Combining U.S. and Iraqi cultures through social media

Students from VCU and the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program work on a video project during the Social Media Institute.

Vivian Medina-Messner, co-director of the Virginia Commonwealth University Social Media Institute, is constantly amazed by her students’ cultural interactions.

“They’re building bridges and becoming part of a global community,” Medina-Messner said.

Students in the institute, hailing from both VCU and the Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program, work in teams to develop social media campaigns for local nonprofits. They also learn how to brand themselves on social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn.

They’re building bridges and becoming part of a global community.

“We have to get the ball rolling for them,” said VCU student Yashua Torres, who worked with a team of Iraqi students aiding the nonprofit organization Beds for Kids Inc., which provides beds for the less-fortunate in the Richmond area. The team developed an entire social media strategy that focuses on telling the individual stories of underprivileged children without beds, and created a hashtag, #safedreams, so others can share their own stories.

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Novel model developed to predict nicotine emitted from e-cigarettes

Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., professor in the VCU Department of Psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences

Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center researchers at the VCU Center for the Study of Tobacco Products (CSTP) have developed the first-ever, evidence-based model that can predict with up to 90 percent accuracy the amount of nicotine emitted by an electronic cigarette. The study was published in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

The researchers, working in collaboration with investigators at the American University of Beirut, collected data about the voltage and other characteristics of various e-cigarette devices, the concentration of the liquid nicotine that could be put in the devices, and the length of time a user might inhale from the device in one puff. The team then developed a mathematical model to determine how much nicotine was emitted from the devices as the device voltage and the nicotine liquid concentration were increased and the user puff duration was extended. The model predicted that higher voltage e-cigarette devices paired with high-concentration nicotine liquids could emit greater levels of the addictive substance than those of a traditional tobacco cigarette, depending on user puff duration.

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Doctoral candidate Wafa Tarazi wins award for captivating research presentation

Wafa Tarazi, MHPA

Doctoral candidate Wafa Tarazi, MHPA, in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research

For healthcare policy researchers like Wafa Tarazi, MHPA, explaining the results of their studies to people from different fields can often be a significant challenge. When your audience can’t understand small things, like certain terms or concepts, they’re liable to miss the overarching significance or impact of a study altogether.

To address this obstacle, AcademyHealth, a health services research and policy organization,sponsors an annual competition that challenges students to successfully explain a research paper in layman’s terms.

This year, Tarazi, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research, and three other students presented on Austin Frakt’s “Plan–Provider Integration, Premiums, and Quality in the Medicare Advantage Market.” The article discusses how integration between Medicare plans and healthcare providers relates to plans’ premiums and quality ratings. Each student had about seven minutes to present and had to act as if the audience had no expertise in health care.

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Two GI fellows victorious in debate at national conference

Pritesh Mutha

Gastroenterology fellow Pritesh Mutha

The competition went down to the wire, with both the VCU team and the Johns Hopkins team relying on their preparation to perform under pressure. In the end, VCU came out with a decisive win on a national stage. No, this wasn’t a basketball game — it was a debate at the Digestive Disease Week conference between gastroenterology fellows from the two schools.

The School of Medicine was represented by senior GI fellows Vaishali Patel, M.D., and Pritesh Mutha, M.D. They were coached by their mentor, Puneet Puri, M.D., who is an assistant professor in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition. They faced off against a duo from Johns Hopkins to debate whether patients with acute alcoholic hepatitis should be denied liver transplantation outright. The two teams sparred through three rounds of competition, with Patel and Mutha eventually convincing the judges of the wisdom of their position: that transplantations in such circumstances should not be denied.

More than 14,500 researchers, physicians and academics assembled for the Digestive Disease Week conference in Washington, D.C., this May. It’s the largest gathering of professionals in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery, and there’s no shortage of reasons to attend. “The conference is a tremendous platform to learn about the newest research, see cutting edge technology and network with leaders in the field,” said Mutha.

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Student accompanies alumnus mentor on an unforgettable trip to Haiti

Andrew Lyell

Third-year student Andrew Lyell had the chance to make an unforgettable trip to Haiti with his fmSTAT mentor, alumnus Kenneth Heatwole, M’84, H’87.

In the United States, you don’t often see malaria or a machete wound to the head.

But that’s what Kenneth Heatwole, M’84, H’87, and third-year student Andrew Lyell encountered on a medical mission trip to Haiti this past spring.

Family medicine physician Heatwole has been going to Haiti since 1990. On his most recent trip, he took along Lyell, who he’d met two years ago as part of the medical school’s fmSTAT program.

Like the other fmSTAT students, Lyell knows he’s headed for a career in family medicine. fmSTAT nurtures that goal through special opportunities like being paired with a mentor, a role that Heatwole volunteered for.

