Reunion: A reason to smile

Pediatric dentist aims to make her first class reunion one to remember

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

This year marks five years since Lindsey North, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’13/D) graduated from the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry. This is her first class reunion.

Each year, VCU’s health sciences schools — allied health professions, dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy — celebrate Reunion Weekend and invite five-year classes back to campus. When the chance arose to be involved in planning the event as a class chair, North was first to raise her hand and volunteer.

Reunion is the School of Dentistry’s most important alumni engagement activity. In a five year reunion cycle, more than 20 percent of alumni celebrating class reunions come back to their school. Having input from both a class chair and class committee is crucial to the event’s success, says Gloria Callihan, associate dean and director of development and alumni relations for the School of Dentistry.

“[Planning reunion] is a team effort, and the class chair is the glue that keeps the process running smoothly,” Callihan says. “Bringing them together for fun, fellowship and forays back into the school and labs rekindles memories and touches their hearts.”

This isn’t North’s first time organizing an event for her class. As a student, she worked with her classmates to organize the Miles for Smiles 5K that benefited the school’s Missions of Mercy project. As a Reunion class chair, she helped plan events such as the Molar Roller Student and Alumni Bike Ride, the annual golf tournament, the Class of 2013 party and other fundraising activities. She’s also had the chance to meet with current students and see how the school has changed over time.

“I wanted to find a way to get more involved since I moved back to Richmond [Virginia],” she says. “I haven’t seen some of my classmates since commencement, so this was the perfect opportunity for me.”

After graduating from VCU in 2013 with a Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, North completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she learned to care for patients with complex medical issues, developmental disabilities and children with anxiety or fear of the dentistry setting or oral sedation. She practiced in both Chicago and Charlottesville, Virginia, before returning to Richmond in late 2016.

Since then, she’s reconnected with fellow VCU graduates and friends through Richmond Dental Society meetings and other VCU events but, for North, helping with Reunion Weekend is special. The festivities start this weekend, and she’s excited to reconnect with classmates, celebrate their accomplishments and catch up for the first time in years.

“The longer we’re in practice, the more pride we have in our education from VCU,” North says. “I hope that we’ve made it a memorable event for everyone.”

VCU Massey Cancer Center finding could open doors to creating new combination therapies for an aggressive form of breast cancer

VCU Massey Cancer Center researchers have made a discovery that could lead to the creation of more effective therapies to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.

VCU Massey Cancer Center researchers have discovered why a molecule expressed with a protein known to drive 20 percent of breast cancers can lead to decreased effectiveness of a well-known targeted therapy.

They found that a molecule called microRNA-4728 prevents therapies targeting the HER2 protein from being effective. MicroRNA-4728 is co-expressed with HER2 in certain types of breast cancer cells, which means that when HER2 is overexpressed, so is microRNA-4728. Expression refers to the level of proteins in cells.

These targeted therapies, HER2 inhibitors, are currently administered with chemotherapies to boost effectivity, but chemotherapies can be extremely toxic to noncancerous, normal cells, said Anthony Faber, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Philips Institute for Oral Health Research in the VCU School of Dentistry and a member of the Developmental Therapeutics research program at Massey Cancer Center.

The finding could lead to more effective combination therapies that inhibit the overexpression of HER2 and are relatively nontoxic, Faber said.

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The right moves: How alumnus Cameron Quayle learned the importance of planning ahead

By Anthony Langley (B.S.’16/MC)

“When I think about it, it’s the combination of science, arts and interacting with people that made dentistry the perfect fit for me,” Cameron Quayle, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’04/D) says.

Quayle, who grew up in Ogden, Utah, was recruited by nearby Weber State University to play college football though the sport was more of a diversion for him than a potential career. In high school, he decided to go into dentistry, and in the classroom, that’s where he focused his attention. At Weber, his junior year on the football field was a standout year and scouts started showing up to see him in practices and in games, but he never intended to play professionally.

Instead, he focused his efforts on applying to dental schools. Knowing the reputation that Virginia Commonwealth University had among Weber graduates who had attended the school, he knew that it would be a great fit for him.

While he was still making the final decision on which dental school to attend, he received correspondence from Marshall Brownstein, D.D.S., former admissions dean at the VCU School of Dentistry, with more information about the university and the D.D.S. program. That solidified Quayle’s choice.

“I was just some kid halfway across the country applying to dental school,” Quayle says. “Dr. Brownstein got to know me at a personal level, and that made a difference for me.”

