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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
Boston Globe Health and Science staff:
Scott Allen
Alice Dembner
Carey Goldberg
Liz Kowalczyk
Stephen Smith
Colin Nickerson
Beth Daley
Karen Weintraub, Deputy Health and Science Editor, and Gideon Gil, Health and Science Editor.
 Short White Coat blogger Ishani Ganguli
 Short White Coat blogger Jennifer Srygley
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Thursday, November 8, 2007

UMass-Lowell group to study breast cancer and environmental exposure

Researchers exploring connections between breast cancer and environmental exposures will use state funds to study chemicals found in households and the workplace.

The University of Massachusetts at Lowell, the Silent Spring Institute -- a nonprofit that researches the links between health and the environment -- and the Massachusetts Breast Cancer Coalition will get $250,000 earmarked by the legislature for the project.

The Silent Spring Institute will continue its work examining household dust for links to cancer, UMass-Lowell will pursue the effects of chemicals at work and at home, and the advocacy coalition will publicize findings they reach, Richard Clapp, adjunct professor in the school's School of Health and Environment, said in an interview.

“We’re trying to lay the groundwork for innovative work in Massachusetts with new lines of research,” said Clapp, who is also professor of environmental health at Boston University School of Public Health.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 03:32 PM

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007


Houghton%2C%20JeanMarie%2085.bmpUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School cancer biologist Dr. JeanMarie Houghton (left) has won a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Her research focuses on the contribution of stem cells to cancer, in particular how normal stem cells that migrate to an area of chronic infection can develop into cancer cells. The award will extend her five-year National Institutes of Health grant for two years.

Boston University biomedical engineer James J. Collins has won a four-year, $1 million grant from the Ellison Medical Foundation to study the molecular basis of aging and the causes of diseases associated with it, such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Rhode Island Hospital in Providence has received a $5 million grant from the National Foundation for Trauma Care to improve its preparedness for public health emergencies.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:06 AM

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Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Community partnerships needed to recruit minority patients to cancer clinical trials

Higher cancer rates among ethnic and racial minority groups cannot be attacked without increasing their representation in clinical trials, community health workers and health care providers heard today.

"The solution is to build community-academic partnerships," Dr. Claudia Baquet, director of the University of Maryland Comprehensive Center for Health Disparities, told about 100 people at a conference at the University of Massachusetts - Boston also sponsored by the Harvard School of Public Health and community outreach organizations. "Notice I said 'community' first."

About 3 percent to 5 percent of all cancer patients participate in clinical trials that study ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer. Fewer than 1 percent of African-American patients do.

Historic barriers, including lack of trust or limited access to health care, aren't the only reasons, Baquet said. Patients need to hear from their health care providers that they might have the option of joining the studies, which are typically run by researchers at academic medical centers.

"It's a total myth that underserved communities have no interest in research," she said. "It's just that it has not been presented in a way that they can consider the benefits."

Groups like the Cherishing Our Hearts and Souls Coalition, which works to improve health among African-Americans in Roxbury, is an example of efforts to make research better reflect different populations, she said. The group is one of three pilot programs in the US funded by the Lance Armstrong Foundation with the goal of including more minorities in research.

Trust is still an issue, Tarma Johnson, director of clinical health services at Mattapan Community Health Center, said at a separate session for primary care practitioners. She was involved in recruiting patients for a clinical trial about vitamin D led by Boston University School of Medicine researcher Dr. Michael Holick. The patients were interested in what she told them, which could apply to cancer studies, too.

"The information came from the health center, not the hospital, because they trust us," she said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:37 PM

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

UMass participating in long-term study of child health

By Scott Allen, Globe Staff

The babies will be studied from the time they are in their mothers' wombs through their 21st birthdays in hopes of discovering the earliest signs of diseases that disable and kill Americans by the million. The air they breath, the grass they play on, the water they drink -- all of it will be carefully measured for signs of contamination, and their family histories and genetic composition mined for the smallest defects.

The National Children's Study, the most ambitious study of children's health ever undertaken, took a big step toward reality today with the naming of 22 centers, including the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, that will carry out the decades of meticulous research.

