Alumna named ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow
Tina Chhabra has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2018-19.
Pharmacists selected for the position have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.
Chhabra currently is a fellow at Biogen Inc., a biotech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in regulatory sciences and safety and benefit-risk management through the MCPHS University Biopharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a doctorate in pharmacy, also from VCU.
The daughter of a physician in the Washington, D.C., area, Chhabra spent her youth among “the incessant bleeping” of hospitals and doctors’ offices, she recalls. While working at her first job, as a receptionist in her father’s office, she says, “I learned that healthcare was equally scientific and political, and that access to a doctor was very important — but not everyone could afford it.”
This connection between politics and healthcare continued. Chhabra competed in science fairs and excelled in her math and sciences courses while also volunteering as secretary general of her high school’s model United Nations. Later, her fellowship with Biogen gave her an opportunity to do a rotation with the company’s policy and government-affairs teams, which led to participating in Capitol Hill hearings on such topics as the opioid crisis and drug pricing.
Chhabra pursued the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy fellowship as a result of these experiences. “I am passionate about health care policy and have a profound desire to make a difference,” she says. “I believe health care is a right, but I also realize the solutions to the problems that consume our system are nuanced and complex. … [And] I strongly believe that there are not enough scientists and clinicians making the decisions that shape healthcare.”
Amee D. Mistry, associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University, called Chhabra a standout among her peers for her energy, communications skills and determination to make a difference: “She has proven, on a number of occasions, to be an extremely focused, dedicated, and passionate pharmacist.”
The policies on which Chhabra would like to focus revolve around access to health care, medication accessibility and health disparities. She says she intends to use her fellowship as a route to working on policy as part of the federal Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin July 9. Chhabra will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, she will embark on her placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington through August 2019.
The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 11 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke.
For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
Two from VCU School of Pharmacy receive Walmart Scholarships
Two students in the VCU School of Pharmacy have been selected as 2018 Walmart Scholars.
The $1,000 scholarships will cover registration and other expenses for VCU pharmacy students Casey L. Boyer and Jacob Ellerbrock to attend and participate in the annual meeting and seminars of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in Boston this July.
Walmart offers 85 of the scholarships each year to pharmacy students nationwide. The scholarships support AACP’s efforts to strengthen pharmacy students’ “skills and commitment to a career in academic pharmacy,” according to the association’s scholarship page.
Boyer’s faculty mentor is David Holdford, Ph.D.; Ellerbrock’s is Lauren Caldas, Pharm.D.
VCU School of Pharmacy in Richmond, Virginia, is ranked among the top 20 pharmacy graduate schools in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.
Augmented reality can revolutionize surgery and data visualization, say VCU researchers
By Leah Small
The practical uses for augmented reality — which superimposes digital information onto real world surroundings — seem endless. Technologists have envisioned futuristic applications such as glasses that allow wearers to visualize turn-by-turn navigation in real time and immersive gaming headsets. Recently, scientists have focused on harnessing the technology for intellectual pursuits.
Virginia Commonwealth University researchers are leading utilization of AR for medical and research purposes. An interdisciplinary team of faculty and students led by Dayanjan “Shanaka” Wijesinghe Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Sciences in the School of Pharmacy, is developing augmented reality platforms that could improve surgical approaches, refine personalized medicine and serve as a research tool.
The Med-AR program, which is optimized for the Microsoft HoloLens AR platform, renders 3-D models of CT and MRI scans, and allows users to interact digitally. In February, VCU Medical Center surgeons used the application to prepare for two complex cardiac surgeries. Another version of the program is frequently employed to create 3-D models of complex biochemical networks for scientific research.
“Our technology has the capability to democratize medicine across the globe,” Wijesinghe said. “The 3-D surgical and biochemical network models can be shared worldwide for collaborative planning of complex surgeries and research.”
The operating room
In many respects, the AR application surpasses detailed 2-D medical imaging in its ability to offer surgeons realistic presentations of anatomy, said Dan Tang, M.D., the Richard R. Lower professor in cardiovascular surgery in the VCU School of Medicine.
Tang is the surgical director of heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support. He and his team recently donned headsets to prepare for two surgeries, one to mend a central portion of the heart and the other to repair leaks around two artificial valves.
The surgeons used 3-D reconstructions of CT scans generated by Med-AR to view areas of concern in the way they would appear on the operating table. Programmed verbal commands allowed the surgeons to rotate the models, move them and cause some parts to go transparent to view hidden anatomy.
