Category: Faculty news
Medicinal Chemistry ranked as top VCU department for inventions
Director of Communications
VCU School of Pharmacy
The No. 1 department at VCU for invention disclosures in 2018 was the School of Pharmacy’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry, according to the latest annual report from VCU’s Innovation Gateway.
With 12 faculty members, the Medicinal Chemistry Department reported 14 inventions last year. That figure comprised more than 10% of the university’s overall 134 invention disclosures for 2018.
“This is the latest recognition of the groundbreaking work going on at the School of Pharmacy,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, dean of the School of Pharmacy and Archie O. McCalley chair. “Under the leadership of Dr. Umesh Desai, our Medicinal Chemistry Department continues to demonstrate the importance of innovation. Pharmacy has always been about innovation and discovery, and these creative researchers are finding new ways to treat diseases.”
With five inventions credited, professor Martin Safo, Ph.D., was the department’s No. 1 for disclosures. His research has focused on finding ways to improve the health of people with sickle-cell disease and those who have difficulty absorbing vitamin B6 because of a hereditary disorder that can cause severe disabilities in children.
“Our work has the potential to improve the lives of millions around the world,” Safo said. “I’m proud to play a role in moving health science forward at the School of Pharmacy and at VCU.”
Also highlighted in the annual report is Shijun Zhang, Ph.D., an associate professor in medicinal chemistry, for his work designing a compound that can reduce inflammation in nerve tissues, a key symptom and risk factor of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.
Four VCU departments ranked second for invention disclosures with 12 each in 2018: chemistry, electrical/computer engineering, computer engineering, chemical/life science engineering and mechanical/nuclear engineering.
When tallied by school or college, VCU School of Medicine reported the most invention disclosures with 53, followed by the VCU College of Engineering with 43, the College of Humanities & Sciences with 24, and the School of Pharmacy with 15.
Innovation Gateway, part of VCU’s Office of Research and Innovation, releases its report on invention, commercialization and research each year. See the full 2018 report: https://innovationgateway.vcu.edu/media/innovation-gateway/docs/annual-reports/VCUIG_2018_Annual_ReportWEB.pdf
Pharmacy practice center awarded $1.3M for 5-year project to treat diabetes and hypertension
Director of Communications
VCU School of Pharmacy
email@example.com, (804) 828-6470
The VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation, in collaboration with VCU Health, is launching a project to help people across Virginia prevent diabetes and heart disease.
The planned project, supported by a projected $1.3 million over five years from the Virginia Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will use telemedicine, remote monitoring, one-on-one coaching and partnerships with community partners to improve participants’ health.
In the first phase, VCU School of Pharmacy faculty and students will work with participants with prediabetes at the upcoming VCU HealthHub at 25th in Richmond’s East End alongside dietitians and dietetic interns with VCU Health.
“Rather than requiring participants to travel to seek preventive and education services, this program will be in the community’s backyard,” said Dave Dixon, Pharm.D., director of the Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation at the VCU School of Pharmacy.
Participants in this first phase will learn strategies to help prevent type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle change in patients with prediabetes is an effective way to prevent progression to type 2 diabetes and subsequent serious health problems. The approximately 50 participants in the first year will be referred by community partners and health clinics.
“This kind of project demonstrates how we aspire to reshape care to better meet the needs of communities,” said Alan Dow, M.D., assistant vice president, interprofessional education and collaborative care, with the VCU Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences. “It is innovative in how practitioners collaborate, how we train future practitioners, and how we use technology, all inspired by the needs of the people we serve.”
Prediabetes affects approximately 81 million adults in the U.S. and can lead to type 2 diabetes. In the U.S., diabetes has an estimated cost of $327 billion per year, according to the American Diabetes Association.
In future phases, the project will expand to other areas of Virginia and include monitoring and treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure. Hypertension can damage organs and lead to death. It costs about $46 billion each year in health care services, medications and missed days of work in the U.S., according to the CDC.
The hypertension phase of the project will work with community pharmacies and the VCU Office of Telemedicine and use Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure devices to monitor and coach high-risk participants. VCU is exploring a collaboration with Virginia Premier in developing and implementing a community pharmacy-based high blood pressure monitoring program.
“This grant provides an opportunity to build a model that is outside of the traditional health care setting and deploy the resources available through VCU’s School of Pharmacy to support the growing number of individuals with diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease,” said Sheryl Garland, chief of health impact, VCU Health System. “In collaboration with community partners, this program will introduce innovative prevention and wellness strategies that are critical to helping individuals live longer and manage their conditions better.”