Under an initial $16.24 million, five-year federal grant, the state medical school will recruit 1,000 Worcester County women willing to let their children's growth and development be tracked as part of the 100,000-child national study that aims to do for children's health what the famous Framingham Heart Study did for the understanding of heart disease.

"This is transformational ... We are talking about 30 years of studies," said Dr. Marianne Felice, chair of pediatrics at UMass, who spearheaded efforts to win the right to run the central Massachusetts branch of the study. "This is like the Framingham Heart Study for children, but better, longer and in more detail."

In the planning stages since 2000, the National Children's Study is intended to improve both prevention and treatment of major conditions such as birth defects, autism, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Children's study officials had previously named seven institutions nationally to lead the project, but it nearly stalled at the starting gates in 2006 when the Bush administration tried to eliminate its funding. Congress ultimately put up $69 million for this year that allowed the study to name 22 more academic centers, including Yale and Brown universities in New England, to carry out the work. Ultimately, study officials expect a total of 30 to 40 centers will carry out the research in 105 locations around the United States.

Already, Felice said UMass is gearing up to hire many of the 100 or more employees they will need to recruit families and then track the children. UMass officials also are poring over a three-inch-thick briefing book that spells out the study procedures right down to details such as collecting a sample of infants' cord blood in the delivery room for analysis. Felice said the study will be a major boost for pediatrics research at the university, giving local researchers a platform to investigate both national and local concerns, such as the unusually high infant mortality rate in Worcester County.

"I consider this a legacy that I will leave to my young faculty," she said.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

UMass Medical School recruits two RNA stars

ambros85.bmpMelissa%20Moore2%2085.bmpUniversity of Massachusetts Medical School has hired two leading RNA researchers to join a group best known for Nobel Prize winner Craig C. Mello.

Victor R. Ambros (far left), who discovered molecules called microRNAs that are important in gene regulation, is leaving Dartmouth Medical School for UMass, and Melissa J. Moore, noted for her work with gene splicing and messenger RNA, is coming from Brandeis University.

"Wow, they got the A Team," Phillip A. Sharp, an MIT Nobel laureate, said in an interview today. Moore previously worked in his lab and Ambros worked in the lab next door.

Ambros, 53, earned undergraduate and graduate degrees at MIT, where he also did postdoctoral work. While at MIT he worked with two other Nobel winners: David Baltimore on the poliovirus genome, and H. Robert Horvitz on the genetic regulation of organ development and programmed cell death.

When Ambros joined the faculty of Harvard, Mello was a graduate student in his lab. Mello won the 2006 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology with Stanford's Andrew Z. Fire for discovering RNA interference, a natural mechanism that silences genes.

It was Mello who called Ambros about coming to UMass, Ambros said in an interview.

"There's really a great convergence of bright people and exciting problems" at UMass, he said. "When I heard Melissa Moore was planing to move there, that was sort of the clincher."

Moore, 45, is a Howard Hughes Investigator who has made major contributions to understanding how RNA is edited by the cell to make sure it is intact, Sharp of MIT said.

Moore said she was recruited by UMass professor and RNA scientist Phillip D. Zamore, who also worked in the Sharp lab at MIT.

"I think UMass is just really at an exciting stage of its growth and there is a tremendous community already there for the kind of research I do in RNA and what Victor does as well," she said in an interview.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:56 PM

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

NIH grants focus on genes and the environment

Seven Massachusetts researchers have won grants from a new government program to study how genes and the environment interact, the National Institutes of Health announced today.

Through the Genes, Environment and Health Initiative, researchers will study the genetics of such diseases as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and tooth decay. To learn about the environmental component, scientists will develop ways to monitor personal exposure, whether to toxins or to physical activity.

