Utilizing resources: Pharmacy professor secures four grants to pursue his research aims


When asked what inspired him to pursue a career in research, Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., associate professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, lightheartedly admits he was always “one of those guys” who enjoyed math and science from a very young age. As he matured in his pursuit of a deeper understanding of biochemistry, he saw pharmacy as a field that would allow him to combine his passion for chemistry and helping people.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Van Tassell completed his postgraduate residency and fellowship before setting his eyes on VCU.

“VCU really felt like the best fit for me,” Van Tassell said. “The university’s resources and infrastructure were phenomenal, but it was equally important to me that I match well with the people. VCU had the right group of passionate people who were excited and invested in the work they did.”

Van Tassell joined VCU in 2008 as an assistant professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy. He had no way of knowing at that time that in just two years the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research would develop a KL2 program that would lead him down the path of earning three National Institutes of Health grants (grant numbers: 1R34HL117026, 1R34HL118348 and 1R34HL121402) in addition to a grant from the American Heart Association (grant number 13BGIA16120001).

The VCU CCTR’s KL2 (formerly known as K12) scholar program provides substantial salary support and $25,000 in startup funds for faculty-level clinical and translational scientists near the beginning of their investigative careers. KL2 scholars are initially appointed for two years as the scholar works toward receiving his or her own independent mentored career development award (e.g., NIH K08 or K23) or independent NIH operating grant (e.g., R01).

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Behind the music


Monty (left) and Andrew Kier

Professor and son pen VCU’s first alma mater

By Anthony Langley

A year and a half ago, Lemont “Monty” B. Kier, Ph.D., began reflecting on his time and experiences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“I’ve been here since 1977,” says Kier, who has taught and held various roles in VCU Life Sciences’ Center for the Study of Biological Complexity, the School of Allied Health Professions Department of Nurse Anesthesia, and the School of Pharmacy departments of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science and Medicinal Chemistry, the latter of which he served as chair for 10 years. “I’m so fond of the diversity and the opportunities that I’ve had here I began to write a little poem about it.”

As he started writing, Kier learned that VCU did not have an alma mater, which prompted him to take his poem and transform it into “We Gather Here,” the university’s new, official anthem. The song celebrates the values and memories Kier believes that each and every student makes while at VCU.

“When you walk around the campus, there are people from all around the world,” he says. “The opening verse tells you what our colors mean: diversity and value.”

Upon completing the lyrics, he brought them to his son, Andrew Kier (B.M.’90/A), who took his father’s words and sketched out a rough melody on paper, adding in chords to fill in spaces where needed. About a week later, he loaded the finished music into a software program that helped him finalize the musical arrangement.

“I think it will draw people together,” says Andrew Kier. “It’s a great honor to have it chosen as the alma mater, and I’m proud to be connected to VCU in this additional way.”

While the father-and-son duo were working on the song, Monty Kier shared a draft with Gordon McDougall, associate vice president for university alumni relations, who in turn shared it with VCU’s leaders.

“The university asked the VCU Alumni board of governors to adopt ‘We Gather Here,’” McDougall says. “I’m proud of what Monty and his son accomplished. It’s a great moment for the university.”

In March, the board approved “We Gather Here” as VCU’s official alma mater. Kier is excited to see what comes next for the song and its impact on the university.

“It tells a story about how good it is here. There’s a wonderful spirit that surrounds everyone at VCU,” he says. “Making this contribution is one of the highlights of my career.”

– Anthony Langley is a VCU senior majoring in mass communications.

 “We Gather Here”

Lyrics: Monty Kier
Music: Andrew Kier

We gather here, our voices raise, of VCU we sing our praise, the Black and Gold our colors show, diversity and value grow. We’ve learned so much beyond each class, the joy of friendship will not pass.

So much in life is mem’ry borne, of VCU they’ll not be shorn.

The mem’ries of a campus walk, so many friends, we stop to talk, the friendships here were made to last, they’re in our minds though years have passed. The seasons pass, the years roll by, from VCU the reason’s why we are enriched from values learned, they bring us joy that we have earned.

Next year again we will be here to see our school and give a cheer. So VCU keep all that is great, you’ve brought us joy that is our fate. So come let us sing of VCU, with ev’ry verse we will renew the mem’ries from our campus time, each one embedded in a rhyme.

Listen to the alma mater.

Two VCU programs ranked No. 1, Arts rises to No. 2 in updated U.S. News & World Report national rankings


overheadSeveral graduate programs at Virginia Commonwealth University are ranked among the top 50 of the nation’s best in the 2017 edition of U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Graduate Schools,” released on March 16.

Among the graduate schools with updated rankings for the 2017 edition, the School of the Arts is tied for the No. 2 overall fine arts ranking in the nation. Also, the School of Pharmacy is tied for No. 17, the School of Social Work is tied for No. 22, the School of Education is ranked No. 33 and the School of Medicine is tied for No. 40 for best primary care.

