Massey: Center presents preview of PBS cancer documentary

Join VCU’s Massey Cancer Center for a special one-hour preview of an upcoming PBS documentary on cancer, followed by a discussion with Massey Cancer researchers, local survivors and advocates about cancer in our community and the research advances and resources available.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday, March 23
Where: The Byrd Theatre, 2908 W. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23221

The event is FREE and  first come, first served.

Medicine: Student earns prestigious fellowship award

Reed McDonagh

Most people will never use everything they learned in school. For instance, the Pythagorean theorem just never seems to find its way into daily life.

But when it comes to his research, Virginia Commonwealth University student Reed McDonagh is not most people. A student at the VCU School of Medicine earning his M.D., McDonagh is also pursuing his Ph.D. with a concentration in cancer and molecular medicine at the VCU Center for Clinical and Transitional Research.

McDonagh is deep into research for a possible preventive defense against the long-term side effects — such as anemia, gastrointestinal distress and even secondary cancer — that radiation therapy has on millions of cancer patients. His research focuses on the usage of cerium oxide nanoparticles made of the rare-earth element cerium as a shield against radiation for the normal tissue surrounding the cancerous tumor.

For such significant possible advancements in oncology, he was granted the prestigious National Research Service Award by the National Cancer Institute under the National Institutes of Health. The $69,774 grant over two years will support his ongoing research, including a greater knowledge about CONPs and their effect on both cancerous and non-cancerous tissue.

“The most exciting aspect of my research is that it is truly multidisciplinary and collaborative, involving physics, chemistry, biology, pharmacology and a clinical application,” he said. “It is exciting to me that I have had to rely on all of my studies and training from college and medical/graduate school, knowing I am uniquely prepared to take on this project.

“I believe the future of medical research will come from a truly multidisciplinary approach, which is embodied in this project and in the developing field of nanotechnology.”

This strongly collaborative project is conducted with help from the VCU Center for Molecular Imaging under Jamal Zweit, Ph.D., D.Sc.; the VCU Massey Cancer Center’s Radiation Biology labs under Ross Mikkelsen, Ph.D.; and Sudipta Seal, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Central Florida who also works on CONP research.

Read more.

Medicine: Family celebrates a 101st birthday with gift

Eagles Nest, Waynesboro’s airport. Clelia M. Johnson (right) takes a glider flight with her first cousin Ben F. Johnson. Both are from Hylas, Virginia, just West of Richmond, Virginia.

Clelia Johnson turned 101 in September. She remembers clearly coming to work at the Medical College of Virginia soon after high school.

She had “the audacity,” she said, to ask the president of the college at the time, William Sanger, Ph.D., to speak at her medical secretary graduation. That contact led to her first job and then to a more than 60-year career working in medical pathology.

She remembers the very first day of work, being assigned to assist with an autopsy in the dirt-floored morgue of the Egyptian Building. She continued working for Paul Kimmelstiel, M.D., for most of her career.

In the early days, Johnson was willing to work for no salary at all, but soon she was earning $75 a month. She gave her mother and her church each $25. With the remaining $25, she saved enough to install electricity in the Goochland County, Virginia, home where she was born (and still lives), as well as send her sister, Eleanor Johnson Tabb, to Smithdeal Massey Business College.

Over time, Johnson built a reputation in the pathology lab, where she deftly prepared tissue samples for microscopic inspection. She became so good at it that she trained others in the procedure. She said she would enjoy “seeing the technology of how it’s done now” and hopes to take a tour of the laboratory soon.

Johnson firmly believes that MCV changed her life, and she wants to help others pursue their medical careers. So when her family searched for a creative and meaningful way to mark her 101st birthday recently, they thought of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

With a family commitment of $50,000, including an inaugural gift of $10,000 from Tabb, her loved ones established the Clelia M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship. Once the fund hits its $50,000 goal, an annual award will be made to a deserving VCU medical student to reduce debt burden.

“Clelia sacrificed a lot for me, and I wanted to do something to honor her now,” Tabb said.

Through their gift, the family is participating in the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign, which aims to increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge in recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt that has become an inescapable part of choosing a career in medicine.