The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, led by Stacey Gabriel, will receive $3.8 million to become one of two genotyping centers for the initiative. The other is at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Individual investigators and their projects are:

Dr. Frank Hu, Harvard School of Public Health, genes and environment initiatives in type 2 diabetes, $622,000;

Patty Freedson, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, development of an integrated measurement system to assess physical activity, $411,000;

Stephen Intille, MIT, enabling population-scale physical activity measurement on common mobile phones, $681,000;

Bevin Engelward, MIT, comet-chip high-throughput DNA damage sensor, $429,000;

Bruce Kristal, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, mitochondrial, metabolite and protein biomarkers of effects of diet, $454,000;

Dr. Avrum Spira, Boston University, a non-invasive gene expression biomarker of airway response to tobacco smoke, $643,000.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:57 PM

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Thursday, August 9, 2007

Beth Israel Deaconess takes over cardiothoracic surgery at St. Vincent

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has taken over the cardiothoracic surgery program at St. Vincent Hospital previously run by Tufts-New England Medical Center and is starting a transplant referral program at the Worcester hospital, the hospitals said.

BIDMC physicians already staff the 348-bed medical center's emergency and radiation oncology departments. The change in cardiothoracic surgery took place July 1, when Dr. Robert M. Bojar, a surgeon based at St. Vincent, switched from Tufts-NEMC to BIDMC. Bojar and Dr. David C. Liu, another BIDMC surgeon, now operate in Worcester.

Tufts-NEMC spokeswoman Brooke Tyson Hynes said yesterday the cardiothoracic surgery change came about because of BIDMC's new surgical residency program at St. Vincent. On July 1, seven surgical residents began the first BIDMC rotations at the Worcester hospital, a year after University of Massachusetts Medical School and its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Medical Center, ended their surgical residency programs at St. Vincent.

Under the new arrangement for transplant patients, St. Vincent specialists will refer patients to BIDMC for kidney, liver or pancreas transplants, Dr. Douglas W. Hanto, chief of transplantation at BIDMC, said yesterday. Most St. Vincent patients had previously been referred to UMass Memorial, which provides kidney, liver and pancreas transplants through a joint program with the Lahey Clinic.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:16 AM

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Two Mass. scientists win Keck awards

Two Massachusetts scientists are in the 2007 class of the W.M. Keck Foundation's Distinguished Young Scholars in Medical Research.

The Los Angeles philanthropy awards grants of up to $1 million each to five junior faculty members in the United States. Institutions make nominations by invitation only.

amy wagers150.bmpAmy Wagers (right) of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute, Joslin Diabetes Center and Harvard Medical School will study how to slow down or reverse the natural process of aging, which has potential implications for treating such age-related diseases as diabetes, immune deficiencies, muscle weakness and cancer, the foundation said.

job dekker150.bmpJob Dekker (left) of University of Massachusetts Medical School will study how chromosomes are regulated by comparing cancer cells to normal cells, which may uncover defects that cause malignancy, potentially leading to advances in treating cancer, the foundation said.

The three other winners are Wallace Marshall of the University of California, San Francisco, who will study blue-green algae to gain insights into human ciliary disorders such as polycystic kidney disease and retinal degeneration; Dr. Xander Wehrens of Baylor College of Medicine, who will investigate the mechanisms of specialized protein complexes in excitable cells, such as heart muscle; and Jennifer Zallen of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, who will focus on a fruit fly’s cell structure to develop approaches to analyze cell behavior and structure in living embryos, the foundation said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:54 AM

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Thursday, June 28, 2007


Cambridge Health Alliance will accept an award today from the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems for its role in medical school curriculum change.

CHA developed a program for third-year Harvard Medical School students to follow patients for a year at one hospital instead of traditional rotations in different settings. The hospital was chosen for the 2007 Chair Award from 64 submissions, NAPH said in a statement.

Dr. Samantha L. Rosman, a third-year resident in pediatrics in Boston, has been re-elected to the American Medical Association's board of trustees. She is a 2004 graduate of Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. After completing her residency, she will begin a fellowship in pediatric emergency medicine at Boston Medical Center.

Shedlack100.bmpDr. Karen Shedlack (left), medical adviser for the mental retardation division of Vinfen, has won a 2007 Distinguished Fellowship from the American Psychiatric Association.

Before joining Vinfen, a private, nonprofit human services organization based in Cambridge, Shedlack was medical director for the adult developmental disabilities program at McLean Hospital and worked in the department of psychology and brain science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Virgin Life Care has named three Boston academics to its science advisory board.

