Friday, September 13, 2019

Studies examine anti-cancer compound developed at Mitchell Cancer Institute

Gary Piazza, Ph.D. works on drug discovery research in the lab at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute.
USA Health cancer researchers are trying to unravel a mystery that has perplexed oncologists and their patients for decades – how to stop cancer in its tracks.

An anti-cancer compound developed at USA Health Mitchell Cancer Institute is showing promise in pre-clinical studies – one involving pancreatic cancer and the other involving breast cancer. The compound, MCI-715, was developed by Gary Piazza, Ph.D., and his lab team at the Drug Discovery Research Center at MCI.

“MCI-715 was designed to inhibit the activity of a specific protein overexpressed in cancer cells that drives malignant progression, as well as resistance of cancer cells to conventional chemotherapeutic drugs,” said Piazza, professor of pharmacology at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

The pre-clinical studies were conducted in Australia and Alabama.

Researchers at Curtin University in Western Australia studied MCI-715’s effectiveness against pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), a highly aggressive cancer for which chemotherapeutic drugs provide limited benefits and are associated with severe toxicities.

“We were able to show that by targeting this specific protein with the modified drug, it significantly decreased the spread of PDAC and slowed tumor growth,” said Marco Falasca, Ph.D., professor at the School of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences at Curtin University. Falasca was lead author of an article on the research published in the Journal of Experimental and Clinical Cancer Research.

Falasca said the findings have potential implications for human clinical trials because the pancreatic cancer protein being targeted is known to be resistant to chemotherapy. “Any discovery that can improve the survival rates of patients with pancreatic cancer and provide another treatment option is significant,” he said.

Meanwhile, University of Alabama at Birmingham researcher Clinton Grubbs, Ph.D., found that MCI-715 was effective in a pre-clinical model of breast cancer prevention to a level comparable to tamoxifen. Tamoxifen is widely used to prevent the progression of breast cancer in high-risk patients but is also associated with severe side effects.

“Based on these data, a second study is planned to further evaluate efficacy and toxicity in a more comprehensive manner,” said Grubbs, director of the Chemoprevention Center in the UAB Department of Surgery. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama supports a joint grant that funds Grubbs’ and Piazza’s research.

Piazza said the results from the two independent labs, along with studies at MCI, provide “compelling evidence that MCI-715 has promising anti-cancer activity.”

“These results support the need for further pre-clinical studies to further assess the efficacy and safety for the prevention or treatment of cancers,” Piazza said.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Game Day T-shirts on sale now

USA Health Game Day T-shirts are now available at the University Hospital Gift Shop and Children's & Women's Hospital Gift Shop. These long-sleeve Comfort Colors shirts cost $11 (cash only). Gift shop hours are below:

University Hospital Gift Shop
Monday through Friday - 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Saturday - 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Sunday - 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Children's & Women's Hospital Gift Shop
Monday through Friday - 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday - 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

T-shirts will also be for sale one day only at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine:

Medical Sciences Building Lobby
Friday, Sept. 20 - Noon to 1:30 p.m.

USA Health Game Day 2019 is set for Thursday, Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m., as the USA Jaguars take on Georgia Southern University at Ladd-Peebles Stadium. Register by Sept. 24 for your free tickets and tailgate passes.

Mark Your Calendar: Pediatric grand rounds set for Sept. 20

Richard Menger, M.D., assistant professor of neurosurgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, will present at the next pediatric grand rounds. His presentation, “Pediatric Spinal Deformity: Diagnosis, Surgery and Politics,” is set for 8 a.m. Sept. 20, at the Strada Patient Care Center first-floor conference room.

In his talk, Menger will discuss the diagnostic criteria for pediatric spinal deformity, the necessary role for conservative management of scoliosis in the pediatric population, the importance of the pediatrician in the treatment of scoliosis, surgical decision-making and surgical techniques for the correction of complex pediatric spinal deformity, and state-of-the-art treatment for early onset scoliosis.

Pediatric grand rounds take place every third Friday of the month and are open to USA faculty, staff and students. A light breakfast, coffee and beverages are provided.

For more information, contact Nicole Laden at (251) 415-8688 or

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

USA College of Medicine alumnus returns as trauma and burn surgeon

Caleb Butts, M.D., assistant professor in the department of surgery at the University of South Alabama College of Medicine, is drawn to trauma surgery because he feels it’s an area of medicine that changes lives – lives that have the potential to impact others.

“Traumatic injuries result in the largest number of productive life years lost,” said Butts, who is surgeon in the USA division of trauma and acute care surgery.  Butts said. “Being able to take care of these patients provides a lot of satisfaction because I know I am changing lives that may affect so many other lives--not just those that are injured, but those family members and friends that count on them.”

Butts, who recently joined the USA College of Medicine faculty, is a native of Decatur, Alabama. He attended college and graduate school at Mississippi State before returning to Alabama for medical school and residency training at the USA College of Medicine. He then went on to complete fellowships in acute care surgery and surgical critical care at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center before returning to USA Health University Hospital as a trauma and burn surgeon.

Growing up in Decatur, Butts said the hometown family physician there embodied the ideal of what a physician should be like – “smart, knowledgeable, kind and caring.” Butts wanted to be like him when he grew up. He said the environment at USA Health – people who are committed to seeing all patients get better – is one of the main reasons he came back.

“Having trained in other places, I can see how people here really care about their patients,” he said. “My goal is to provide first-rate care to each and every patient.”

He’s also returning to USA to continue the cycle of world-class medical education that he received in his time here as both a student and a resident physician.

“With smaller class sizes, we were able to get focused attention and meaningful interactions with the faculty and physicians here,” Butts said. “The general surgery residency has an excellent track record of producing caring, competent surgeons that are highly capable of moving into a fellowship or going straight into practice. During my fellowship, I found that we are incredibly well-trained and on par with some of the top programs in the country.”

During his training at USA, Butts was active with the Christian Medical Ministry of South Alabama, taking trips to Honduras and Rwanda. He said that he is excited to work this group again.

Butts said that he, his wife Tricia, and four kids love Mobile and are thrilled to be back.