“Traditionally health care has been organized around brick and mortar,” said Vimal Mishra, M.D., VCU Health’s medical director for telehealth. “With virtual health care models and technologies such as remote patient monitoring, virtual visits and the use of mobile apps we have the opportunity to redesign care around the patient and their needs.”
The grant is officially known as CDC-RFA-DP18-1817: Innovative State and Local Public Health Strategies to Prevent and Manage Diabetes and Heart Disease and Stroke.
The VCU project will be led by Dave Dixon, Pharm.D., as principal investigator; Teresa Salgado, Ph.D., co-principal investigator; and Sharon Gatewood, Pharm.D., and Evan Sisson, Pharm.D., as co-investigators.
Highlights of the program include:
- Diabetes prevention education: Participants will take part in a 16-week program from the CDC that is shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes by 50 percent. The classes will be led by School of Pharmacy faculty and dietitians from the VCU Health Dietetic Internship.
- E-referral pathway: The program will partner with community pharmacies, health clinics and other community organizations to create referral mechanisms using electronic health records to identify participants and monitor their progress.
- Remote blood pressure monitoring: Participants will use Bluetooth-enabled blood pressure devices, provided by the VCU Office of Telemedicine, that can send data to local community pharmacies where pharmacists will monitor and coach participants on medication adherence and lifestyle changes to improve blood pressure control.
- Provider training: In collaboration with the Virginia Pharmacists Association, School of Pharmacy faculty will provide training using the Pharmacy-Based Cardiovascular Disease Risk Management course created by the American Pharmacists Association.
Links in story:
VCU HealthHub at 25th: https://www.vcuhealth.org/our-story/building-projects/vcu-health-hub-at-25th/vcu-health-hub
CDC training program: https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/prevention/index.html
American Pharmacists Association cardiovascular disease course: https://www.pharmacist.com/education/pharmacy-based-cardiovascular-disease-risk-management
In clearest view ever of cell membrane, VCU team finds unexpected structure and new areas for pharmaceutical research
VCU School of Pharmacy
Director of Communications
Working with a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist, a team of researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University has used an innovative technique to gain the clearest view yet of a patch of cell membrane and its components, revealing unexpected structures and opening up new possibilities for pharmaceutical research.
Cell membranes are formed largely of a bimolecular sheet, a fraction of the thickness of a soap bubble, in which two layers of lipid molecules are packed with their hydrophobic tails pointing inward and their hydrophilic heads outward, exposed to water.
The internal shape and structure of this lipid bilayer have remained largely mysterious after almost a century of research. This is in large part because most methods to examine membranes use detergents, which strip away the lipids that make up much of the membranes’ structures.
In a newly published paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, the team — led by Youzhong Guo, Ph.D., of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy — used a new detergent-free method that allowed them to examine the membrane of an E. coli cell, with lipids still in place.
Where earlier models had shown a fluid, almost structureless lipid layer — one often-cited research paper compared it to different weights of olive oil poured together — the VCU-led team was startled to find a distinct hexagonal structure inside the membrane. This has led the researchers to propose that the lipid layer might act as both sensor and energy transducer within a membrane protein transporter.
“The most surprising outcome is the high order with which lipid molecules are arranged, and the idea they might even cooperate in the functional cycle of the export channel,” said Joachim Frank, Ph.D., of Columbia University, a 2017 Nobel laureate in chemistry and coauthor of the paper. “It is counterintuitive since we have learned that lipids are fluid and disordered in the membrane.”
The researchers were able to get such a clear view because they used an innovative method to isolate and stabilize the membranes. Employing poly-styrene-maleic-acid to break cell membrane into nanoparticles that were then isolated and captured in a layer of sophisticated polymer, the researchers used the state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscope at New York Structural Biology Center (NYSBC) to get a clear look at the lipid bilayer.
“Being able to pull proteins out of cell membranes without using detergents to break up the lipid bilayers truly is a fantastic advance,” said Wayne Hendrickson, Ph.D., a university professor at Columbia, scientific director of NYSBC and coauthor of the paper.
The technique and its revelations could have significant pharmaceutical value, added VCU’s Guo. He pointed out that about half of medical drugs target the cell membrane, and proposed that improved understanding of their layers of lipids and proteins could lead to new or more-effective therapies.
The authors of the paper, “Structure and Activity of Lipid Bilayer Within a Membrane Protein Transporter,” are Weihua Qiu, Guoyan G. Xu, Yan Zhang and Youzhong Guo, of Virginia Commonwealth University, and Ziao Fu, Robert A. Grassucci, Joachim Frank and Wayne A. Hendrickson of Columbia University.