He was accepted into VCU’s dental program, but five months before graduating from Weber with a bachelor’s in integrative studies focusing on chemistry, zoology and marketing, Quayle received news that the Baltimore Ravens wanted to recruit him. He deferred his acceptance to VCU to play in the NFL.

“When the opportunity to play professionally fell into my lap, I just sort of jumped at the chance,” he says. “I always figured I’d run a small business, but life threw me a curveball, and I went with it.”

After a year with the Ravens, Quayle was drafted by the Barcelona Dragons of NFL Europe and played for one year before returning to the U.S. to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He injured his neck while playing for the Jaguars and that’s when he decided to hang up his cleats and go back to school.

“[Football] was good detour away from normal life for a few years,” he says. “When it all ended, I was luckily able to pick up right where I left off and came to Richmond.”

Back to Plan A

At VCU, Quayle specialized in pediatric dentistry and spent time as class president. What he loved the most about his education at VCU were the clinical hours he logged with the faculty and staff at the School of Dentistry.

“I got to know so many of the people within the [School of Dentistry] that it was difficult emotionally for me when I had to leave,” Quayle says. “On one hand I was excited to go on and complete my residency, but it was difficult to leave the people and friends that I made there.”

Quayle graduated magna cum laude from VCU in 2004 with a Doctor of Dental Surgery and returned to his home state of Utah to complete his residency at the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Today, Quayle oversees sedation training for pediatric dental residents at the hospital and runs his own practice in nearby Pleasant View, Mountain View Pediatric Dentistry, dubbed locally as the “Moose Dentist” because of the practice’s memorable smiling moose logo.

“When I was doing research on logos, I asked friends and family their opinions on some options we were thinking about,” Quayle says. “Whether they liked it the best or not, they would always mention how funny the moose with the big, sparkling white smile was. So we ran with it.”

The practice’s mascot, Mason the Moose, is now an integral part of the Mountain View team and attends school assemblies and other community events as part of the bigger goal to treat each patient as they would treat their children, with patience, compassion and understanding.

“I’ll get down on my knees, just to make myself a little bit shorter, and explain to [our patients] what’s going on and that they’ll be OK,” he says. “I’m their coach, and I’m going to get them through it. Every high five I get on the way out of the office keeps me going, day in and day out.”

Sharing lessons learned

While playing in the NFL was a detour from his intended path, Quayle knows that without having the foresight to pursue his degree, things could have turned out differently. Through a partnership with his former junior high school, Highland Junior High School in Ogden, he’s helping teach students the importance of having options.

“One day this teacher walks in with her two kids, and I instantly recognized her as one of my first junior high school teachers,” Quayle says. “She was teaching a career prep course at the time and wanted to see if I’d come and talk to the seventh-graders about my career path.”

What started as a one-time talk turned into a yearly engagement, and when his former teacher retired, school staff members worked with Quayle to turn it into a project for the entire seventh grade.

“It means a lot more [to the students] to hear from someone who’s been there, than it does from their teachers,” said Feliciana Lopez, a seventh-grade English teacher at Highland Junior High School, who was interviewed by local news station KSL 5 for a story they aired about Quayle and the contest.

Students write an essay about the careers they hope to have when they grow up, and they include a backup plan in case they, too, detour from their goal.

“It’s interesting. I want to say 70 percent of the kids want to be professional athletes when they grow up,” Quayle says. “I tell them to shoot for it, but just in case, have your fallback plan ready.”

The now annual writing contest promises the winner a gift basket from his practice and a $100 Visa gift card.

“I’ve heard from teachers that the students really get into it,” he says. “For a grownup, $100 isn’t all that much, but when you tell a seventh-grader that they have a chance at it? It gets them motivated.”

Dental Hygienist finds his Disney princess at VCU

By Anthony Langley

Jorel Belarmino, RDH (B.S.’06/H&S; B.S.’14/D), is a registered dental hygienist living in Kissimmee, Florida. When he’s not working, he’s either working out at the gym or spending time at Disney World where his wife, Honey (B.A.’10/WS; B.A.’10/WS), works as member services manager at the Disney Vacation Club. He will be taking over the VCU Alumni Instagram account next week to give us a glimpse into his life.

What drew you to VCU?