A subsidiary of the Virgin group headed by Sir Richard Branson, the Boston company develops activity-based health rewards programs.

The board members are Dr. I-Min Lee of Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, Kyle McInnis of UMass-Boston and Jessica Whitely of UMass-Boston and Brown Medical School.

Children's Hospital Boston has honored five doctors with Community Physician Awards for the care they give in pediatric practices and community health centers.

They are Dr. Anthony Compagnone of Hyde Park Pediatrics, Dr. Debra Ann Gfeller of Holliston Pediatrics, Dr. David Holder of the Martha Eliot Health Center, Dr. Richard Marshall of Harvard Vanguard Associates at Copley and Dr. Robert Michaels of Longwood Pediatrics.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:05 AM

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Elder Affairs secretary taking UMass Medical School post

carey100.jpgJennifer Davis Carey (left), who served in four governors' adminstrations, will be leaving Beacon Hill to become director of training and education at University of Massachusetts Medical School's Commonwealth Medicine, the school announced today.

She had been secretary for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs since 2003. Governor Deval Patrick has asked cabinet secretaries to send him letters for reappointment, but she said she did not submit one.

"This is a wonderful administration with wonderful people and Governor Patrick is extraordinary, but this is a tremendous opportunity," she said in an interview. "UMass is an extraordinary institution and Commonwealth Medicine is on the cutting edge, so taking their academic assets and putting them together with my educational background and what I learned in public policy really allows me to put these passions together."

Commonwealth Medicine is best known for overseeing the health system for 10,000 inmates in the custody of the Department of Correction, but it also carries out research and public health initiatives.

"Commonwealth Medicine is like an action tank as opposed to just a think tank," she said. "They do more than just think."

Carey’s experience in state government began when Paul Cellucci was governor; she stayed when Jane M. Swift succeeded him and was promoted during the Mitt Romney administration. From 1999 through 2003 she was director of the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 07:12 PM

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Confrontation over UMass Medical's new chief

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

About 100 faculty and staff were filing out of a UMass Medical School program to meet their new interim chancellor today when a confrontation erupted between physiology professor John Walsh and the school's deputy chancellor Richard Stanton.

Walsh objected to the lack of a competitive nationwide search for a
chancellor to succeed Dr. Aaron Lazare, who stepped down as medical school chancellor in March because of a heart arrhythmia.

The selection of Dr. Michael F. Collins, who had been chancellor of UMass-Boston, was one of the moves UMass president Jack M. Wilson disclosed on Tuesday to tie the university's five campuses closely together. He said naming a permanent medical school chancellor would be evaluated next year.

Walsh said in an interview that the appointment of Collins "smacks of the same cronyism that put Billy Bulger in charge of the university, that put Marty Meehan in at Lowell and now we have an executive from Boston taking over without any input from faculty or anyone else."

He then approached Wilson, who told Walsh interim appointments do not require search committees; Wilson cited Harvard's Derek Bok as an example of someone called upon to step in on short notice. Bok has been acting president since the departure of Lawrence Summers last year. Drew Gilpin Faust takes over as president in July.

Stanton got in the middle while Walsh and Wilson spoke.

"You are offensive as a faculty member," he told Walsh. "Your tenure has outlived your usefulness."

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 04:58 PM

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Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brandeis-led project targets lack of women leaders in medical schools

Relatively few women are department heads or full professors at the four medical schools in Massachusetts. And Dr. Karen Antman of the Boston University School of Medicine is the only female dean.

This lack of women in leadership roles in academic medicine is no longer a pipeline problem, now that medical schools admit equal numbers of men and women, says Dr. Linda Pololi of Brandeis University, who is leading a study of the issue.

The answer to women's persistent under-representation must lie elsewhere, she said in a recent interview. "Something in the system impedes their progress toward taking leadership positions."

