Around UW Medicine: News

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Research

Human heart regeneration: a major step forward

In a paper released in Nature in late April, UW Medicine researchers Charles E. Murry, M.D., Res. ’92, Ph.D., and Michael Laflamme, M.D., Ph.D., and their colleagues reported that they restored damaged heart muscle in monkeys — using heart cells created from human embryonic stem cells. This study is unprecedented. First, researchers proved that it is possible to produce enough stem cells to attempt to re-muscularize a damaged heart. Second, the study proved that the process of re-muscularization works. On average, transplanted stem cells regenerated 40 percent of the monkeys’ damaged tissue. Since the size and physiology of a monkey heart is similar to that of the human heart, these findings suggest the approach should work in people. Murry thinks the approach will be ready to test in humans within four years.

Maternal deaths on the rise in the United States

The May 2, 2014, issue of The Lancet published reports of two studies by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). One focuses on the global, regional and national causes of maternal mortality, and the other addresses mortality from the neonatal period through age 4, both for the period 1990 to 2013. This first installment in IHME’s updates to the Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study showed that the United States is among just eight countries in the world to experience an increase in maternal mortality since 2003 — joining Afghanistan and countries in Africa and Central America.

A research first: linking a gene mutation to a form of autism

UW researchers and collaborators at 13 institutions worldwide are the first to show that a gene mutation can cause a specific type of autism. The finding is a game-changer in studying this disorder, which takes numerous forms and has numerous causative factors. In a study of 6,176 children with autism spectrum disorder, researchers found that 15 had a CHD8 mutation. All had digestive problems, a larger than normal head and wide-set eyes. Raphael Bernier, Ph.D. ’07, UW associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and clinical director of the Autism Center at Seattle Children’s, is a lead author on the paper, published in Cell.

New ways to restore memory

UW researchers will play a key role in developing next-generation technologies to restore memory in patients with neurological disorders. That is the goal of a four-year initiative funded by a $22.5 million federal grant. Researchers at seven medical centers, including UW Medical Center, will study patient volunteers with epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease who receive safe levels of brain stimulation as part of their treatment. New insights on the neural activity related to memory will lead to the development of systems to electrically stimulate discrete regions of the brain. Elizabeth Buffalo, Ph.D., UW associate professor of physiology and biophysics, leads the multidisciplinary team.

Washington Research Foundation takes on major initiatives

Washington Research Foundation made a $31.2 million, six-year commitment to promising interdisciplinary initiatives at the University, including the Institute for Protein Design, a field with the potential to revolutionize medicine, energy and technology. The WRF also is supporting the creation of the Institute for Neuroengineering, which aims to help people affected by neural disorders. Other beneficiaries include an initiative in big data, which has implications for fields ranging from medicine to the humanities, and a clean energy institute.

New center to examine genital microbiome

The University of Washington, in collaboration with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, has been awarded a five-year, $14.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health for a Sexually Transmitted Infections Cooperative Research Center. A team of scientists will use sophisticated laboratory methods to study the genital microbiome and local immune response; scientists hope to devise new strategies to prevent and manage common clinical problems of major health relevance, including bacterial vaginosis, genital herpes and urethritis. Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., Fel. ’95, MPH, UW professor of medicine, is the principal investigator; Anna Wald, M.D., MPH, UW professor of medicine, co-directs the eight-member faculty team.

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Patient Care

UW Medical Center, UW Medicine take home high honors

University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) ranks No. 11 among more than 4,800 hospitals in the nation in U.S. News & World Report’s 2014–15 honor roll of the best hospitals. In addition to this high national ranking, UWMC was named the No. 1 hospital in the Seattle metro area and in the state of Washington. U.S. News & World Report rated 4,806 medical centers in 16 specialties, and UWMC stands among the top 10 in three specialties, including rehabilitation medicine (No. 4; this specialty is also located at Harborview Medical Center), cancer (No. 6), and diabetes and endocrinology (No. 10). It also was nationally ranked in another 10 specialties. Other UW Medicine hospitals ranked highly as well: Harborview is ranked No. 3 in the Seattle metropolitan region and No. 4 in Washington state; Northwest Hospital & Medical Center is ranked No. 5 in Seattle and No. 7 in the state.

Boeing enters into UW Medicine’s Accountable Care Network

Boeing has joined UW Medicine’s newly formed Accountable Care Network. The company is offering the network’s healthcare services to some employees beginning in January 2015 through a preferred partnership option. UW Medicine has been preparing for many years to serve as an accountable care organization and is committed to improving the patient experience, achieving better health for patients and reducing costs to improve the value of care. The accountable care network, which includes other regional partners, will focus on keeping people healthy — and out of the hospital — by employing evidence-based preventive measures to identify and treat underlying health problems before they become chronic conditions.