Clelia Johnson’s name will be displayed on the donor wall in the school’s McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

“Even at 101, Clelia still has the same zest for adventure she has always had,” says her cousin, Ben Johnson, an avid glider pilot who introduced her to his passion. She has traveled the world and now has three glider flights under her belt since she turned 95.

She describes it this way: “It’s just like roaming around in heaven!”

To learn more about the 1838 Campaign in the School of Medicine, contact Tom Holland, associate dean for development, at 804-828-4800 or tehollan@vcu.edu.

Massey: Cancer center closes in on $100M goal

VCU Massey Cancer Center is racing to the finish line of a $100 million capital campaign.

VCU Massey Cancer Center has hit the $97.5 million mark in its Research for Life campaign that began in 2007. The initiative has added more than two dozen physician-scientists and researchers and 27,000 square feet of research space to the downtown facility.

Massey is now trying to reach a $100 million goal to fund more personnel and service capabilities before its next review by the National Cancer Institute in 2016. Massey hopes the 2016 review will earn it the coveted title as an NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“You want to know you’re going to the best of the best,” said Julie Dillon, director of development communications at Massey. “Right now, we’re in the best category, but we want to be the best of the best.”

About 68 cancer centers – including Massey and the University of Virginia – have achieved National Cancer Institute designation, placing them in the top 4 percent of about 1,500 cancer centers nationwide. But the NCI Comprehensive Cancer Center title is another step up from that, and less than 3 percent of the country’s cancer centers have earned it.

As an NCI-designated center, Massey has access to funding and collaboration, as well as the prestige associated with the title. But becoming a comprehensive cancer center would give Massey even more funding and opportunities to participate in clinical trials and collaborations, Dillon said.

Read more from Richmond BizSense.

World Health Organization taps VCU tobacco product research center as a collaborator

The Center for the Study of Tobacco Products at Virginia Commonwealth University has been named a World Health Organization collaborating center that will assist the global health organization with questions related to tobacco product testing and research.

WHO collaborating centers are designated by Margaret Chan, M.D., director-general of the WHO, to carry out activities in support of the WHO’s mission to provide leadership on global health matters, shape the health research agenda, set norms and standards, articulate evidence-based policy options, provide technical support to countries and monitor and assess health trends.

Officials from the WHO will conduct a site visit to the new WHO Collaborating Centre for Tobacco Product Testing and Research on Oct. 6.

“Virginia Commonwealth University’s Center for Tobacco Products is the latest addition to WHO’s global network of collaborating centers,” said Carissa Etienne, M.B.B.S., regional director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization. “The network brings together more than 700 highly regarded academic and scientific institutions in over 80 countries, supporting WHO programs and priorities with time, expertise and funding.”

Read more.

Medicine: Student working to solve cancer’s resistance to therapies earns NRSA grant

Jeremy Meier

Jeremy Meier

Jeremy Meier sees research as a puzzle.

“I think what is exciting about every research endeavor is the opportunity that it provides to delve into the unknown and try to put the resulting pieces together,” he said. “Often during the course of research you are led into new areas based on your results, and while challenging, it necessitates that you remain open and willing to explore alternative ways to think about the project at hand.”

Meier is an M.D./Ph.D. student studying at the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine for his M.D. and at the VCU Center for Clinical and Translational Research for his Ph.D. His concentration at the CCTR is in cancer and molecular medicine.

Meier’s most recent puzzle aims to address a novel molecular mechanism that cancer cells may take advantage of to evade death and even to become chemo- and radio-resistant. Results may provide insight into a new strategy for improving cancer cell killing.

As a result of this ongoing research, Meier was awarded in August the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award – a three-year National Cancer Institute grant totaling $123,000. The grant will mainly support Meier’s remaining thesis work in the lab with Andrew Larner, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the VCU School of Medicine and Martha Anne Hatcher Distinguished Professor in Oncology and co-leader of the Cancer Cell Signaling research program at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Read more.

