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Stellar NIH appointments

As much as we hate to see any of our faculty leave Emory, we take great pride in where their careers take them. Dr. Roderic Pettigrew, a professor in radiology who has held joint appointments in medicine and biomedical engineering, is the new director of the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB). The newest NIH institute, the NIBIB supports fundamental research in biomedical engineering and bioimaging science and the transfer of those results to medical applications.

Another faculty member also is moving to the NIH. Dr. Thomas Insel is leaving Emory to become director of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) in November. Dr. Insel should feel right at home, having previously served at the NIMH, where he conducted research in obsessive-compulsive disorder and launched a research program in social neuroscience. He remained with the NIMH for 15 years before joining Emory in 1994 as professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and director of Yerkes Primate Research Center.

"I am honored and privileged to be joining the NIH at a time when mental health and mental disorders are so very clearly at the forefront of the nation's public health agenda," says Dr. Insel, most recently the founding director of Emory's Center for Behavioral Neuroscience. "Recent years have witnessed enormous progress in our understanding of the brain. We have important new insights into the molecular and cellular basis of brain function. Now our challenge is to translate these discoveries from basic science into new insights and treatments for mental disorders."

Dr. Pettigrew, who joined Emory in 1985 as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Fellow, is a well-known leader in dynamic three-dimensional imaging of the heart and was co-developer of the first commercial software package for cardiac magnetic resonance analysis (the Phillips Cardiac Module). He has been consistently listed in the Best Doctors in America, placing him in the top 4% of physicians in the nation. Fortunately, Dr. Pettigrew will retain a faculty appointment at Emory.

"Rod Pettigrew is the perfect person to lead the NIBIB," says Dr. William Casarella, Chairman of the Department of Radiology. "We're very proud of him to have accomplished everything he has, and we are very proud that the NIH has recognized his talents."

Drug benefit crisis

Medicare beneficiaries will have to pay 70% of the costs of their prescription drugs under the terms of the Medicare drug plan passed by the House in June, according to an analysis by Dr. Kenneth Thorpe, a colleague who chairs Health Policy and Management in the Rollins School of Public Health. Moreover, 6.8 million of the elderly and disabled Americans who receive Medicare benefits will have to pay the full catastrophic limit of $3,700 a year for prescription drugs. Using Congressional Budget Office projections for the year 2005, Dr. Thorpe found that 11.7 million Medicare recipients will have to pay an average of $2,200 when the House-approved plan goes into effect. "For many seniors who believe they may have financial relief from high, out-of-pocket expenses from the House prescription drug bill, the reality may come as a shock," he says.

The House's Medicare Modernization and Prescription Drug Act of 2002 proposes deep cuts in Medicare payments for drugs and medical devices but also creates a new reimbursement system to hospitals for outpatient care. The legislation provides $320 billion over the next decade to establish a system of Medicare prescription drug coverage through the private insurance industry and increases payments to hospitals, doctors, and nursing facilities.

The American Medical Association has endorsed the bill. "This bill will strengthen the Medicare program for seniors by helping them get the prescription drugs they need; fixing the Medicare payment problem; and providing regulatory relief so that physicians can spend more time with patients and less time on paperwork," says Dr. Timothy Flaherty, AMA Chair.

The bill is currently in the Senate. According to Courtenay Dusenbury, Director of Federal Affairs in the University's Office of Governmental and Community Affairs, legislation that would provide a much more generous prescription drug benefit has been introduced in the Senate, but it is not likely to be considered this year due to budget and time constraints. "Most analysts predict that legislation to increase Medicare payments to providers, including teaching hospitals, will be separated out from prescription drug legislation and passed as a stand-alone bill or as part of the omnibus end-of-year appropriations package," she says. "At this point, the passage of legislation on prescription drugs seems highly unlikely. Medicare payments stand a much higher chance of being enacted."

Counter punch

The Association of American Medical Colleges filed a motion last month to dismiss an antitrust suit involving the National Residency Matching Program. The legal battle erupted last spring when four physicians challenged the program over low salaries and long working hours for residents. Emory is one of numerous defendants named in the suit that participate in the match program, which is administered by AAMC. Stay tuned.

