reactivate the immune system enhancing the efficacies of existing chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments for triple-negative breast cancer. Another aspect of Korkaya’s research is to show the role HSP-70 plays in creating a microenvironment that is ripe for tumor cell growth.

“We have pre-clinical models for triple-negative breast cancer, as well as samples from triple-negative breast cancer patients being treated at the Georgia Cancer Center that will be utilized to dissect molecular mechanisms and functional significance of the tumor microenvironment which is recognized to play a major role in metastatic process as part of this research project,” Korkaya said. “My hope, my wish, and my prayer are that our findings from this study will lead to new ways to use chemotherapy and immunotherapy to treat triple-negative breast cancer.”

Mathematical constructions of COVID virus activity could provide new insight for vaccines, treatment https://jagwire.augusta.edu/mathematical-constructions-of-covid-virus-activity-could-provide-new-insight-for-vaccines-treatment/ Thu, 23 Sep 2021 14:22:42 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104352 Mathematical constructions of the action of SARS-CoV-2 and its spikes can help fine-tune prevention and treatment.]]>

Mathematical constructions of the action of SARS-CoV-2 and its multiple spikes, which enable its success at infecting cells, can give vaccine developers and pharmaceutical companies alike a more precise picture of what the virus is doing inside us and help fine-tune prevention and treatment, mathematical modelers say.

Mathematical construction enables examination of the activity of individual virus particles including the emergence of new spikes — and more severe infection potential — that can result when a single virus particle infects a human cell, says Dr. Arni S.R. Rao, director of the Laboratory for Theory and Mathematical Modeling in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Medical College of Georgia.

The number of spikes and the way they are distributed on a virus particle are believed to be key in the spread of the virus, Rao and his colleague Dr. Steven G. Krantz, professor of mathematics at Washington University in St. Louis, write in the Journal of Mathematical Analysis and Applications.

Laboratory experiments on virus particles and their bonding, or infection, of cells more typically are done on a group of viruses, they write.

“Right now, we don’t know when a spike bonds with a cell, what happens with that virus particle’s other spikes,” says Rao, the study’s corresponding author. “How many new infected cells are being produced has never been studied for the coronavirus. We need quantification because ultimately the vaccine or pharmaceutical industry needs to target those infected cells,” he says of the additional insight their mathematical methodology, which also enables the study of the growth of the virus’ spikes over time, provides.

Viral load is considered one of the strong predictors of the severity of sickness and risk of death and the number of spikes successfully bonding with cells is an indicator of the viral load, Rao says. PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, which is used for COVID testing, for example, provides viral load by assessing the amount of the virus’ RNA present in a test sample.

“This is a mathematical analysis that counts the actual number of virus particles, the number of spikes on the viruses and predicts the likelihood of their binding with how many cells,” Rao says. “Everything is accountable mathematically, which reduces uncertainty.”

They have already used resulting data to create 3D images to better illustrate how spikes diffuse from one organ to another, like from the neck to the lungs.

Math can also enable this kind of detailed insight into specific human populations, like those with comorbid conditions like diabetes and obesity, which are known to typically complicate the COVID course, Rao says.

“We know these patients generally get sicker, but we don’t know what is happening inside them with this virus, its spikes and bonding,” Rao says. As insight about this infection evolves, it may be that more personalized vaccines and treatments are needed for some of these populations, he says.

Vaccines are designed to destroy the ability of these spikes to bond with cells and even destroy the spikes, Rao and Krantz write. Treatment also can reduce bonding.

The investigators say their mathematical analysis can help vaccine and treatment developers do highly accurate experiments to better understand the role played by the virus’ spikes and the impact of current and potential future vaccines and treatment.

This type of detailed mathematical analysis is a new and effective technique for epidemiology, they write.

Not all virus particles present in the body are directly involved in cell infection, and not every spike — a projected 14 to 18 on a single virus particle — is part of an infection when it happens, they say. They also presume that each spike on a viral particle will only infect one cell but that that a viral particle’s empty spikes are free to infect other cells.

To infect a cell, spikes connect with ACE-2 receptors on the cell’s surface. ACE-2 receptors are found on the surface of many cell types in the body and normally have a role in important body functions like blood pressure control and wound healing. Once inside the cell, SARS-CoV-2 essentially uses the cell’s machinery to set up a virus factory, which produces the viral proteins needed to make more virus particles.

Scientists have found that the spikes are both sugar coated, which helps them avoid detection by the immune system, and flexible.

Read the full study.

Student Health now offering walk-in flu vaccines https://jagwire.augusta.edu/student-health-now-offering-walk-in-flu-vaccines/ Thu, 23 Sep 2021 13:56:07 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104334 Student Health Services is offering free walk-in flu vaccines to all registered students who have paid the student health fee.]]>

Student Health Services is offering free flu vaccines to all registered Augusta University students who have paid the student health fee. Flu vaccines are strongly recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months.

No appointment is necessary. Students should arrive for their vaccination at least 30 minutes before the Student Health Clinic closes. The fall 2021 clinic hours are as follows:

  • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday
  • 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday
  • 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday
  • 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday
  • 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday

Student Health has also arranged several upcoming flu vaccine clinics in late September and October on the Health Sciences Campus in the Health Sciences Building and the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Education Commons, as nursing, health sciences, dental and medical students are required to have annual flu shots.

Students in these programs will receive emails from their deans’ offices regarding specific dates, times and sign-up information for these special vaccine clinics.

For more information, email or call Student Health at 706-721-3448 and follow Student Health on Facebook.

College of Science and Mathematics stays focused on grant-funded research through pandemic challenges https://jagwire.augusta.edu/college-of-science-and-mathematics-stays-focused-on-grant-funded-research-through-pandemic-challenges/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 20:24:59 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104222 Augusta University’s College of Science and Mathematics received numerous research grants during fiscal year 2019. Dean John Sutherland hosted a celebration of those accomplishments on Sept. 6, 2019, at the Maxwell Alumni House. Fast-forward two years, and while the COVID-19 pandemic induced many challenges, the principal investigators of these grants carried on their research with […]]]>

Augusta University’s College of Science and Mathematics received numerous research grants during fiscal year 2019. Dean John Sutherland hosted a celebration of those accomplishments on Sept. 6, 2019, at the Maxwell Alumni House.

Fast-forward two years, and while the COVID-19 pandemic induced many challenges, the principal investigators of these grants carried on their research with students by their side.

Dr. Josefa Guerrero-Millan, assistant professor in the COSM, received funding from the Petroleum Research Fund, an endowed fund managed by the American Chemical Society that supports fundamental research directly related to petroleum or fossil fuels.

“My proposal tries to improve fuel extraction from rocks modeling the rocks’ pores using microfluidic devices,” she said. “This grant has given me three years of funding, allowing me to continue my research and support the students working in my lab, as 40% of the funding is allocated for students’ stipends.”

With the help of this grant, one of her students, Benjamin Overlie, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Biology in spring 2020, presented his results that year at meetings of the American Physical Society and the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics, both important conferences in the field.

Adapting through challenges

One of the many challenges Guerrero-Millan faced due to COVID-19 was that Nellie McKinney, senior physics major, had to switch her experimental project on 2D whipping instabilities to a computational method that could be used to predict this instability.

The 2D whipping project was completely experimental and required McKinney to be in the lab, which was closed from March to July 2020. When the fall semester started, it was not clear that the lab would remain open as the pandemic lingered.

Considering the risk of McKinney not being able to finish her project as a requirement for her graduation, Guerrero-Millan made tentative arrangements to allow McKinney to satisfy her graduation requirement as a computational project on her laptop. To the relief of both, the campus remained open, so the lab was open for McKinney, and she was able to complete the research project as it was originally designed.

person looking into microscope
Nellie McKinney looks at an electro-coflow device using a microscope with a high-speed camera in Dr. Guerrero-Millan’s lab.

“This last year has been quite challenging,” Guerrero-Millan said. “I look forward to continue working with my students to forward my research projects as well as seeing my students grow as independent researchers.”

Sharing a similar sentiment, Dr. Laurence Miller, associate professor in the COSM, echoed his experience as the principal investigator of an NIH grant. Due to the nature of his research, COVID-19 and other obstacles prevented physical presence in the lab for a significant portion of 2020, which disrupted his ability to conduct his research with students.

“As is the case for everyone at Augusta University and beyond, COVID-19 and other obstacles have presented a significant challenge over the past year or so,” he said. “But I am more excited than ever to make discoveries with these talented students and see what exciting things they go on to do next.”

His grant’s scientific aims include answering questions about the role of aging in the expression, mechanisms and treatment of pain-related functional impairment. An equally important aim of the grant is to allow students to engage in research and advance their professional development.

person with award ribbon accompanied by two others
Dr. Laurence Miller was given the High Five My Faculty Award in fall 2019. He is accompanied by his two students, Laura Marshall, left, and Vinaya Alapatt.

One highlight he noted is a research article  published in the journal Frontiers in Pain Research. The manuscript was written by students Jamani Garner, Laura Marshall, Nate Boyer and Vinaya Alapatt alongside Miller. Most importantly, it reports the findings of experiments examining the effects of the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug ketoprofen and the opioid analgesic morphine on pain-related functional impairment in mice.