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VCU Police chief named national safety director of the year

Chief John Venuti accepts a Campus Safety Director of the Year award from Robin Hattersley, the executive director of Campus Safety Magazine.

Virginia Commonwealth University Police Chief John Venuti has been named a Campus Safety Director of the Year by Campus Safety Magazine.

Campus Safety Magazine is a national publication for campus police chiefs, security directors, emergency managers and public safety administrators. It reaches 18,000 campus safety and security professionals across the country.

Venuti, who also serves as VCU’s assistant vice president of public safety, was presented with the award at the Campus Safety National Forum in Arlington, Virginia, on June 24. He was one of two chiefs to be named director of the year in the higher education category after being named a finalist for that honor in 2014.

Robin Hattersley, the executive editor for the magazine, highlighted Venuti’s work on attaining international accreditation for the VCU Police Department in 2014 and administering VCU’s bi-annual perception of safety survey. In fall 2014, 96 percent of students, faculty and staff surveyed reported feeling “safe” or “very safe” on VCU’s campuses. That number rose to 96.5 percent in spring 2015.

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Troubled waters: VCU researchers are studying the impact of saltwater intrusion on tidal wetlands

Biology Professor Scott Neubauer, Ph.D works on setting up a chamber that will measure greenhouse gas emissions from a plot in Cumberland Marsh.

Along the muddy banks of the Pamunkey River in Virginia’s New Kent County, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have built an irrigation system that is allowing them to simulate the potential effects of climate change on tidal wetlands.

The system, designed and built by Dong-Yoon Lee, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology, pumps saltwater into several plots of land in Cumberland Marsh, mimicking what will happen as the sea level rises due to climate change and intrudes increasingly into freshwater ecosystems.

“We decided to run a real-time simulation in which we built a saltwater pumping system in a natural wetland further upstream, where saltwater rarely flowed before,” Lee said.

Lee’s experiment, which is underway this summer, is part of a multiyear National Science Foundation grant that is enabling VCU biologists to study the impact of climate change on tidal wetlands.

While previous research has examined the effects of saltwater on freshwater marshes in the lab, this project is among the first studies of its kind to take place in the natural environment.


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VCU study shows majority of Medicaid beneficiaries receive care consistent with the patient-centered medical home model

Peter Cunningham, Ph.D.

The majority of Medicaid beneficiaries feel that the medical care they receive is patient-centered, accessible and well-coordinated between primary care providers and specialists, according to a Virginia Commonwealth University-led study.

In an article that was published this month in the journal Health Affairs, Peter Cunningham, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research at the VCU School of Medicine, examined the prevalence of five aspects of the patient-centered medical home model among the Medicaid population from the perspective of Medicaid patients. Most Medicaid beneficiaries with no other coverage and a continuing source of primary care described the care they receive as consistent with at least three of five key attributes of the patient-centered medical home model.

“Patient-centered medical homes are a way of delivering primary care that stresses the patient experience,” Cunningham said. “The patient-centered medical home model is one of the primary delivery system innovations in the health care system to try to improve quality of care and lower costs.”

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Students organize Richmond’s first Camp Cardiac for high school students

Camp organizer Ameya Chumble watches cardiology fellow Ryan Melchior, M.D., lead students through the surgical knots workshop.

When Ameya Chumble was in high school in Martinsville, summertime educational opportunities were slim to none — particularly in specialized areas such as medicine.

Now Chumble is a rising second-year student at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine. During his first year on VCU’s MCV Campus, he learned about Camp Cardiac, a national day camp for high school students interested in learning about medical careers. He jumped at the chance to establish a Richmond site of the program.

With the help of medical school faculty members — all volunteers — Chumble and a team of 14 medical students created an impressive schedule of presentations and activities. From obtaining CPR certification and learning suturing techniques to hearing case studies and observing a live surgery, the high school students spent an action-packed week on campus.

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Dentistry professor continues research to fight gum disease, associated conditions

S. Esra Sahingur, D.D.S., Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Periodontics, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry

Sinem Esra Sahingur, D.D.S., Ph.D., has received a five-year, $1.9 million National Institutes of Health grant to study the cause of periodontitis, which is the inflammation of gums that can lead to tooth loss and additional health complications if not treated.

“Nearly half of all adults in the United States suffer from periodontal diseases and … almost 10 percent of that group exhibits severe forms of the diseases which cannot be controlled or treated using currently available treatment protocols,” said Sahingur, who is an associate professor in the Department of Periodontics, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry.

“Chronic oral inflammation eventually results in tooth loss and can raise the risk for several systemic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, pregnancy complications, arthritis and cancer. Identification of new preventive and therapeutic options to control persistent inflammation within the oral cavity is therefore crucial for better oral and systemic health,” she said.

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