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Faculty and Staff Recognitions

The RA-PROPR study is a pragmatic clinical trial designed to address the question of what the best next choice of treatment is for a patient with active rheumatoid arthritis despite TNF inhibitor therapy, a non-TNF biologic, or a JAK inhibitor. Presently, this treatment decision is made without any evidence from a comparative effectiveness study. Patients participating in RA-PROPR are randomized to receive either a non-TNF biologic or a JAK inhibitor and are followed by their treating provider, in the context of routine clinical care, to assess response to treatment over 12 months.  

UMass Chan is one of 26 sites in this multicenter clinical trial, which is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcome Research Institute (PCORI) and coordinated by the University of Alabama Birmingham (UAB). Jonathan Kay MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, and the Timothy S. and Elaine L. Peterson Chair in Rheumatology, serves on the steering committee for this clinical trial and as site principal investigator, with Drs. Mauricio Leitao and Mohan Pahari of the DoM Research Core as its outstanding study coordinators. 

While the UMass Chan site began enrollment six months after other sites, the team has already enrolled five subjects as of March 1, 2023, is presently the fifth highest enrolling site overall, and is the second highest enrolling academic site (after UAB, which has enrolled only one more patient than UMass Chan). The UMass Chan site is poised to enroll two additional subjects, which will advance them to the position of the third highest enrolling site overall in the study. 

Read Pukkila-Worley, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology and faculty in the Program in Innate Immunity, and MD/PhD students Nicholas D. Peterson and Samantha Y. Tse, recently had a study published in Immunity, titled “Non-canonical pattern recognition of a pathogen-derived metabolite by a nuclear hormone receptor identifies virulent bacteria in C. elegans.”  

The study aims to detect microbial infection that intercepts pathogen-derived signals of growth to assess the relative threat of virulent bacteria. A nuclear hormone receptor in the nematode C. elegans senses a toxic metabolite produced by the bacterial pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa to activate innate immunity. This data reveals an ancient strategy that informs the origins of pathogen detection and may be among the most primordial forms of immune sensing in animals.  

Atrial fibrillation (AF) currently affects up to six million Americans with 12 million projected by 2050. AF is particularly prevalent in long-term care (LTC) facilities (i.e. nursing homes) ranging from 7.5% to 17%. Over 4.5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) or Alzheimer’s Disease-related dementias (ADRD). AD/ADRD co-occurs with AF 60% of the time in LTC residents. Research linking the development of AD and ADRD to AF has emerged recently, however, the impact of treatments for AF on LTC residents with co-occurring AF and AD/ADRD is not understood. Recent evidence has emerged that anticoagulation (AC), the main treatment for AF, may prevent cognitive impairment and slow further cognitive decline in individuals with existing AD/ADRD. Weighing against the benefits, however, are several burdens of AC on LTC residents including major bleeding episodes (requiring hospitalizations and procedures to control bleeding) and more frequently, nonmajor bleeding episodes which lead to trips to the emergency department. 

Alok Kapoor, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Hospital Medicine, and his team, recently received funding from the Alzheimer’s Association to investigate the benefits and burdens of AC in LTC residents with co-occurring AF and AD/ADRD. First, they will measure these benefits and burdens using merged Medicare datasets. Then, they will develop a conversation aid (CA) to promote discussions between LTC providers and residents with AF and AD/ADRD about the risks and benefits of AC. With their findings, the team hopes to foster shared AC decision-making between providers and their LTC residents with co-occurring AF and AD/ADRD. 

Jennifer Kodela, DO, a second-year Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine fellow, has developed a Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Medical Education (PCCM) track under the mentorship of Reid Evans, PhD, assistant professor of medicine and education specialist.   

The two-year, longitudinal curriculum is designed to develop skills in teaching, mentoring, and scholarship for those interested in pursuing a career as an educator in academic medicine. The curriculum consists of a short lecture series that occurs twice a year, supported by supplemental lectures offered by visiting speakers. In addition, fellows are expected to participate in authentic teaching practices, which involve standardized feedback, reflective practice, and experimental learning through committee participation and projects aimed at curriculum design. Fellows are also expected to complete a medical education portfolio by the end of the track and are encouraged to pursue scholarships throughout the two years.   

In total, five fellows are currently participating in or planning to join the track. There are six PCCM faculty members involved in the track, all of whom have completed the required trainings and are engaged in providing standardized feedback. The track offers core lectures for the residency and fellowship and is engaged in active projects directed at curriculum development and design. These projects include the revision of the VISTA curriculum respiratory block, the creation of the medical school ICU selective, and the development of the ECMO curriculum.   