Within the School of the Arts, a number of fine arts graduate programs are ranked: Sculpture is ranked No. 1, ceramics is tied at No. 9, glass is No. 3, graphic design is No. 3, painting and drawing is No. 7 and printmaking is tied at No. 10.

Several graduate programs in the School of Allied Health Professions also fared particularly well in the report. In their categories, nurse anesthesia is ranked No. 1 in the nation, health care management tied for No. 3, rehabilitation counseling tied for No. 4, occupational therapy tied for No. 17 and physical therapy tied for No. 20.

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Study shows financial burdens negatively affect health and quality of life for many cancer survivors

Hrishikesh Kale, at left, and Norman V. Carroll, Ph.D.

Hrishikesh Kale, at left, and Norman V. Carroll, Ph.D.

Cancer survivors with financial difficulties have a higher risk of depressed mood and psychological distress and are more likely to worry about cancer recurrence than survivors without heightened financial problems, according to a new Virginia Commonwealth University study.

Hrishikesh Kale, a graduate student in the VCU School of Pharmacy, spearheaded the research on the public health impact of cancer-related costs, under the direction of Norman V. Carroll, Ph.D., a professor at the School of Pharmacy. The study was published this week in the journal Cancer, a biweekly, peer-reviewed scientific journal. The study investigated the prevalence and sources of financial problems reported by a nationally representative sample of cancer survivors. Also studied was the impact of cancer-related financial burden on patients’ health-related quality of life and psychological health.

The findings that survivors with financial problems struggle more with depressed mood and psychological distress, including with concerns about the chance of cancer recurrence, suggests that it is critical for patient care to consider these components, Kale said.

“Cancer survivorship care programs can identify survivors with the greatest financial burden and focus on helping them cope with psychological stress, anxiety and depression throughout their journey with cancer,” Kale said. “We hope that oncologists, clinical pharmacists and other health care providers will increase the extent to which they consider selecting treatments that are less expensive, but similar in effectiveness, discussing treatment costs with patients and involving patients in making decisions about their therapy.”

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VCU receives $4.2 million grant to study placental function in pregnant women

Charles Chalfant, Ph.D.

Charles Chalfant, Ph.D.

The National Institutes of Health recently awarded a $4.2 million grant to Virginia Commonwealth University to study placental function in pregnant women and to develop a noninvasive device for the early detection of placental disorders such as pre-eclampsia.

The grant is part of the NIH’s Human Placenta Project, a collaborative research effort that would revolutionize the understanding of the placenta’s role in health and disease. Previous studies of the placenta have looked at the organ after delivery. This study will examine the placenta in real time, while it is doing its job.

“The goal of this study is to be able to track pregnant mothers longitudinally, starting from when she goes to the doctor to confirm she is pregnant and throughout her pregnancy,” said Charles Chalfant, Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the VCU School of Medicine, and recipient of the four-year grant for his project, “The Utilization of Photonics Technology to Rapidly Detect Bioactive Lipids Associated with Pre-eclampsia Development.”

Five to seven percent of all pregnancies are affected by pre-eclampsia, a complication marked by high blood pressure and possible damage to other organ systems and the baby. Older and obese women, mothers carrying multiple babies, and those with pre-existing hypertension have a higher risk.

There is no cure for pre-eclampsia other than delivery, which can sometimes lead to preterm birth and a host of other complications. There are also long-term effects, such as an increased risk for heart disease for mothers later in life. Early detection is essential.

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Hit the greens and raise funds for pharmacy students!


Last year’s Yanchick Invitational players included (from left), Donna Yanchick, alumnus Raeford Rockwell Jr. (B.S.’62/P), tournament namesake Victor Yanchick and Janice Rockwell.

Recipe for a beautiful day: good drives, good friends, good cause. The Third Annual Yanchick Invitational Golf Tournament will begin with an 11:30 a.m. tee time Oct. 22 at The Club at Viniterra, 8400 Old Church Road in New Kent.

Sponsored by VCU School of Pharmacy’s Inter-Fraternity Council, the tournament is a special fundraiser to provide scholarship support for pharmacy students. “For this year’s tournament, the school decided it would be great if students were responsible for planning the event since it directly benefits student scholarships,” said IFC president Alli Baumgartner.

“The IFC [which includes Kappa Epsilon, Kappa Psi and Phi Delta Chi] is full of dedicated and enthusiastic students who are happy to be involved. This continues to be such a unique opportunity for students to interact with alumni,” she said.

“We would love for you to come and join in on this experience!”

The tournament fee – which includes 18 holes of golf, carts, snacks, beverages, an awards lunch and door prizes – is $95 for alumni and friends and $55 for students. An added perk? The opportunity to win bragging rights in competition with old friends and classmates.

Register now or call Jasmine Davis (M.S.‘10/H&S) at (804) 828-4247 with questions.