Kelly Goode on the 1918 pandemic and its lessons for today
Kelly Goode, Pharm.D., visits a key site in the history of the 1918 flu pandemic that killed 50 million people worldwide. Hear what she has to say about what that tragic epidemic can teach us today.
Posted by VCU School of Pharmacy on Friday, October 5, 2018
VIDEO: Kelly Goode, Pharm.D., visits the site of an emergency hospital during the 1918 influenza pandemic to discuss the flu and the importance of vaccines.
Pharmacists as part of medical team make patients healthier and reduce costs, study says
By Christian Ruiz
Auxiliary Label Staff
Pharmacists working in collaboration with other health-care providers can improve the quality and cost of care for patients, according to a recent study.
A recent article in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy makes the case that pharmacists working as part of the primary-care team can be crucial life savers for their patients. In the case of the study, having pharmacists on the team reduced hospitalizations by 23.4 percent and reduced costs by approximately $5 million.
The study — of six hospitals from the Carilion Clinic health system in southwest Virginia in conjunction with 22 patient-centered medical homes associated with Carilion Clinic — was led by VCU School of Pharmacy’s Gary Matzke, Pharm.D.; Leticia Moczygemba, Pharm.D., Ph.D.; Karen Williams, Pharm.D.; Michael Czar, Pharm.D., Ph.D.; and William Lee. The study took place from January 2013 to June 2015. Funding sources for the study included the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation and the Carilion Clinic health system.
A total of 2,480 patients in the study had two or more of these seven chronic health conditions: heart failure, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression. In addition, the patients were taking at least four medications and had a primary care physician in the Carilion Clinic health system.
The researchers studied the difference between collaborative care, in which pharmacists were members of the primary care team and worked closely with physicians, and “usual care,” in which pharmacists were not part of the primary care team, on the progress of their patients’ chronic health conditions and on their patients’ use of hospital resources.
The collaborative-care pharmacists called patients within 72 hours after their hospital stay to see if those patients had any medication-related problems or issues. Additionally, these pharmacists met the patients face-to-face or by phone to address patient-specific problems or concerns, which encouraged patients to self-manage their medications and health conditions.
Patients in the usual-care group did not interact with pharmacists in these ways.
Patients in the group working more closely with pharmacists showed better improvement in each of their health conditions compared to the usual-care group in terms of their diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
In addition, the number of patients who were treated with the collaborative-care group experienced a 23.4 percent decrease in hospitalizations, from 1,675 hospitalizations before treatment by the collaborative-care group to 1,283 hospitalizations after treatment by the collaborative-care group.
The usual-care group, in comparison, experienced an 8.7 percent decrease in hospitalizations, from 355 hospitalizations before treatment and 324 hospitalizations after treatment.
Along with the health improvements, pharmacists in the collaborative-care group helped reduce the cost of hospitalizations overall by $5,156,675 — $2,619 less per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost. In comparison, the usual-care group recorded a cost reduction of $475,071, or $241 less per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost. This means that pharmacists in the collaborative-care group helped save $4,681,604 more than the usual-care group — or $2,378 more per patient than standard procedures would have been expected to cost — over the course of the study.
This study demonstrates that pharmacists can contribute far more to health care in the community than just serving as “pill counters” – a perceived role that immensely underestimates and undervalues the impact they can have on both the health of their patients and the cost of health care. Additionally, when health care providers work together as a team, our jobs as life savers can be worth so much more to our patients.
Auxiliary Label is a student-created blog examining pharmacy life, education and research at the VCU School of Pharmacy from a student perspective. It is overseen by Greg Weatherford, the school’s director of communications. Contact him here.
Healthcare policy fellow to work in office of U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown
By Greg Weatherford
Director of Communications, VCU School of Pharmacy
ACCP-ASHP-VCU Healthcare Policy Fellow Tina Chhabra has begun her congressional placement within the office of Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
In her work with the office, which will run through August 2019, Chhabra (VCU Pharm.D. ‘16) will support Senator Brown’s health team in all healthcare-related matters such as Medicare, Medicaid, drug development, mental health, the opioid crisis, the Affordable Care Act, and more.
Pharmacists selected as American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellows 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.
“There is no typical day,” Chhabra said of her role in Congress so far. Her work includes writing policy memos, participating in health-care briefings and meeting with constituents. “Constituents are the best educators,” Chhabra added. “I really enjoy meeting with the people of Ohio and learning from their experiences and expertise.”