In addition to her work on the PCCM track, Dr. Kodela was recently recognized for excelling in the care of a patient. The patient’s family expressed deep gratitude for Dr. Kodela, whom they said provided incredible physical care and treated their loved one with respect, compassion, and patience.  

We are grateful to Dr. Kodela for her many contributions to the Department of Medicine.  

Lara Kovell, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, is senior author on the study “Social Determinants, Blood Pressure Control, and Racial Inequities in Childbearing Age Women With Hypertension, 2001 to 2018,” which was featured in a special “Go Red for Women” issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association in late February.  

Dr. Kovell and her team aimed to understand the health inequities in maternal mortality for women from under-represented racial and ethnic groups. The focus of the study was to evaluate blood pressure control and social determinants of health in women of childbearing potential with hypertension. Dr. Kovell concluded that black women of childbearing age were more than twice as likely to have uncontrolled blood pressure than white women of similar age. In addition, food insecurity was found to be one of the common social factors that may affect high blood pressure risk. 

The liver transplant team, part of the UMass Memorial Transplant Program, was recently recognized for performing their one-thousandth liver transplant at the medical center. This milestone was featured on CBS News Boston in early February, in a story highlighting the patient who received the transplant.  

"Our patients are fortunate to have access to high-quality transplant services in Central Massachusetts from a dedicated multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurses, and support staff. The transplant team has been a model for teamwork across divisions, departments, and disciplines. While 1,000 liver transplants is a momentous milestone for our program, I am most excited to see what great things are yet to come from this group," stated Christopher Marshall, MD, clinical chief and assistant professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology. 

Savant Mehta, MD, transplant hepatologist and associate professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology, added: “The initiation of liver transplant in 1998 at UMass Memorial Healthcare was a landmark event and helped to fulfill our mission of improving the health of the people of our diverse communities of Central New England through culturally sensitive excellence in clinical care, service, teaching, and research. I was privileged to be a part of this initiative from its very early stages and I am happy to report that completing 1,000 liver transplants at UMass is a step in the direction of fulfilling this mission and we hope to continue to improve and enhance this further over the coming years.”  

We applaud the transplant program for achieving this milestone and look forward to its many continued successes. 

Gisela Banauch, MD, professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, was recently featured in a blog by the American College of Chest Physicians.

In the blog titled "Improve Your Skills at the Bedside with CHEST's Thorough Ultrasound Courses," Dr. Banauch explains the importance of Ultrasonography courses, as they "provide an important supplementary pathway to reach competence in both knowledgeable interpretation and skillful application of this new bedside technology."

Sunita Puri, MD, associate professor of medicine, program director of the Hospice and Palliative Care Medicine Fellowship, and provider in the Division of Palliative Care Medicine, was recently featured in an article by Yahoo News on former President Jimmy Carter's decision to “spend his remaining time at home and receive hospice care.”

With hospice care often being misunderstood, Dr. Puri explains common misconceptions as well as the importance of the service and its benefits to patients.

Sanjay Ram, MD, and Peter Rice, MD, both professors of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, were recently featured in a UMass Chan News article describing the risk of a novel gonorrhea strain in Massachusetts.

January 19, 2023, two cases of multidrug-non susceptible Neisseria gonorrhoeae were detected, in which five classes of the strain were resistant to six of the seven antibiotics tested. Although ceftriaxone is available to treat gonorrhea, Dr. Ram explains the importance of performing cultures on patients in order to identify and screen asymptomatic cases to treat and stop the spread of the new strain. Without proper screenings, the strain could accumulate more resistant mutations as it is passed from one person to another. Dr. Rice explains that the lack of cultures being performed in the U.S. is why the strain can mutate and continue to survive. To help combat the spread of gonorrhea, Drs. Ram and Rice encourage patients to be forthcoming with their providers about their sexual history, especially teenagers and young adults.

Laura Gibson, MD, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases and Immunology, was recently featured in a Voices of UMass Chan podcast, where she discussed her upcoming study with Moderna to investigate Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and its transmission in group childcare settings. CMV is a common virus and is often mild in healthy adults and children. However, CMV acquired before birth, known as Congenital CMV, can lead to severe infection in infants. Early studies show that the transmission of this type of disease is specifically common in group childcare and early childhood education settings, making the transmission from children to pregnant mothers easier. 

In the study titled “CMV Immune Transmission and Immune Tracking,” Dr. Gibson aims to collect saliva samples from children currently in group childcare or early education settings to examine how many children per facility are already infected with the disease. For stage two of the study, Dr. Gibson plans to enroll additional children and family members at various childcare locations in the study, with the goal of understanding the transmission of CMV in group childcare settings and how to reduce the risk factors of CMV.