Here are the percentages of women in leadership positions at Massachusetts medical schools and how they compare with all 125 medical schools nationwide, according to 2005 data from the Association of American Medical Colleges provided by Pololi:

BU 100%
Harvard 0%
Tufts 0%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Chairs of clinical science departments
BU 11%
Harvard 10%
Tufts 8%
UMass 7%
US 8%

Chairs of basic science departments
BU 0%
Harvard 33%
Tufts 29%
UMass 0%
US 13%

Full professors
BU 19%
Harvard 12%
Tufts 11%
UMass 19%
US 14%

Pololi, principal investigator of the National Initiative on Gender, Culture and Leadership in Medicine, brought deans from five US medical schools to a two-day retreat at Brandeis last week. The medical schools, which are demonstration sites for the project, are Tufts University, Duke University, George Washington University, the University of Minnesota and the University of New Mexico.

Project members are still trying to diagnose the problem before coming up with solutions, Dr. Michael Rosenblatt, dean of the Tufts school of medicine, said in an interview. The project will run five years and is supported by a $1.4 million grant from the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation of New York.

"People might reflexively think that it's discrimination or a glass ceiling, and there may well be an element of that," he said. "It may be in some cases that women choose not even to apply for these positions or don't aspire to them because they are not appealing to women at that stage in life."

"It's an important problem," Rosenblatt said. "I hate to see that potential not being realized."

The five medical schools in the project will experiment with programs to deal with the issue. Those programs have not been defined yet, Rosenblatt said, but each school will report on its results and share what works with others.

Certain minority groups -- African-Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders -- are also under-represented in academic medicine, but that does seem to reflect a pipeline problem at entry to medical school, Pololi and Rosenblatt said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:16 AM

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Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Nobelist takes funding plea to Washington

mello150.bmpNobel laureate Craig C. Mello of University of Massachusetts Medical School (left) is taking his plea for more science funding to Capitol Hill, along with four other Americans who swept the 2006 science Nobel prizes.

Mello, who won the 2006 prize in medicine or physiology with Stanford’s Andrew Z. Fire for their discovery of gene silencing known as RNA interference, was invited to speak this afternoon at a hearing of the Senate subcommittee on science, technology and innovation. Roger D. Kornberg (chemistry) and John C. Mather and George F. Smoot (joint winners in physics) were also on the agenda.

"We need a call to arms, a call to fund science broadly in this country," a transcript of Mello’s prepared testimony said. "This isn’t science for the sake of science, but science for the sake of medical advances and lives to be saved."

Mello has deplored the decline in federal funding for research since the October day his prize was announced, insisting that the type of work he and Fire did 10 years ago would not win grants in today’s climate. They weren’t looking for RNAi when they found it, he said, but in eight years it went from being a puzzle to being the subject of a 1998 Nature paper to being applied as a tool for treating disease.

"This could happen only because we are in an era unprecedented for scientific discovery," he said, citing the sequencing of the human genome made possible by government investment that is now not keeping pace with inflation. "What other discoveries, what work like RNAi ... will be missed?"

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 06:05 PM

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

UMass Amherst brings back public health bachelor's

By James Vaznis, Globe Staff

The University of Massachusetts at Amherst will bring back its undergraduate degree in public health sciences this fall.

The degree should help meet a growing demand for public health workers to respond to pandemics, bio-terrorism, and other public health crisis. The university dropped the degree in 1989 to focus on its graduate programs in public health.

The state Board of Higher Education is expected to approve the program at its meeting next week. UMass already has started to admit students.

Brandeis University is the only other Massachusetts college that offers an undergraduate major in public health, according to the state board.

Posted by Karen Weintraub at 03:24 PM

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HHMI opens competition for 50 scientists and $600m

At at time when federal funding for scientific research is harder to come by, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is opening up a competition today to select 50 new investigators who will share $600 million for biomedical research.

For the first time scientists can apply directly to become HHMI investigators rather than needing their institutions to nominate them.

The researchers must belong to eligible institutions. In Massachusetts, 10 qualify: Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard Medical School and associated hospitals, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT, Tufts University School of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The competition comes at a time when funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is based on individual grant proposals, is declining, when inflation is taken into account. Established researchers worry about sustaining their work while younger investigators are taking longer to win approval for their first grant applications.

HHMI, which has spent $8.3 billion over 20 years on biomedical research and science education, won’t be filling that gap, senior scientific officer Dr. Josephine Briggs said in an interview yesterday.

