July 2, 2020 | Volume II, Issue 13
College Mourns Passing of Collins Oguejiofor '22
The Larner community is deeply saddened by the sudden death last week of Collins Oguejiofor, a member of the medical student Class of 2022. Collins passed away unexpectedly in Norwalk, Conn., where he was about to begin his clinical clerkship at our Connecticut branch campus. Collins is remembered for his kind, warm nature by his fellow students, and by the many faculty and staff members who interacted with him over the last two years. His loss leaves a great gap in our community–one that must be filled by our own kindness and attentiveness to each other in the coming weeks and months.
I have communicated the deep condolences of the entire Larner community to Collins’s family, as have many leaders of the College. We will SHARE details about any service or memorial for Collins as soon as they become clear.
When a member of our community passes away, there is a profound sense of loss and reactions are felt in a variety of ways. During this time, we encourage you to reach out to your primary support system as a source of care and connection. If you, or someone you know, are in need of professional counseling please do not hesitate to contact UVM’s Counseling and Psychiatry Services at (802) 656-3340 (for all students) or Invest EAP at (802) 864-EAPØ (3270) or toll free at (866) 660-9533 (for employee assistance).
Richard L. Page, M.D.
Dean, The Robert Larner M.D. College of Medicine
The University of Vermont
Using Computer Modeling to Help Battle COVID-19
Under the pressure of an evolving pandemic, scientists worldwide have taken to Twitter to share ideas and discoveries to help identify potential treatments for COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 that has challenged standard interventions.
Gary An, M.D., professor of surgery, has nearly 20 years of experience in creating models of sepsis, which like COVID-19, invokes a hyper-inflammatory response called a cytokine storm. In late March, he and Assistant Professor of Surgery and theoretical physicist R. Chase Cockrell, Ph.D., joined an international coalition of virologists, pharmacologists, and mathematicians to help build a SARS-CoV-2 tissue simulator that models the changing behavior of the virus once it enters the body. Coalition members quickly modeled the mechanisms of the virus and identified various phases of the viral life cycle and potential drugs that could target those areas.
The challenge, explains Dr. An, is a lack of time to test potential treatments using a traditional approach. Conducting “in silico” trials–using computer models that model the mechanisms of the viral infection–allows scientists to explore how those drugs might work and determine toxicity and effectiveness.
Among the many approaches in use by coalition members is Dr. An’s model of cellular and molecular interactions of the cellular immune response to viral infection. Called the Cellular Immunity Agent-based Model (CIABM), the model was initially developed as part of a UVM Translational Global Infectious Disease Research project to study dengue vaccine development in collaboration with Associate Professor of Medicine Jason Botten, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics Sean Diehl, Ph.D. The COVID-19 version, said Dr. An, “is intended to be a general platform for drug and vaccine development. We are modeling the initial aspects of the systemic response to infection.”
Hidden Opportunities: Graduate Education during a Pandemic
While much of higher education successfully pivoted to remote learning during the pandemic, graduate education has been faced with a unique set of challenges, particularly for those further along in their training. Doctoral students have had to alter–or in some cases, halt–laboratory research, have been unable to attend important in-person networking events, and have witnessed significant shifts in job prospects both in industry and academia.
However, riding that wave of change, says Associate Dean of Graduate Education & Postdoctoral Training and Professor of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics Christopher Berger, Ph.D., will, in the end, make them stronger and more resilient scientists. “As they look back on this period, I think they'll find out that they got more from this than they lost,” he says, adding that, “with every set of challenges comes opportunity.” In addition to learning how to network digitally, a skill they will need as their careers progress, the students are also learning how to become better scholars. Dr. Berger notes that students now have time to focus on literature reviews in their field and to write their fellowship applications–a skill he believes is under-valued.
Additionally, graduate students are learning how to identify significant problems in their field and take advantage of their knowledge to apply it to new and evolving situations. “This happens all the time in science–not on this scope, but all the time,” says Berger. “They’ve already had this trial-by-fire that they were probably going to get at some point in their career, but circumstances forced them to be a little less sheltered than graduate students in the past.”
Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. trainee Inessa Manuelyan, agrees. As the pandemic advanced across the globe, the lab where she works, run by Associate Professor of Medicine Jason Botten, Ph.D., shifted its focus exclusively to SARS-CoV-2 research. “I essentially reapplied the goals of my dissertation [the Zika virus outbreaks of 2015 and 2016] to a new virus,” says Manuelyan. “I think being able to very quickly lay the groundwork to shift focus to an undeniable force such as this pandemic is the reality for a lot of virologists and it’s a good experience to go through with regards to my training,” she says. “[The pandemic] has likely solidified my commitment to virology.”Pictured above: Inessa Manuelyan (Photo courtesy of the Cellular, Molecular, and Biomedical Sciences program)
Medical Student Action Network Creates Inventory of COVID-19 Educational Videos for Public
Launched by Larner medical students on March 27, 2020, the original aim of the Medical Student COVID-19 Action Network (MSCAN) was to provide centralized information about medical student-organized COVID-19-related volunteer efforts across the U.S. and Canada. Since then, MSCAN’s parent organization, the Public Health Coalition (also founded by Larner medical students) has produced 25 educational videos designed to present vital, well-researched COVID-19 information in a way that is accessible to the public. To date, the videos have covered the biology of the virus, vaccine development, potential treatments, caregiver health, mental health, family safety, debates on reopening the country, and many other important issues.
The videos have been developed with oversight from Tim Lahey, M.D., M.M.Sc., professor of medicine, Louis Polish, M.D., associate professor of medicine, and Lachlan Forrow, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.Visit the MSCAN website.
Text Only Version: “We, as a profession, have the obligation to...examine the chronic effects of policing and structural racism on our application and selection processes.” - Luke Higgins, Class of 2022.
Read a blog post by Class of 2022’s Luke Higgins about why he and a group of fellow medical students recently authored a letter to the Association of American Medical Colleges and other organizations to advocate for institutional admissions processes protections for students with activism-related legal history.
Accolades & Appointments
The Teaching Academy has announced the 2020 Frymoyer Scholars Program recipients. Sarah Harm, M.D. (top left), associate professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and Leigh Ann Holterman, Ph.D. (top right), director of curricular evaluation and assessment in the Teaching Academy, were selected for their proposal, titled “Kids in the Lab: An Interactive Laboratory-Based Education Program for Pediatric Patients and Their Families.” Lili Martin, M.S.N., R.N., P.C.C.N. (bottom left), clinical instructor in nursing, and Jane Nathan, Ph.D. (bottom right), clinical assistant professor of family medicine, were selected for their proposal, titled “Nursing Stress Management and Resiliency Training for Nursing Students.”
Seven members of the Larner College of Medicine faculty recently graduated from the 2019-2020 Medical Education Fellowship Program. Sponsored by the Teaching Academy, the cohort-style program provides a review of principles of learning and development, discusses teaching and learning issues, and helps faculty members develop instructional and assessment strategies.
The seven members of the cohort include:
- Daniel Ackil, D.O. (top right), Assistant Professor of Surgery
- Deepak Gupta, M.D. (second row, left), Assistant Professor of Neurological Sciences
- Emily Hadley Strout, M.D. (second row, right), Assistant Professor of Medicine
- Sakshi Jasra, M.D. (third row, left), Assistant Professor of Medicine
- Tiffini Lake, M.D. (third row, right), Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology
- Valerie Riss, M.D. (bottom row, left), Assistant Professor of Pediatrics
- Bei Zhang, M.D., Ph.D. (bottom row, right), Associate Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
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