Medical Showcase Events Help Boost Collaboration

By Ben Boulden

Elvin Price, Pharm.D., Ph.D., left, and Ryan Farris, Pharm.D., Ph.D., discuss their research with two of the 100 people who attended the Showcase of Medical Discoveries.

UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., left, visits with Terry Harville, M.D., Ph.D., and Kent McKelvey, M.D.

Sept. 13, 2013 | What began in late 2012 as an informal academic gathering has evolved into a must-attend social event for UAMS researchers, physicians, faculty and students as about 100 gathered Sept. 5 for “The Showcase of Medical Discoveries: A Focus on Personalized Medicine,” the fourth of an ongoing series.

The UAMS College of Medicine has sponsored the informal wine-and-cheese gatherings where the college’s research scientists discuss their findings with each other, donors and interested students and faculty.

“The feedback from the showcases has been good,” said Larry Cornett, Ph.D., UAMS vice chancellor for research. “I believe that we have stimulated collaborations, some which are interactions between scientists who hadn’t been working together before. Also, at one of the previous showcases; we even received donations from lay people who were really excited about some of the work.”

Hunter Gibbs, M.D., a resident in the UAMS Department of Psychiatry, was enthusiastic about the chance to present the work of the research team he’s on as well as see the work of the 11 other research groups. Each research team had a large poster on display to showcase their medical discoveries.

All of them were built around personalized medicine.

With genomics often playing a central role, personalized medicine is a medical model of care that customizes medical practices, decisions and products and services to the individual patient.

Being a second-year resident doesn’t afford Gibbs much spare time to find out what other scientists and physicians are up to at UAMS.

“It’s fun to look at the different research projects and see some of the same things we looked at like heart attacks and melanoma,” Gibbs said. “I knew people were doing research and making progress in some of those areas, but it’s exciting to really learn the details.”

Bradley Schaefer, M.D., chief of the UAMS Division of Genetics, and Kent McKelvey, M.D., head of the division’s Adult Genetics Section, were on hand at the showcase to talk about the personalized medicine practiced in the UAMS Adult Genetics Clinic.

“We’re here to point out some of the different things we do,” Schaefer said. “For example, we have an ocular genetics clinic, which is one of the very few in the country. We tie together the specialties of ophthalmology, especially neuro-ophthalmology, and genetic testing.”

McKelvey said that the infrastructure for personalized medicine is in all departments at UAMS and is demonstrated at this event.

“We start in the clinic with the patient and the comprehensive family history,” he said. “If the right indicators are there, then genetic testing may proceed to the lab. Molecular findings often then guide a targeted course of treatment and individualization of care. This same theme applies to multiple ongoing projects seen today.”

McKelvey said although his patients  often have rare developmental or cancer syndromes, those syndromes are associated with common diseases that affect everyone. This makes the Adult Genetics Clinic a perfect resource for cultivating translational research. For example, Alzheimer’s disease occurs at a much higher rate among adults with Down syndrome than the general population and the clinic population holds many keys to better understanding and treating that disease.

William Bellamy, Ph.D., director of Molecular Diagnostics in the UAMS Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, attended the showcase. He’s leading an effort to boost the university’s genetic testing and research to a higher level using two pilot projects, one related to colon cancer and another to pharmacogenomics in psychiatry.

UAMS and Bellamy would like to be able to sequence the entire genome of a patient.

“This will allow us to tailor the treatment, be they drugs or other interventions, much more precisely,” Bellamy said. “The old way was to look at one gene mutation at a time, and through the use of new technologies such as next-generation sequencing this will be on a much larger and economical scale.”

Just as the showcase is meant to lower the social barriers between research groups, Mathias Brochhausen, Ph.D., assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Division of Biomedical Informatics, is devising ways to bring down the walls between data siloes.

A research project may generate data about molecular activity at the genetic level. Brochhausen works to find ways to integrate that data with other data about what is going on in an organ or even with a whole patient.

Posters at the showcase, using text and graphics, described the work of many different research project groups that include dozens of basic and clinical scientists as well as trainees. They were:

·        Mapping the Cognitive Connectome: Translating Functional Neuroimaging into Personalized Medicine. Researchers: Andrew James, Ph.D., Jennifer Fausett, Jennifer Gess, Tonisha Kearney-Ramos, Jennifer Peraza, Ashley Reno, John Greenfield, M.D., Clint Kilts, Ph.D.

·        Personalized Medicine — Current Clinical Applications at UAMS. Researchers: Jaime Vengoechea, M.D., Jill Kelsay and Lori Carpenter.

·        Combining Proteomics and Gene Expression Profiling Identifies Seven Proteins/Genes Associated with Short Overall Survival in Multiple Myeloma. Researchers: Rick Edmondson, M.D., Shweta S. Chavan and Veronica Macleod.

·        Focused Genome-Wide Analysis for Variants That Increase Risk for Chronic Kidney Disease. Researchers: Ryan Farris, Pharm.D., Ph.D., Charla Wiley, Elvin Price, Pharm.D., Ph.D.

·        Activation of Hallmark Pathways of Cancer in Patient Melanoma. Researchers: Stephanie D. Byrum, Signe Larson, Nathan Avaritt, Linley Moreland, Samuel Mackintosh, Wang Cheung, Alan Tackett, Ph.D.

·        Precision Genomic Medicine in the Clinical Laboratory. Researchers: William Bellamy, Ph.D., Jennifer Laudadio, M.D., Chuck Sailey, M.D.

·        Use of Pharmacogenomics to Guide Treatment of Mood Disorders. Researchers: Hunter Gibbs, M.D., Ricardo Caceda, M.D., Ph.D., Jeffrey Clothier, M.D.

·        Translational Pathology Shared Resource Tissue Procurement Facility. Researchers: Steven Post, Ph.D., Remelle Eggerson, Mindy Gibbons.

·        From Genome to Person — Data Integration for Personal Medicine. Researchers: Mathias Brochhausen, Ph.D., William Hogan, M.D.

·        Metabolomics Based Identification of Early Indicators of Liver Injury Due to Acetaminophen. Researchers: Sudeepa Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., Lisa Pence, Ph.D., Rick Beger, Ph.D., Laura James, M.D.

·        Interpretation and Meaning of Anti-HLA Antibodies Detected by Fluorescence Techniques. Researchers: Bobbie Rhodes-Clark, Marsha Rood, Dawnelle Crowley, Catherine Lee, Soumya Pandey, M.D., Terry Harville, M.D., Ph.D.

·        Predicting Heart Attacks in Women: Recognizing Early Symptoms. Researchers: Jean McSweeney, Ph.D., Mario Cleves, Ellen Fischer, Martha Rojo, Christina Pettey.