UAMS Reaches Milestones in 2016

By Ben Boulden

From treating chronic pain and brain tumors to starting the first comprehensive research study of synthetic marijuana products and graduating the largest class in UAMS history, the university continued to press forward and innovate.

The year also brought two notable endings. Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., announced in September that he would retire effective July 31 after more than seven years leading UAMS. His tenure saw the university undergo a significant transformation, expanding educational, clinical and research program across Arkansas. A search committee has been formed to find Rahn’s successor.

Also in September, Peter Kohler, M.D., announced he would retire as vice chancellor of the UAMS northwest campus effective Dec. 31. In an organizational change, Pearl McElfish, Ph.D., will lead the campus and other UAMS programs in the region as associate vice chancellor for the Northwest Regional Campus.

Other major developments and accomplishments include:


  • UAMS neurosurgeon Erika Petersen, M.D., became one of the first physicians in the world to implant in a patient a newly approved device to treat chronic pain that will still allow the patient to undergo MRI scans.
  • UAMS Medical Center for the first time in an Arkansas hospital implemented a program to scan the footprints of and photograph newborns to give new parents a keepsake of their child’s birth and an assurance of the newborn’s safety. In the event of abduction, a missing child situation or other emergency, the scan allows for quicker, more efficient identification. The service is provided at no cost to the family.
  • UAMS Medical Center became the first hospital in Arkansas to receive gold certification from Cribs for Kids for its commitment to reducing infant sleep-related deaths through best safety practices, community outreach and education.
  • In a possible first in the United States and as part of a clinical trial, J.D. Day, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery in the UAMS College of Medicine, treated a patient’s brain tumor by injecting the tumor with a cold virus in combination with immunotherapy treatments.
  • Richard Turnage, M.D., was named vice chancellor for clinical programs for UAMS and CEO of UAMS Medical Center, effective Dec. 1. He succeeded Roxane Townsend, M.D., who left UAMS at the end of September.
  • After many years in first place nationally in stroke deaths per capita, Arkansas now ranks sixth in the nation, a huge improvement that health officials credit in part to a statewide telemedicine program of stroke education and treatment. The program — Arkansas Stroke Assistance through Virtual Emergency Support, or AR SAVES — provides 48 Arkansas hospitals with round-the-clock access to stroke neurologists who can quickly assess whether a stroke patient can be helped by a clot-busting drug that often restores complete function to the patient.
  • In July in downtown Little Rock, the UAMS Neighborhood Clinic on Capitol Mall opened. The clinic offers scheduled appointments and walk-in friendly, high-quality primary care services.



  • UAMS was awarded $41.8 million from the NIH to oversee a 17-site pediatric clinical trial network what will provide medically underserved and rural children access to clinical studies on the effect of environmental influences on early development. UAMS will be the Data Coordinating and Operations Center for the IDeA States Pediatric Clinical Trial Network and was awarded the grant after competing with several other institutions.
  • UAMS researcher Sue T. Griffin, Ph.D., received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Alzheimer’s Association at its International Conference in Toronto. Griffin has made groundbreaking contributions in the study of Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative conditions.
  • UAMS received a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the causes and possible treatments for Alzheimer’s disease. The principal investigator, Dr. Sue T. Griffin, Ph.D., said the research team has provided hints that Alzheimer’s is linked to obesity and type-2 diabetes via deficiencies in the way brain cells break down excessive or damaged proteins. A key aspect of the grant will be to design drugs that will counteract these deficiencies and thereby counteract the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • UAMS researcher David Ussery, Ph. D., as an Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA) Scholar joined a growing list of 19 talented scientists in the alliance’s Academy of Scholars & Fellows, six of them from UAMS. Ussery, director of the Arkansas Center for Genomic and Ecological Medicine (ArC-GEM) at UAMS, was named an ARA Scholar at a news conference in September at the state Capitol.
  • Hong-yu Li, Ph. D., a professor in the UAMS College of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, in May also was named an ARA Scholar at the Governor’s Mansion.
  • A team of UAMS researchers has received a federal grant to conduct the first comprehensive study of the dangers posed by synthetic marijuana products. The $2.7 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse will enable a seven-member interdisciplinary research team to determine the toxicity of the man-made cannabinoids and inform policymakers as they consider regulating products, which are intended to mimic the effects of marijuana.
  • A UAMS research team led by Vladimir Zharov, Ph.D., D.Sc., is the first to demonstrate noninvasive, remote manipulation of blood and lymph flow in the body. The discovery makes possible several advances, including blood transportation without vessels, blood stoppage to prevent bleeding and focusing blood flow to a single file to analyze single cells in the presence of disease. The team’s findings were published in the March 16 issue of Scientific Reports.
  • A research team led by UAMS microbiologist Mark Smeltzer, Ph.D., and University of Arkansas chemist Jingyi Chen, Ph.D., developed an alternative therapeutic approach to fighting antibiotic-resistant infections.
  • Funded by a $9.4 million, five-year grant from the NIH, UAMS researcher Judith Weber, Ph. D., and a registered dietitian, will lead the newly created multidisciplinary Center for Childhood Obesity Prevention to look for new ways to help Arkansas children avoid becoming overweight or obese.



  • For the first time in the 137-year history of the College of Medicine, the freshman class has more females, 90, than males, 84. The class of 174 students was selected from among 2,627 applicants — a record high.
  • In the first joint partnership between the UAMS College of Health Professions and the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions, the two institutions will establish a Doctor of Occupational Therapy program. The first group of students is slated to start classes in fall 2018.
  • The UAMS College of Nursing will offer a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctorate of Nursing Practice degree program starting in fall 2017 to help address the state’s need for more health care providers.
  • From its five colleges and graduate school during a May commencement ceremony, UAMS awarded certificates and degrees to 1,002 graduates, a larger total of graduating students than in any previous academic year.
  • The UAMS College of Medicine opened seven virtual “academic houses” at the start of the 2016-2017 academic year to provide enhanced academic and career advising, a greater sense of community and new wellness-focused activities for students throughout medical school. These new learning communities include students from each of the four class years along with M.D. and Ph.D. faculty advisors.
  • UAMS invested eight inaugural endowed academic chairs and two inaugural professorships for faculty members. Endowed chairs and professorships are among the highest academic honors a university can bestow on its faculty. Recipients use proceeds for research, teaching or service activities.
  • The 12th Street Health & Wellness Center, a free clinic run by students under supervision of faculty and other licensed volunteers, held several events such as the March Man-ness health fair and World AIDS Day screenings for area residents while providing students from all the UAMS colleges the opportunity to take part in an interprofessional team-based approach to primary care.