News from Development and Alumni Relations

Major announcement: Enterprise CRM chosen

Marti Heil

Marti Heil

Many colleagues are talking about the rigorous RFP process that Development and Alumni Relations and VCU Technology Services have been leading over these past six months to select a replacement for our 30-year-old database — an enterprise CRM (constituent relationship management) fundraising database solution. I am excited to announce that the university has finalized a contract with Blackbaud to purchase the Blackbaud eCRM as the database for VCU DAR.

Blackbaud eCRM is a robust and comprehensive solution that combines all the functionality and features required by a complex fundraising operation like VCU’s. Blackbaud eCRM is one of the leading providers in our industry and is used by institutions such as Yale University, Ohio State University, University of Georgia, University of Michigan, UNC-Chapel Hill and Indiana University. This product will allow VCU not only to improve our fundamental business processes but also to enhance all fundraising and universitywide constituent management.

I would like to thank the members of the selection committee for their tireless effort: Jackie Colbert, Alex Henson, Gordon McDougall, Samantha Marrs and Lauren Shiver. The next several weeks will be spent finalizing the project timeline and preparing for Blackbaud team to be on-site and to begin the 12- to 15-month conversion. To learn more, please review information about the project on our website.

New leadership team
I am pleased to announce two recent additions to our DAR leadership team.

Christopher Ritrievi recently started as senior associate vice president for campaign leadership and constituent relations. As senior AVP, Chris serves as campaign director and works closely with deans, development directors and other senior leaders in portfolio management. Chris previously worked in fundraising at institutions including Princeton, Stanford and Michigan State. Most recently, he helped to plan a $1 billion campaign at Indiana University’s Bloomington Campus. He holds an M.B.A. from Lehigh University and a bachelor’s degree in economics from Princeton.

Henry Davis III, CPA, joins us as the new director of budget and finance. Henry most recently worked at GRTC Transit System where, as CFO and controller, he was responsible for a $47 million annual budget. Henry has a degree in commerce and accounting from the University of Virginia, and he joins our team at a key point in our campaign budget planning.

Best,

Marti K.S. Heil
Vice President
Development and Alumni Relations

P.S.: I hope you will join VCU Alumni as we welcome the Class of 2018 to campus at the annual Ram Spirit Walk on Aug. 19. Learn more.
By the numbers: July 1-June 15
*Complete end-of-fiscal year numbers were not available yet, but we did not want to delay our announcement.

  • $61.6 million raised toward goal of $70.3 million
  • 10,625 active, dues-paying members of VCU Alumni
  • 10,474 alumni donors
  • $8.2 million raised from alumni donors

Efforts by the Gold Line call center (annual fund) resulted in:

  • 4,464 new gift and pledges for a total of $361,803
  • 1,859 first-time donors making a pledge or gift
  • 36 percent of all Gold Line gifts made via credit card
  • 851,000 dials or attempts

Giving highlights
* Significant gifts and pledges recorded in the past quarter include:

  • The Beverly J. Warren Scholarship was established through gifts and pledges of more than $115,000 from the VCU community in honor of Provost Beverly J. Warren, who left VCU to become the 12th president of Kent State University. Read more.
  • Marty Johnson, M.D. (H.S.’80/M), and Olinda Young (B.S.’75/E; M.P.A.’81/H&S), donated to VCU a Sefer Torah, a powerful symbol and moving presence in Jewish worship and community life. It will be held and safeguarded by the VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives. Read more.
  • The Children’s Hospital Foundation Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cancer Research was established in the Massey Cancer Center and will be used to attract and retain scientists or physician-scientists whose focus relates to pediatric cancer research.
  • Through a $500,000 gift from HCA, the HCA Distinguished Executive in Residence Professorship was established in the School of Allied Health Professions’ Department of Health Administration. Each year, one or more distinguished active or retired industry executives will be selected to serve as the Executive in Residence for a period of one to four weeks.