"Our resources are very sizable, but they do not in any way compensate for the problem of the shrinking NIH budget," she said. "The support that Hughes is able to offer is something that the scientific community will of course welcome with delight, but at the same time all of us hope we can see a reversal in the decline in federal funding."

HHMI holds competitions every three or four years. This time, it's looking for people in the earlier stages of their careers, Briggs said.

HHMI investigators receive initial five-year appointments that come with support for their own salaries as well as flexible budgets they can use to pay for personnel and some equipment. Appointments can be renewed.

To be eligible to apply, a candidate must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree; have a tenured or tenure-track position as assistant professor or higher at one of about 200 eligible host institutions; and be the principal investigator on one or more active, national, peer-reviewed research grants at least three years long, such as an NIH R01 award.

The deadline for applications is June 13; expert panels will convene to review them in January, and decisions will be made in March.

"The charge is that they be addressing fundamental and important biological questions. It can be for any discipline, and in this new competition we hope to see chemists, mathematicians, engineers and anybody who’s doing something truly special in addressing biological questions," Briggs said.

"We expect a very hefty Boston response."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:10 AM

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How two doctors think

070410_bc_howdrsthink.gifSlate's Book Club features a conversation between Dr. Jerome Groopman, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of "How Doctors Think," and Dr. Darshak Sanghavi, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who met Groopman when he was a fellow at Children's Hospital Boston.

"Algorithms and treatment guidelines are based on prototypes," Groopman writes. "They are not substitutes for individual thinking. And they break down when cases are atypical or complex."

Sanghavi, an occasional contributor to the Globe, summarizes their different points of view:

"This ultimately returns to our disagreement about standardizing medical care," he writes. "You feel it often constricts good medical practice; I think we don't have enough of it."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:07 PM

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Tuesday, April 3, 2007

UMass Medical School picks dean from Florida

Dr. Terence R. Flotte, a pediatrician and gene therapy researcher from the University of Florida, has been named the new dean and deputy executive chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

resized terence flotte.bmp
Dr. Terence R. Flotte

Currently the chair of pediatrics at the University of Florida School of Medicine in Gainesville, Flotte, 45, will succeed Dr. Aaron Lazare, 71, on May 15. Last year Lazare stepped back from the dual role of dean and chancellor of UMass Medical School, remaining chancellor until last month, when for health reasons he began a one-year sabbatical. He will then return to teaching psychology.

Flotte focuses his research on genetic therapies and cystic fibrosis in particular. He plans to continue to conduct research, see patients and teach.

"It is a very special time right now for UMass Medical School," Flotte said in an interview. "The new dean will have the great privilege of helping to lead the process whereby scientific knowledge will be translated into benefits for patients, first through clinical trials and, we hope, to usable treatments for patients with diseases ranging from Huntington’s disease to cancer to you name it."

Flotte was one of four finalists to become the dean of the UF medical school, a position that last month went to Dr. Bruce C. Kone, chairman of the department of internal medicine at the University of Texas Medical School in Houston. Flotte said he applied for both positions because he wanted to do more than a department head can.

In a memo to members of the medical school, UMass President Jack M. Wilson said the search committee looked at department chairs because medical school departments can be incubators for leadership and vision.

"In this regard, Dr. Flotte has a superb record: Under his leadership the department of pediatrics has grown in size, funding, prestige and opportunities for clinical and education service initiatives," Wilson wrote.

Flotte is a graduate of the University of New Orleans and Louisiana State University School of Medicine. He completed a residency in pediatrics, a pediatric pulmonary fellowship and postdoctoral training in molecular virology at Johns Hopkins University.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 12:05 PM

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Friday, March 30, 2007

Harvard leads U.S. News medical school rankings

Harvard Medical School, is again the top medical school in the United States, according to the annual rankings compiled by U.S. News & World Report. Harvard has led the rankings since 1990, when they began.

Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Washington University in St. Louis and University of California -- San Francisco followed in the top five.

Boston University ranked 34th, Tufts University was 47th and the University of Massachusetts came in 49th out of 125 U.S. medical schools.

The standings were based on eight measures, including surveys of medical school deans and residency program directors, as well as 2006 research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Harvard received $1.17 billion from NIH that year, BU pulled in $170 million, UMass had $118 million and Tufts drew $61 million, according to U.S. News.