“It really gives you a sense of where structures lie in relation to other structures while planning operations,” Tang said. “It’s particularly helpful for trainees who are still learning to translate the preoperative screen imaging to the live intraoperative findings.”
Tang expects the technology to improve alongside that of medical imaging and AR hardware.
“Augmented reality represents a leap forward,” Tang said. “When physicians went from plain film X-rays to digitized CT scans, we were provided with more detailed images.”
The majority of this information is still displayed in 2-D slices, and 3-D reconstructions of the images require further development. However, the VCU teams’ interactive, 3-D models present an intuitive imaging platform that surgeons can use to plan operations, and as a tool to educate patients on their disease process.
Wijesinghe envisions more ambitious surgical applications for the technology. His lab is working to develop an experience that is shared in real time between users during surgery and remote users, with the option of video and voice recording. Eventually, he aims to expand the software to overlie scaled 1-to-1 images on top of the operative field to provide supplemental information in real time.
“Being able to overlay the 3-D virtual reconstruction on the patient is akin to providing something like X-ray vision to the surgeons,” Wijesinghe said. “They will be able to see the patient, but also the structure underneath that they need to reach during the operation.”
Wijesinghe and Tang also collaborated with Vig Kasirajan, M.D., the Stuart McGuire professor and VCU Department of Surgery chair; Alex Valadka, M.D., professor and VCU Department of Neurosurgery chair; and the VCU da Vinci Center to perfect the technology.
Rendering biochemical networks
The research initiative stemmed from the need to understand biochemical pathways and interactions. This helps scientists explain and predict cellular functions that impact biological mechanisms such as disease progression and metabolism.
Biochemical networks, which are graphs scientists use to visualize biochemical interactions, provide the key to understanding biochemical pathways.
Data points called nodes represent molecules such as enzymes or metabolites. Lines drawn between the nodes define how the molecules interact.
Biochemical networks allow scientists to see the bigger picture but they take up an enormous amount of space when displayed in 2-D, which makes AR’s 3-D capabilities convenient.
“The issue we were running into is that complete biochemical networks are extremely complex, so no matter how much they are magnified, we cannot even display the data on multiple screens,” Wijesinghe said. “We needed a different technology and it made sense to generate immersive biochemical networks that are not limited to screen space.”
The system has some similarities to existing technologies, Wijesinghe said, but costs much less and is much more portable.
Wijesinghe’s next steps are to apply the AR technology’s biochemical network visualization capabilities to personalized medicine. The goal would be to visualize the effect of drug interactions on biological mechanisms within a patient profile.
For example, a scientist could use the technology to visualize a drug’s ability to improve an individual’s metabolism. Biological indices would be obtained from the patient to create the biochemical network, and drug molecules and metabolites would be represented by nodes. Scientists would use various visual aids, such as affected nodes going dark, to predict drug interactions.
“We solved the problem of visualizing networks,” Wijesinghe said. “Now, what we are working on is visualizing how specific drugs can impact an entire network.”
Neurocritical Care Society inducts Gretchen Brophy as president
VCU School of Pharmacy professor Gretchen M. Brophy has taken office as the 2017-18 president of the Neurocritical Care Society. NCS is an international, multidisciplinary medical society with more than 2,000 physician, nurse, pharmacist and resident/fellow members worldwide. She is the first nonphysician president of the society, whose mission is to improve outcomes for patients with life-threatening neurological illnesses.
“My long-time involvement in NCS has helped to advance my professional efforts and to connect me with other health care providers and leaders worldwide,” said Brophy. “I look forward to serving as the NCS president as a way to give back to this organization that has been of tremendous benefit to me and my esteemed colleagues in the neurocritical care profession.”
Brophy is a professor of pharmacotherapy and outcomes science and neurosurgery. She is also a neurocritical care clinical pharmacist at VCU Health. In addition to earning her Pharm.D. degree from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy in Tucson, postgraduate training includes residencies in critical care and pharmacy practice at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington.
Brophy’s research interests include effective treatment strategies for traumatic brain injury, brain injury biomarkers, neurocritical care, hemostasis, stroke, sedation and status epilepticus. She is an investigator for the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Defense and industry-funded studies. An invited speaker at national and international conferences, she publishes in the area of neurocritical care.
Brophy is a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist and a fellow of the NCS as well as the American College of Clinical Pharmacy and American College of Critical Care Medicine.
As SOP writing coach, Kier rejuvenates 60-year teaching/research career
By Lisa Crutchfield
After six decades as researcher and teacher, Lemont “Monty” Kier, retired medicinal chemistry professor and professor emeritus in VCU School of Pharmacy, is certainly entitled to some down-time.