The project had its origins as a Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Summer Scholars Project conducted in 2019 by then undergraduate psychology students Garner, Marshall and Alapatt. Boyer assisted with some follow-up experiments as a first-year graduate student in the Master of Science in Psychological Sciences program’s experimental track.

Garner, too, has continued her education with the Department of Psychological Sciences as a graduate student, where her thesis focuses on this work. Marshall and Alapatt advanced to Augusta University’s graduate program in psychology as well.

Miller has also welcomed new students to the lab, including Lauren Green, Alison Herrington, Katherine McCartney and Abraham Teklu. They have been building their technical skills and will likely start on independent projects to address other questions raised in the grant.

Committed to research progress

Even with the disruption in the earlier part of 2020, Miller’s research resumed in fall 2020 and spring 2021. The progress he and his student researchers have accomplished has been particularly gratifying.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some outstanding students. I’m extremely proud of what they’ve accomplished and pleased that they are starting to see some hard evidence of their efforts,” he said.

Dr. Jennifer Bradford, associate professor of biological sciences, expressed similar satisfaction about working with students on her NIH R15 grant, which has a mission of exposing students to meritorious research and strengthening the institution’s research environment. Bradford’s project is focused on understanding the involvement of microglial NF-kappaB signaling on glioblastoma progression and treatment resistance.

faculty researcher and student
Former Honors Program student Deanna Doughty with Dr. Jennifer Bradford in 2019.

“Even with the disruptions caused by the pandemic, this grant has already allowed me to work directly with eight undergraduate students in the lab,” she said. “These students include Honors Program students, CURS Summer Scholars and students enrolled for credit in research courses. Notably, we are finishing work on a manuscript started by former Honors Program student, Deanna Doughty, who is now a medical student at MCG.”

Honors student Ryan Frerichs has contributed to work on a novel animal model, and a new honors student, Ashley Koch, has joined the lab and will take over this project. Frerichs, who was selected to represent Augusta University at this year’s USG Academic Recognition Day, credited a lot of his research experience to Bradford’s grant.

person studying in lab
Amy Trang studies cellular biology in Dr. Bradford’s lab in 2019.

Bradford has also welcomed into her research lab her first graduate student, Amy Trang, from the college’s new Master of Science in Biomolecular Sciences program.

“Amy has been a wonderful addition to the lab and has hit the ground running on several different aspects of the project. She has brought a high level of focus to the lab, and I’m excited to see where her project takes her. In-person mentorship and bench work were practically non-existent last summer, so I’m excited to be in the lab this summer working with her and Ashley, who will also be a CURS Summer Scholar.”

Collaborations continue on

Bradford’s grant also allowed for the continuation of meaningful collaborations with Dr. Ali Arbab’s team at the Georgia Cancer Center.

“Dr. Arbab and his lab members have been wonderful about including my students in the portion of work being conducted in his lab, which expands their opportunities to learn additional techniques,” she said.

The NIH R15 grant provides funds for Bradford and her student researchers to travel to present research findings at academic conferences.

“Although the COVID-19 pandemic canceled in-person conferences this year, my students could still present their work via an online format,” she said. “We are looking forward to traveling next spring to present research findings in person.”

Dr. Jessica Reichmuth, associate professor of biology, received a second two-year grant from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division to further investigate the water quality impacts Noyes Cut has on the estuarine biology of the Satilla River estuary in coastal Georgia.

“We were hoping our long-term study could provide insight for agencies like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, DNR/CRD, water manager scientists looking to tackle similar proposals dealing with closing an obsolete navigational channel,” Reichmuth said.

three women and one man stand by a wall
From left: Drs. Jessica Reichmuth, Jennifer Bradford, Josefa Guerrero Millan and Laurence Miller are the principal investigators on projects that received grants this year for the College of Science and Mathematics.

Even before Reichmuth received the first grant award from the Coastal Resources Division of the DNR in 2018, she and her research partners had been engaged in studying the impact of the Noyes Cut on the estuary. As early as 2014, seven CSM faculty and a large contingent of AU undergraduates began collecting samples to investigate the effects of the cut on the estuarine dynamics of the Satilla River.

Since no one variable could account for the disruptive biological impact of the Noyes Cut on estuarine ecology, or the impact of the restoration of the natural riverbed on the estuary, this research project was designed to be a holistic investigation. The project examines both bottom-up and top-down forces in the estuary focusing on vertebrate and invertebrate ecology, microbiology, plant communities, population genetics, geomorphology and water chemistry.

student holding fish
Ecology student Rebecca Patterson holds one of the spinners caught near Noyes Cut in the summer of 2019.

“Before our investigation, the last time anyone studied the Satilla River estuary was a fish distribution study conducted by Coastal Resources Division in 1987,” she said. “Our project and the data created has created a long-term data set of one system where one didn’t exist before, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has used that data for a federally funded restoration project closing Noyes Cut.”

While the initial project had several primary questions to answer, many student-generated projects also developed. Students who participated in the monthly sampling crews asked questions about snail response to nutrient enrichment (Lauren Wheeler and Skyler Walker), diatom diversity on the marsh surface (Elise Thomas), flatfish abundance and population dynamics (Abigail Bickle and Alex Coleman), fiddler crab response to increasing ocean water temperatures (Alex Kerce), and cartilaginous fish population diversity (Garrett Johnson, Rebecca Patterson, Brennan Silliman).

student holding fish
Student Garrett Johnson with another spinner caught near Noyes Cut in the summer of 2019.

During the second year of the grant, Reichmuth and her students interviewed people fishing at two public fishing areas on the Satilla River to compare their catch to those who spend recreational time on the water. She recalled all the work was interrupted when the pandemic happened.

“Just like elsewhere in the scientific community, research in the field came to a grinding halt. Our in-progress creel survey stopped in March 2020.”

Field research was non-existent during that period and was one of the last types of research to be revived due to travel restrictions and social distancing requirements. The pandemic impacted state and federal entities. For example, USACE’s initial plan for construction in mid-2019 has been pushed back to late 2021/early 2022. On the plus side, the money has been earmarked for Noyes Cut closure.

“Nonetheless, this downtime has provided us a chance to do some lab work with our food web project, using DNA extraction to build complicated food chains,” said Reichmuth. She explained that a food web consists of all the food chains in a single ecosystem and is much more complex. “We have had the time to analyze other data and are preparing two manuscripts for submission in late 2021.”

Separate from the food web project, a manuscript on mitochondrial gene haplotypes will be published in a forthcoming volume of Southeastern Naturalist. Reichmuth and her team have also become a professional resource to Science for Georgia, a nonprofit organization. As a part of Water Quality Month, the team contributed questions to that organization’s Scavenger Hunt.

Even though the project funding has ended and the USACE Noyes Cut closure project is on hold, Reichmuth and her team of students have continued analysis of data already collected.

They look forward to being out on the water to monitor and investigate the effects of a closed Noyes Cut in the future, post-pandemic.

“What has been most everlasting in this scientific endeavor is the community friendships we have made with people who live near and have an interest in the Satilla River. These types of relationships are refreshing because they, too, are rare,” Reichmuth said. “AU faculty and students became extended family members and vice versa.”

two people on a boat with fishing net
During research activities in summer 2019, student Elise Thomas gets ready to deploy a gillnet, vertical panels of netting that hang from a line with regularly spaced floaters that hold the line on the surface of the water.
Augusta University doctor helps at home and abroad through pandemic, natural disasters https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-doctor-helps-at-home-and-abroad-through-pandemic-natural-disasters/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 19:00:24 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104006 “I joke that I jumped on an ambulance at age 18 and have never gotten off."]]>

Dr. Alejandro Báez wears many hats at Augusta University while also helping other nations stay healthy through hurricanes, earthquakes and the pandemic.

He is a professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology in the Medical College of Georgia, vice chair of operational medicine and director of the Center of Operational Medicine.

He is also the program director of the EMS/pre-hospital medicine fellowship, co-director of the Master in Clinical and Translational Science program and faculty member in the Master of Arts in Intelligence and Security Studies program.

Báez said his decision to pursue medicine was in his genes: the third-generation physician followed in the footsteps of his father, an OB/GYN, and grandfather, who was in laboratory medicine.

“My grandfather was founder and later director of the Dominican National Laboratory and my father was a basic sciences university professor who mostly focused in primary care,” said Báez, who has been at Augusta University since 2019. “When I was 6, my father took me with him to a microbiology lecture he was giving at Universidad Nacional Pedro Henríquez Ureña. I was so impressed and paid profound attention. I went home and immediately told my mother all the things my father had taught at the lecture.

“She seemed to believe that my ability to understand the lecture was a sign that I should pursue medicine, and she encouraged me. From that moment on, I developed an interest in medicine, health care and academia.”

Báez was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. His interest and passion for emergency care started after he graduated high school and took a course where he volunteered with the Red Cross ambulance service. He enjoys the multidisciplinary nature of emergency medicine and feels gratified to make a difference and help others in critical moments, where returns can be immediate.

“I joke that I jumped on an ambulance at age 18 and have never gotten off,” said Báez, who at 25 became the national chief of emergency and disaster operations for the Dominican Red Cross during Hurricane Georges. “During medical school, at night I attended technical school and graduated from the first paramedic class in the Dominican Republic. The more I was exposed to, the more I fell in love with emergency medicine and knew it was my calling.”

