October 6, 2021 | Volume III, Issue 19
College Celebrates Firestone Building at Ceremonial Groundbreaking
The Larner College of Medicine hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking on September 30, 2021, to celebrate the four-story, 62,500-square-foot Firestone Medical Research Building currently under construction on the southern end of the medical campus. Dozens of people—wearing masks per UVM policy—attended the event in the Hoehl Gallery of the College’s Health Science Research Facility.
“Most of you will have noticed that this is not a traditional groundbreaking,” noted Larner Dean Richard L. Page, M.D., in his introductory remarks. “In fact, construction of the Firestone Medical Research Building began one year ago yesterday, on September 29, 2020. This beautiful building has taken shape, and, thanks to biomedical research leading to vaccines, we are able celebrate this construction, finally, here together.”
In addition to Dean Page, speakers at the ceremony included UVM President Suresh Garimella, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Marilyn Cipolla, Ph.D., professor of neurological sciences, David Reines, M.D.’72, Firestone Campaign Committee chair and Larner alumnus, and lead donor, alumnus Steve Firestone, M.D.’69.
“In one fell swoop you have helped us satisfy our strategic imperatives,” said President Garimella, addressing Dr. Firestone directly.
Breast Cancer Care: What We Know Today
Currently, one in eight women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. As Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, members of the University of Vermont Cancer Center discuss some of the major improvements in breast cancer care over the past decade:
Imaging modalities, like MRI, 3D Imaging, and ultrasound, allow physicians to capture much clearer images of women’s breast tissue, particularly in “dense” breasts, which refers to the amount of fibrous or glandular tissue vs. fatty tissue in a woman’s breast. About half of women over age 40 have dense breasts, which puts them at increased risk for breast cancer. “These types of technologies help us find things earlier and at a more treatable stage,” says Professor of Medicine and Familial Cancer Program Director Marie Wood, M.D.
Between 2009 and 2018, more than 10 drugs were approved for breast cancer treatment and prevention. “These newer therapies are…specific to the individual’s type of cancer based on the genetic mutations and proteins that are expressed and tend to have less toxicity than traditional chemotherapy,” says UVM Cancer Center Director Randall Holcombe, M.D., M.B.A.
When a patient has cancer, their immune system is suppressed, but by removing blocks in the immune system, patients may be better equipped to fight cancer cells with their own immunity. “We have just scratched the surface on understanding how immunotherapy may be beneficial for patients with triple negative breast cancer,” says Dr. Holcombe.
“For patients with hormone receptor positive breast cancer, we’re also seeing exciting improvements with a number of targeted therapies,” says Peter Kaufman, M.D., professor of medicine and UVM Medical Center oncologist, who adds that the UVM Cancer Center has several clinical trials evaluating both targeted therapies and hormonal medications.
Pictured above: 3-D mammogram image (Courtesy of the UVM Cancer Center.)
Virtual Women's Health and Cancer Conference Draws Nearly 400 Registrants
On Friday, October 1, the UVM Cancer Center hosted its 24th annual Women’s Health and Cancer Conference, which drew a total of 385 registrants, including cancer patients, caregivers, clinicians, researchers, and community members to the free and virtual event sponsored by The Victoria Buffum Fund. Attendees logged into sessions from across the United States, Canada, and as far away as Russia. Nearly a quarter of attendees received continuing medical education credit for their participation.
Conference co-chairs and UVM Cancer Center members Michele Machesky, P.A., a clinician in surgical oncology at UVM Medical Center, and Elizabeth Watson, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of radiology, hosted sessions across a broad range of topics. Vermont Commissioner of Health Mark Levine, M.D., provided an intro keynote presentation on the Vermont Cancer Plan and discussed the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care.
Both keynote speaker Rachel Greenup, M.D., M.P.H., of The Breast Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale, and Electra Paskett, Ph.D., from Ohio State University, spoke about health disparities related to breast cancer care. Dr. Paskett discussed that breast cancer mortality is 41 percent higher in black women than in white women and Dr. Greenup shared research that found 40 percent of white patients compared with 59 percent of black patients have experienced negative financial hardship following their breast cancer diagnosis.
Among the conference sessions was a pre-conference workshop, titled “Having Difficult Conversations,” by Stephen Berns, M.D., associate professor of family medicine, who shared tangible tools for delivering important news to patients and caregivers. Paul Ulager, M.D., assistant professor of family medicine, delivered a widely popular session, titled “Provider Burnout,” which provided research-informed, practical tools for resiliency building. Shahid Ahmed, MBBS, assistant professor of medicine, updated attendees about “Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer,” while Cindy Noyes, M.D., associate professor of medicine, facilitated a panel discussion on “COVID-19 and Cancer” that featured patient and provider perspectives.
I cannot overstate how much your mentor and lab environment will affect your daily life and future career. They can be the difference between a good and bad day and they are the primary contributors to your development as an early scientist.”
– Megan Perkins, Sixth-year Neuroscience Graduate Program student.
Read a recent blog post by Perkins, titled “Graduate School is Tough. But You Can Do It! Here’s How.”
Pictured: Megan Perkins.
Accolades & Appointments
Polly Parsons, M.D., professor and E. L. Amidon Chair of Medicine, was named a master by the American College of Physicians (ACP). According to the ACP, “Masters shall be Fellows who have been selected because of ‘integrity, positions of honor, impact in practice or in medical research, or other attainments in science or in the art of medicine.’” In addition to being an ACP Fellow, she is also an American Thoracic Society (ATS) Fellow and has served in numerous ATS leadership roles, including as 2018-19 president. Dr. Parsons is the recipient of the ATS Edward Livingston Trudeau Medal, Annual Lifetime Achievement Award, Distinguished Achievement Award, and Elizabeth A. Rich Award. She has long-standing interests in research, education, and patient care and her specific area of research focus is acute lung injury and critical illness.
Professor of Pediatrics Molly Rideout, M.D., recently began a new leadership role as vice chair of medical education in the Department of Pediatrics and the UVM Children’s Hospital. In this newly created position, she is responsible for strategic implementation of the department’s educational mission across the continuum of learning. She is working closely with medical students and graduate medical education leaders in creating, developing and assessing educational programs and courses. A standout teacher and pediatric hospitalist, she most recently served as associate director for pediatric medical student education and director of the fourth-year pediatrics program and the Schweitzer Fellowship Program. She is a Distinguished Educator in the Teaching Academy and this year’s winner of the Outstanding Innovation Award in Curriculum Development for her work creating the Pediatric Concentration for fourth-year medical students. Dr. Rideout serves on the national Executive Committee of the Council of Medical Student Educators in Pediatrics.
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