We are so pleased to have nearly all of our research colleagues back on campus and see the reactivation of their research projects after several months of necessary restrictions. We also are excited to be welcoming a new class of graduate student colleagues shortly, as well as eight M.D.-Ph.D. students.

This diverse group of junior colleagues are joining us at a time of renewed energy and collaboration, following several phases of our “Return to Research.” Despite this moniker, our researchers never really stopped their scientific pursuits. Even though most had to trade their laboratories for home offices, our faculty, post-docs and staff have accomplished great things throughout the pandemic, including a 16% increase in grant submissions. Other impressive accomplishments include:

Joining worldwide efforts to better understand, diagnose and halt the spread of COVID-19

Since the spring, our School of Medicine researchers have published papers that have helped shape national conversations about COVID-19, including:

  • Preliminary results published in Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery by Drs. Daniel Coelho, Evan Reiter and Richard Costanzo and Zachary Kons, a third-year medical student, that found changes in smell or taste were the first or only COVID-19 symptoms for nearly 40% of respondents to their survey.
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Drs. Steven Woolf, Derek Chapman and Roy Sabo and colleagues at Yale University that showed only 65% of the excess deaths that occurred in March and April were attributable to COVID-19, meaning more than one-third were linked to other causes.
  • A pre-print paper by Dr. Christopher Leffler, an associate professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, that demonstrated that the single most important factor in decreasing COVID-19 death rates was the timing of governmental face mask requirements.

In addition, 13 School of Medicine researchers received awards from the COVID-19 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity to address the impact of the novel coronavirus. This program was led by the VCU Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, with support from the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research. The funded projects include:

  • A COVID-19 registry intended to facilitate future research that was created by Dr. Somaya Albhaisi, an assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. The registry contains a collection of blood samples from COVID-19 patients linked to a database that stores a wide array of information about those patients.
  • An extremely rapid experimental molecular diagnostic assay developed by Dr. Rebecca Martin, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, that decreases the amount of time required to diagnose COVID-19 to just a few minutes.

Other School of Medicine researchers who received awards through this program were Drs. Albert Arias, Melanie Bean, Gregory Buck, Paul Dent, Michael McVoy, Benjamin Nicholson, Scott Ramsey, Jennifer Rohan, Lawrence Schwartz, Maria Thomson, Nicholas Thomson and Hua Zhao.

Securing funds to support innovation and advances in scientific discovery

  • The NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse awarded VCU nearly $11 million in funding to continue our participation in the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study over the next seven years. Dr. James Bjork, associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and the VCU Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies, and Dr. Michael Neale, professor of psychiatry and human and molecular genetics at the VCU Virginia Institute for Psychiatric and Behavioral Genetics, are the co-principal investigators for this study.
  • The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism renewed the VCU Alcohol Research Center’s P50 grant, representing a total award to VCU of approximately $7.8 million over the next five years. With this new grant, and under the leadership of Drs. Ken Kendler and Michael Miles, the center has secured 14 years of continuous funding.
  • Dr. Joseph Webster, professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, received approximately $20 million in funding from the VA’s Collaborative Studies Program and the Department of Defense for his national research project on osseous integration.

Receiving prestigious regional and national awards

  • Dr. Dipankar Bandyopadhyay, a professor in the Department of Biostatistics, earned the Gertrude M. Cox Award from the Washington Statistical Society and RTI International, which recognizes an early or mid-career statistician who has made significant contributions to one or more of the areas of applied statistics in which Gertrude Cox worked.
  • Dr. Ashraf Gorgey, an associate professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, received the American Congress of Rehabilitation Medicine’s 2020 Distinguished Member Award, which honors a rehabilitation researcher who has significantly contributed to national leadership, research achievement and public service.

Nurturing the next generation of researchers

Earlier this summer we hosted our 17th Annual Resident and Fellow Research Day using a virtual poster session format. More than 50 submissions were received in three categories. The winners were:

Clinical Improvement & Patient Safety

  • First place: Yvonne Nguyen, Reduced Length of Stay in Major Hepatectomy Surgery After Implementation of an Enhanced Recovery Pathway in the United States Veteran Population
  • Second place: Eric Schafer, Reducing Time to Antibiotics for Neutropenic Fever
  • Third place: David Li, Erector Spinae Plane Block and Improved Perioperativ Outcomes in Breast Brachytherapy

Clinical & Basic Science

  • First place: Elizabeth Krieger, Selecting the Optimal Unrelated Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Donor for Relapse Prevention in Acute myeloid Leukemia
  • Second place: Andrew Hanna, Prevalence of the 027 Ribotype in Southwest Virginia and the Implications for C. difficile Treatment
  • Third place: Dana Martin, Comparison of the Performance of two Different ALK Antibody Clones (D5F3 and ALK1) in Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL)

Case Reports

  • First place: Maged D. Fam, Neuro-Axial Anesthesia for Kennedy’s Motor Neuron Disease: A Case Report
  • Second place: Cameron Nichols, Mohs Micrographic Surgery in a Pediatric Patient with Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Third place: Alex Dworetz, Episode of Sleep Paralysis Captured on Polysomnogram in a Patient with newly Diagnosed Narcolepsy

Our thanks go to the planning committee members, moderators and judges who made this event possible: Drs. Brian Aboff, Vikram Brar, Daniel Coelho, Richard Costanzo, Amanda George, Robin Hemphill, Adam Klausner, Joseph Laver, Peter Moffett, Evan Reiter and Brandon Wills, Ms. Katherine Henderson and Ms. Sharondia Smith-Gaines.

This is not an exhaustive list of all your accomplishments, although it sure is an impressive one! We welcome you back to campus and look forward seeing how you continue to build on this great work and success throughout the academic year.

With gratitude,

Peter F. Buckley, M.D.
Dean, VCU School of Medicine
Interim CEO, VCU Health System & Senior Vice President, VCU Health Sciences
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, VCU Health System