But he’s not going to take it –- not at least for another decade or so, he says. The octogenarian still is passionate about his research and his latest way to help students: as a writing coach. “Being able to communicate is so important,” Kier says.
Second VCU RDD Peter R. Byron Graduate Student Award recipient named
Cordula Weiss, a graduate student at the Waterford Institute of Technology in Ireland, is the second recipient of the VCU RDD Peter R. Byron Graduate Student Award.
Weiss received the award during RDD (Respiratory Drug Delivery) Europe 2017 in Antibes, France. The award was established in honor of Byron’s career and influence on respiratory drug delivery — upon his retirement from VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutics — by former graduate students, colleagues and personal friends.
Weiss was selected for the Byron award based on excellence in research and understanding and defense of her work. During RDD’s Scientific Poster Session, she presented “Synthesis and Materials Characterization of Beclomethasone Dipropionate (BDP) Solvates as Precursors for Anhydrous BDP Particles for Dry Powder Formulations.”
Matthias Van Woensel, then a graduate student at the University of Leuven in Brussels, Belgium, received the inaugural Byron award during RDD 2016 in Phoenix, Ariz. His research focused on “Development of siRNA-Loaded Chitosan Nanoparticles Targeting Galectin-1 for the Treatment of Glioblastoma Multiforme Via Intranasal Administration.”
This year’s conference, with nearly 500 delegates from 32 countries, marks the largest Europe meeting since RDD began in 1988. Organizers are Byron, now a VCU emeritus professor; Joanne Peart, affiliate associate professor; and University of Maryland School of Pharmacy professor Richard Dalby.
Learn more about the VCU RDD Peter R. Byron Graduate Student Award, its recipients and how Byron has demonstrated his commitment to students throughout his career.
Respiratory Drug Delivery 2018 will take place April 22-26 in Tucson, Ariz. RDD Europe 2019 will be held May 7-10 in Lisbon, Portugal.
SOP Summer Research Fellows will present throughout July
VCU School of Pharmacy launched its 2017 Summer Research Pizza Lunch series July 7 with … what else? … a pizza social! As is tradition, Pharm.D. students — who applied and were accepted to conduct summer research projects – will present the results of their research throughout the month. Everyone is invited to attend the presentations and also to enjoy a slice or two.
Summer Research Fellowships are available to rising second- and third-year Pharm.D. students, who have the opportunity to experience hands-on research while being mentored by volunteer faculty. Each student receives a stipend provided by the School of Pharmacy Dean’s Office.
Each week’s presentation begins at noon in the Smith Building, Room 103.
The 2017 summer researchers and their advisors are as follows:
Sabrina Sperlazza, P3 (Annie Cheang, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science)
Hunter Hill, P2 (Malgorzata Dukat, Department of Medicinal Chemistry)
Christian Ruiz, P2 (Yan Zhang, Department of Medicinal Chemistry)
Carolyn Hill, P2 (Katherine Nicholson, School of Medicine)
Michael Gay, P2 (Masahiro Sakagami, Department of Pharmaceutics)|
Francine Kim, P2 (Ben Van Tassell, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science)
Sachpreet Bajaj, P3 (Teresa Salgado, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science)
Pharm.D. and graduate students earn a plethora of year-end awards
SENIOR AWARDS BANQUET
Members of the VCU School of Pharmacy Pharm.D. class of 2017 were honored during the annual Senior Awards Banquet, which took place May 12 at the Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa at Short Pump.
Awards were presented by Dean Joseph T. DiPiro and K.C. Ogbonna, associate dean for admissions and student services, with the assistance of Ron Ballentine, assistant director of admissions and student services. SOP alumnus Ken Kolb (Pharm.D. ’82), welcomed class members as the school’s newest alumni.
Class of 2017 members of academic honor societies Rho Chi and Phi Lambda Sigma were recognized as well as class and student body leaders.
Preceptor, faculty and staff awards went to:
- Preceptor of the Year: Neil Davis, Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital
- Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching: Krista Donohoe, assistant professor, SOP Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science. (She is also an SOP alumna, Pharm.D. ’10.)