Driven to help

He graduated with honors from medical school in 1998 and then worked one year for the government, per Dominican Republic guidelines, to secure his final license to practice medicine.

In January 2000, he moved to New York to pursue a double master’s in health care management and public health at New York Medical College. That summer, he was accepted into the Albert Einstein Emergency Medicine Clinical Research Fellowship, and in 2002, he was accepted into the Mayo Clinic emergency medicine residency program. By 2005, Báez became the first international medical student to complete the program.

After that, he was accepted into the Harvard/Brigham and Women’s Hospital fellowship in trauma and surgical critical care. After working with the Harvard system for four years, he moved back to the Dominican Republic, where he created and chaired the first combined academic Emergency Medicine and Critical Care Department. He also developed and directed the first dedicated international/medical tourism hospital department in the country.

“We had residencies and fellowships, developed research efforts and innovated throughout… I was very happy generating change and improving acute care there,” said Báez, who was also associate dean of the medical school.

In 2010, he was at the Miami airport after attending a disaster management instructor course when he heard about the earthquake in Haiti. When he landed, “it was chaos.”

“I worked three days straight with the medical evacuations and was later asked by the vice president of the country to serve as his envoy and go to the border, where we started working on a bi-national (Haiti/Dominican Republic) hospital system that ultimately cared for 5,000 victims of the earthquake,” he said. “All this work was possible with a lot of great assistance from my friends in the Harvard system.”

After five years in the Dominican Republic, he was recruited as a medical director and program director to develop the first Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education emergency medicine residency program in south Florida at Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Báez credits his interest in international and global health for his motivation to complete his master’s in public health and later to work with the Harvard system and the Brigham and Women’s Division of International Health and Humanitarian Programs.

He said he’s fortunate that his experience in capacity building, education, and humanitarian and consulting work mostly with a focus on Latin America and the Caribbean has been able to contribute to the development of acute care systems in the Dominican Republic.

“It is very gratifying, and a way to give back to my birth country.”

Preparing to tackle a pandemic

Dr. Richard Schwartz, chair of emergency medicine at the Medical College of Georgia, recruited Báez to Augusta University. Báez had only been in town a short time before the COVID-19 pandemic began. His previous work experience helped him prepare the hospital for what was coming.

Báez was tasked initially with developing AU Health’s ICU COVID surge program. On March 30, 2020, Báez received an unexpected call from the president of the Dominican Republic, asking him to serve as his lead for COVID preparedness and response.

After he consulted with his chair and Augusta University leadership, as well as the U.S. Department of State, the Dominican Republic president issued a decree and appointed Báez senior public health advisor and CEO for the presidential COVID taskforce.

“I am very happy that all who supported me understood the basic principle that a pandemic is a global problem that demanded global solutions. The COVID taskforce oversaw all strategy, policy and tactics related to COVID response in the Dominican Republic,” Báez said.

“We created an innovative, and now recognized by various international organizations, public value model to be reproduced locally at the provincial and municipal level, creating public and private partnerships at the local level. We also developed the first Public Health and Epidemiology Intelligence Fusion Center, collaborating with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Health Service Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Defense.

“We did a lot of good and worked with many great individuals. To this date the Dominican Republic COVID data is much superior to many more developed countries. All probably directly related to a comprehensive test, trace, treat and isolate strategy. We utilized technology to develop telemedicine solutions, home health visiting teams, dedicated isolation hotels and optimized testing platforms, while at the same time created a dedicated COVID-19 hospital circuit with thousands of additional hospital and ICU beds.”

The pandemic was almost immediately turned into battle lines for political parties, and Báez said politicizing COVID was, and still is, a big problem all over the world.

“We understood very early on the importance of avoiding COVID within a political narrative, and I personally called out politicians who used COVID as a political tool,” he said. “It was a presidential election year in the Dominican Republic in 2020, and we immediately understood that working as a presidential palace office entity, we needed to create trust and transparency.

“As such, we implemented partnerships with the private sector; [created] strong collaborations with the World Health Organization, PAHO, CDC and other international organizations; [ensured] all data reporting was based on official international organizations to avoid false perceptions; [implemented] daily press meetings by the ministry of health; [had] frequent press appearances to explain and clarify process and policy; [created] partnerships with all political parties; strictly enforced policies like mask wearing and lockdown, and explained the science backing those actions; and developed a non-partisan scientific committee with research, clinical and ethics experts from the Dominican Republic and a second international committee composed of U.S. and European experts. [We did] all of this to be fair, objective and create much-needed trust.”

Overcoming the obstacles

Initially, Báez said getting everyone on board with a national strategy and creating trust was probably the biggest struggle he encountered. They were able to implement a pilot project in the province of Duarte that changed the trajectory in the Dominican Republic, created public-private partnerships, involved municipal government and deployed innovative solutions. “Every move we made, we did community consults and town halls and engaged local leadership and press,” Báez said.

But he said the key obstacle to fight has been disinformation.

“There are two variants to this: politically generated and a second, less-clear misinformation by auto-experts and people who want to be COVID pandemic heroes,” he said. “So we must create trust with transparency, data and tech solutions, and by engaging international organizations.”

Another important challenge is understanding the important balance between what is needed for public health, the economy and civil liberties.

Thinking back to Haiti, he said it’s frustrating and “quite sad” to see the lack of resources in this neighboring country. Haitian President Jovenel Moïse was assassinated July 7, which led to more unrest and uncertainty. Báez added he is working with the Dominican Republic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, PAHO and the Partners in Health non-governmental organization in an attempt to develop health-strengthening projects.

“The good people of Haiti deserve better… Health should not be a privilege; it’s a basic human right,” Báez said. “I know many great people who live in Haiti and great non-governmental organizations that operate in Haiti… It has the lowest economic, social and development indicators, plagued by corruption and civil unrest.”

Báez said some of his struggles early on related to being an immigrant and having to prove himself at highly reputable academic environments such as Mayo Clinic and Harvard University. He describes himself as an eclectic academician with various interests, mostly overlapping the areas of government, security, health care and public health.

He said here at Augusta University, “I have the perfect job… an amazing fit for my interests with great collaborative and growth opportunities.”

He also feels AU Health has immense talent with the opportunity to strengthen its international and global health presence.

“Global Health is a field that by definition tells us we are all connected… health challenges unite all of the human race,” Báez said. “Public Health solutions are simply in our collective hands and brains.

“The Medical College of Georgia is one the oldest medical schools in the U.S. AU has amazing faculty and expertise that can help break traditional models and build an innovative framework for public health academics, one that goes beyond conventional thinking and integrates technology research, systems management, policy consulting, capacity building and international medicine and medical tourism. Right now, it’s important to look at all the experiences we have built and all the lessons the pandemic has given us. With an ‘act local, think global’ perspective, we can grow exponentially.”

Listen: Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month on ‘In the Wild’ podcast https://jagwire.augusta.edu/listen-celebrate-hispanic-heritage-month-on-in-the-wild-podcast/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 18:41:06 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104023 This week on In the Wild, Hispanic Heritage Month is being celebrated with Ana Ramirez Olarte, a second-year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia, joins to share her experiences and how everyone can celebrate on campus. ]]>

It’s time to celebrate this month!

This week on In the Wild, Hispanic Heritage Month is being celebrated with Andrea Ramirez Olarte, a second-year medical student at the Medical College of Georgia, who shares her experiences and explains how everyone can celebrate on campus.

Also, the hosts share culture shock stories and what they’ve learned from those experiences.

Listen to In the Wild on all major podcast platforms. 

Center for Bioethics and Health Policy works to improve public health via civic engagement https://jagwire.augusta.edu/center-for-bioethics-and-health-policy-works-to-improve-public-health-via-civic-engagement/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 18:39:42 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=102485 The Center for Bioethics and Health Policy was established as center of excellence at Augusta University in 2016.]]>

Cultivating a “healthy health culture” by engaging the community is a primary focus as Augusta University’s Center for Bioethics and Health Policy enters a new phase of growth in its fifth year.

At the beginning of 2021, the CBHP established a new five-year strategic research plan centered around three themes: ethics and the health professions; ethics and policy of public health; and community engagement, social justice and advocacy.

Dr. Laura Williamson

“So many contemporary health challenges, like COVID-19, the opioid epidemic and efforts to secure health equity, are influenced by deep-rooted but under-examined ethical assumptions. The new research plan is focused on developing the type of interdisciplinary work needed to make a difference to such issues,” said Dr. Laura Williamson, who was appointed associate director in 2020 before being named director on Jan. 1, with Dr. Paul Mann named director of clinical ethics.

The CBHP was established as a center of excellence at Augusta University in 2016 and is housed within the Institute of Public and Preventive Health (IPPH).

Currently under the leadership of Williamson, the center’s mission is to provide a person-centered clinical ethics consultation service, conduct interdisciplinary research rooted in health ethics and policy to address challenges that undermine health and wellbeing locally and nationally and provide educational initiatives that develop greater understanding of the importance of ethics in health policy and practice.

Recently, the CBHP has given joint appointment to Drs. Candace Best and Jessica Dillard-Wright, and is about to advertise a new full-time bioethics faculty post.