Research roundup

The SOM is part of a national study to determine the best way to detect lung cancer in smokers to save more lives. The National Cancer Institute and the American College of Radiology Imaging Network have awarded Emory a $5 million grant to participate in the National Lung Screening Trial (NLST). The eight-year study will compare CT with standard chest X-ray to detect lung cancer in healthy, older persons. "Both CT scans and chest X-rays are now used to detect lung cancer," says Dr. Kay Vydareny, Professor of Radiology and the principal investigator of the NLST at Emory. "But CT scans can pick up smaller nodules than X-rays. Some of these will be cancer. We hope to find out if detecting these smaller cancers early will help us decrease lung cancer deaths." Emory will enroll 1,500 current and former smokers among 50,000 participants nationwide.

The NIH's Rapid Response Grants program for research related to bioterrorism has awarded Emory more than $450,000 to study vaccines for viral hemorrhagic fevers. Dr. Richard Compans, Chairman, and Dr. Chinglai Yang, Assistant Professor, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology will focus on developing vaccines for Lassa virus and Ebola virus, both of which cause highly fatal diseases. The SOM scientists will create virus-like particles in the laboratory to safely and efficiently induce protective systemic and/or mucosal immunity. Currently, no vaccines are approved for use in humans to prevent hemorrhagic fevers.

New developments

As many of you know, Phil Hills is serving as Interim Senior Associate Vice President for Health Sciences Development. The former AVP, John Blohm, left Emory to become Vice Chancellor at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences. Phil continues to serve as Associate Dean for Development in the SOM. He manages a number of development officers throughout the school and has successfully secured gifts of $1 million or more. I know everyone will continue to support Phil and his staff as the search moves forward to fill Mr. Blohm's position.

Barbara Schreier has joined the Winship Cancer Institute as Director of Development. She comes to us from the University of Iowa, where she served as Assistant Vice President of Health Sciences Development. "I can't wait to meet WCI researchers and donors," she says. "Spreading news of WCI's accomplishments and endeavors will help nurture existing relationships and build new ones."

Sandra Franklin, who has worked at Emory since 1983, was appointed last month as Director of the Health Sciences Center Library. She succeeds Carol Burns, who retired in 2000. "We started offering an electronic reserves system this semester," Ms. Franklin reports. "Health sciences faculty can now request that we post book chapters and journal articles on our website for students to use (" She will oversee operation of the library and its branches at Emory and Grady hospitals.

Créme de la créme

Last month, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and the University Research Committee held a seminar and reception for Drs. Harriet Robinson (Microbiology/ Immunology, Yerkes) and Krishna Bhat (Cell Biology), both recipients of the 2002 Albert E. Levy Scientific Research Award. Dr. Robinson was recognized for her pioneering work on the use of DNA for vaccine development, especially for AIDS. Dr. Bhat was honored for his work showing the long-range signaling cues that regulate axon guidance also can regulate asymmetric divisions of neural precursor cells. Read on for more great news about our faculty's accomplishments.
  • Dr. Ernest Garcia (Radiology) has been elected President of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology.
  • Dr. Enrique Garcia-Valenzuela (Ophthalmology) has been named one of the 10 inaugural Jahnigen Career Development Scholars. The award was established under the aegis of an American Geriatrics Society/Hartford Foundation-funded project to encourage young physicians to focus on the geriatric aspect of their disciplines. Dr. Garcia was selected for his research into stem cell therapy for age-related retinal disease.
  • Dr. Debra Houry (Emergency Medicine) was honored with the 2002 Jay Drotman Award from the American Public Health Association. This highly competitive award recognizes an outstanding young public health researcher under 30 years of age who has demonstrated potential in the health field by creatively challenging traditional public health policy or practice.
  • Dr. Kay Vydareny (Radiology) received a Gold Medal from the American Roentgen Ray Society for distinguished service in her field. She is one of only three radiologists honored this year by the the society, which is the oldest radiology organization in the country.
  • Dr. Viola Vaccarino (Medicine) has received an American Heart Association's Established Investigator Award. She received a grant for her research into the mechanism by which depression may cause or contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.

Thomas J. Lawley, MD

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