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Neurology fellows take honors at KU Medical Center research forum

Matthew Varon, MD, and David Shirilla, MD, earn awards at KU residents, fellows, postdocs research forum

Two fellows in the Department of Neurology earned recognition during the 10th annual University of Kansas Medical Center Residents, Postdocs and Fellows Research Forum.

Matthew Varon, M.D., PGY-5, neuromuscular medicine, earned second place in the poster presentations category and David Shirilla, D.O., PGY-6, clinical neurophysiology, earned second place in the oral presentations category.

"Participating in research through the department has given me great perspective on the scientific process and methods by which we expand our knowledge. The research forum allowed me to discuss our work in an environment that helps foster such projects," said Varon, whose research project evaluated the therapeutic response to rituximab in patients presenting with treatment-resistant chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, a neurological disorder characterized by progressive weakness and impaired sensory function in the legs and arms.

Rituximab is a drug currently used to treat some autoimmune diseases and certain cancers.

In a retrospective chart review, Varon identified five patients who previously had been unsuccessfully treated with multiple therapies received rituximab for treatment of CIDP in the neuromuscular clinic at KU Medical Center. Three of the five patients showed significant improvement in response to rituximab, leading to the research project's conclusion that the drug could be a treatment option for patients with CIDP and whose symptoms are resistant to conventional treatments.

"I chose my project because I enjoy looking at data to evaluate whether treatments we already use may be effective for other conditions," Varon said. "The current plans for this project include publication with the hope that the data may lead to a randomized controlled trial of similar treatments for CIDP in the future."

Shirilla examined patient-identified quality of life impacts of facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, a progressive muscular dystrophy that can negatively affect mobility. He also looked attitudes held by FSHD patients toward clinical trials.

"Dr. Jeffrey Statland of the KU Department of Neurology introduced me to a large survey that had been conducted on FSHD patients in 2016-17, but had not yet undergone thorough data analysis," Shirilla said. "Considering a relative dearth of available literature pertaining to FSHD patients' perspective on disease impact and treatment opportunities, I was eager to take the project to the next step."

After performing a 42-question prospective survey of FSHD patients and family members in the FSH Society database between December 2016 and February 2017, Shirilla concluded foot/leg and arm/shoulder weakness ranked as the main patient-identified symptoms with a high impact on quality of life. The research project also showed patients with FSHD are motivated to participate in clinical trials.

Shirilla also presented his research findings at the 2019 American Academy of Neurology annual meeting May 4-11 in Philadelphia. He plans to publish the results in a high-impact neurologic journal.

The KU Medical Center Residents, Postdocs and Fellows Research Forum was sponsored by the KU Medical Center Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and organized by the Office of Graduate Medical Education and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. It is designed to give participants experience presenting their research; highlight the strong research being done by residents, postdocs and fellows; and showcase the wide variety of research being conducted at KU Medical Center.

KU School of Medicine

University of Kansas Medical Center
Department of Neurology
Mailstop 2012
3901 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160
Phone: 913-588-6970
Fax: 913-588-6965