Researcher investigates environmentally friendly mosquito management

Katie Bellile, VCU alumna, published the results of her undergraduate research on environmentally friendly mosquito management.

Katie Bellile, VCU alumna, published the results of her undergraduate research on environmentally friendly mosquito management.

Virginia Commonwealth University alumna Katie Bellile (B.S.’14/LS) has always been very clear about what she wants. From a young age she knew she wanted to go to VCU and immerse herself in environmental studies.

Bellile, 28, grew up in Richmond around the university where her mom was working toward a master’s degree in urban planning. She remembers being inspired by the Eugene P. and Lois E. Trani Center for Life Sciences building, which was new at the time.

Last year, Bellile graduated with a master’s degree in environmental studies in Life Sciences after completing her undergraduate degree in the same discipline, and started her career at Stantec as an environmental planner, protecting limited freshwater resources. Now, the research she conducted as an undergraduate student has been published — a unique achievement. And she has done it all as a single mom.

Bellile’s paper is an investigation of environmentally friendly mosquito management. Specifically, she looked at the combination of biological pesticides and leaf litter in controlling the emergence of adult mosquitoes from the egg and larval stages. The paper was published this month in the Journal of Vector Ecology, and is the culmination of research Bellile conducted with her faculty mentor James Vonesh, Ph.D., associate professor in the VCU Department of Biology in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

Read more about Bellile’s work and her newly published paper.

VCU Health celebrates new one-of-a-kind outpatient facility


In the lobby of the new VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center on Tuesday night, more than 150 guests cheered as VCU leadership officially cut the ribbon for the new outpatient facility.

The N.O.W. Center, located just outside the Short Pump Town Center in Henrico County, focuses on human movement. The vision for the center is to restore motion and help patients with orthopedic and neuroscience illness not only survive, but thrive and optimize their personal potential. The new five-story building is 111,000 square feet with more than 80 exam rooms. It offers a unique model of care that is regionally focused and represents the future of interprofessional care delivery. The center is led by a trio of medical directors, Kevin Hoover, M.D., William Jiranek, M.D., and Bruce Mathern, M.D.

“The VCU Health Neuroscience, Orthopaedic and Wellness Center is a new facility that brings together the physicians, staff and support services needed to optimize the ability of patients to move,” Hoover said. “The quality of the patient experience is at the center of our care model and drives our effort to shorten the time from initial patient contact to definitive management. By leveraging our tremendous depth of expertise, the commitment of our staff and advanced technology, we will measurably improve the quality of their care.”

Much like the popular children’s song, “Dry Bones,” where the “hip bone is connected to the back bone,” the care team at the N.O.W. Center are also connected to one another. The interdisciplinary model offers many subspecialties in one location. The care is coordinated so patients can get everything they need in one day without having to set foot outside the building.

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VCU basketball stars visit Richmond jail to shoot hoops, and inspire inmates and their sons

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

Torey Burston and Mo Alie-Cox greet fathers and sons during a break on the basketball court.

VCU basketball stars Mo Alie-Cox (B.S.’15/GPA) and Torey Burston embraced the smiling fathers and sons as they entered the classroom Wednesday at the Richmond City Justice Center.

The men — inmates at the Richmond and Chesterfield jails — and their sons, ranging from pre-schoolers to eighth graders, sat in rapt silence as the student athletes relayed their motivational message of hope, hard work and perseverance and then shared some dribbling and twirling techniques.

“This means a lot to me,” said Jerrylee Wright, holding the hand of his 4-year-old son, Jerrylee Jr., before heading to the gym with the group to play ball. “Being able to spend time with him on the basketball court is a blessing. Words can’t describe it. And just hearing the insights from Mo and Torey means a lot.”

Alie-Cox, who’s pursuing his master’s in Criminal Justice from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at VCU, and Burston, a homeland security and emergency preparedness major at the Wilder School, came to the jail as part of Hoops for Hope, a program sponsored by the Richmond City and Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Offices to help male inmates build relationships with their sons.

Hoops for Hope is part of the REAL — Recovering from Everyday Addictive Lifestyles — program at the Richmond jail, started by Wilder School alumna Sarah Scarbrough, director of internal programs. In the voluntary program, inmates to take classes in areas including parenting skills, anger management and remedial math. The men had to apply to participate in Hoops for Hope and were excited about meeting the players.

“I can’t say enough about the athletes coming here. They are role models and great examples,” said Richmond Sheriff C.T. Woody Jr. “They’re helping the fathers in the program by being here. You can be a good father inside the jail, but you can be a better father outside the jail.”

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Love notes: An interdisciplinary project helps new and expectant mothers in difficult circumstances write lullabies to bond with their children

Photo by Diego Valdez.

Photo by Diego Valdez

Can 12 hours make a significant difference in how much an expectant mother bonds with her child?

Virginia Commonwealth University aims to find out.

