NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for June, 2016

Local ALS Association Honors Live Like Lou, Raises Money for ALS Research at Pitt’s Brain Institute

In May, the ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter presented the Anne Lewis Advocacy and Humanitarian Award to Live Like Lou, in recognition of the organization’s initiatives and commitment to patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and their families.

The award was established in 2010 to recognize exemplary work in ALS advocacy and to support critical services for patients with ALS, their families and caregivers. This year, it was accepted by Suzanne, Abby and Patrick Alexander at a reception held at The Duquesne Club in downtown Pittsburgh. The Alexanders established Live Like Lou, a donor-advised fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation, in 2011 shortly after Suzanne’s husband, Neil, was diagnosed with ALS at age 46.

The Anne Lewis Advocacy and Humanitarian Award event raised over $100,000 and represents a unique collaboration between he ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter, Live Like Lou and the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute.

The center’s efforts focus on both developing new treatments and, ultimately, a cure for ALS and improving the quality of life of people living with the progressive, degenerative neurological condition, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

“ALS is a devastating diagnosis that robs too many families of loved ones,” said Christi Kolarcik, Ph.D., a research associate at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Systems Neuroscience Institute and president of the ALS Association Western Pennsylvania Chapter. “In Pittsburgh, we have the local ALS Association, Live Like Lou and the University of Pittsburgh working together for the first time. This gives our ALS community hope and shows how committed each organization is to fighting ALS.” (more…)

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Dr. Ryan McEnaney Named 2016 Wylie Scholar


Vascular Cures and the Society of Vascular Surgery has named Ryan McEnaney, M.D., assistant professor of vascular surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, as the 2016 Wylie Scholar.

The Wylie Scholar Program, now in its 20th year, awards three-year $150,000 research grants to young vascular surgeon-scientists to pursue innovative basic or clinical research projects. It’s one of the most important grants for early-stage scientists as it launches their ability to successfully compete for National Institutes of Health and other grants. Dr. McEnaney is the 19th Wylie Scholar and the fourth from UMPC.

“Winning the Wylie Scholar award is a huge step in launching the careers of young vascular surgeon scientists,” said Michel Makaroun, M.D., chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery at Pitt. “Previous winners of this prestigious award are some of our best known and funded vascular researchers. The award provides financial support for initial early research, but more importantly intellectual support for the proposed work. The impact of the award is significant at all levels, providing the recipient with the time to establish himself as an independent researcher, and the division with more resources to support his research efforts.”

Dr. McEnaney’s research may ultimately lead to the development of medical therapies to unblock arteries for patients for whom surgical procedures are not an option. Diseases involving blocked arteries are one of the leading causes of death and disability in North America. Fortunately, arteries retain remarkable plasticity so smaller blood vessels can become larger collateral vessels to bypass blocked arteries. Dr. McEnaney aims to understand the biochemical mechanisms that signal a collateral artery to grow sufficiently to accommodate larger blood flow and substitute for the blocked artery.

“I am honored to receive this award – a major milestone in my career as a surgeon and scientist,” said Dr. McEnaney. “I am also humbled to now be listed among the distinguished group of prior recipients. It’s a tremendous accomplishment to receive the award, as well as a great responsibility to carry on its tradition of excellence. I thank the review committee for granting me this opportunity.”

The Wylie Scholar program was established in 1996 by Vascular Cures, a national nonprofit advancing innovation in health care and research for diseases outside the heart. The program is co-sponsored by the Society for Vascular Surgery.

For more information about the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, click here.

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Pitt Team Tackles Treatment-Resistant Prostate Cancer

To find new therapies for advanced, treatment-resistant prostate cancer, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have developed a high-throughput screen that examined 220,000 compounds, from which they identified several small molecules capable of inhibiting the cancer cells in cell culture and animal studies.

The new screening method and results were presented in a pair of papers published May 17 in the journal ASSAY and Drug Development Technologies and May 27 in the journal ACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters.