I was born in Toronto, Ontario, and my family moved to Surrey, British Columbia, when I was 8. I attended middle school and high school through 10th grade there before we relocated to Richmond, Virginia. When it came time to choose a college, I wanted to stay close to my younger brother. After doing some research and learning about the outstanding reputation the health sciences program [at VCU] has as well as just the community feel and diversity around campus, it seemed like a perfect fit. VCU is a place I call home.

Do you remember your favorite moment from your time on campus?

There’s so many to choose from! One that’s on the top of my list is a clinic session I had in the dental hygiene program. During one of our first clinic sessions as junior dental hygiene students, Joan Pellegrini Ph.D., RDH (Ph.D.’08/E), was on duty grading my clinical notes.

I signed them “Jorel” without my last name to which she commented, “Jorel, you didn’t put your full name. How do you spell your last name? I’ll put it in for you.”

I thought, how professional of her to write my name in for me. This was my opportunity to set the tone for the year. I said, “Oh OK, thanks Dr. P.! It’s A-W-E-S-O-M-E.” She turned around and gave me this blank stare with an underlying smile.

I apologized and told her I was kidding, then spelled out awesome again. She said, “Oh jeez, nevermind, you do it,” chuckled and walked away.

Why did you choose to study dentistry?

I grew up enjoying the sciences and thought about becoming a doctor. I really wanted to use my hands so I thought being a surgeon would be a good option for me.

When I sat down and considered my options, I thought about the costs, happiness and quality of life. Dental hygiene fit the bill; it’s a highly rewarding career with flexibility, and I get to deliver great patient care.

I think my favorite part of working in dentistry is educating patients on how to improve their overall health through dental care at home.

How did you and your wife meet?

After I finished my first bachelor’s degree in science at VCU, I decided I’d go back to school. Shortly after my first semester back, I was working as a teaching assistant and tutoring entry-level biology and physiology classes. One day I just happened to sit in on an introductory biology lecture and there she was, Honey Delo, in the first row taking notes.

We had some mutual friends, had been introduced to each other in the Student Commons once but that was it. So there I was enamored with this stunning girl in the front row of the class I was tutoring. I decided to go for it, and the rest is history.

What prompted your move from Richmond to Florida?

It was always my wife’s dream to work for Mickey. We both grew up loving the magical world of Disney so we decided to make it happen.

Together, we set a goal, drew up a plan and executed it. I completed my second bachelor’s in dental hygiene, which gave us a solid foundation. Once she finished her degrees, we made the move to Florida where she’s pursued a career with the Walt Disney Co. Now we live our lives filled with pixie dust!

The both of us always say you should never fully become an adult. We’ve been Mouseketeers at heart since we were kids. Walt Disney World is the happiest place on earth. What’s not to love?

VCU becomes first Virginia university to offer Ph.D. in oral health research


A new Ph.D. program at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry will provide training for students who wish to pursue research in oral health or the biomedical sciences.

The Doctor of Philosophy program in oral health research, which is focused on cancer, infection and stem cell engineering, will welcome its inaugural class in the fall semester. VCU is the first university in the state to offer a Ph.D. program focused on oral health research.

“The importance of good oral health, and its relationship to overall human health, is well documented,” said David Sarrett, D.M.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry. “The Ph.D. program in oral health research will emphasize these relationships in training future researchers, who will make discoveries and translate them to improved patient care by dentists and oral health care providers.”

Doctoral-level faculty primarily from School of Dentistry, and also from the School of Medicine and School of Engineering, will mentor students through cross-disciplinary research projects in the program, which emphasizes independent research and culminates in the completion of an original research project.

“While the program is based in the School of Dentistry, it will have active collaborations across the university allowing for mutual exchange of talent and expertise,” said program director Oonagh Loughran, Ph.D.

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Helping hand: Through scholarship, dental alumni honor staff member

Hazel Luton learns a scholarship has been established in her name.

Hazel Luton learns a scholarship has been established in her name.

From throwing pool parties and frying chicken to helping navigate licensure exams and offering professional advice, Hazel Luton would do just about anything for the dentistry students at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Hazel was like a surrogate mother to me,” said Mark Beltrami, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’95/D), who received his D.D.S. from the VCU School of Dentistry in 1995. “She took students under her wing. There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do to help us.”

As the School of Dentistry Class of 1995’s reunion approached, along with Luton’s milestone anniversary of 40 years with the School of Dentistry, Beltrami set the pace for his classmates and colleagues with a $10,000 lead gift to establish the Hazel Luton Scholarship.