“It’s critical for the next stage of the center’s development to have another full-time faculty member support the delivery on our research agenda, but also to take a lead role in the development of a new master’s degree in bioethics and health policy,” Williamson said.

Since its inception, the CBHP has primarily been associated with clinical ethics and health professional ethics education. While this will remain a key part of the center’s work, its new focus on public health and civic engagement will help the center work to address the complexity of health issues beyond the clinic.

Additionally, according to Williamson, this new focus will allow the center to better deliver on the goals of academic centers within the University System of Georgia – which are to “create new interdisciplinary models for research, education, and clinical care; create synergies across disciplines; foster a research environment that promotes innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration; and create a culture of excellence.”

The focus on interdisciplinary collaboration is particularly important, according to Williamson. “Health challenges often span different parts of our health system,” she said. “COVID-19 is a good example of this. It is an issue for clinical care and public health, so it’s important to develop a joined-up response. Ethics has an important part to play in this.”

The themes for the next five years were selected to develop a much-needed interdisciplinary approach to health and wellbeing and to best utilize the diverse skills and interests of faculty affiliated with CBHP. The CBHP intends to use its interdisciplinary ethical and policy work to focus on issues that are important to local communities, particularly the historic Laney Walker area of Augusta. This allows the CBHP to develop a clear and distinctive identity.

The themes in the new plan are:

Ethics and the Health Professions

This theme is a continuation of the center’s work on clinical ethics and its policy implications. It includes support for Augusta University’s faculty research, its clinical ethics consultation service and the work of graduate and medical students. In its next phase of development, beginning January 2022, the CBHP will prioritize developing ethics and policy support for interprofessional health care teams.

Public Health: Ethics and Policy

While continuity is important for CBHP as it progresses, the center must also develop in ways that equip it to respond to urgent contemporary health challenges. Issues such as substance use disorders, obesity and COVID-19 and the high cost and affordability of health care are public health issues that impact health and well-being. They also require an approach that goes beyond clinical ethics and policy.

Community Engagement, Social Justice and Advocacy

Community health outcomes are impacted negatively by marked racial disparities and the distrust of health systems. Therefore, according to its leadership, the CBHP has a responsibility to develop and lead a sustainable work program to effectively engage with the local community. Over the next five years, the CBHP will work to identify pre-existing community partnerships at Augusta University and to develop new relationships with local stakeholders to inform a work program focused on trust, social justice and advocacy.

Phase One, which began in March 2021 and runs through December, has focused on the development of interdisciplinary, multi-experience interest groups for each of the four themes of the strategic plan. These groups have done a series of “brainstorming” meetings surrounding key issues around which faculty can develop short papers, commentaries or positions papers, and have identified external funding to support interdisciplinary bioethics and health policy work.

“The center is really keen to hear from people, whether colleagues at AU or members of the local community, who want to participate in or learn more about our work,” said Williamson.

“The pandemic has unfortunately reminded us of the importance of having a healthy public health system, and the type of trust-based relationships across communities that are able to withstand and help us navigate crises. While we have begun conversations on the role of ethics and policy in meeting health challenges, wider, more diverse participation is mission critical to cultivating a healthy health culture.”

NSF-funded program, scholarship continue to benefit Augusta University students https://jagwire.augusta.edu/nsf-funded-program-scholarship-continue-to-benefit-augusta-university-students/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 18:26:21 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104182 Eligible students who meet the academic criteria and are at a financial disadvantage can be awarded a POPUPS scholarship up to $8,000 per academic year.]]>

In 2019, the National Science Foundation awarded Augusta University $905,444 to increase the number of students completing undergraduate degrees in STEM disciplines.

professor pointing at black board
Dr. Angie Spencer, associate professor of chemistry, teaches and enzyme kinetics workshop.

Dr. Angie Spencer, principal investigator and associate professor of chemistry in the College of Science and Mathematics, said the grant would fund scholarships for about 30 students over its five-year duration. The grant will also fund the POPUPS program, which stands for Promoting Opportunities and Pathways for Undergraduate Persistence in STEM.

POPUPS seeks to create a sense of belonging by providing students with a scholarship toward their tuition, hands-on workshops that are also open to all students on campus, mentorships and a learning community.

The program is student-centered, Spencer said.

“Eighty percent of the total NSF grant goes toward scholarships, with the remainder of the funds for faculty support and supplies for POPUPS workshops,” Spencer said.

Students benefit from scholarships

Eligible students who meet the academic criteria and are at a financial disadvantage can be awarded a POPUPS scholarship up to $8,000 per academic year. With the help of the scholarship, many students, like Adam Sams, a rising senior studying ecology, have been able to take a break from working and dedicate themselves to school.

Sams talked passionately about the POPUPS program and the opportunity it provided. “I feel so fortunate to have had this opportunity. I highly recommend other students check out the POPUPS program and get involved!”

three people on the laptop
Christina Plantz, right, a chemistry major, participates in the Arduino workshop.

Christina Plantz, a chemistry major with a biochemistry concentration, similarly expressed gratitude for the opportunity to be a POPUPS scholar. “My whole goal is to go into research, and graduate schools want to see that you have worked in a research lab. I would never have been able to get that experience without the scholarship.”

Spencer noted that pandemic restrictions for large gatherings on campus have made recruitment for the program challenging, but she has worked hard to reach out to students and has seen a high level of interest. In two years, the program has received 100 student applications and conducted nearly 50 interviews with candidates.

The first cohort of scholars for academic year 2021 included 16 students majoring in biology, cell and molecular biology, chemistry, ecology, math and physics. Decisions are still being finalized for next year’s cohort. About $120,000 of the $905,444 has already been awarded to the first cohort of students. The second cohort can expect to receive their scholarships starting this fall.

Workshops offer connections

Hands-on workshops are one way the POPUPS program supports students in STEM. During its first year, the program partnered with faculty from the College of Science and Mathematics, the College of Education, Career Services and the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship to host workshops on STEM careers/internships, undergraduate research opportunities, the software Mathematica and Raspberry Pi, augmented reality, field biology, enzyme kinetics, 3D printing and CAD design.

two people talking
Adam Sams, left, ecology major, speaks with another POPUPS scholar at a 3D printing workshop.

Many scholars in the first cohort actively participated in the workshops that helped them learn new skills without the pressure of a test or grade, including Sams, who had perfect attendance at all the workshops.

“I’ve enjoyed the variety of workshops so far. It’s refreshing to spend time in a learning environment with people who are passionate about sharing what they do,” he said. “I tend to get excited about trying all different kinds of new things, and the POPUPS faculty have created some truly unique experiences for us this year.”

Plantz said workshops offer an encouraging experience to connect with students in different STEM fields who are also working hard and making similar sacrifices to accomplish their goals.

“The workshops have been fun and allowed me to get some hands-on experience with things like Arduino that I would never have otherwise,” Plantz said. “Also, having multiple STEM disciplines represented among the POPUPS scholars allows us to broaden our view of what STEM entails.”

Spencer plans to increase workshop offerings in the future and promote them university-wide. During the pandemic, workshops were limited to POPUPS scholars and their peer mentors.

“Trying to build community in a social setting is difficult with COVID,” Spencer said. “Virtual meetings for either peer mentoring or POPUPS workshops are just not the same as face-to-face meetings.”

Mentoring partnerships for success

Another way the POPUPS program has supported STEM is through mentorships. Scholars in the first cohort were assigned a peer mentor who shared their chosen major or a related one. The committee will also be recruiting student (peer) mentors for the new scholars in the second cohort, starting this fall. The mentors will be trained by the POPUPS committee and the Academic Success Center, with each trained mentor guiding two mentees.

POPUPS scholars said they are thankful for the benefits from the relationships formed in this program. Sams expressed his gratitude that POPUPS connected him with faculty through the whole department, who have become both friends and mentors.

In addition to peer mentors, the POPUPS committee is about to start recruiting faculty mentors for the first cohort of scholars during their second year of the program. During the first cohort’s third year, they will be paired with a professional mentor from the local community to guide them into the STEM workforce.

In sum, the mentorship program helps scholars stay focused and on track and provides practical tips from other students on things like study methods and how to prioritize assignments. The goal of faculty mentors for next year will be to help the scholars narrow down career paths and move their academic plans toward those goals.

In addition to workshops and mentoring programs, POPUPS also orchestrates a learning community for its scholars. The community is designed to support like-minded STEM majors with a common goal to excel academically.

Currently, however, due to the pandemic, the learning community is operating on a reduced scale with the peer mentoring and the popup workshops offered only to POPUPS scholarship recipients this year rather than the broader undergraduate community. Even on this smaller scale, students expressed appreciation for the community that has helped build camaraderie with other like-minded scholars.

Despite disruption from the pandemic, scholars, faculty and staff members of the POPUPS program persisted in providing STEM education and support. Spencer and her committee continually monitor the program’s effectiveness by soliciting feedback from an external evaluator, Dr. Deborah Richardson, associate dean for research and graduate studies in the College of Science and Mathematics. They also conduct surveys and assessments with the help of faculty on campus and graduate student assistants from the master’s program in the Department of Psychological Sciences.

Spencer looks forward to the bright side once everyone adjusts to life post-pandemic. One of her planned initiatives is to offer more workshops on both Health Science and Summerville campuses to accommodate more students beyond those in the POPUPS program.