More than 30,000 patients each year are diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, and it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Androgen-deprivation therapy, which denies tumor cells the hormones they need to grow, is one of the primary treatments for prostate cancer, but almost all patients eventually progress to the more advanced and aggressive stage of the disease known as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).

CRPC progression is driven by the androgen receptor in cancer cells, so blocking this receptor has become a major focus of prostate cancer research, explained Zhou Wang, Ph.D., professor and director of urological research in the Department of Urology, and co-leader of the Molecular and Cellular Cancer Biology Program of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), who along with Peter Wipf, Ph.D., professor of chemistry, and co-leader of the UPCI Cancer Therapeutics Program, led the new research.

wang“Our goal is to develop novel androgen receptor antagonists for the treatment of patients for whom the current therapies aren’t working, so we can prolong their life,” said Dr. Wang.

As part of a decade-long effort to develop new treatments for CRPC by targeting the androgen receptor located specifically in the nucleus of CRPC cells, the researchers developed a novel high-throughput assay that can quickly screen a large volume of potential candidate inhibitors.

Based on the results of the screen, the team then designed, prepared and optimized several novel inhibitors identified by their ability to reduce the levels of the androgen receptor in the nucleus, and, subsequently, androgen receptor activity.

The most promising candidate, JJ-450, is being sponsored by UPMC Enterprises, and shows promise in treating prostate cancer in animals. (more…)

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UPMC Celebrates Opening of Center for Care of Infectious Disease

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held for the grand opening of the UPMC Center for Care of Infectious Disease (CCID), a new center at the Falk Medical Building. The newly-renovated center brings together many existing services, making treatment and research for infectious diseases more accessible and convenient for both patients and doctors alike.

In this center “we have a lot of power in both science and discovery and amazing contributions on the clinical side,” said Dr. Mark Gladwin, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Care of infectious diseases was previously housed in the Pittsburgh AIDS Center for Treatment (PACT) clinic, but many infectious diseases are unrelated to HIV/AIDS. The new center encompasses many other infectious disease specialties, such as Travel Health, Fecal Microbiota Transplant and Outpatient Parenteral Antimicrobial Therapy, among others. The Travel Health specialty is especially helpful to those planning trips outside the country. Those travelling to countries with health concerns such as Zika and malaria can learn about prevention and receive vaccinations at the center.


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Hillman Cancer Center Honors Four-Legged Therapy Friends

Therapy Dog Event 3

Fourteen therapy dogs gathered on the patio of the Hillman Cancer Center June 10 for the first UPMC Pet Therapy Recognition Event. The therapy dog meet-and-greet allowed staff, volunteers and patients to show their thanks to the loyal four-legged friends.

Pet therapy is proven to improve mood and reduce stress in patients who are going through difficult treatments. All 18 dogs in the pet therapy program have been through extensive training and are certified to be around crowds and small children.

Courtney Borntraeger is a volunteer who founded the pet therapy program 26 years ago. Her inspiration for the program stemmed from her sister’s battle with cancer. When Borntraeger would visit the hospital, she noticed the doctor always had a therapy dog that was able to put a smile on her sister’s face.

Borntraeger’s dog, Tillie, has been a therapy dog for 10 years.

“I once walked into a waiting room to find a woman crying in the corner,” Borntraeger said as she recalled her and Tillie’s most rewarding experience as volunteers. “Tillie ran over and jumped up, putting her paws on the wheelchair, and by the end of the patient’s time with Tillie she was laughing.”

The dogs are very happy to be therapy volunteers, Borntraeger added. Since they have been trained to be in large crowds, they do not get stressed out or overwhelmed.

Volunteer coordinator Laurin Bucki said the program wouldn’t be possible without the devotion of all the hardworking volunteers. From a Shih Tzu to a 130-pound Newfoundland, all therapy dogs are able to bring cheer to patients.

“No matter what shape or size, the dogs always put a smile on the patients face and help relieve pain,” Bucki said. (more…)

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