Thursday, July 11, 2013

July Med School Café – 'Total Hip Replacement'

The July Med School Café lecture will feature Dr. Sudhakar Madanagopal, associate professor of orthopaedics at the USA College of Medicine and an orthopaedic surgeon with USA Physicians Group.

His lecture, titled “Total Hip Replacement,” will take place July 25, 2013, at the USA Faculty Club on USA’s main campus. Lunch will be served at 11:30 a.m., and the presentation begins at noon.

Dr. Madanagopal’s lecture will include information on total hip replacement, which involves surgically removing a diseased hip joint and replacing it with an artificial joint. Hip replacement is typically used for patients with hip joint damage from arthritis or an injury.

During the talk, Dr. Madanagopal will outline the procedure, as well as include information on outcomes and latest surgical developments.

The Med School Café lecture and lunch are provided free of charge, but reservations are required. For more information or to make reservations, call Kim Partridge at (251) 460-7770 or e-mail

Med School Café is a free community lecture series sponsored by the USA Physicians Group. Each month, faculty from the USA College of Medicine share their expertise on a specific medical condition, providing insight on the latest treatment available.

USA Researcher Receives $1 Million NIH Grant

Dr. Donna Cioffi came to the University of South Alabama College of Medicine as a graduate student in 1999. Her plan was to take a hiatus from her work in the private sector, earn her doctorate and then return to the corporate world.

As is the case with most research projects, this scientist’s life plan didn’t follow a straight line. After starting the program at USA, Dr. Cioffi developed a deep appreciation for the academic environment that surrounded her. In 2006, she earned her Ph.D. from USA and after a three year post-doctoral fellowship, joined the medical school faculty.

Today, she serves as an assistant professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the USA College of Medicine and is actively involved in the many the roles of a medical professor, including that of a scientist.

Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded Dr. Cioffi a four-year $1 million grant to better understand a niche in medical research that she’s been studying since a student at USA. Her project focuses on better understanding how the cells that line the blood vessels of the lungs called endothelial cells function when challenged by disease or illness.

Her work focuses on store-operated calcium (SOC) entry in endothelial cells in the lung. When SOC entry is activated, calcium levels in the cells increase. These high levels of calcium result in cell gaps and endothelial barrier disruption indicating that SOC entry regulation is crucial to healthy lung function.

Dr. Cioffi hypothesizes that the ratio of two large immunophilins, FKBP51 and FKBP52, are important in controlling SOC entry in endothelial cells. Immunophilins are groups of proteins that show the ability to bind to specific immunosuppressive agents.

Based on her hypothesis, the team will research the mechanisms by which FKBP51 and FKBP52 regulate SOC entry. The scientists hope that an understanding of SOC channel regulation will lead to the development of new, beneficial therapeutics.

“Although many scientists are involved in SOC channel regulation research, very few are focusing on endothelial cells,” explained Dr. Cioffi. “Even fewer, around four or five groups, are looking at immunophilins and SOC entry, and we may be the only ones who are specifically focusing on immunophilins and SOC entry in the lung” she added.

According to Dr. Cioffi, her lab’s work could potentially lead to better treatments for life-threatening medical conditions such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS.)

USA College of Medicine Students Provide Medical Relief for Amazon Villagers

A group of USA College of Medicine students recently returned from a medical mission trip to Peru. While there, the group traveled by boat, stopping to provide clinical care to eight villages along the Amazon River.

USA medical student Olivia Butters (in red) and USA medical student Timothy Parker (in gray) wash the locals' feet.
A group of University of South Alabama College of Medicine students recently returned from a medical mission trip along the Amazon River in Peru. The team, part of the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama (CMMSA), was able to provide medical and dental relief to almost 1,000 villagers over five days.

From June 10-14, the team partnered with Amazon Medical Missions (AMM) and traveled by boat on the Tahuayo River, a branch of the Amazon River, stopping to provide “clinical care” to eight different villages, most of whom have little or no access to health care.

“I have been on mission trips before, but this was my first medical mission trip,” said USA medical student Olivia Butters. “At each village, we set up a clinic, either under a tent or in a building in the pueblos along the river, and provided medical care, eye glasses, dental care, prayer, Bibles, gifts, shoes and a family photo.”