UMass Medical School's primary care education program ranked 11th. The University of Washington led that category.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 11:29 AM

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Scientists explore luring viruses to their death

Scientists at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are exploring a way to wipe out viruses by luring them to their destruction, like mice to mousetraps.

The mousetraps in this case are red blood cells. If a virus ends up inside a red blood cell, there are no genes it can hijack to replicate itself.

"It occurred to us that if a virus bound to a red blood cell, that was a dead end," Dr. Robert W. Finberg says in a story in today's New York Times.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:18 AM

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Medical students meet their match

match day 2007.jpg
(David L. Ryan Globe staff photo)
Boston University medical students Miriam Shiferaw (left) and Nawal Momani check letters together to find out where they have been accepted for their residency, during the Match Day at BU Medical School in Boston.

By Elizabeth Cooney, Globe Correspondent

Now they know.

Graduating medical students ripped open envelopes at noon today that contained their futures. Known as "Match Day," today was the day 15,206 medical school seniors across the country learned where they will be going and what specialty they'll embark on once they get there.

Nationally, 94 percent of students trained in the United States got their first choices, according to the National Resident Matching Program, which has coordinated the preferences of medical students with residency programs since 1952.

Massachusetts' four medical schools -- Boston University School of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Tufts University School of Medicine and University of Massachusetts Medical School -- took part in the ritual. They did not all have data today on who's going where.

At Harvard, 44 percent of its 180 graduates will be going into primary care, which includes family practice, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology. A third of all students will be training in internal medicine. The next closest specialty was emergency medicine, where 8 percent of students are headed. These percentages are in line with what they've been over the last several years, according to Harvard data.

At Tufts, primary care was the choice of 49 percent of graduating students, while 18 percent are going into surgical specialties. Five percent of the students will go into military residencies.

At UMass, there was no crush at the mailboxes. Students were randomly called by name in a conference room to get their envelopes. They were reminded to bring $1 to put in a pot. Daniel Egan, the last one called, picked up $79 for his patience.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:41 PM

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Chancellor of UMass Medical School steps down

Dr. Aaron Lazare stepped down as chancellor and dean of University of Massachusetts Medical School today because he has developed a cardiac arrhythmia, the medical school announced.

Dr. Aaron Lazare

Lazare, 71, has headed the state's medical school since 1991, presiding over a complicated merger between its hospital and the private Memorial Health Care that was completed in 1998, as well as an expansion of research reflected in a $100 million laboratory building that bears his name.

"This is a bittersweet moment for me," Lazare said in a memo sent to faculty, staff and students this morning. "I have had an extraordinary vantage point as this institution has grown into a role as a health sciences campus of international distinction. To say that my work over the years has been professionally and personally rewarding is an utter understatement: It has been a privilege."

Feeling fatigue and an abnormal heart rhythm a few weeks ago, Lazare went to Newton-Wellesley Hospital and was diagnosed with atrial flutter, he said in an interview today. He's taking medication to regulate his heart beat and trying to cut back on the demands on his time.

"I began to think with this carrying two jobs for all this time, it might be time to step down from these very heavy responsibilities," he said. "I expect to return to health, but diminishing stress is part of the treatment."

Lazare will remain on the faculty as a professor of medical education and psychiatry, continuing his research and writing. His latest book, "On Apology," was published in 2004. His next topic is humiliation.

"I love writing and I believe I have some ideas that are worth passing on," he said.

He also hopes to spend more time with his seven children and 11 grandchildren, most of whom live near his Newton home.

Lazare joined UMass as a professor of psychiatry and chair of the department in 1982 after 14 years at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he led its outpatient psychiatry department, among other services.

A search for a successor to one of his UMass roles is already underway. In June the jobs of chancellor and dean were separated and recruitment for a dean and executive deputy chancellor was begun, leaving Lazare to focus on relationships with UMass trustees, donors and the community.

The heart condition is not the first health problem for Lazare. He had a kidney removed after he was diagnosed with renal cancer.

UMass president Jack M. Wilson accepted his resignation with sadness, he said in a statement.