- Outstanding Employee Recognition Award: Gioia Casso, contract and grant administrator, SOP Office of Research and Graduate Studies
Student awards were as follows:
- Patient Care: Apryl Anderson
- Patient Counseling: Dhania Molina
- Pharmacy Communications: Michelle Edwards
- Research Excellence: Omar Hassan
- Academic Excellence: Kassim Rahawi
- Excellence in Pharmacy: Katie Taylor
- Emswiller Award for Leadership Achievement: Heather Savage
- Outstanding Leadership: Phil Jan
- Community Practice Achievement: Samantha Pande
- Technology Excellence: Sung Lee
- Distinguished Service: Dien Tu
- Outstanding Student: Jeff McKenzie
- MCV Alumni Association Award: Phil Jan
- Academic Excellence in Medicinal Chemistry: Kayla Miller
- Academic Excellence in Pharmacotherapy: Chloe Ko
- Academic Excellence in Pharmacoeconomics and Health Outcomes: Julie Patterson
- Academic Excellence in Pharmaceutics: Kassim Rahawi
- Excellence in the Promotion of Pharmacy: Erin Hickey
- Community Engagement Excellence: Alvin Maraya
- Excellence in Public Health: Arzo Hamidi
- Interprofessional Practice and Collaborative Care Excellence: Ashley Simpson
- Excellence in Advocacy and Health Policy: Kalyann Kauv
- Professionalism: Kathryn Mundi
- Excellence in Public Health Pharmacy Practice: Kalyann Kauv
- Dean’s Award: Skylar White
GRADUATE AWARDS LUNCHEON
The school’s annual Pharmaceutical Sciences Graduate Awards Luncheon took place May 25 at Omni Richmond Hotel. SOP alumna Kellie Schoolar Reynolds (Pharm.D. ’92) addressed “Decision Points on Your Career Path.” She is deputy director of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology IV in the Office of Clinical Pharmacology, Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA.
Aron Lichtman, associate dean for research and graduate students, presented the awards:
- Doyle Smith Award: Daniel Afosah
- John Wood Award: Neha Maharao
- V.A. Yanchick Award: Julie Patterson
- Charles T. Rector and Thomas W. Rorrer Jr. Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Study: Daniel Afosah and Julie Patterson
- Pfizer Consumer Healthcare R&D Leading for Innovation Award: Mandana Azimi
- Blake Putney Award: Daniel Afosah, Hrishikesh Kale and Crystal Leibrand
- Lowenthal Award: Liwei (David) Wang
- PCEU GSA-AAPS Graduate Student Travel Award: Crystal Leibrand and Zaneera Hassan
- Peter Byron Travel Award: Deblina Biswas, Emmanuel Cudjoe, Hebing Liu, Nicole Luzi, Neha Maharao, Piyusha Pagare and Yoshita Paliwal
- Rector and Rorrer Travel Award: Bethany Falls, Zaneera Hassan and Crystal Leibrand
Advice to class of ’17: “You have the tools to succeed!”
“Wherever you go, you will be part of the School of Pharmacy family.” With those words, Dean Joseph T. DiPiro congratulated Pharm.D. and graduate degree candidates assembled for the 2017 Hooding and Diploma Ceremony.
He noted that the Class of ’17 can boast high achievers, accomplished leaders, students who have maintained high levels of professionalism and graduates who are going on to great careers in many domains of pharmacy. “It is a privilege,” he said, “to be in a profession where your career will result in bettering people’s lives.”
Graduation speaker Marcia Buck of the school’s U.Va. Division, who is president of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, admitted that looking to the future can be overwhelming and even scary. “You have the tools to succeed,” she assured graduates.
Her suggestions for success included looking for and accepting mentors and serving as a preceptor if the opportunity presents itself.
Buck has been precepting VCU pharmacy students for 25 years. In her experience, she said, “It is one of the best pharmacy schools in the world!”
About two-thirds of the Pharm.D. graduates will be practicing pharmacists across the country. That includes Sana Noori, who has been working with Walgreens and Bon Secours in the Richmond area since her second year of pharmacy school. “I’ve decided to stay on with both,” she said. “With Walgreens, I’ll be a community pharmacist. And with Bon Secours, I’ll be a staff inpatient hospital pharmacist. … I want to keep my skills sharp with both aspects of pharmacy.”
The remaining Pharm.D. students matched with residencies, received fellowships or will pursue graduate education. Elizabeth Young is headed for a PGY1 residency at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“I have known for a while that I wanted to pursue a career in veterinary pharmacy,” she said. “I grew up on a farm, my father is a small-animal veterinarian and, as an undergraduate at Virginia Tech, I obtained a pharmacy technician position at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, which really solidified my choice.”
