Research — there’s no question the UNLV School of Medicine is a true believer in its importance.
Since 2017, Dr. Parvesh Kumar, the school’s vice dean of research, says the medical school has been awarded approximately $26.5 million in research grants, something he considers remarkable for a new school of medicine.
Research by medical school faculty has appeared in peer-reviewed journals ranging from the American Journal of Surgery to Cancer Cytopathology.
Research presentations have also been made at conferences around the globe, including an August presentation by Dean John Fildes, a trauma surgeon, at the 48th World Congress of Surgery in Poland.
In addition, Dr. Kumar and his research colleagues have presented their findings on health disparities in Nevada with a focus on breast, prostate, lung and colorectal cancers at prestigious scientific meetings that have included the American Radium Society and the American Society of Radiation Oncology.
And recently, Dr. Buddha Dawn, chair of internal medicine, spoke on some of his stem cell/heart repair findings at a symposium in Turkey sponsored by the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences. At the symposium Dawn received the 2019 Makoto Nagano Award for Distinguished Achievements in Cardiovascular Education.
“Our mission is to create a culture of scientific inquiry, which leads to data-driven research that fosters new discoveries and cures for diseases,” Kumar said. “And we’re working to do just that.”
The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the accrediting body for educational programs at schools of medicine in the U.S. and Canada, made note of the medical school’s commitment to research in its February 2019 report: “Funding and Infrastructure are Sufficient to Support Faculty Scholarly Activity/Research and are Growing.”
Less than two weeks ago, the medical school held an all-day clinical trials training workshop in partnership with PPD, one of the largest contract research organizations in the world. It provides expertise in clinical trial development, management, and post-approval services. With a goal of jump-starting the clinical trials portfolio at the school, the training was led by Nikki Cortez and Dr. Gregg Lucksinger. The workshop drew rave reviews from the research staff and physicians. Said plastic surgeon Dr. Joshua Goldman, “Dr. Kumar has certainly undertaken an impressive and important task…The program provided the eager-to-learn audience with the foundational elements of clinical trials — historical context, ethical-legal considerations, and fundamentals of practical implementation. The comprehensive introduction and ongoing educational workshop opportunities…will bring motivated researchers together and provide them the tools necessary (to conduct clinical trials.).”
On Oct. 17, the school held its second annual School of Medicine Research Forum. Ten clinical departments made presentations, as did as medical students, residents, the College of Engineering, and the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine. The forum showcased the diversity of research being conducted at the medical school with the ultimate aim of further increasing multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations.
Some of the highlights from the forum include:
- Dr. James Alexander, chairman of the OB-GYN department, reported that members of his faculty are studying the effects of marijuana on pregnancy. Many physician/scientists are fearful that the drug could have some of the same effects on the unborn as alcohol. The state of Nevada has made literature on the subject available to young women, warning that early studies have found babies born to mothers who used marijuana weighed less and often have trouble concentrating. Dr. Nora Doyle, a UNLV professor of maternal fetal medicine, revealed that an article she wrote with a colleague, “Effect of Intrauterine Marijuana Exposure on Fetal Growth Patterns and Placental Vascular Resistance,” has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine.
- Multiple presenters with the department of surgery discussed several findings, including a project led by Dr. Charles St. Hill, which used the National Cancer Database to outline disparities in several cancers (breast, rectal and hepatocellular tumors) between the Mountain West region and the rest of the U.S. The surgery department also presented research findings on the favorable impact of using proper restraints for children during motor vehicle accidents. The research, led by Dr. Deborah Kuhls, has found that proper restraints greatly reduce serious or critical injuries during motor vehicle crashes. Kuhls has received multiple research grants from the Nevada office of traffic safety.
- Dr. David Slattery, a professor in the department of emergency medicine and EMS director for the city of Las Vegas, discussed a grant that involves a program aimed at having fewer emergency beds taken up by patients with mental health problems. Recently extended for two years, the program provides for the staffing, oversight, and equipment for a specialized advanced life support paramedic ambulance with a licensed social worker on the ambulance. “With this program, the paramedic and EMT on the unit perform a medical screening exam and the social worker assesses the patient to determine whether the patient is appropriate to go directly to a mental health facility or needs to go to an emergency department. Since its inception more than a year ago, the team has successfully brought 25 percent of the patients directly to a mental health hospital rather than an emergency department.”
- Dr. Elissa Palmer, chair of the department of family and community medicine, noted research from her department that focused on the effects of atmospheric nuclear tests and exposure to radiation from this fallout from the mid-1940s to the early 1960s. Some of these effects include the increased risk of developing certain cancers such as leukemias and lymphomas. The research has been funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration.
- Dr. Dawn said he and his research team recently had a paper published in Circulation Research, the journal of the American Heart Association. His latest paper, “Transplantation of Human Umbilical Cord Blood–Derived Cellular Fraction Improves Left Ventricular Function and Remodeling After Myocardial Ischemia/Reperfusion.”
- Sierra Kreamer-Hope, a member of the school’s 2017 charter class, spoke about research she’s done with Dr. Brach Poston, an assistant professor in the UNLV department of kinesiology. The research centers on non-invasive brain stimulation to improve motor skills in individuals with Parkinson’s disease. “Our research studied the effects of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) on motor performance,” she said. “tDCS is a portable, safe, and non-invasive brain stimulation technique in which electrodes are placed externally on the scalp to stimulate the area of the brain…results are incredibly promising…Currently, we continue our research with studies funded by the NIH (National Institutes of Health).”
- Other research presentations included those from the UNLV School of Engineering by Mingon Kang on leveraging clinical data such as genomics to improve patient survival outcomes by using computational methods. Martin Schiller, director of the Nevada Institute of Personalized Medicine, also presented collaborative research opportunities between his recently NIH-funded Center of Biomedical Research Excellence Program and medical school faculty.
In his presentation at the forum, Dr. Kumar reviewed the progress that the medical school has made in establishing the infrastructure to conduct clinical research and clinical trials that now includes clinical research coordinators and the biostatistical support provided by professor Chad Cross. He also discussed the impact of the Mountain West Clinical Translational Research Infrastructure Network (CTR-IN) program. Last year Dr. Barbara Atkinson, the school of medicine’s founding dean, said that the all-important research component of the school took a big step forward in August 2018 when the NIH notified Kumar — the principal investigator for the CTR-IN grant — that it was renewing the five-year, $20 million-dollar grant. That renewal made the UNLV School of Medicine the nation’s only new medical school (out of the approximately 57 new medical schools that have been started since 2005) with an NIH-funded CTR program. Atkinson said it put “the wheels in motion for more research projects at UNLV as well as the 12 other universities that will share expertise and resources.”
The CTR-IN program is designed to expand the research capacity across the Mountain West region, which covers seven states, by working in conjunction with its 13 university partners with a focus on health disparities for the current grant cycle. During the first four years of the program, more than $4.6 million was invested in 69 pilot grants throughout the network. To date, about $49 million has been secured through 47 new awards by the research faculty of the Mountain West universities who were funded by these initial CTR-IN pilot grants, representing a return on investment of 1059 percent.
“The CTR-IN program is a noble cause that helps research faculty positively impact the health and lives of the people in the Mountain West region and the U.S. through their scientific discoveries,” Kumar said.