The Mechanisms of Parasitism training program, recently renewed for another 5 years by the National Institutes of Health, has been running at this institution for nearly two decades. This T32 grant, led by Dr. Mary Wilson, Global Health Professor of Infectious Diseases, unites a variety of microbial scientists, all of whom are interested in the pathogenesis of microbial diseases. Their microbes of interest may vary, but these researchers combine their backgrounds and knowledge to identify commonalities between protozoa, helminths, bacteria, and viruses. This interdepartmental, interdisciplinary program is based on the premise that one pathogen’s ability to defeat or avoid host defense must share features with other pathogens. Currently, 8 young scientists are studying and advancing our understanding of the mechanisms by which microbes infect susceptible hosts and cause disease. They stand at the elbows of some of the university’s and our Department’s most accomplished faculty members from Internal Medicine, Bioinformatics, and Epidemiology, among others. We are proud of the work Dr. Wilson and colleagues have done so far and look forward to what their trainees will discover next.
Dr. Mohammed Milhem is one of the most visible members of our Department. Dr. Milhem is the Deputy Director for Clinical Cancer Services and Associate Director for Clinical Research at the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center. In these roles, Dr. Milhem coordinates a wide array of research activities among Center members across multiple disciplines. This takes deft communication and leadership skills in addition to a deep understanding of a broad range of oncology. Dr. Milhem not only possesses a natural ability to connect on a personal level with his patients, but launches clinical trials of new treatments at a prolific rate. Thus it is very fitting that Dr. Milhem was recently named as the Holden Family Chair in Experimental Therapeutics. Congratulations, “Dr. Mo”! (Congratulations also to Dr. George Weiner and the HCCC on their designation of “comprehensive” by the National Cancer Institute for the third time.)
Dr. Yousef Zakharia, Assistant Professor of Oncology, is currently running one of those experimental therapeutic trials on metastatic melanomas and glioblastomas. In collaboration with academic centers at Georgia Regent University, University of Utah, Mayo Clinic, and other institutions, Dr. Zakharia is coordinating a Phase II clinical trial using an IDO inhibitor called indoximod. These trials are showing very promising results and, despite the risks associated with some immunotherapies, minimal side effects. It is possible that this could become the new standard of care for metastatic melanoma, which until very recently had few treatment options at all. We will watch with great expectation as discussion progresses for Dr. Zakharia to take the reins of a national randomized Phase III trial. This article in MedPage Today provides a more comprehensive discussion of these trials.
Some more national attention was brought to the department when Dr. Steve Lentz and Dr. Firas Zahr were asked to write an editorial for the New England Journal of Medicine. The two were responding to a recent discovery of a test that could be performed in the operating room to indicate the presence a particular protein associated with blood clots. This test could alert surgeons immediately that a paravalvular leak was present during or just after a transaortic valve replacement. Identifying that leak sooner could prevent complications, not least of which would be the need for an additional surgery. Drs. Lentz and Zahr commented on the value of this protein test and the reliability of the recently published findings. They went on to explain that although these promising results will be of immediate benefit, more research would be necessary. This editorial speaks to the reputation of our colleagues and highlights the depth of expertise and influence within our department when major journals turn to us for editorial expertise. Congratulations to Drs. Lentz and Zahr.