“We also plan on having a social event at least once per semester with the large group of scholars; for example, kayaking, going to a basketball game, volunteering,” she said.

Office of Admissions to host ‘See Augusta’ Preview Day on Oct. 30 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/office-of-admissions-to-host-see-augusta-preview-day-on-oct-30/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 15:53:02 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104140 “See Augusta" Preview Day will take place Oct. 30 on both the Summerville and Health Sciences campuses.]]>

This October, the Office of Admissions is bringing back on-campus Preview Day for prospective students and families. Due to COVID-19, this is the first Preview Day since February 2020.

logo of the "See Augusta" event, featuring the Augusta University archway
“See Augusta” is the new name for Augusta University’s Preview Day. The Office of Admissions also offers “Explore Augusta” for regional events and “Be Augusta” for Admitted Student Day.

The event, branded “See Augusta,” will take place from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30 on both the Summerville and Health Sciences campuses. Guests can also arrive earlier, at 7:30 a.m., for optional “early bird” activities.

During See Augusta, students and their guests can speak with various offices and academic departments, attend academic and student support breakout sessions, tour both the Summerville and Health Sciences campuses and see the freshman residence halls.

“We’re thrilled to bring prospective students back to campus for our See Augusta preview experience,” said Angela Young, coordinator for campus visit experiences.

“This event is an ideal way for them to interact with our AU community and hopefully find their own university home. It’s wonderful to know we’ll be meeting members of the Augusta University Class of 2026!”

logo of the "College of Education Spotlight" event, featuring the Augusta University archway

In addition to See Augusta on Saturday, on Friday, Oct. 29, students interested in education or kinesiology can attend an event spotlighting the College of Education. At the event, they will learn about the college’s programs, meet with students and faculty and get to know what it means to be a student in the College of Education.

“We are excited to partner with Admissions to showcase our faculty, staff and students. Our COE Spotlight will give prospective students an opportunity to hear from our COE Ambassadors, make connections with faculty and tour our facilities,” said Dr. Kristy Brown, assistant dean of the College of Education.

Register for See Augusta or review more opportunities to visit campus.

Contact Admissions with questions.

Alumni entrepreneurs: Taylor-Made Kakes satisfies CSRA’s sweet tooth https://jagwire.augusta.edu/alumni-entrepreneurs-taylor-made-kakes-satisfies-csras-sweet-tooth/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 13:47:44 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104054 As Augusta University’s annual Alumni Weekend approaches, we're celebrating alumni entrepreneurs.]]>

As Augusta University’s annual Alumni Weekend approaches, the university is celebrating alumni entrepreneurs. Taylor Rutledge, a 2017 graduate of Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, is the owner of Taylor-Made Kakes, a local bakery located in downtown Augusta.

Tell us about your business.

We open our drive-thru in March 2020. At TMK, I offer decadent cheesecake “kakes,” moist mini bundts and piping-hot beignets.

I’ve had a passion for baking for as long as I could hold a whisk. I started out making cakes and treats for family, and soon began selling them to friends. I’ve always enjoyed watching shows like Cake Boss and Cupcake Wars. I aspired to make cakes as elaborate as they did. I practiced, and found my niche in making custom cakes and other treats.

What struggles have you overcome while being an entrepreneur?

I have had to overcome quite a few things on this journey. Maybe the most difficult was dealing with COVID and its restrictions. I had to change my whole business model — not to mention the shortage on supplies. This first year (almost two) has been quite a doozy, but still I rise.

What skills did you acquire while you were a student that prepared you to lead a business?

As a student, I held a few student leadership positions, which molded me into the leader I am today. I was an orientation leader and resident assistant, which taught me how to interact and relate with people from all different walks in life. I was also an executive member of the Jaguar Production Crew. I was trained how to plan major university events, work within a budget and how to collaborate with other organizations.

AU afforded me a multitude of opportunities that I will forever be grateful for.

What lessons have you learned along the way?

I learned that everyone who started in my corner will not always be there when times get tough. I had to learn to let go of certain people who were praying for my downfall. While it was uncomfortable, it was completely necessary for my growth.

Also, I am learning now is how to give myself grace and to be patient with the process. This is a marathon, not a sprint.

What sets your business apart from others?

I think what sets my business apart is the care I take in providing a quality product. Nearly 90% of my products are make from scratch in my bakery. My staff and I take the time to ensure everything is up to par!

I also have a drive-thru and not too many bakeries have those.

What is something surprising that people wouldn’t guess about you?

I actually do not care for sweets! I’m more of a savory lover. I get asked all the time how do I not eat cake every day, and I just do not crave it. If I owned a steak house, this might be a different story!

What advice do you have for current students?

Follow your dreams and your vision for your life. I always aspired to have a bakery since I was in high school. Others have tried to deter me from pursing that dream because it wasn’t what they pictured for my life. But it’s my life, so I can do as I choose.

Please take heed and do what is best for you. If someone tells you that you can’t do something, show them you can do it better than they can imagine! There is greatness inside of all of us, we just have to tap in.

Where can we go to learn more about your business?

Check out Taylor-Made Kakes and follow us on Instagram and Facebook. To get a quote or make a custom order request, please email us.  

Augusta University health fairs focus on Asian communities https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-health-fairs-focus-on-asian-communities/ Wed, 22 Sep 2021 13:32:22 +0000 http://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104034 Studies showed significant health disparities between certain groups of Asian-Americans and non-Asians.]]>

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) are the fastest-growing racial group in the United States, accounting for 18.2 million (5.6%) of the nation’s population, according to the 2020 census data.

The Asian-American population represents more than 30 countries, speaking more than 100 different languages while contributing 11.5% of the U.S. workforce. According to the city of Augusta, the Asian population in Augusta-Richmond County is about 4,297 people or 1.9% of the total population.

With that information at hand, faculty and staff in Augusta University’s College of Nursing, College of Allied Health Sciences, the Dental College of Georgia and the Nurse-Managed Health Center (NMHC) have partnered together to create the Asian Wellness Program, which hosts health fairs geared toward the Chinese, Filipino, Korean and Vietnamese communities.

Dr. Christine Nguyen, an assistant professor in the Biobehavioral Nursing Program, and Dr. Lufei Young, an associate professor in the College of Nursing, said the AAPI population is among the least likely to report having a personal doctor and are less likely to have blood pressure monitoring and annual wellness checks, which prompted the decision to have these health fairs.

Nguyen said Asian Americans face cultural and linguistic barriers that might discourage or prevent them from accessing health care services, particularly for mental health problems, which are high in the Asian American community. For example, the highest rate of suicidal ideations (56.8%) is among older Asian women who are primary care patients with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and are more at risk for alcohol use problems compared with older non-Hispanic whites, African Americans and Hispanics.

Women talking to a man
Dr. Christine Nguyen, center, checks the pulse of a patient during a health fair Aug. 28 that was geared toward the Vietnamese community.

“The primary objective for the health fair’s implementation is to extend and expand the culturally competent care to Asian populations in Augusta and the surrounding area,” Nguyen said. “CON-NMHC believes that a culturally competent health care system can help improve health outcomes and quality of care and can contribute to the elimination of racial and ethnic health disparities.”

Studies showed significant health disparities between certain groups of Asian Americans and non-Asians, Young added.

“It’s key for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to understand the importance of wellness checks, annual doctor visits and preventive care,” Young said. “However, there are many challenging barriers for AAPI to access health care, such as language, cultural, belief and trust. Driven by the existing health disparity encountered by many AAPI members, we would like to provide education and raise awareness about AU-based health promotion and disease prevention programs through Asian health fairs.”

Young also noted that AAPI have higher occurrences of breast, liver and stomach cancer; higher prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and liver disease; higher cardiac risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes; little to no insurance coverage; and higher tobacco use.

“One of the highest risk groups for breast cancer is U.S.-born Vietnamese women, who are four times greater of dying of breast cancer than any other ethnic groups,” Young said. “AAPIs are also twice as likely to have stomach and liver cancer than non-Hispanic whites and are twice as likely to die from these cancers compared with non-Hispanic whites.”

The group held its first health fair for the Vietnamese community Aug. 28 at the Nurse-Managed Health Center. During that time, visitors were assessed for overall health history, lifestyle risk factors, environmental hazards and anthropometric measurements (including height, weight, body circumferences and blood pressure). They also underwent a mental health screening; a physical functioning test and fall risk screening; an assessment of their cardiac risk factors (including a blood test of fasting glucose); an HIV/AIDS screening; dental screenings and counselling; and education on exercise safety, nutrition and household safety.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a STEADI Tool to determine if an individual might be a ‘fall risk,’” said Dr. Lori Bolgla, a professor in the Department of Physical Therapy in the College of Allied Health Sciences. “Participants undergo the testing protocol and receive feedback to determine if they represent a fall risk. We also have a portable balance plate that assesses an individual’s postural sway and compares the sway to sex- and age-matched normative data to further assess for fall risk. Anyone who presents as a fall risk is encouraged to follow up with a primary care health provider for referral to a balance/vestibular rehabilitation.”

The remaining health fairs will be Sept. 25 for the Chinese community at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of Augusta, 548 Walker St., on Oct. 30 for the Korean community at 2664 Barton Chapel Road Suite A and Nov. 13 for the Filipino community, both at the Nurse-Managed Health Center, 987 St. Sebastian Way, Suite 1500.