Prior to her placement with Senator Brown’s office, and as part of the fellowship, Chhabra spent one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices.
The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, Pharm.D., was founded in 2007 under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke, Pharm.D.
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.
VCU Pharmacy’s CPPI announces partnership with journal Pharmacy Practice
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Greg Weatherford
email@example.com | (804) 828-6470 (o) (804) 937-4722 (m)
The VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation is proud to announce an editorial partnership with Pharmacy Practice, a quarterly full-text peer-reviewed online journal.
Pharmacy Practice was founded as an independent journal by a group of prominent pharmacy-practice researchers from around the world about 10 years ago. Pharmacy Practice is free to access, complying with the NIH’s policy on public access, and does not charge for submissions or publication. It is indexed and abstracted on PubMed, PubMed Central, Embase, Scopus, Ebsco EJS and the Directory of Open Access Journals, among others.
As part of the agreement, faculty members of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation will have a designated section to publish non-peer-reviewed articles expressing viewpoints on a wide range of pharmacy-practice topics. VCU School of Pharmacy faculty members Teresa Salgado, M.Pharm., Ph.D. and David Holdford, Ph.D. were named associate editors of Pharmacy Practice; faculty members John Bucheit, Pharm.D., Lauren Pamulapati, Pharm.D., and Julie Patterson, Pharm.D., Ph.D. were named advisory board members.
Notably, the agreement between the journal and the center stipulates that the arrangement remains valid only as long as Pharmacy Practice does not charge authors to publish. No financial support was given or received by the VCU center to execute or maintain the agreement.
“One of our driving motivations for this partnership is to support the open-science philosophy, particularly in an area like pharmacy practice research in which many open access journals charge fees,” explained Salgado, assistant director of the VCU Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation. “We are honored to join the prestigious group of international colleagues who are part of Pharmacy Practice’s editorial and advisory boards.”
Pharmacy Practice is ranked among the best journals in pharmacy and is among the top journals in the field as determined by the Scopus CiteScore. In fact, Pharmacy Practice is the first open-access journal in this rank.
“We are excited to have an editorial partner as esteemed as the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Pharmacy Practice Innovation,” said Fernando Fernandez-Llimos, Ph.D., editor-in-chief of Pharmacy Practice. “We share the goal of supporting true open-access research of the highest caliber. We look forward to a rewarding partnership.”
For more information contact Greg Weatherford, VCU School of Pharmacy director of communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patricia Slattum’s 10 lessons for young pharmacists
At her keynote speech at the White Coat Ceremony for the Class of 2022, Patricia Slattum, Pharm.D., the 2018 Preceptor of the Year, offered 10 lessons drawn from her 35-year career in pharmacy:
- Patients always come first.
- There is always room for improvement!
- Learn to listen.
- Watch for assumptions — your own, and others’.
- Collaboration is key.
- Don’t be afraid to dive in.
- Be willing to invest in others. It pays off.
- Play to strengths — your own as well as your patients’ and colleagues’: “Focus on what people have, not what they don’t.”
- Carers must practice self-care.
- Pharmacy is a small world. This means that doing the right thing can be hard sometimes, but do it anyway.
Xu wins Ralph E. Powe Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities
Qingguo Xu, assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics, holds his award. He is accompanied by John Ryan, VCU associate vice president for research development, and the School of Pharmacy’s Aron Lichtman, associate dean, and Dean Joseph DiPiro.
Qingguo Xu, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutics, has received the Ralph E. Powe Award from Oak Ridge Associated Universities to support research by junior faculty.
The annual Ralph E. Powe Junior Faculty Enhancement Awards provide seed money for research by junior faculty at ORAU member institutions. These awards are intended to enrich the research and professional growth of young faculty and result in new funding opportunities, according to the organization.
VCU last received a Powe award in 2012.
Oak Ridge Associated Universities is a consortium of Ph.D.-granting institutions based in Tennessee and affiliated with the Oak Ridge National Labs, the largest science and energy laboratory in the United States, and the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy.
Learn more about the Powe award here.
Since ancient Greece, doctors have relied on patients to tell them what medications they are taking. They may no longer need to.
Director of Communications, VCU School of Pharmacy
Every day, in thousands of emergency rooms around the world, doctors face a daunting mystery: What medications are in a patient’s body?
That question can be one of life or death, and since the days of Hippocrates doctors have relied on the same method for answers: They ask the patient.
Now, thanks to collaborative research at Virginia Commonwealth University, they may soon have a much better option.
