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Study details how Zika damages fetal brain

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team studying the Zika virus has documented how it affects fetal brain development. The team, led by UW Medicine researchers Kristina Adams Waldorf, M.D., Res. ’02 (OB/GYN), Michael Gale, Jr., Ph.D., and Lakshmi Rajagopal, Ph.D., used primate models to show how the virus crossed from the mother through the placenta and into the fetal brain. Once there, the virus stopped the growth of white matter, important to coordinating communication among different parts of the brain. The results of the study, published in September 2016 in Nature Medicine, could bring the team closer to developing a therapy or vaccine that can neutralize the virus and prevent fetal brain injury.


Brain treatment lowers blood sugar in diabetic rodents

UW Medicine researchers demonstrated that a single injection of fibroblast growth factor 1 delivered into the brains of diabetic mice and rats can normalize blood sugar levels. Michael Schwartz, M.D., Res. ’86 (internal medicine), UW professor of medicine in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition and the Robert H. Williams Chair in Medicine, led the multi-institutional study, which was published in Nature Medicine. The treatment successfully lowered blood sugar levels for at least four months in rodents with mild forms of diabetes, and it did not lower blood sugar levels in those without diabetes. This research contributes to evidence that the brain strongly influences signals throughout the body that control blood glucose levels, and it opens up possibilities for new therapeutic targets.

Teen drinking alters dopamine signaling and leads to risky behavior

Led by Jeremy Clark, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, UW Medicine researchers discovered that adolescent drinking alters dopamine, a chemical neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and motivational centers, which leads to long-term impaired decision-making. Rats exposed to alcohol during adolescence were consistently more inclined to take the high-risk, high-reward option as adults. Researchers also demonstrated that these changes in brain chemistry can be reversed using a receptor inhibitor to normalize dopamine signaling and restore normal circuit function. Results were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.


Repeat stretches of DNA tied to cancer progression and survival

Short, unstable stretches of DNA, called microsatellites, may play a significant role in the development of cancer. Stephen Salipante, Ph.D. ’09 (genome sciences), M.D. ’11, Res. ’14 (pathology), UW assistant professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and lead author of this study, collaborated with scientists from across departments to analyze gene sequences from 18 different kinds of cancer. Microsatellites are made up of repetitive sequences of DNA and are prone to mutations. Depending on the location of these mutations, researchers think they could be causing malfunctions in genes responsible for the development and progression of cancer. This research, published in Nature Medicine, also has the potential to uncover new cancer genes.

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Patient Care

UW Medicine receives high hospital rankings

UW Medical Center earned U.S. News & World Report’s No. 1 ranking for care in Washington state and in the Seattle metro area in summer 2016. It is the fifth consecutive year that UW Medical Center has achieved that dual distinction. The news magazine published its 2016–2017 national, state and local rankings of “Best Hospitals” across the United States, part of its evaluation of nearly 5,000 facilities. UW Medical Center received top-20 national rankings in four specialties: rehabilitation medicine (No. 4; the program is jointly located at Harborview Medical Center); cancer (No. 7, provided jointly with Seattle Cancer Care Alliance); ear, nose and throat (No. 16); and geriatrics (No. 20). All of UW Medicine’s hospitals — UW Medical Center, Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center and Valley Medical Center — were also recognized as high-performing in one or more areas.


The region’s first adult intestine transplant

Jorge Reyes, M.D., UW professor of surgery and the Roger K. Giesecke Distinguished Chair in Transplant Surgery (pictured), and a team at UW Medical Center became the first in the Pacific Northwest to transplant an intestine into an adult patient. Twenty-six-year-old Savanah Oberts suffered from a congenital condition that caused part of her bowel to twist and lose its blood supply. To save her life, a portion of her bowel was removed, but that surgery brought new challenges. For five years, while she waited for a transplant, Oberts could not eat, and the intravenous nourishment she received led to liver failure. In August 2016, she received a donor intestine and liver. Although Oberts was the first adult in the region to receive an intestinal transplant, seven others, all children 10 or younger, have undergone the procedure. Reyes was their surgeon.

Giving primary-care clinics a technological upgrade

Healthcare innovation has typically concentrated on blockbuster drugs or powerful new equipment — not on how to improve the delivery of primary care. Yet primary-care clinics play an enormous role in healthcare. The UW Primary Care Innovations Lab was launched last year to bring leading-edge technology into the primary-care setting. By fostering collaboration between practitioners and entrepreneurs, the lab can figure out what doctors want and what will make a difference in providing patient care. The lab draws upon researchers and clinicians from more than 50 clinics across the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) region’s Practice and Research Network.

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Two hundred students graduate and become physicians

On May 27, 2016, 200 students received an M.D. from the UW School of Medicine. Among the graduates, 129 are from Washington state, 17 from Wyoming, 19 from Alaska, 20 from Montana and 17 from Idaho. The 2016 graduating class chose Doug Paauw, M.D., Res. ’88, Chief Res. ’89 (internal medicine), MACP, UW professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and the Rathmann Family Foundation Endowed Chair in Patient-centered Clinical Education, to be the speaker. Paauw, a highly regarded educator, reminded graduates, “The most important education you have received, though, is how you think, how you organize information, with both your brain and your heart — how you will care, truly care — about your patients.”

“Out-of-body” training boosts heart surgery residents’ skills

Watching and assisting with patient procedures has been the standard method for teaching surgical residents. However, the results of a study published in The Annals of Thoracic Surgery indicate that simulation may be a better way to teach surgical skills. UW Medicine cardiothoracic surgeon Nahush Mokadam, M.D., Res. ’07 (cardiothoracic surgery), the holder of the Lester and Connie LeRoss Endowed Professorship in Cardiovascular Surgery (pictured), and his peers at seven U.S. academic medical centers developed a simulation curriculum and evaluated its benefits to surgical residents. The study involved a rigorous 39-session course with training modules for three common cardiothoracic surgeries and three adverse events. The results of the study indicate the simulation course not only improved trainees’ technical proficiency but also their decision-making and communications skills. Ultimately, the goal of simulation is enhanced patient safety. Mokadam is a core faculty member at WISH (the WWAMI Institute for Simulation in Healthcare at UW Medicine), a national leader in using simulation to improve the quality of healthcare education, patient safety and outcomes.

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

Service-minded student wins national family medicine honor

Brianne Huffstetler Rowan, MPH (center-back in photo), a fourth-year student at the UW School of Medicine and a recent graduate of the UW School of Public Health, is one of five U.S. recipients of a scholarship to pursue the specialty of family medicine. The Pisacano Leadership Foundation chose scholars based on their demonstrated leadership, superior academic achievement, communication skills and record of community service. Rowan, who has a long history of service, credits her parents for instilling in her the value of giving back to the community and UW Medicine faculty and the UW School of Medicine’s WWAMI program for granting her the opportunity to learn and practice medicine in rural areas.

Record number of UW medical students enroll in Idaho and Spokane, Wash.

This academic year, the UW School of Medicine and the University of Idaho welcomed the largest-ever entering class of medical students. Forty first-year UW School of Medicine students, including six Targeted Rural Underserved Track (TRUST) students, have begun their medical training on the University of Idaho campus. “Growing our medical program to provide more Idaho students with access to a top-ranked medical education is a priority for our university, one that addresses a critical need for physicians in our state,” says Chuck Staben, University of Idaho president. Additionally, the UW School of Medicine and Gonzaga University also welcomed the largest-ever entering class of medical students in Spokane, Wash., totaling 60 people.

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