December 21, 2022 | Volume IV, Issue 25
Season of Giving: Alum Kelly McQueen, M.D.’91, Fosters Global Service Careers
Growing up, Kelly McQueen, M.D., a Larner College of Medicine Class of 1991 medical alum, traveled frequently with her parents, gaining exposure “to the needs of people around the world,” she said. Those experiences helped inform her decision to attend medical school.
While no global health program existed at UVM when McQueen arrived in 1987, she articulated her interest widely. Her pediatrics professor and mentor, the late Jerold Lucey, M.D., answered the call. “Jerry sent me to a Catholic mission in San José de Ocoa, Dominican Republic,” recalls McQueen. “The priest, Father Lou, wasn’t a doctor, but we’d pack the pickup and go up to the campos in the hills — the very poorest areas — and give vaccinations and plant trees. When I got back, I said, ‘This is what I’m going to do with my life.’”
The 2016 recipient of the Larner Medical Alumni Association’s Service to Medicine and Community Award, McQueen is the Ralph M. Waters Distinguished Chair in Anesthesiology at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and a leader in global anesthesia and surgery communities. Her medical career has been a hybrid of U.S.-based academic medicine and global health, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Her contributions have evolved from patient care to building infrastructure and expertise among village clinicians and caregivers, to research on global anesthesia, unmet surgical needs, and workforce crises in low-income countries.
Recently, she established the Kelly McQueen, M.D.’91, Endowment for Global Health Education to support international clinical rotations for Larner medical students and the Global Health Program curriculum, with a goal “to encourage interested students to explore global health as a potential career path and provide resources that will allow them to focus on the needs of the people they are serving rather than on how they’re going to manage financially.”
Pictured above: Kelly McQueen, M.D.
Finette’s THINKMD Tool Brings Needed Clinical Expertise to Remote Populations
The shortage of health care workers seen in the U.S. is even greater in areas like sub-Saharan Africa, where physicians are scarce and many community health workers lack the necessary training and skills to provide accurate assessments of patients’ health risks.
University of Vermont Professor of Pediatrics Barry Finette, M.D., Ph.D., witnessed this problem firsthand when providing health care in low- and middle-income nations. Eager to find a solution, he partnered with Professor of Pediatrics Emeritus Barry Heath, M.D., with whom he developed and tested a mobile digital application designed to bring physician-based knowledge to the hands of minimally skilled health workers. In 2014, the duo founded THINKMD™.
The THINKMD app can be used anywhere — online or offline — where there is a shortage of health care professionals. It “allows the end user to perform a high-quality clinical evaluation of a patient and create appropriate care arrangements,” explains Finette. To date, the technology has been used in 11 countries, impacted a population of nearly 20 million people, and assessed roughly 300 clinical diseases and condition risks.
In the fall of 2021, THINKMD received a $2.5 million Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant that focuses on upgrading and standardizing the technology’s clinical analytical tools/risk assessments, performing patient evaluations, and supporting interoperability between different systems.
More recently, THINKMD received a $1.5 million USAID Development in Innovations grant to perform a randomized controlled clinical trial in Nigeria to test the technology at a higher scale and determine its ability to scale it at a nationwide or global level using a sustainable financial model.
“Currently, there is an exponential increase in the shortage of health care providers globally,” says Finette. “You cannot replace these physicians by training more, due to a lack of educational infrastructure or facilities. To meet the needs, technology can help build a health care workforce that can develop knowledge.”
Pictured above: A health care worker in Bangladesh (right) uses the THINKMD app on a tablet while evaluating a child’s health. (Photo: Jon Brack)
Postdoc Spotlight: Ajit Singh, Ph.D.
Postdoctoral fellow Ajit Singh, Ph.D., works in the laboratory of Karen Glass, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology, where he is expanding his knowledge of chromatic biology and focusing his research on a parasite that is the main cause of malaria cases worldwide.
“According to a WHO estimate, there were 409,000 recorded global malaria fatalities in 2019, with children under five years old being the age group most impacted,” said Dr. Singh. “There is a pressing need to define the molecular pathways behind pathogenesis in P. falciparum due to this parasite’s alarming growth in drug-resistance in recent years.”
Singh aims to discover how chemical modifications of histone proteins, generally known as epigenetic modifications, manage DNA packing and make it accessible for translation of information contained in its unique DNA sequence. For this work, he uses various cutting-edge structural biology techniques in Dr. Glass’s lab, including X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance, and cryo-electron microscopy.