The presence of drugs such as blood thinners or heart medications can dramatically affect the way a patient reacts to wounds or medical treatment. Unplanned withdrawal from medication can lead to medical crises in patients who are hospitalized. Drugs used in emergencies could interact badly with those that are already in a patient’s system.
“In emergencies, we have to depend on the patients or their families to tell us what they are taking,” said Sudha Jayaraman, M.D., a VCU Health surgeon who specializes in trauma and other emergency cases.
There are major drawbacks with that approach, particularly in emergencies. Patients may be unconscious or incoherent or simply unsure. Family members may not know what medicines have been prescribed, much less taken. The patients’ doctors and pharmacists may be hard to reach on short notice.
And while paramedics transporting patients to the hospital are trained to “grab all the meds and bring them in a bag,” Jayaraman said, that information is of limited use if there is no way to know which of those drugs might be in a patient’s system.
A national problem
More than half of hospitalized patients have at least one unintended drug interaction while under medical care, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Of the unintended interactions, 39 percent had potential for severe or moderate harm.
“Those kind of things happen all the time,” said Gretchen M. Brophy, Pharm.D., professor of pharmacotherapy and outcomes science and neurosurgery at the VCU School of Pharmacy. Brophy is also a practicing neurocritical care clinical pharmacist at VCU Health and president of the national Neurocritical Care Society.
She offered an example: “A patient might go into a seizure in the emergency department and no one knows why,” Brophy said. “It turns out he is supposed to be on anticonvulsant or anti-epilepsy drugs, but he no longer has the medication in his system.”
The process of ferreting out which medicines are affecting patient health is called medication reconciliation. It is an important part of health care in general. In emergencies, the mystery can rise to a crisis level.
Standard blood tests for medications can take up to two weeks to process. Emergency department physicians, sometimes making decisions in seconds, need answers quickly.
With more than 130 million emergency department visits a year in the U.S. — 12 million of them serious enough to warrant hospital admission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — a lot of patients are potentially at risk for dangerous medication interactions.
A new approach
A few years ago, the situation got Jayaraman thinking. How can modern emergency medicine, with its wondrous technology, still be using the same medication-reconciliation techniques it has for centuries — even as drugs have become more common? It was like a modern crime-scene investigator forced to use 18th-century technology rather than current forensic science.
Jayaraman, an associate professor of surgery in the School of Medicine, mentioned the mystery to a colleague, Dayanjan “Shanaka” Wijesinghe, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science at the VCU School of Pharmacy.
Wijesinghe was intrigued: “Basically, the doctors are working blind when it comes to medications,” he said.
But Wijesinghe quickly connected the issue to a technology he knew well. “I told her, ‘We have been doing this in the lab for a long time,’” he recalled.
The technology was mass spectrometry.
Mass spectrometry is a term used to describe an umbrella of technologies that allow the identification of a molecule by measuring its mass and then breaking those molecules apart and also measuring the masses of the fragmented components. The information gleaned from the technology can be compared to a database of intact and fragmented component masses of known compounds of interest to find the identity of the mystery molecule.
With this approach in mind, Wijesinghe and Jayaraman obtained grants from VCU’s C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and the Commercialization Fund, which is intended to advance VCU inventions to a more mature stage and improve their chances of being brought to market. Their objective was to assess the feasibility of using mass spectrometry in a clinical setting. With support from VCU Innovation Gateway, they have applied for a patent on the application and set up a company to market it, Mass Diagnostix.
In this early phase, the project aims to catalog 50 common drugs; so far, they have molecular signatures for 45, Wijesinghe said.
The future of patient care?
The interdisciplinary VCU team hopes the use of mass spectrometry to analyze patients’ medications will become common practice. They predict in a few years, use of the machines — which cost about $500,000 — will be standard practice for hospital laboratories.
The next step will be to expand the catalog of molecular signatures to many more medications — at least 100, Jayaraman said.
Wijesinghe suggests other possible uses. For example, he said, these instruments could record subtle changes in patients’ metabolisms that could predict life-threatening health crises before they happen.
Jayaraman and Wijesinghe are among the co-authors of a recent paper in the medical journal Shock that examines the possibility that mass spectrometry, along with other tests, could reduce deaths from trauma and its ensuing complications. Almost 200,000 trauma-related deaths occur every year in the U.S., most as a result of complications arising after the injury itself.
If this expansion of the technology into diagnosing future problems proves fruitful — and the researchers caution that years of study remain before that is determined — the effort to solve the mystery of what medications hide inside a patient’s body could have major advantages.
“We are hoping that this test will improve patient care,” Jayaraman said.