Through a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, musicians, researchers and health care providers from across the university are working on an intervention for new or expectant mothers facing the hardships of parenting in challenging settings such as correctional facilities, group homes for teenagers and hospitals. Such settings often hinder mothers from bonding with their newborns. The Lullaby Project aims to increase the mother-child bond through language that is universal: music.

Writing original lullabies for their children promotes a positive relationship and helps mothers express their feelings in a song that can be played and sung before and after the baby’s birth. With the help of professional musicians, the moms write lyrics and music, and the song is then recorded in a studio, in some cases with the mother participating.

Sarah Cunningham, Ph.D. (B.S.’11/A), executive director for research at the VCU School of the Arts, brought the project to VCU as a complement to the university’s strong arts/health portfolio. VCU — through the School of the Arts’ Department of Music, the Office of Research and Innovation, and the VCU Health System’s Institute for Women’s Health and Centering Pregnancy program — will launch an 18-month study, made possible through a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to Carnegie Hall, in the fall.

The study will evaluate the intervention’s potential impact on the mother’s perceptions of bonding with her unborn baby and feelings associated with being a parent, her own psychological health and symptom distress, and perceived maternal stress.

“Our hypothesis is that mothers that participate in this group will report higher feelings of attachment and affiliative emotions toward their unborn baby,” said Jennifer Hinesley, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children. “We also predict mothers in the intervention group will be more likely to report lower symptoms of anxiety, depression and perceived stress compared to moms who do not participate in this group.”

The intervention itself consists of three back-to-back Saturday sessions. In the first session, the musicians help mothers work on lyrics by drawing on their own experiences. They might ask the mother to write a letter to the baby, or ask if the baby has a name yet and if that name has any special meaning.

Read more and hear the lullabies recorded by mothers in the program.


Novel combination therapy shows strong response in patients with advanced solid tumors

Paul Dent, Ph.D. (left), and Andrew Poklepovic, M.D.

Paul Dent, Ph.D. (left), and Andrew Poklepovic, M.D.

A phase 1 clinical trial testing a novel combination therapy developed by scientists at VCU Massey Cancer Center slowed the growth of cancer in the majority of trial participants, who were patients with advanced solid tumors. Approximately 61 percent of these patients experienced some degree of tumor growth delay, with multiple partial responses and one complete response. A phase 2 study testing the same combination of the drugs sorafenib and pemetrexed in patients with recurrent or metastatic triple negative breast cancer is now open at Massey.

“Though phase 1 studies are designed to evaluate the safety of a new therapy, we had strong preclinical evidence suggesting this novel drug combination could work against a variety of cancers, so we hoped that we would see a response in our patients in this early phase trial,” said Andrew Poklepovic, M.D. (H.S.’07/M), lead investigator on the study. “With this trial, we established a safe dosing schedule, and we will now be testing the efficacy of the therapy in the phase 2 study.”

The results of the clinical trial were recently published online by the journal Oncotarget (PMID: 27213589). The study enrolled 37 patients between October 2011 and December 2014. Of those patients, 36 received treatment and 33 were evaluated for response. One patient had a complete response, meaning all detectable traces of the tumor disappeared, while four patients had a partial response, which means that the tumor volume shrank by at least 30 percent. The therapy stabilized disease progression in an additional 15 patients, with some of these patients responding for up to a year. The therapy was found to be particularly active in breast cancer patients.

Read more.

New research indicates that believing in a just world can lead to poor health for black Americans

Research on the link between racial discrimination and poor health outcomes is not new. However, until now, there has been little exploration around that link — the why, how, who and when.

Nao Hagiwara, Ph.D.

Nao Hagiwara, Ph.D.

Researchers in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences explored the “why” in a recent study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine in December. They surveyed 130 black Americans and found evidence that a just world belief — the belief that we live in a world in which people get what they deserve and deserve what they get — has a negative impact on the health of black Americans.

We talked to VCU researcher Nao Hagiwara, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, about the findings and its implications for the health care of black Americans.

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Record-breaking 11 VCU scholars receive Fulbright awards

Left to right are Maya Chesley, Erin Coggins, Ellen Korcovelos, Charlie Perris, Levester Williams, Lynn Secondo, Dylan Halpern and Vanessa Diaz. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

Left to right are Maya Chesley, Erin Coggins, Ellen Korcovelos, Charlie Perris, Levester Williams, Lynn Secondo, Dylan Halpern and Vanessa Diaz. Photo by Pat Kane/University Public Affairs

A record 11 Virginia Commonwealth University scholars have received U.S. Fulbright Student Program awards for the 2016-2017 academic year. This represents the largest group of recipients from VCU in a single year accepted to this nationally competitive program.

Four recipients have been awarded English Teaching Assistant grants and seven have been awarded research grants. Three recipients graduated in May, seven are recent alumni and one is a current student.

