The Year in Review: The University of Kansas Medical Center in the news

December 20, 2013

By David Martin and Donna Peck

2013 has been a newsworthy year at the University of Kansas Medical Center. The faculty, researchers and students — and the work they do — made local, regional and national news over the past year. Here are some of the highlights

Primary care physicians — family doctors, general internists and general pediatricians — are crucial to the delivery of efficient and effective health care. But some of the most renowned teaching hospitals produce relatively few of them. Researchers at George Washington University and the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care scored graduate medical education programs by the percentage of primary care physicians they produce. The School of Medicine–Wichita ranked No. 6. The Washington Monthly based a 5,000-word feature on the George Washington study, stating that the School of Medicine–Wichita and other sponsoring institutions at the top of the list "clearly deserve to be celebrated for doing more than their part to reduce the nation's acute shortage of primary care doctors." The video below expands on the the School of Medicine–Wichita's success in training primary care physicians, many of whom go on to practice in rural areas.

KU Medical Center researcher Susan Carlson and KU researcher John Colombo were awarded $2.5 million for the next five years of a 10-year, double-blind randomized controlled trial to determine whether prenatal nutritional supplementation with the omega-3 fatty acid DHA benefits children's intelligence and school readiness. Carlson says the possibility that DHA may have long-term benefits for cognitive-intellectual development, particularly on measures that predict school achievement, would have enormous implications for public policy on prenatal nutrition. The story was featured in a New York Times blog.

People who suffer from migraine headaches may benefit from changing the way they eat. An expert on migraine, Nancy Berman, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and cell biology, is the senior author of a study showing that bisphenol A, a chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging, worsened migraine symptoms in a rat model. The study built on previous research Berman conducted showing a connection between migraines and the hormone estrogen. Bisphepnol A, or BPA, mimics estrogen. Pending further study, the finding suggests that a diet consisting of more fresh foods (and less packaging) may bring relief to people who struggle with migraine. Berman discussed the study on Fox News.

Sexually transmitted infections remain a significant health problem in the United States. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study determined that there were an estimated 110 infections in 2008. Almost half of all new infections occur in women and men between the ages of 15 and 24. Catherine Lindsey Satterwhite, Ph.D., M.S.P.H., M.P.H., an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor of preventive medicine and public health, was the lead author of the study, the first of its kind since 2000. CNN, CBS News and NBC News were among the news organizations to report on the study, which concluded that prevention efforts should continue to focus on adolescents and young adults.

Randolph J. Nudo, Ph.D., director of the Landon Center on Aging, working with engineers, designed a neural prosthesis that holds promise for the stroke patients and soldiers who suffer traumatic brain injuries. The lightweight device couples activity in separate sections of the brain, bridging a connection severed by injury. Nudo's lab tested the device in a rat model, and the reults were striking. Rats that struggled to retreive food pellets after brain injury were able to complete the task with the aid of the "brain-machine-brain" interface. The news agency Reuters, Gizmag and several science blogs shared the discovery. A link to a Science News story about the study, which Nudo and colleageus published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was retweeted more than 50 times. Nudo talks about the discovery in the video below.

The KU School of Nursing was designated a Center of Excellence in Nursing Education by the Washington, D.C.-based National League for Nursing (NLN) in 2013. KU is the only nursing school in the region and one of just 26 nursing schools in the country to earn the designation since the NLN began the award nine years ago. According to the NLN, the School of Nursing was granted designation for demonstrating sustained, evidence-based and substantive innovation in the category of "Creating Environments that Enhance Student Learning and Professional Development." The designation, which extends through 2017, also acknowledges the School's ongoing research to document the effectiveness of its innovations, for setting high standards and showing commitment to quality improvement.

Alzheimer's disease researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center were awarded a $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the role of exercise in preventing the disease. It is one of the first such studies in the country. Researchers at the medical center are enrolling healthy adults 65 and older in a new effort called the Alzheimer's Prevention Program. Participants determined to be at higher risk for Alzheimer's disease would exercise by walking on a treadmill regularly over the course of a year. After completing the study, brain scans would show whether the participants were at higher or lower risk. Jeffrey Burns, M.D., professor of neurology at KU Medical Center and associate director of the Alzheimer's Disease Center, and his colleagues have worked for years on determining how exercise affects the brain. The grant announcement was covered extensively by the local media, including stories by KCTV-5, WDAF-TV, KCUR-FM, the Lawrence Journal World, and the Kansas City Business Journal.

The work being done by the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center was also the subject of a feature news report on KCPT-TV. The report said the Alzheimer's research being done at KU Medical Center is receiving international attention for a radical new way of thinking about the memory ravaging condition.

A University of Kansas Medical Center professor whose research focuses on the benefits of exercise after stroke walked across the entire state of Kansas in May in support of National Stroke Awareness Month and Exercise Is Medicine month. Sandra Billinger, Ph.D., PT, assistant professor in the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science, walked with her son Michael Thomas. The two walked a route covering 570 miles from the Colorado/Kansas state line just west of Coolidge, Kan., to the Kansas/Missouri state line at the KU Medical Center campus near 39th Avenue and State Line Road in Kansas City, Kan. The 23-day journey began on May 17. The walk generated a lot of attention as Billinger and her son made their way across the state. The walk was covered by KCTV-5, the Hays Post, the KHI News Service, and 6News in Lawrence, Kan.

An estimated 400,000 dogs and cats in the United States have diabetes. In both animals and humans, diabetes is caused when the islet cells of the endocrine pancreas can no longer produce enough insulin or stop producing it altogether. Lisa Stehno-Bittel, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at KU Medical Center, and a colleague, Karthik Ramachandran, Ph.D., formed a biotech startup company, Likarda, to develop a new process to transplant pancreatic islet cells into an animal with diabetes. The technology developed at Likarda has tremendous implications for humans with type 1 diabetes as well. Both KCPT-TV and the Kansas City Business Journal filmed stories about the work Stehno-Bittel and Ramachandran are doing around diabetes.

A study co-authored by a KU Medical Center researcher found that regular use of low-dose aspirin slowed the growth of breast cancer cell lines in the lab and significantly reduced the growth of tumors in mice. The age-old headache remedy also exhibits the ability to prevent tumor cells from spreading. Forbes magazine was among those who reported on the findings. The lead author of the study, Gargi Maity, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow who works in the cancer research unit at the VA Medical Center. The senior author is Sushanta Banerjee, Ph.D., the director of the cancer research unit and a professor at KU Medical Center.

Last modified: Dec 26, 2013