She was able to take an elective veterinary course at VCU which, she noted, not all pharmacy schools offer. She also had the opportunity to complete a rotation with North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine through VCU SOP’s Office of Experiential Education. Her ultimate goal is to work for a veterinary teaching hospital pharmacy — “hopefully … Virginia Tech.”
Graduate degree-holders will go on to serve as postdocs, teach or work in the pharmaceutical industry. Hebing Liu, for example, will join several VCU School of Pharmacy alumni who have gone on to work for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Office of Experiential Education announces SOP’s 2016-17 outstanding preceptors
Neil Davis of Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital has been named VCU School of Pharmacy’s Preceptor of the Year. He has been a preceptor for the school in Acute Care I/General Medicine APPE and Acute Care II/Critical Care APPE since 1998.
He earned his Pharm.D. from the University of Georgia in 1995 — where, coincidentally, he was a student of Joseph T. DiPiro. DiPiro, now dean of the VCU School of Pharmacy, was professor and head of University of Georgia’s Department of Pharmacy Practice at the time.
In announcing Davis’ award, Phylliss Moret, assistant dean for experiential education, wrote: “Your stellar record of service clearly demonstrates consistent initiative, commitment and excellence as teacher, role model and mentor to numerous student pharmacists and emphatically fulfills the substance and spirit of the Preceptor of the Year Award!”
DiPiro recognized Davis for his accomplishments during the School of Pharmacy’s annual Senior Awards Banquet on May 12 at the Hilton Richmond Hotel & Spa in Short Pump.
In discussing the importance of precepting, Davis said, “I consider imparting the knowledge that I possess to the next generation of pharmacists following in my footsteps to be my obligation. It is a priority that I incorporate into my practice on a daily basis. As graduating pharmacists, it is now your obligation to mold future professionals.”
Criteria for Preceptor of the Year include sustained contributions and service to the mission of the School of Pharmacy for at least five years as a preceptor to many students. The school also presents Outstanding Preceptor Awards for Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience preceptors who have worked with at least two student pharmacists per year for at least two consecutive years.
Learn what nominators had to say about this year’s award winners.
The 2016-17 Outstanding Preceptor Award recipients are as follows; five of the 10 are VCU School of Pharmacy alumni.
Mark Adams, Pharm.D., BCPS, BCCCP
Salem VA Medical Center — Salem
Acute Care II/Critical Care, Cardiovascular; since 1998
Pharm.D., VCU School of Pharmacy, 2000
Beverlee Arnold, RPh, CGP
NeighborCare Pharmacy at Westminster Canterbury — Richmond
Introductory Community Pharmacy IPPE; Geriatrics APPE; since 1992
B.S., VCU School of Pharmacy, 1982
Mark Bernas, Pharm.D.
McGuire VA Medical Center — Richmond
Acute Care I/General Medicine APPE; since 2011
Pharm.D., University of Kentucky, 2001
Elisa Burton, RPh, BCPP
Central Virginia Training Center – Lynchburg
Acute Care II/Psychiatric Pharmacy APPE; since 2007
B.S., St. John’s University, 1980
Alexis Crawford, Pharm.D., BCPS
Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center — Richmond
Acute Care II/Critical Care APPE; since 2013
Pharm.D., VCU School of Pharmacy, 2010
Marjan Daneshmand, Pharm.D.
Virginia Hospital Center Outpatient Pharmacy and Clinic — Arlington
Introductory Community Pharmacy IPPE; Advanced Community Pharmacy APPE; Ambulatory Care APPE; since 2009
Pharm.D., Howard University, 1996
Rachel Flurie, Pharm.D., BCPS
VCU School of Pharmacy/VCU Health System — Richmond
Acute Care I/General Medicine APPE; since 2015
Pharm.D., University of Maryland, 2012
Javier Menendez, Pharm.D., RPh, M.B.A., CGP
Virginia Premier Health Plan – Richmond
Managed Care Pharmacy Elective APPE; since 2013
B.S., Long Island University, 1987; and M.B.A., Virginia Commonwealth University, 2014
Rafael Saenz, Pharm.D., M.S.
University of Virginia Health System — Charlottesville
Advanced Hospital Pharmacy APPE; Hospital Pharmacy Administration Elective APPE; since 2012
Pharm.D., VCU School of Pharmacy, 2003; and M.S., pharmacy administration, University of Wisconsin, 2005
Eddie Shibley, RPh, M.B.A.
Plaza Professional Pharmacy/Imperial Plaza – Richmond
Geriatrics APPE; since 2001
B.S., VCU School of Pharmacy, 1975; and M.B.A., Virginia Commonwealth University, 1999