Tranika Brown, DNP, FNP, APRN, has served as the lead primary care nurse practitioner at the Nurse-Managed Health Center for the past two years. She said she’s worked with Nguyen in identifying underserved populations within our community.

“Additionally, we have brainstormed on ways to assist with health awareness and disease prevention.”

Nguyen and Young appreciate the support the Nurse-Managed Health Center has provided for this community service.

“It takes a village to do community-based health promotion and disease prevention programs,” Young said. “We have a superb, multidisciplinary team, including nurses, doctors, physical therapists, occupational specialists, administrators, mental health experts and other disciplines. Together, we provide high-quality, comprehensive, collaborative and coordinated community service.

“Not only does each member of the team have expertise and professionalism, but we also are able to work cohesively and productively to promote health in these underserved populations. Additionally, we can provide subsequent follow-ups to meet their needs and sustain the program for future.”

Inaugural neurology and neurosurgery symposium planned for Oct. 2 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/inaugural-neurology-and-neurosurgery-symposium-planned-for-oct-2/ Tue, 21 Sep 2021 18:20:58 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104127 Faculty from MCG will update attendees on a wide variety of topics, including stroke, movement disorders, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and epilepsy.]]>

The Departments of Neurosurgery and Neurology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University are hosting a symposium to provide updates on best practices and advances in their respective fields.

The inaugural “What’s New in Neurosurgery and Neurology Symposium” will be held from 7:50 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, 2 10th St.

Faculty from MCG will update attendees on a wide variety of topics, including stroke, movement disorders, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and epilepsy.

Experts will discuss the latest evidence-based and cutting-edge medical literature for those and other degenerative neurological and neurosurgical diseases; describe hot topics in neurological and neurosurgical emergencies and recommendations for how to manage them; and help attendees understand how to incorporate evidence-based protocols into clinical environments.

The free symposium is open to any type of care provider and offers the opportunity for 8.5 continuing medical education credit hours.

See a full schedule and register here.

Augusta University campus COVID-19 update: Sept. 21 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-campus-covid-19-update-sept-21/ Tue, 21 Sep 2021 17:25:22 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104123 Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD, offers a weekly address to keep the campus community informed about COVID-19 news and updates.]]>

Augusta University President Brooks A. Keel, PhD, offers a weekly address to keep the campus community informed about COVID-19 news and updates. Find more statistics and resources.

Augusta University awards fellowships for undergraduate research https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-awards-fellowships-for-undergraduate-research/ Tue, 21 Sep 2021 17:19:45 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104030 The Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship is now offering three fellowships focused on community impact, equity and diversity and international research.]]>

Augusta University’s Palak Patel has already made school history. Patel, who is planning to attend the Dental College of Georgia, is the first recipient of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Scholarship‘s Fellowship for Enhancing Equity and Diversity.

The fellowship was designed for students to examine past and current issues that impact diversity and equality. For Patel, this fellowship was the right fit, as her honors thesis was on racial segregation and COVID-19 outcomes in Georgia. Patel is a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Health Services in the College of Allied Health Sciences.

“I know around the world, it’s a big topic, so I did want to look into it more,” said Patel. She hopes her work, and the work of others who study health equity, can lead to changes in public policy.

Dr. Simon Medcalfe, a professor in Hull College of Business, mentored Patel. She said Medcalfe played a big role through the entire process.

Medcalfe encouraged her to apply for the National Collegiate Honors Conference, and as a surprise to her, she was accepted.

“At first, I was very hesitant about applying because I did not know what to expect. Dr. Medcalfe was very supportive and to my surprise, I was accepted,” said Patel

This is the first year CURS has offered fellowships, which include the Community Impact Fellowship, Fellowship for Enhancing Equity and Diversity and International Research Fellowship.

“The neat part of the whole thing is we are trying to encourage people from any college to apply. If it’s community impact, it can be our health, it could be poetry. As long as you make the case and you can justify it as to how this is improving our mental well-being or physical community, I’ll listen,” said Dr. Quentin Davis, CURS director.

Patel and Katlin Pugh, a senior pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Cell and Molecular Biology in the College of Science and Mathematics, are the first recipients of fellowships, as Pugh received the inaugural Community Impact Fellowship. The International Research Fellowship has yet to be awarded this year, but Davis said as COVID-19 restrictions start being lifted, she’s hoping that will change.

“The International Research Fellowship could be a variety of things. It might be a student who’s on a study aboard trip already,” said Davis. “We could tack on research to the class they’re taking.”

Building these fellowships is Davis’ immediate vision, but in the future, CURS wants to increase the number of fellowships, name them and find a sustainable funding source for them.

For more, read the latest “CURS Connection” newsletter.

First cohort of nursing scholars driven to work in health care https://jagwire.augusta.edu/first-cohort-of-nursing-scholars-driven-to-work-in-health-care/ Tue, 21 Sep 2021 16:36:27 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104042 The Nursing Scholars Program admits a select group of pre-nursing students directly into the BSN program. ]]>

Margeau Cutter may have just graduated from Augusta University in May 2021 with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, but she has been working in health care for many years. She recently started her first job as an RN-BSN at AU Health on 5 North Oncology. She also began the Doctorate of Nursing Practice Family Nurse Practitioner program in August.

Woman in scrubs
Margeau Cutter

A native of Effingham County just outside of Savannah, Georgia, Cutter learned about Augusta University and the Nursing Scholars Program during her junior year of high school. She was torn between pursuing health care and the culinary arts when her mother, a pediatric nurse, reminded her that she could always go back to cooking. She selected the Health Care Pathway at South Effingham High School and worked her way toward a patient care tech certification prior to graduation.

Cutter had plenty of letters of acceptance, but ultimately decided Augusta University was the best fit because of her acceptance into the Nursing Scholars Program and the layout of the Health Sciences Campus.

“Everything was right here,” she said. “And I knew how challenging it is to get into a nursing program, so becoming a nursing scholar alleviated that concern.”

Prior to her arrival at Augusta University, Cutter was a patient care technician for a home health and hospice company, working predominately in a retirement community in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She continued that work each summer until the start of the BSN program. During the school year, she worked for the company in their data processing division. Cutter credits her time management skills for the balance she was able to strike with school and work.

The Nursing Scholars Program admits a select group of pre-nursing students directly into the BSN program. Students must adhere to a course progression agreement, maintain a GPA of 3.4 or higher, be active participants in the Pre-Nursing Society and work toward the leadership certificate sponsored by the Augusta University Experiential Learning Program.

Cutter began her collegiate career in the first cohort of the Nursing Scholars Program. Being engaged in the program from the beginning gave her unique insight into the rigor of the program she would join in her junior year, and also helped her gain a support network. “I was able to establish connections with students in the program prior to beginning the BSN core,” Cutter said.

These connections remained throughout the program, and Cutter said they are still there as she begins the DNP program.

Cutter said maintaining academic excellence and adjusting her mental approach early on contributed to her success and ease of transitioning into the BSN program.

While Cutter pursues her DNP-FNP, she will work on 5 North Oncology. During the BSN program, she completed a clinical rotation on 5 North and at first was nervous to work in oncology, but she was “so happy to take care of those patients.” Cutter’s grandmother, her namesake, passed away from ovarian cancer before she was born, so she felt compelled to honor her by working in oncology.

“The patients make me feel so fulfilled.”

Expect traffic delays near Health Sciences Campus https://jagwire.augusta.edu/expect-traffic-delays-near-health-sciences-campus/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 19:53:52 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=104046 Georgia Power has finished the work on 15th Street, but there will be some delays next week as they finish paving.]]>

Georgia Power has finished the work on 15th Street, but there will be some delays next week as they finish paving. They will work the section between Laney-Walker and Walton Way according to the schedule below:

  • Sept. 27: Contractors will mill 2 inches of asphalt. Expect about a 15-minute interruption at Entrance 3 and the exit as the machine works past the intersection.
  • Sept. 28: Contractors will pave the lane closest to the parking deck. Expect about a 15-minute interruption at Entrance 3 as the exit for asphalt is placed and cured.
  • Sept. 29: Contractors will pave the other lane and turn lanes. There should be no interruption in access at the entrance or exit.

During this period, southbound traffic will not be able to turn across the street into Entrance 3. Traffic will need to go to the light at Laney-Walker and make a U-turn back toward Entrance 3.

This work will not block traffic at Entrance 3 or the exit during the peak use hours of 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Interruptions in access to the entrance and exit will take place between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Please Pardon Our Progress as we continue to grow and expand at Augusta University.

Pride of the Jaguar Battalion: Jalyssa Jimenez https://jagwire.augusta.edu/pride-of-the-jaguar-battalion-jalyssa-jimenez/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 16:00:59 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103497 "I know being a part of this family will lead me in the right direction for a bright future."]]>

Each month, Jagwire features a cadet who is enrolled in Augusta University’s ROTC program and a member of the Jaguar Army ROTC Battalion. For September, we spoke with Cadet Jalyssa Jimenez.

Where are you from and what high school did you attend?

I am originally from Bronx, New York, and moved to Evans about seven years ago, where I attended and graduated from Evans High School.

Cadet Jalyssa Jimenez
Why did you choose to attend Augusta University?