Pharmacy Class of 2019 hits campus

It's traditional to take family photos after the White Coat Ceremony.

It’s traditional to take family photos after the White Coat Ceremony.

The Pharm.D. Class of 2019 arrived Aug. 5 for a three-day orientation. This group, 140 strong, ranges in age from 21 to 44, with a mean age of 23. Three-quarters of the class is female, one-quarter male, and 85 percent reside in Virginia. Seventy-two percent attended Virginia colleges; of those, 90 percent hail from Virginia Tech, VCU, University of Virginia, James Madison University, Christopher Newport University, George Mason University and Old Dominion University.

Classes began the Monday following orientation, and the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony took place Aug. 22 at St. Paul’s Baptist Church. After a welcome by Dean Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., alumna Ashley Savage Armbruster, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’12/P) spoke on behalf of Farm Fresh Pharmacy/Shoppers Pharmacy, which supported the event. She said, “Wear your white coats with pride but also with humility. … It’s a privilege and an honor to welcome you to the profession.”

Until his retirement in 2012, guest speaker Leonard Edloe, Pharm.D., was CEO and pharmacist for Edloe’s Professional Pharmacies in Richmond. Still active in the profession — he received Virginia Pharmacists Association’s Outstanding Pharmacist Award earlier this summer — he also serves as pastor for New Hope Fellowship in Hartfield, Virginia.

“The more pride you have in yourself and your profession,” he told students, “and the more you care for your patients, the better off you will be. … Challenge things that you see are wrong. … Study hard, enjoy yourselves some and make meaningful relationships.”

As Tom Reinders, Pharm.D., associate dean for admissions and student services, called out the names of P1s, faculty members Norman Carroll, Ph.D., and Kacie Powers, Pharm.D. (Pharm.D.’09/P), helped them into their white coats, and DiPiro congratulated them.

“The white coat is a time-honored symbol in the health professions,” he said. Among the things it stands for are trust, altruism, integrity and respect.

“You are now entering a profession, but it is also a vocation,” DiPiro said.

After student body president Phil Jan administered the Oath of a Student Pharmacist, about 800 faculty, students, family members and friends applauded the Class of 2019.

Pharmacy faculty and staff recognized for 280 years of service

Two School of Pharmacy faculty, seen here circa 1976, have worked for the university a total of 80 years.

Two School of Pharmacy faculty, seen here circa 1976, have worked for the university a total of 80 years.

Given that each of them has spent 40 years on the MCV Campus, the names Tom Reinders, Pharm.D., and Richard A. Glennon, Ph.D., should resonate with any pharmacy alumni who’s graduated since the mid-’70s. The university annually recognizes employees with five-year service anniversaries during the Service Awards Ceremony and Recognition, which takes place in October.

This year, Reinders, associate dean for admissions and student services, and Glennon, chairman of the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, will be recognized for their combined 80 years of service. Other honorees include Cindy Kirkwood, Pharm.D. (B.S.’82/P; Pharm.D.‘85/P), professor and interim associate dean for academic affairs, for 30 years; and Kelly Goode, Pharm.D. (B.S.’89/P; Pharm.D.’94/P), professor and director of the Community Pharmacy Practice and Residency Program, for 25 years.

Lean more about Glennon’s and Reinders’ tenures at the School of Pharmacy and find out who else is being recognized.

Pharmacy center publishes new findings on cigarette addiction

Shaunna L. Clark is first author on a new Center for Biomarker Research and Precision Medicine study.

Shaunna L. Clark

VCU School of Pharmacy’s Center for Biomarker Research and Precision Medicine has identified genetic clues associated with cigarette addiction. The findings have been published online by the Oxford University Press journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research and will be featured in a print edition later this year.

Pinpointing genetic variants associated with cigarette addiction could assist in identifying the biological mechanism behind it and generate new medications to help people break the addiction, according to research assistant professor Shaunna L. Clark, Ph.D.

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Pharmacy’s NIH grant numbers rise

Umesh Desai, Ph.D.

Umesh Desai, Ph.D.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy has released the latest data for National Institutes of Health funding from federal fiscal year 2014.

VCU School of Pharmacy ranked 21st among the 130 schools and colleges of pharmacy with $6.3 million in awards. VCU ranked just behind Ohio State (20th) and ahead of Florida, Buffalo, Iowa, Wisconsin, Purdue, Maryland and Tennessee.

During FY13, the School of Pharmacy ranked 26th with $4.5 million in awards, having steadily moved up from 27th and 29th in FY12 and FY11, respectively.

The upward trend continues: Professor Umesh Desai, Ph.D., (PI) and co-investigators Martin Safo, Ph.D., and Masahiro Sakagami, Ph.D., have recently received news of a $2.1 million NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute grant to study “Allosteric Inhibition of Coagulation Proteases.”