Butters, a second-year USA medical student, said that while the whole trip was life changing, her favorite experience was the simple act of washing the locals’ feet. “It was a growing opportunity for me to humble myself and be a servant to the beautiful people there,” she explained. “Even when we had difficulty communicating verbally, the villagers were able to understand our purpose through our actions.”

The team of 27, led by Duane Baxter, director of CMMSA, included community physicians, USA Medical Center Pharmacist Megan Smith, first and second-year medical students, pharmacy students and spouses.

The physicians and students worked in the villages alongside the AMM staff and two Peruvian doctors. Will Cutchen, a second-year USA medical student, said that the doctors and medical staff were not only helpful, but they also allowed the students to gain hands-on experience.

“Our stops at the villages essentially ran like medical clinics, complete with an admitting table and different medical stations,” said Cutchen. “The experience was invaluable. Our team was able to treat entire families at once.”

In addition to treating villagers, the team took time to explore Lima, the capital and largest city in Peru, and tour the Amazon Jungle. According to USA medical student Zack Moore, the team saw a variety of exotic animal life such as pink river dolphins, piranhas, fresh water rays and monkeys.

Moore says that this life-changing experience was one he would recommend to any medical student. “Our team helped meet people’s medical and spiritual needs, but we got back just as much in return.  We were able to treat diseases and injuries that we will probably never see in the United States,” explained Moore. “Practicing my interviewing skills for six to eight hours a day for five days was an experience that will definitely carry over into my clinical years.”

To learn more about the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama, visit

USA medical student Rebekah Frazier (in green) cares for a patient during the medical mission trip to Peru.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Graduate Student’s Research Featured at ATS International Conference

The work of Jared McLendon, a graduate student at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, was recently highlighted at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in Philadelphia.

His abstract, titled “Targeted pulmonary delivery of a microRNA-145 inhibitor reverses severe pulmonary arterial hypertension in rats,” was also chosen to receive a travel award from the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA).

“For me, this is an exciting first step toward being accepted as a viable scientist by this research community and it helps to validate my decision to pursue a graduate education and doctoral degree,” he said.

McLendon’s research focuses on understanding pulmonary hypertension (PH), a rare blood vessel disorder of the lung in which the pressure in the pulmonary artery – the blood vessel that leads from the heart to the lungs – rises above normal levels and may become life threatening.

“Our research is aimed at understanding why the walls of pulmonary blood vessels change so dramatically and at designing new drugs to decrease pulmonary blood pressure and repair the pulmonary blood vessel wall structure,” he said.

McLendon’s research team has identified specific molecules that are partly responsible for these changes. “They are small pieces of genetic information called microRNA that work inside cells to regulate the expression of other genes,” he said. “We think that one in particular, microRNA-145, is responsible for making pulmonary blood vessels constrict and become thicker.”

According to McLendon, people with pulmonary hypertension become very sick and are unable to live a normal life. “Their hearts become unable to pump strong enough to overcome the high blood pressure in their lungs,” he said. “Our research helps to better understand how to reverse these harmful processes in people with PH, thereby allowing people to recover from their disease and prevent the relentless progression into heart failure.”

McLendon said he is proud to work with great collaborators and great mentors. He credits his mentor, USA biochemistry chair Dr. William Gerthoffer, for teaching him what it really means to be a scientist. “He pushes hard for students to become independent and demands excellence,” McLendon said. “He also stresses the value of collaboration within a broader research team.”

This collaboration has given McLendon the freedom to develop a network of mentors throughout the College of Medicine and within the Center for Lung Biology.

“They have each been invaluable resources for me to develop skills in research, scholarship, oral and written communication, teaching, and professionalism. I am confident my training under Dr. Gerthoffer and the Center for Lung Biology has equipped me to become a successful independent investigator in the future.”

Last year, McLendon said he had the opportunity to attend a PHA meeting that changed his outlook on research and his motivation to succeed. “I was both overwhelmed and encouraged by the hundreds and hundreds of pulmonary hypertension patients and their families,” he said.

“Having my research highlighted by the PHA makes this award an emotional one. I am honored and humbled beyond words and feel strongly encouraged to work even harder to find a way to combat this terrible disease.”