Luton is the first staff member at the school to be honored with the creation of a scholarship. Now surpassing $45,000 in gifts and pledges, the scholarship will be awarded for the first time in fall 2017 to a rising second-year student who embodies Luton’s compassion.

“Hazel is beloved by so many. She is a parental figure as well as a supportive staff member,” said David C. Sarrett, D.M.D., dean of the VCU School of Dentistry and associate vice president for VCU Health Sciences-Faculty Affairs. “This scholarship is a testament to her many kindnesses. It will benefit generations of students who will receive financial assistance in her name.”

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VCU receives $2.4 million grant to increase dental care access for underserved children and adolescents and to improve interprofessional training for pediatric dentistry students

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The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry has received a $2.4 million federal grant to introduce an innovative new curriculum, purchase new dental technology, and build on its ongoing efforts to treat at-risk pediatric patients.

The five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration will fund the development of a new interprofessional curriculum, provide funds for teledentistry equipment, and expand the pediatric dental residency program at two clinical care sites.

“The grant will help initiate a curriculum that integrates interprofessional education and collaborative care into the pediatric dentistry residency training program, with an emphasis on treating low-income populations and children with complex health care needs,” said Tegwyn H. Brickhouse, D.D.S., Ph.D., department chair, research director and associate professor, Department of Pediatric Dentistry, VCU School of Dentistry.

Through the new interprofessional curriculum, pediatric dentistry residents will have the opportunity to participate in the VCU Center for Interprofessional Education and Collaborative Care’s educational programs while providing dental care for children at various clinical sites. Students will provide care at the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU and the Piedmont Regional Dental Center, which is a safety net dental practice in Orange, Virginia. The grant also covers the cost of dental technology equipment such as a digital X-ray and an intra-oral video camera. The new technology will enable pediatric dentistry residents to provide consultation services for children at rural sites without necessitating a trip to a dental office.

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VCU’s 1960s-era ‘Batman’ paintings to be showcased in exhibit on superheroes in New York City

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“Olga’s Lair”

Three set design paintings from the 1960s “Batman” TV series and movie that are held by VCU Libraries’ Special Collections and Archives will be put on display this fall as part of an upcoming exhibition, “Superheroes in Gotham,” at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library in New York City.

The paintings, by artist Leslie Thomas, will be featured alongside such comic book treasures as original drawings by Steve Ditko of Spider-Man’s first appearance in “Amazing Fantasy” (No. 15, 1962), a copy of “Action Comics No. 1” (Superman’s first appearance), and an original Batmobile from the 1966 “Batman” TV series.

“We are delighted to be exhibiting Leslie Thomas’ set paintings for the ‘Batman’ television series (1966-1968) and the film ‘Batman’ (1966) in the upcoming exhibition, ‘Superheroes in Gotham,’” said Nina Nazionale, director of library operations for the New-York Historical Society. “These captivating images underline how much work, by so many different creative people, goes into producing television series and films. They are also vivid reminders of the colors, designs and fashion of the late 1960s.”

The paintings being loaned to the New-York Historical Society are among 38 “Batman” set design paintings donated to VCU Libraries’ Comic Arts Collection in 2005 by David Anderson, D.D.S. (D.D.S.’82/D), an alumnus of VCU’s School of Dentistry.

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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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Globalized health: VCU students lead the charge to deliver needed care in developing countries

Zack Lipsman, M.D. (M.D.’15/M), checks the eyesight of a young boy during a 10-day service trip to Honduras.

Zack Lipsman, M.D. (M.D.’15/M), checks the eyesight of a young boy during a 10-day service trip to Honduras.

It was nearing evening in a remote mountain village in southwestern Honduras when Zack Lipsman, M.D. (M.D. ’15/M), spotted a young girl waiting with her friends outside of the makeshift clinic where he had been working all afternoon. He was there on a 10-day service trip in June 2012, the summer after his first year of medical school at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“She looked kind of sad and lost,” Lipsman says. He went outside with a few other medical students to ask if she needed to be seen by a doctor. As he got closer, he realized why she was there.

“When we saw she was pregnant, everyone kind of just froze for a minute,” he says. “She was so young, and she clearly had no concept of what her future would be like. We had to huddle together to think about how we could best help her.”

The 13-year-old was late in her second trimester and had never been seen by a doctor. The students arranged for her to have her first prenatal screening the next day.

“That was a turning point for a lot of students in realizing the gravity of what we were doing there,” Lipsman says.

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