I decided to attend Augusta University because it was close to home and I knew that academically, AU had a lot to offer.

How did you become interested in the ROTC/military?

I was always interested in the Army but too scared to actually move forward with the interest. After my first year of college, I saw that AU had an ROTC program and I decided to give it a try, even though I knew nothing about the military. I knew it wouldn’t hurt to try something new while also feeling like it would be a great experience to have.

Why did you choose to pursue the degree that you’ve selected?

I actually got to college and changed my major three times before I finally decided criminal justice (in the Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) was the one for me. I took a criminal justice class as an elective and was genuinely so interested in everything I was learning. This interest led me to doing research on the actual degree and the jobs I would be able to obtain with this major. I knew investigation always sparked my interest as well as helping and protecting those around me, which is exactly what these career choices would give me the opportunity to do.

What are your long-term plans for the military?

I plan on hopefully doing a full 20 years and retiring in the military. I know the military has a lot to offer not only for me but for my future family as well.

What is one of the biggest misconceptions of being in the ROTC?

I think the biggest misconception of being in ROTC might be that it requires too much of a commitment. The goal of ROTC is of course to create amazing future leaders of the Army but ROTC actually does not require you to make that choice until your third year. The military isn’t for everyone; ROTC allows you to give it a try before you actually decide that it isn’t for you. Yes, if you decide to stay with the program, it is a commitment, but you can always do a year or two in ROTC to really decide if you enjoy it or not. Life’s too short to not try something new.

Use one word to describe cadet life.


What has been the hardest adjustment to preparing for the military?

The hardest adjustment to preparing for the military is having to do everything a certain way. We all have our own ways of doing everything we do, literally. We come from different backgrounds and learn things differently. Being in the military, it’s all just following Army doctrine. It sounds easy to just follow the rules, which is true, but when you’re so comfortable doing something one way, it takes a few screw-ups to finally do it the way you’re supposed to.

What are you most excited about now that you are a part of Jaguar Nation and the Jaguar Battalion?

I’m most excited for the new opportunities and doors that I know will open for me while being a part of the Jaguar Nation and the Jaguar Battalion. I have met so many new people thus far and will continue to build these connections with people. I know being a part of this family will lead me in the right direction for a bright future.

Use one word to sum up your experience as a Jaguar?


Strategy executive for Deloitte Insights to headline Hull College ethics lecture series https://jagwire.augusta.edu/strategy-executive-for-deloitte-insights-to-headline-hull-college-ethics-lecture-series/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 15:00:08 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103961 The lecture will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 in the ballroom of the Jaguar Student Activities Center. This event is free and open to the public.]]>

Denise L. Weiss, UX strategy and digital operations leader for Deloitte Insights, will present “The Ethical Case for Digital Empathy in User Experience” during the Russell A. Blanchard Distinguished Lecture Series in Ethics, hosted by the Hull College of Business at Augusta University.

The lecture will begin at 6 p.m. Oct. 4 in the ballroom of the Jaguar Student Activities Center. This event is free and open to the public.

Weiss is the head of the digital operations and user experience strategy for Deloitte Insights, which is the flagship destination for thought leadership generated by Deloitte’s more than 250,000 professionals globally. Deloitte Insights provides in-depth reports, articles, videos and podcasts to help organizations and leaders reach their potential.

“In collaboration with the audience development team, I set the user-first strategic direction for the editorial, production, design and technology teams to ensure content is delivered as a compelling, intuitive digital experience,” Weiss said.

Prior to joining Deloitte Insights, Weiss pioneered a user experience strategy discipline from within Deloitte’s in-house creative agency, the Green Dot Agency.

Weiss earned her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis and is a certified usability analyst through Human Factors International. For the last decade, Weiss has been living near St. Augustine, Florida, with her husband, two sons and parents.

“The Russell A. Blanchard Distinguished Lecture Series in Ethics is an annual event meant to inspire students, faculty and community leaders in their ethical decision making,” said Dr. Richard Franza, dean of the Hull College of Business.

The series is named after Russell Blanchard, former CEO of Georgia Bank and Trust, now South State Bank. A Georgia Bank and Trust Endowment was established within the Augusta University Foundation to honor Blanchard, who is renowned as a highly ethical business person and was the first recipient of the Augusta University Alumni Association’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.

Augusta University scientists present eco-friendly plastic solution to American Chemical Society https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-scientists-present-eco-friendly-plastic-solution-to-american-chemical-society/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 13:00:30 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103873 Their research explores a "greener" way to make nylon 6-6, a thermoplastic used for tire reinforcements, ski bindings, outdoor stadium seats and more.]]>

Dr. Brian Agee, chemistry lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Physics in Augusta University’s College of Science and Mathematics, and Amina Aly, undergraduate biology student, presented their research at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Aly also presented her research the day prior on Aug. 23 for the ACS’s Sci-Mix session, a selective event in which program directors choose the best abstracts from each division of chemistry at the conference. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, her sessions were held virtually.

The main presentation covered nylon 6-6, one of the most common nylons used for textile and plastic products. Nylon 6-6 is among the most versatile engineering thermoplastics and is used to make tire reinforcements, ski bindings, outdoor stadium seats and other products that need durability, strength and weather resistance.

a solar reflector
During their research, Aly and Agee used a solar reflector instead of a hot plate to create nylon 6-6. This decreased the process time from four hours to 30 minutes, and saved energy, since no electricity was used.

However, producing nylon 6-6 is not eco-friendly: It requires the endangered element zinc as a catalyst. But Aly and Agee’s research found that iron catalyzes almost as well as zinc — and iron is available nearly anywhere in the form of rust (i.e. ferric oxide).

“The difficulty of synthesizing nylon 6-6 in this manner is the associated risk of extinction of a primary reagent in the synthetic pathway, zinc,” said Agee.

“Zinc is currently 50-100 years away from extinction, giving focus to finding alternative synthetic methods without involving the use of zinc.”

ACS Fall 2021 was a hybrid meeting that was conducted virtually and in person from Aug 22-26.

Learn more about this nylon research on the AZO Materials or Phys.org websites, or contact Agee with questions.

What’s happening at Augusta University? Week of Sept. 20-26 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/whats-happening-at-augusta-university-week-of-sept-20-26/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 13:00:02 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103769 Story ideas this week at Augusta University include a grant to study the consumption of cocoa at the Medical College of Georgia, a spotlight on National Hispanic and Heritage Month and the MCG Foundation's new community summit to push for positive change in Augusta.]]>

Story ideas this week at Augusta University include a grant to study the consumption of cocoa at the Medical College of Georgia, a spotlight on National Hispanic and Heritage Month and the MCG Foundation’s new community summit to push for positive change in Augusta.

MCG Foundation looks to bring positive change

The MCG Foundation at Augusta University is sponsoring a community conference, “Transforming Our Community Summit: From Adversity to Resilience,” from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at Richmond on the Greene. With support from Dr. Kimberly Vess Loomer and Dr. Melissa Bemiller, the summit is designed to discuss the most persistent, wide-ranging problems in the community and help lead to positive change.

Author Series features award-winning authors

The Augusta University Writing Project, an initiative of the College of Education, is continuing the Author Series. The series began to encourage students and community members to meet award-winning authors for presentations, conversations and more. “These author sessions have allowed us to stay connected with our colleagues not only in the local area, but beyond,” said Dr. Rebecca Harper, associate professor in the College of Education. Author Series events are free and open to the public.

$3 million grant awarded to study effect of cocoa consumption on aging

Dr. Yanbin Dong, geneticist and cardiologist at the Georgia Prevention Institute at the Medical College of Georgia, just received a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The grant will be used to perform detailed analysis of inflammatory factors and genetic changes associated with aging to see if cocoa consumption reduces those factors. Scientists are looking for a definitive answer to whether consuming cocoa, known to be packed with powerful antioxidants that protect our cells from damage, helps us age better.

Augusta University spotlights National Hispanic Heritage Month

National Hispanic Heritage Month runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 and Augusta University is hosting a variety of events to spotlight Hispanic organizations and community members.  There are a number of on-campus organizations working to enrich Hispanic culture in the community. Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

Interview opportunities are available for these story ideas. Call 706-522-3023 to schedule an interview. Check out the Augusta University Expert Center to view our list of experts who can help with story ideas.

Augusta University police lieutenant recognized by international organization https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-police-lieutenant-recognized-by-international-organization/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 12:00:57 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103898 The 40 Under 40 awards recognize the top 40 police leaders across the world under the age of 40 for their efforts in leading teams and initiatives within their respective communities. ]]>

Curtis “Chris” Dyal, community services lieutenant for the Augusta University Police Department, was recognized by the International Association of Chiefs of Police for the 2021 “40 Under 40” awards.  

The awards recognize the top 40 police leaders across the world under the age of 40 for their efforts in leading teams and initiatives within their respective communities. 

Winners are selected based on compliance with age and employment requirements, demonstration of values, commitment to law enforcement and capacity for leadership. 

“This is a distinguished and well-deserved honor,” said James Lyon, chief of police and assistant vice president of public safety at Augusta University.

two police officers moving trash cans a woman and a male police officer wearing traffic cones like hats people wearing self-defense padding smile for a photo several masked people holding up a large check several men and women standing on a field a police officer posing with Augusta University mascot

Dyal received the award in recognition for leveraging his background in computer science to advance the department. 

Since arriving to AUPD in 2017, Dyal has developed a mobile data terminal program to help with police reports, implemented a new records management system, developed a digital evidence management system, redesigned the AUPD website, launched an electronic crash data process and become a certified cybercrime investigator. 

He was also instrumental in the creation of the police explorers program and the expansion of the department’s social media presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. 

Dyal said he is grateful to be part of Jaguar Nation, as he was once the recipient of Augusta University’s life-changing, life-saving work. 

“I was born with a life-threatening birth defect in Vidalia, Georgia, in 1983. I was rushed here to the Children’s Hospital of Georgia for emergency surgery. Our doctors patched me up and saved my life,” he said. “I spent the first night of my life with my mom in Children’s.” 

On Sept. 12, the IACP recognized awardees in a virtual ceremony. The IACP is the premier international police association with over 31,000 members. 

Common blood test may provide insight into which patients with schizophrenia also at high risk for cardiovascular disease https://jagwire.augusta.edu/common-blood-test-may-provide-insight-into-which-patients-with-schizophrenia-also-at-high-risk-for-cardiovascular-disease/ Mon, 20 Sep 2021 12:00:12 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103956 Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of risk factors widely associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease, both of which are associated with schizophrenia.]]>

Physician-scientists want to find a signal that a person with schizophrenia is also headed toward metabolic syndrome, which increases their risk of also developing cardiovascular disease, and which can result from treatment for their brain disorder.

Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of risk factors — things like high blood pressure, high blood glucose and a larger waist circumference — widely associated with inflammation and cardiovascular disease, both of which are widely associated with schizophrenia, says Dr. Brian Miller, psychiatrist specializing in schizophrenia at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

He suspects and has some evidence that an elevated white blood cell count, a measure of overall health status used by primary care physicians every day, could be that signal.

“I think there is a subset of patients with psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, in which inflammation and the immune system play a more prominent role,” Miller says. He estimates this more pronounced role is a factor for at least 25% of patients, based on the studies he has already done measuring inflammation markers in the blood of his patients and others worldwide. The heightened inflammatory state can be both a cause and consequence of the mental disorder, he says.

Miller is principal investigator on a two-year, $154,000 grant (R03MH123909) from the National Institute of Mental Health that will enable him to examine data on some 20,000 patients who participated in some 50 clinical trials across the nation to see if a clear identifier for these additional-risk patients emerges.

These biomarker(s) could be a next step toward personalized medicine for them, Miller says, that could include early intervention with drugs that help interrupt the consequences of metabolic syndrome.

While suicide is a clear risk for patients with schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders, it’s cardiovascular disease that is the number one cause of death in patients with psychosis, a mental disorder in which connection to reality can be lost, like the voices heard by patients with schizophrenia, Miller says.

Increased bodywide levels of inflammation, prompted by lifestyle behaviors like inactivity and excessive fat tissue, are thought to be a trigger for metabolic syndrome in all of us, and the constellation of problems that can result, like high blood pressure and diabetes, heighten inflammation levels in an unhealthy vicious circle that also consequently raises our white blood cell count.

For those with schizophrenia, some of the antipsychotics patients take to quell brain disease effects like hallucinations and delusions, can also increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of common maladies like stroke and heart attack in a further heightened circle.

Still, comparatively little is known about associations between inflammation and metabolic syndrome in the face of psychosis, Miller says.

A joint open science initiative, the Open Translational Science in Schizophrenia, or OPTICS, project, between the National Institute of Mental Health and Janssen pharmaceutical company, has made available the large amount of patient data from schizophrenia clinical trials looking to improve disease understanding and treatment.

Miller can assess relevant details like whether patients had metabolic syndrome when they presented the first time to a psychiatrist, what happened to their white blood cell count and other inflammatory factors over time, and whether patients developed the unhealthy metabolic  syndrome while they were enrolled in the studies, some of which last for a couple of years.

Miller notes that on their first visit to him, he regularly sees individuals with schizophrenia struggling with problems like excess weight and high blood sugar and evidence of related inflammation in their blood.

“It’s like they are already teetering on the edge when they present to us, and then the effects of our treatment can compound that,” he says.

“However they get there, we want to know if you can tell before they get there, who is headed that way,” Miller says. “Then we can do everything in our power to head it off.”

“Your white blood cell count is kind of a proxy marker of inflammation, that is also inexpensive and easy to do,” Miller says. “If that helps us identify patients who are more at risk, then we can come up with more targeted, personalized interventions for that higher-risk group.”

Access to information on thousands of patients will enable Miller to perform large-scale analysis of these associations to see if a clear signal emerges of who might benefit from early intervention, for example, with drugs that reduce the impact of metabolic syndrome like metformin, used to control high blood sugar and associated risks, and cholesterol-lowering statins.

Rising inflammation levels may have some utility as well for identifying patients who are headed for relapse of schizophrenia, but Miller notes again that higher inflammatory markers may not be relevant to every patient and he would like to know early on whether or not they are. He also notes that while white blood cell counts tend to run normal in his patients, they tend to run high normal.

The metabolic impact of antipsychotics is very heterogeneous, Miller notes, and he already weighs that impact in deciding which drug to give a patient initially or when a medication needs to be changed.

But, in this condition where treatment noncompliance is a tremendous issue, his unofficial “rule” is prescribing a drug that his patient will actually take.

“Stopping medication is really the rule, not the exception,” Miller says of patients. When it happens, he may try a drug again that worked before for that individual and/or, since schizophrenia tends to run in families and so do many of the drug metabolizing enzymes we carry, he also may try a medication that worked well on a family member.

As a physician, Miller regularly checks his patients’ routine health measures like weight, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and white blood cell count, and he may proactively prescribe drugs like metformin to help his patients improve their overall health, particularly if he is the only physician they see. He also refers many of his patients to primary care physicians

Augusta University graduate to compete on ‘The Voice’ https://jagwire.augusta.edu/augusta-university-graduate-to-compete-on-the-voice/ Fri, 17 Sep 2021 15:16:29 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103883 Augusta University alumnus Tony Aaron Hambrick has been selected to appear on the NBC hit television show "The Voice."]]>

Augusta University alumnus Tony Aaron Hambrick has been selected to appear on the NBC hit television show The Voice.

Hambrick has been involved in music his entire life having watched his mom and other family sing in the church choir in Augusta. He graduated from Augusta University’s Pamplin College of Arts, Humanity, and Social Sciences in 2014 with a Bachelor of Music and a concentration in vocal. Besides the major influence of his family, it was his vocal professor at Augusta University, Dr. Bill Hobbins, who convinced him he was good enough.

“I was trying to fit into a mold of what I thought a good singer was. Instead of embracing my own talent to just cultivate that, Dr. Hobbins said to me in a lesson. It has stuck with me to this day, and I share with my students: ‘You are not a carbon copy,'” said Hambrick. “You’re an original and you have something the world is waiting on.”

He was leery about sending in his audition but one of his friends at North Augusta Middle School, where he is choral teacher, told him if he didn’t submit it, she would. His reaction to getting selected was not what you might expect.

“My first reaction was hysterical laughter. I think I laughed out of disbelief that this is actually happening.”

Hambrick was flown to Los Angeles to audition and can’t reveal other details about the show’s outcome. He’s just excited and elated to see himself on the national stage.

Judges on The Voice include Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Blake Shelton and Ariana Grande. The season premiere is at 8 p.m. Monday, Sept. 20.

Hear more from Hambrick in a clip from WRDW.

Compliance, Ethics and Risk Management works to improve ethics education this fall https://jagwire.augusta.edu/compliance-ethics-and-risk-management-works-to-improve-ethics-education-this-fall/ Fri, 17 Sep 2021 13:00:58 +0000 https://jagwire.augusta.edu/?p=103869 Augusta University is committed to an ethical organizational culture, including conducting annual compliance training, celebrating Values Week and launching a newsletter.]]>

This fall, Augusta University will take several strides to recommit to the institutional values and foster an ethical organizational culture.

Between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15, Augusta University will conduct its annual compliance training. This online training is mandatory for all Augusta University and AU Health faculty and staff.

Later, from Nov. 8 to Nov. 12, the university will celebrate Values Week, marking another opportunity for Jaguar Nation to focus on the importance of ethical decision-making in protecting and advancing public trust.

The Values Week celebration complements the University System of Georgia’s enterprise-wide Ethics Awareness Week.

This fall also marks another ethics milestone: the first issue of the Compliance, Ethics and Risk Management newsletter, The Navigator. The aim of this quarterly publication is to increase awareness and understanding of the role the Office of Compliance, Ethics and Risk Management plays in ensuring a safe, ethical and inclusive environment for everyone in the university community.

“We hope this newsletter will be a vehicle for providing useful and relevant information on issues pertaining to AU compliance and ethics,” said Barry Grosse, chief compliance officer and vice president for Audit, Compliance, Ethics and Risk Management.

“More importantly, we look forward to sharing the important stories about AU students and staff who exemplify our ethics and values daily through their work, interactions and communication with people both inside and outside our institution.”

Information about annual compliance training, Values Week and The Navigator newsletter is forthcoming. Email Compliance, Ethics and Risk Management to learn more.