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Education

UW Medicine ranked No. 3 in the world

UW Medicine is again among the top medicine programs in this year’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, issued by the Center for World-Class Universities at Shanghai Jiao Tong University. UW Medicine was ranked No. 3 in clinical medicine in 2014, behind Harvard and the University of California, San Francisco, and ahead of Johns Hopkins University. In addition, the University of Washington was ranked No. 3 in pharmacy and No. 6 in life sciences. Overall, the UW was ranked No. 15 in the world, up from No. 16 in 2013.

The UW School of Medicine: No. 1 in the nation

In its 2015 rankings of graduate programs, U.S. News & World Report rated the UW School of Medicine the nation’s No. 1 medical school for primary care. UW Medicine has held the top primary-care ranking for 19 of the last 20 years. In addition, the school received top-10 marks in seven of the eight other program rankings: family medicine and rural medicine (No. 1 in each category, for the 23rd consecutive year), AIDS (No. 4), pediatrics (No. 5), geriatrics (No. 7), internal medicine (No. 7), and drug and alcohol abuse (tied for No. 9). Among graduate research training programs, the UW School of Medicine was third in the nation in genetics/genomics/bioinformatics and seventh in bioengineering (a joint program of the School of Medicine and the College of Engineering). In addition, the School’s faculty were again second in the nation for receipt of funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and first among all public medical schools.

On Match Day, students turn to primary care

Match Day: it’s the day where graduating medical students learn where they’ll be completing their residency training. On March 21, 222 medical students graduating this year from the UW School of Medicine matched to residencies in 32 states. Thirty-two percent of students matched into residencies in the WWAMI program, and 56 percent of students are entering primary-care specialties — far above the national average. The WWAMI program has been very successful in preparing primary-care physicians for our region.

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WWAMI

(The five-state region served by the UW School of Medicine: Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho.)

UW School of Medicine in top 10 for training family physicians

For the fourth year in a row, the UW School of Medicine is on the American Academy of Family Physicians’ list of the top 10 medical schools contributing to the pipeline of family physicians. The top 10 (out of nearly 150 allopathic medical schools) graduated the highest percentage of students who chose first-year family medicine residency positions during a consecutive three-year period. The UW School of Medicine and its WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho) program have worked for more than 40 years to develop a robust primary-care workforce — including family medicine physicians — to meet the need for care, especially in rural and underserved areas.

Preceptor named Idaho Family Physician of the Year

A family medicine physician who works with the Idaho WWAMI program was named Idaho Family Physician of the Year by the Idaho Academy of Family Physicians. Frank Batcha, Jr., M.D., Res. ’93, who practices in Hailey, was honored for contributions to his profession and to medical education and for his dedication to his community and country. Batcha, a UW clinical assistant professor, teaches UW students and residents to care for patients in rural and underserved areas.

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Notable

Geneticist receives prestigious Lasker Award

For decades, geneticist Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., has been on the front lines in the war against cancer as well as in the effort to remedy human rights violations. In September 2014, King received the 2014 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science for “bold, imaginative and diverse contributions to medical science and human rights.” Often a predictor of future recipients of the Nobel Prize, the Lasker Award is one of the most prestigious awards given to scientists. Dr. King is the sixth UW Medicine-affiliated scientist to be honored by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation. Other honorees include Robert Roeder, Ph.D. (2003), Belding H. Scribner, M.D. (2002), Bertil Hille, Ph.D. (1999), Lee H. Hartwell, Ph.D. (1998), Edwin G. Krebs, M.D. (1989), and Leroy Hood, M.D., Ph.D. (1987).

Recognizing our advocates

Toyota was honored on Sept. 18, 2014, as the recipient of UW Medicine’s Lifetime Achievement Award — a recognition bestowed for a multi-year commitment to Harborview Medical Center and its mission of caring. The award was presented at an annual event called Tomorrow Today, which celebrates the generosity of members of UW Medicine’s Turner Society. In June, we honored another esteemed advocate, Steve Fleischmann, at the Dean’s Circle Celebration. Mr. Fleischmann received the Ragen Volunteer Service Award for his commitment to the Survivors Celebration Breakfast, a fundraiser for prostate cancer research. See photos from both events.

King Holmes named to the NIH Council of Councils

King Holmes, M.D., Res. ’68, Chief Res. ’69, Ph.D., has been named to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s (NIH’s) Council of Councils. Holmes was one of nine new members joining the 27-member council, which advises the NIH director.

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