Alumni highlights

  • VCU Alumni conducted its inaugural annual meeting and a leaders’ colloquium in May.
  • At spring Commencement, VCU Alumni welcomed our newest graduates and their families, distributing more than 5,000 goodie bags and offering a “selfie” station.
  • In April, VCU Alumni celebrated Alumni Month with more than 60 activities and events, including Rams Night Out, Monroe Scholars Book and Author Luncheon and a winery tour.
  • Also during Alumni Month, more than 630 alumni and guests came to campus for the annual Reunion Weekend. MCV Campus alumni who are graduates of 1964 and before and those who graduated in a year ending in 4 or 9 were invited back, along with all RPI alumni and members of the African-American Alumni Council. See pictures from the weekend. Save the date for next year’s Reunion: April 17-19, 2015
  • This year’s Rams at Work program saw more than 175 boxes of VCU spirit items shipped to alumni in their workplaces throughout the country.
  • VCU Alumni kept busy in March, too, hitting the road for the A-10 and NCAA tournaments and hosting events in NYC and San Diego. Regional chapters nationwide threw watch parties for local alumni to cheer on the Rams.

Event highlights

  • Sixty-one Virginia Commonwealth University faculty were invested in endowed professorship and chair positions at a May ceremony at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia. About 300 guests, including donors, faculty, friends and family, gathered to recognize their accomplishments and to thank generous donors for their support.
  • More than 350 Virginia Commonwealth University scholarship donors and student recipients gathered in February 2014 for the 15th annual Monroe Park Campus Endowed Scholarship Dinner at The Jefferson Hotel. Hosted by the VCU Foundation, the School of Business Foundation and the School of Engineering Foundation, the event brought students and donors together in an atmosphere of gratitude and celebration. See photos from the event.
  • The MCV Foundation hosted a capacity crowd of 390 at the ninth annual Scholarship Brunch in February bringing together donors of named scholarships and their respective scholars. See photos from the event.
  • The MCV Society gathered for a reception in April at Historic Tredegar. This annual event recognized all donors who have made planned gifts to benefit the MCV Campus.
  • The Shining Knight Gala, held March 29, highlighted Candi Spraggins and her team of caregivers. The gala raised $143,000 to support the Injury and Violence Prevention Program at the VCU Level 1 Trauma Center.
  • The 2014 Massey Challenge powered by HDL, Inc. culminated at this year’s Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k presented by MARTIN’S on March 29. More than 3,000 participants ran, walked, or cheered to raise funds and awareness for research at VCU Massey Cancer Center in Massey’s largest annual fundraiser, raising nearly $500,000 this year.

H&S: $2M grant aims to improve melanoma treatment

Jason Reed, Ph.D.

Jason Reed, Ph.D.

Jason Reed, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, has been awarded a roughly $2 million grant with a collaborator at the University of California, Los Angeles, to develop a new method to rapidly determine how a cancerous tumor responds to a battery of candidate therapies and then to pick the agents that are most effective for treating the patient’s particular disease.

Reed, who works in the Department of Physics in VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and is a research member at VCU Massey Cancer Center, and UCLA’s Michael Teitell, M.D., Ph.D., received the four-year grant from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. Approximately $1 million of the grant will go to research conducted at VCU.

The researchers received the grant to find an answer to one of the National Cancer Institute’s key priorities: “Since current methods to predict the efficacy or toxicity of new drug candidates in humans are often inaccurate, can we develop new methods to test potential therapeutic agents that yield better predictions of response?”

Read more. 

Massey: 12th Annual Moonlight Magic

wineAlumni, plan now to join the Massey Alliance for the 12th Annual Moonlight Magic presented by Hunton & Williams on Sunday, June 14, at James River Cellars. More than 500 friends will come together for tastings of James River Cellars wine, fantastic catered fare, the musical stylings of The Remnants and both silent and live auctions! All proceeds benefit cancer research at VCU Massey Cancer Center.

Massey: Physicians receive recognition by Richmond Magazine

CoverOnce again,  numerous VCU Massey Cancer Center physicians were recognized as “Top Docs” in Richmond Magazine’s April 2014 issue.

The list included 20 doctors from multiple specialties who provide care to Massey’s patients. The selections were the result of a survey that asked Richmond-area physicians who they would recommend in a range of specialties.

The following Massey physicians were named as top performers in their respective categories: