At VCU Broad Street Mile, ‘a great way to build connections’


The Broad Street Mile allows participants to support local charities by running in a 5K or several 1-mile fun runs.

Running is part of Joseph DiPiro’s morning routine. The dean of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy is typically on the road around 6 a.m., logging his daily miles — 4-5 on weekdays, 8-10 on the weekends.

DiPiro tries to run five days a week as part of his fitness regimen. But he also sees running as a way to build community.

“I’m really impressed by the social nature of running,” DiPiro said. “If we make a commitment to meet up on a Saturday morning, then that’s always going to be a higher-quality run. We’ll run maybe a little bit faster, a little bit farther. And you have more time to talk to people — when do you get an hour just to explore the world’s issues these days?

“It covers a lot of ground — the social, the health, the physical part of it.”

DiPiro is one of 577 runners already signed up for the Sept. 24 VCU Broad Street Mile — the annual fall street festival and road race held on the Monroe Park Campus. The run this year is part of a series of events launching the Make It Real Campaign for VCU, a comprehensive fundraising campaign with three priorities — people, innovations and environments. The campaign aims to touch every aspect of VCU: students, alumni, faculty and staff, patients, caregivers, researchers, schools, libraries, centers and institutes, athletics, and the community.

‘Beat the dean’

DiPiro is bringing his social philosophy to the race this year by issuing a “beat the dean” philanthropic challenge to pharmacy school students, faculty and staff participating in the 5K run. All proceeds from DiPiro’s challenge support the School of Pharmacy scholarship fund.

“It’s pretty simple: If I beat them they have to put up $5; if they beat me I have to put up $10,” DiPiro said.

The challenge is an initiative of the school’s Student Philanthropists Alumni Network, a new group formed to raise awareness of philanthropy among current pharmacy students. The school awarded $623,650 in scholarships to 183 students during the last fiscal year.

The Broad Street Mile, now in its fourth year, doubles as a fundraiser for local organizations. VCU announced in July that, in an effort to expand community impact, this year’s event does not require participating groups to have a 501(c)3 designation. Several university offices and schools, including the Grace E. Harris Leadership InstituteVCU ASPiRE and the School of Pharmacy, are participating as fundraising organizations in the Broad Street Mile for the first time as a result of this change.

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Scholarship provides financial and moral support to students researching cures for neurological diseases


John Saathoff should never have received the Lowenthal Award in 2014.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy had already chosen Kavita Iyer, who was then, like Saathoff, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, to receive the award, which was established in 2000 by Hilda Meth, Ed.D.

Saathoff applied late, but he was permitted an interview. He so impressed Meth, who met with the finalist, that she created a second award that year, though not before putting Saathoff through his paces.

“John had a lot of fire, but he is not a bookworm,” Meth said, an assertion Saathoff, whose research is in Alzheimer’s disease, readily agrees with. The committee set a requirement that he increase his GPA from 3.0 to 3.25.

“I have never been one of those people who sell themselves, I guess,” Saathoff said. “I was a little hesitant to apply for the award; I figured I wouldn’t get it.”

But, buoyed by Meth’s interest in him, Saathoff worked hard and exceeded the GPA goal.

“She wants you to succeed, and she looks out for you,” he said. “It’s a nurturing relationship.”

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VCU opens rare university-based sterile compounding pharmacy

Students prepare an antibiotic to demonstrate the capabilities of the new Center for Compounding Practice and Research space.

Students prepare an antibiotic to demonstrate the capabilities of the new Center for Compounding Practice and Research space.

At the ribbon-cutting for Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy’s Center for Compounding Practice and Research, VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D., spoke to the room of faculty, staff, students and state legislators about the university’s innovative approach to education.

“We are trendsetters,” Rao said. “We have to be ahead of the change so that others who are behind us can follow.”

On Friday, VCU celebrated the opening of the sterile medication compounding facility. The academic pharmacy is one of only a handful of its kind in the country.

“Completion of this center puts us at the forefront of schools of pharmacy around the country in terms of compounding training,” said Joseph T. Dipiro, Pharm.D., dean of the VCU School of Pharmacy. “It will propel VCU to become a regional and national training center for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, industry personnel and pharmaceutical regulators.”

Pharmacy compounding is the art and science of preparing personalized medications for patients. Compounded medications are made based on a practitioner’s prescription in which individual ingredients are mixed together in the exact strength and dosage form required by the patient. At one time, nearly all prescriptions were compounded, but with the advent of mass drug manufacturing in the 1950s and ‘60s, compounding rapidly declined and most pharmacists were no longer trained on how to compound medications. Compounding has thus become a specialization and, while many pharmacy schools still teach it, it is often reduced to a few lessons.

“Specialized medications, patient-specific medications and drug shortages have led to an increase in our need to be able to compound medications,” said Barbara Exum, Pharm.D., director of the new center. “This increase has led to the need to educate our pharmacists and give them advanced training in safely compounding medication for our patients.”

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VCU names director of newly established Center for Compounding Practice and Research


Barbara Exum, Pharm.D.

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy will soon welcome Barbara Exum, Pharm.D. (B.S.’82/P; Pharm.D.’86/P), as director of the newly established Center for Compounding Practice and Research. The compounding pharmacy, which is located on the fifth floor of the Robert Blackwell Smith Building, has been in operation since early this year. A grand opening celebration is set for June 10 from 11 a.m. to noon.

“VCU is on the cutting edge as we open our state-of-the-art sterile medication compounding facility,” Exum said of the academic pharmacy that is one of only a few of its kind in the country. “Now that we have an operationally compliant cleanroom environment, we can better provide to our students hands-on training as well as education concerning the required equipment and regulatory standards governing sterile and nonsterile compounding.”

Pharmacy compounding is the art and science of preparing personalized medications for patients. Compounded medications are made based on a practitioner’s prescription in which individual ingredients are mixed together in the exact strength and dosage form required by the patient. At one time, nearly all prescriptions were compounded, but with the advent of mass drug manufacturing in the 1950s and ‘60s, compounding rapidly declined and most pharmacists were no longer trained on how to compound medications. Compounding has thus become a specialization and, while many pharmacy schools still teach it, it is often reduced to a few lessons.

“There is a great need for training in sterile pharmaceutical compounding,” said Joseph T. DiPiro, Pharm.D., dean of the VCU School of Pharmacy. “The new compounding pharmacy will propel VCU to become a regional and national training center for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, industry personnel and pharmaceutical regulators. It is a great opportunity for our school to be a national leader in this area.”

Exum brings more than 30 years of experience to the position, having most recently served as senior vice president of clinical services at BioScrip, which is a publicly traded home-infusion therapy company.

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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.