VCU has the largest number of Fulbright awards for 2016-2017 announced to date by a Virginia college or university.

“We’re proud of this record-setting class of 11 Fulbright scholars,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Arriving from diverse personal backgrounds and with wide-ranging research interests, they truly represent the best VCU has to share with the world.”

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‘Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption’ selected as VCU’s 2016 Common Book

As part of a yearlong, universitywide Common Book initiative, thousands of incoming Virginia Commonwealth University students will read “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption,” a 2014 book that tells the true account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, provides a window into the lives of those he has defended, and makes an argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

“Just Mercy” is by Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children in need facing the criminal justice system. It tells the story of one of Stevenson’s first cases, that of Walter McMillian, a young man who had been convicted and sentenced to death for a murder he insisted he did not commit.

“The selection committee thought the compelling and powerful story that Stevenson tells of his path from an undergraduate student to a Harvard Law School graduate’s dedication to serving marginalized communities would engage first-year students, who are on the front end of their own academic journeys and discoveries,” said initiative director Shelli Fowler, Ph.D., interim dean of University College and associate professor in the Department of English in the College of Humanities and Sciences.

The selection committee was also struck by Stevenson’s ability to invite all readers to explore the complexities of mercy and justice in society, and students and faculty alike felt that the book supported VCU’s ongoing commitment to inclusive excellence and creating a welcoming campus for all, Fowler said.

Read more.

Ahead of the game: Students Today Alumni Tomorrow, or STAT, aims to create lasting connections between current students, alumni and the university

For his application interview with STAT, the Students Today Alumni Tomorrow organization at Virginia Commonwealth University, Eric Hogarth’s hosts requested he dress in a way that was representative of both himself and his relationship to the VCU community. Hogarth, a mechanical engineering student at the time, arrived wearing a nice suit and black-and-gold VCU-themed face paint. Business on the body, rowdy on the face.

Questions during the subsequent interview covered topics both straightforward (How do you view VCU? What role does VCU have in the community?) and unorthodox (What kind of fruit would you be?).

Hogarth reveled in the opportunity to demonstrate both his thoughtful, academic side and his spirited, fun-loving side in the same meeting. The interview was illustrative of an organization determined to both improve and support VCU and find creative ways for its members to enjoy themselves. Today, Hogarth, who works for engineering consultancy WSP in the Washington, D.C., area, says his experience with STAT was a critical part of his education at VCU, revealing to him the diversity of people and opportunities on the university’s campuses and showing him how he could play a bigger part in fostering that environment.

“STAT really opened doors for me that I hadn’t seen as accessible before,” Hogarth said.

STAT was founded to promote interaction between students and alumni and to strengthen the student experience at VCU. The organization has expanded quickly, growing to more than 1,200 members since its inception in 2009, making it the largest student organization on campus. It has already attracted prestigious accolades, including two national awards last year at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education Conference for Student Advancement.

Read more.

Social work students deliver ‘extraordinary’ help to families at pediatrician’s office

From left: Stephanie Lizama, a senior social work major; Ted Abernathy. M.D., of Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners; and Sarah Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student.

From left: Stephanie Lizama, a senior social work major; Ted Abernathy. M.D., of Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners; and Sarah Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student.

It was one of the worst days ever experienced by the staff at Pediatric & Adolescent Health Partners in Midlothian. That morning, a young patient had died from an illness, and everyone was grieving. And in the evening, a parent losing custody of her children was scheduled to transfer custody to the father at the pediatrician’s office.

“The staff was dealing with the death of this child, we were trying to get all of our work done and at the same time seeing our kids in the office,” said Ted Abernathy, M.D. (M.D.’70/M), who founded the practice and graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. “And then a dad [in a divorce situation] walked in with a stack of medical records that was at least 2 1/2 inches high. He told us that he had concerns that his child was in danger.”

With just a few short hours before the custody transfer and with the staff preoccupied with grief, Abernathy took the stack of medical records and handed them to the practice’s two interns, Sarah Presley and Stephanie Lizama, both students at the VCU School of Social Work.

“We had a full load that day with a lot of emotions,” Abernathy recalled. “I took that stack of papers and I put it on their desk and said, ‘Ladies, I need your help. I need you to go through these records, and figure out how we’re going to help this family.’”

Presley, a second-year Master of Social Work student, and Lizama, a rising senior social work major, dug into the child’s medical records, placing a sticky note on each page to track every medical visit that might be relevant to any possible danger facing the child.

“They jumped right into it as a team,” he said. “When they were done with it, they handed it back to me and I was able to quickly go through the chart and figure out what was wrong. We now were able to report this to the authorities – and they did it all. They talked to the authorities, they talked to the lawyers, they talked to all the people involved.”

“That day, with everything being so horrible, they went to just extraordinary lengths to help these people,” he said.

Read more.