"As a colleague and friend, Aaron’s well-being is of greatest importance to me, and I know that the entire University of Massachusetts community joins me in wishing him a very speedy recovery," he said. "Because the circumstances that have caused Aaron to step aside arose without warning, I will work with the campus leadership in the coming days to make arrangements for interim appointments, and will in due course define a search process for a Chancellor."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 10:53 AM

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Friday, February 23, 2007

QMass leader wins LGBT award

Jessica Wang, a second-year student at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, has won the 9th Annual Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health Achievement Award.

The American Medical Student Association and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association honored Wang for introducing issues that affect LGBT patients into the medical school curriculum and for leading QMass, a UMMS student organization dedicated to supporting and promoting LGBT issues.

Jessica Wang

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 09:47 AM

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

UMass doctor to lead geriatric psychiatry group

Dr. Gary S. Moak, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, next month will become president of the 2,000-member American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the organization said.

new moak.jpg
Dr. Gary S. Moak

He is director of the Moak Center for Healthy Aging, a geriatric psychiatry group practice in Westborough.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 02:54 PM

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Listening is critical for patients' families, too

Listening more and talking less really does make a difference, not only for intensive care patients but also for their loved ones.

A UMass Memorial Medical Center physician lauds as "groundbreaking" a French study appearing in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine that looks at how ICU doctors communicate with families.

Previous studies have shown that even desperately ill people do better when the goals of treatment, whether that means aggressive care or comfort measures only, are well explained and understood. But no one had looked at how communication affects relatives of patients dying in the ICU.

"The French study is groundbreaking because it shows if we spend a little bit more time, mostly listening to patients and their families, the well-being of survivors of patients who die is going to be better," Dr. Craig M. Lilly of UMass Memorial said in an interview. He comments in a New England Journal editorial, "The Healing Power of Listening in the ICU."

Dr. Alexandre Lautrette and a team of researchers in France tested levels of stress and depression in two groups of survivors. One group had standard end-of-life conferences, but the intervention group had longer sessions in which they did more of the talking. Follow-up telephone interviews showed lower levels of stress, anxiety and depression in the group that had longer conferences and more time to talk.

"All providers of critical care should receive training that will allow them to offer the kind of support that they would want if they had a family member who was facing death in an ICU," Lilly wrote in his editorial.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:00 PM

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

No silent treatment for UMass' first Nobelist

The Nobel scientist with rock star looks got the big brass sound of the UMass-Amherst marching band he asked for at a bash in Worcester Friday night.


Gov. Deval L. Patrick said "You throw a heckuva party" after he strode through the crowd and greeted UMass Medical School's Craig C. Mello, who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with Stanford's Andrew Z. Fire. They discovered RNA interference, a way to silence genes that has revolutionized science and holds hope for saving lives.

As the governor took the hand of Mello's Hungarian-born wife, Edit, who was wearing a dusty-rose and black-lace confection, he told her she didn't have to curtsy.

Mello's family was treated like royalty by the 600 people invited by UMass Medical School to a community dinner celebrating the university's first Nobel. The UMass marching band crowded the more than football-field-size DCU Center ballroom and even got the 6-foot-3 Mello, with long black hair curling over the collar of his gray suit and French blue shirt and tie, to climb a chair and conduct them in a fight song. He obliged, fists pumping and arms waving.

Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray warned Mello: "He may be a brilliant scientist able to silence genes, but he's not able to silence politicians."

Patrick said he didn't understand all the science of RNAi, but he knew what lupus meant for his late mother and what diabetes and Alzheimer's mean to his wife, Diane's, mother.

"A silent gene causes no suffering," he said. "A silent gene means a cure. For that I thank you and honor you."

Guests included 1990 Nobel laureate Dr. Joseph Murray, the transplant pioneer who found a way to fight rejection, and cancer researcher Dr. Judah Folkman.

Mello urged politicians to restore shrinking government funding for research. The secrets of the genome sequence and RNAi have been unlocked, creating more opportunity and more need for funds to exploit them.

"I may not be able to silence politicians, but it's nice to have politicians who will listen," he said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 01:13 PM
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