Singh conducted his doctoral research in the lab of Dileep Vasudevan, Ph.D., at the Institute of Life Sciences in Bhubaneswar, India, and has published his research findings in journals that include Nucleic Acids Research and BBA Gene Regulatory Mechanism.
Read the UVM Graduate College’s full interview with Singh.
Pictured above: Singh stands in front of the cryo-electron microscope in the Center for Shared Biomedical Resources in the Firestone Medical Research Building.
I think of how fortunate I was to be able to spend time with the [hospice] residents and what I learned from them. To be reminded of all the quirks of the residents that I have met, even if I played just a small inconsequential role in the magnitude of their lives, and how much these experiences meant to me.”
- Jennifer Chen, Class of 2025 medical student, in a UVM Larner Med blog post titled “The Luxury of Time and Accepting Our Mortality. Learning to Treat and Comfort Others Approaching Their End of Life.”
Please note that all University of Vermont offices and libraries will be closed for the holiday/winter break Friday, December 23, 2022, through Monday, January 2, 2023. All Larner College of Medicine buildings will be locked during this time, and access via CatCard will be required. Offices will reopen on Tuesday, January 3, 2023.
Accolades & Appointments
Larner medical student Dana Allison ’23 presented her work on “The Differentiation of Hemorrhagic Masses” at the 2022 Georgia Neurological Society (GNS) Annual Fall Meeting Conference on December 3-4, 2022. Her work explored the radiographic, histopathological, and clinical features of hemorrhagic intracranial lesions to support physicians in their ability to differentiate brain tumors effectively and efficiently. This investigation was a collaborative effort driven by several medical students from Emory University School of Medicine, research specialists from Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute, and clinical/academic professors from Emory University Hospital’s Departments of Neurosurgery, Radiology, and Pathology. Allison is a graduate researcher, currently completing a neuro-oncology research fellowship at Emory’s Winship Cancer Institute investigating brain tumor immunotherapy, under the guidance of Dr. Edjah Nduom, MD, FAANS.
Mary Cushman, M.D., M.Sc., a professor and vice chair in UVM’s Department of Medicine and director of the Thrombosis and Hemostasis Program at the UVM Medical Center, was elected as one of five new council members in the Council Class of 2028 of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis (ISTH). ISTH is the leading thrombosis and hemostasis-related professional organization in the world, with more than 7,700 members in more than 110 countries. Dr. Cushman is the editor-in-chief of ISTH’s Research and Practice in Thrombosis and Haemostasis journal and is a long-serving member and leader in the ISTH.
Faculty in the Division of Geriatric Medicine are celebrating the news that Burlington, Vt.-based Birchwood Terrace Rehab and Healthcare was named a five-star facility by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and rated by U.S. News & World Report as a Best Nursing Home 2022–2023. In a letter to faculty and staff, Michael LaMantia, M.D., M.P.H., chief of geriatric medicine and associate professor of medicine, thanked the team for their efforts, saying, “Seeing these data in print underscores for me how powerful our approach to care is.” He added, “And it reminds me of how much of a team effort it takes to provide this care. Each one of us played a role in these results, whether we provided hands-on care, covered for each other in the clinic or on the wards while some of us went out to Birchwood, or simply provided great on-call care to help treat our patients appropriately on-site in the building.” Leadership at Birchwood Terrace includes Alecia Dimario, executive director, and Isaura Menzies, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine, who serves as the medical director.
On December 20, Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences doctoral student Somen Mistri, Ph.D., defended his dissertation, titled “The role of SLAM-SAP signaling in the development of innate-like γδ T cells.” Dr. Misri came to UVM from Bangladesh to perform infectious disease-related research with his mentor, Jonathan Boyson, Ph.D., associate professor of surgery and chief of the Division of Surgical Research. In 2019, Mistri and Dr. Boyson received a Careers in Immunology Fellowship from the American Association of Immunologists (AAI), a program that supports the career development of young scientists by providing eligible principal investigators with one year of salary support for a trainee in their labs.
A research proposal by William Tobin, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Neurological Sciences, has been selected as one of eight projects to receive funding through a 2022 CURE Epilepsy research grant. CURE Epilepsy awards grants for “novel research projects that address finding the cures for epilepsy and address the goal of ‘no seizures, no side-effects.’” Dr. Tobin received a one-year, $100,000 Taking Flight Award, which is co-funded by the KCNT1 Epilepsy Foundation. Dr. Tobin works in the laboratory of Matthew Weston, Ph.D., adjunct associate professor of neurological sciences. Learn more about Dr. Tobin's project, titled “Target Optimization in Precision Treatment of KCNT1-Related Epilepsy.”
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