Author: Christine Kaminski

Memory Loss: What’s Normal and What’s Not

We all on occasion forget where we put our car keys or the name of a person we recently met. But as we age, we begin to wonder if these lapses in memory are normal “forgetfulness” or signs of a memory disorder.

UConn Health’s Discovery Series program will explore memory loss in depth on Tuesday, November 10, at 7 p.m.  and provide information about:

  • The differences between normal forgetfulness and more serious memory problems
  • Diagnosis, treatment and prognosis
  • Caring for someone with a memory disorder

If you think you are having memory problems, or people close to you express concern about your memory, contact your physician. At UConn Heath, The James E.C. Walker, M.D., Memory Assessment Program provides a full range of services for patients who are concerned about memory related difficulties and for those who have already been diagnosed with a memory disorder.

According to the National Institute on Aging there are ways to keep your memory sharp:

  • Plan tasks, make “to do” lists, and use memory aids like notes and calendars.
  • Develop interests or hobbies and stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Engage in physical activity and exercise.
  • Limit alcohol use.
  • Find activities, such as exercise or a hobby, to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression.

The Discovery Series is free and open to the public. To register, call 800-535-6232 or visit The program is held in the Main Building, Keller Auditorium, 263 Farmington Avenue, Farmington. For directions, visit

New England Sickle Cell Institute News

Dr. Biree Andemariam
Dr. Biree Andemariam

UConn Health’s Dr. Biree Andemariam Honored as Outstanding Role Model

Dr. Biree Andemariam, director of UConn Health’s New England Sickle Cell Institute was honored at the 100 Women of Color Gala recently held in Hartford. The 100 Women of Color award recognizes women who are leaders in their community and are a positive role model for young women. A portion of the proceeds from this annual event supports scholarships for young women who graduate from high school and plan on attending college, leadership and mentorship programs.


New England Sickle Cell Institute Nurses Present at National Meeting

Photo of Nayre Greene, RN, BSN (J. Gelineau/UConn Health
Nayre Greene, RN, BSN

Nayre Greene, RN, BSN, and Elizabeth Brookshire, MSN, BSN, RN, recently represented UConn Health’s New England Sickle Cell Institute at the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America, Inc.’s 43rd Anniversary Convention in Maryland. Greene, NESCI nurse coordinator, was the moderator for the meeting’s nursing symposium that highlighted five peer-reviewed oral abstracts presented by leaders in sickle cell disease nursing care and research from around the country. Greene’s talk highlighted multidisciplinary efforts at UConn Health in coordinating safe maternal-fetal outcomes among pregnant women living with sickle cell disease.

Elizabeth Brookshire, MSN, BSN, RN (Janine. Gelineau/UConn Health)
Elizabeth Brookshire, MSN, BSN, RN

Brookshire delivered a powerful talk titled, “The Nurse’s Role in Caring for the Patient with Sickle Cell Disease: Utilizing Katherine Kolcaba’s Theory of Comfort as a Guide.” Brookshire is the assistant nurse manager of John Dempsey Hospital’s oncology unit.

“NESCI is proud of the role that UConn Health nurses play on a daily basis in providing evidence-based and compassionate care to our patients living with sickle cell disease,” says NESCI director Dr. Biree Andemariam, “and now this work is known across the country.”


UConn Health Marks Opening of Canton Medical Facility

  • Dr. Frank Lasala, medical director of UConn Health's Urgent Care Centers in Canton and Storrs; and Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine and director of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center, speaking to a guest at the Canton medical facility ribbon-cutting celebration. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)
UConn Health held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new medical facility and Urgent Care Center at 117 Albany Turnpike in Canton on Tuesday.

“Our mission at UConn is to take care of the citizens of the state of Connecticut and we are very proud and happy to be here,” said Dr. Denis Lafreniere, medical director of outpatient services and associate dean for clinical affairs. “This expands access to quality health care for the citizens of Canton and the surrounding towns,” added Lafreniere.

Patients from over 100 towns and communities have been seen at UConn Health Canton since it opened in the spring, with the majority of patients coming from Canton, Avon, New Hartford, Simsbury, Torrington and Winsted. Located at the corner of Lawton Road and Route 44, the two-story building consists of 17,000 sq. ft. and 27 employees. Services offered at the Canton location include internal medicine, primary care, cardiology, dermatology, MOHs surgery, a blood draw station, and X-ray services.

The Urgent Care Center, open seven days a week, is staffed by certified advanced practitioners and board-certified emergency medicine or family practice physicians that can treat a range of health issues that are not life threatening, but need prompt attention.

Several lawmakers attended the ceremony including Canton First Selectman Richard Barlow who said the new facility is a welcome addition to the town of Canton and “provides valuable services that the town desperately needs.”

State Sen. Kevin Witkos (R-Canton), also welcomed the new UConn Health facility located at the gateway to northwest Connecticut. “UConn has been such a great partner in everything we do at the state level, from the facility up at Storrs, to the John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington, and now the facility here in Canton,” said Witkos.

“It’s quite appropriate as we open this facility to remember other residents on this spot who engaged in the same practice,” said State Rep. Tim LeGeyt (R-Avon, Canton) who also attended the ceremony. UConn Health’s new facility is located where a house once stood that was built in 1796 by a well-regarded Revolutionary War physician and surgeon Dr. Solomon Everest. Everest provided health care to the community for almost 30 years.

UConn Health has a 15-year lease with a private development company, Sard Realty, LLC in Avon.

Raising Sickle Cell Disease Awareness

The Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Hartford and New England Sickle Cell Institute faculty and staff pose for a photo at the First Annual Ride for Sickle Cell Research. (Wanita Thorpe/UConn Health)

Sickle cell disease (SCD) is an inherited blood disorder that can cause severe pain and permanent damage to the brain, heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, bones and spleen. SCD is most common in Africans and African-Americans, however, it is also found in other ethnic and racial groups, including people from South and Central America, the Caribbean, Mediterranean countries, and India.

Individuals who have SCD need multidisciplinary care throughout their lives to treat and prevent complications from the disease and manage their pain. Most institutions provide only pediatric sickle cell treatment. At UConn Health, Dr. Biree Andemariam, assistant professor of medicine, is among a small number of physician-scientists nationally who specialize in caring for adults living with SCD. She leads the only comprehensive adult sickle cell program in northern Connecticut. The team-based approach includes a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, social workers, and community-based patient navigators working together.

Mary Samson in infusion room #0037
The New England Sickle Cell Institute welcomes its newest staff member, nurse practitioner Mary Samson. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

The New England Sickle Cell Institute (NESCI) attracts patients and families from across Connecticut and beyond. NESCI is also home to basic, translational, and clinical research aimed at elucidating basic mechanisms of the disease and developing novel therapeutic options for this orphan disease. NESCI’s success rests in its unique, heartfelt dedication of it’s staff: nurse coordinator Nayre Greene, social worker Teresa Works, infusion nurse Ruby Faye Noviasky, medical assistant Iris Reyes, clinical research assistant Sasia Jones, in addition to its newest member, nurse practitioner Mary Samson.

“The New England Sickle Cell Institute provides a full range of comprehensive care that focuses on prevention as well as acute care,” says Andemariam. “We are the only site in the region to offer erythrocytapheresis, a procedure commonly used to remove red blood cells in patients experiencing sickle cell crisis,” added Andemariam. “The support of the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center, John Dempsey Hospital and UConn School of Medicine has been instrumental in our ability to provide desperately needed care for a long-neglected subset of our community. This is evidenced by newly designated space to provide dedicated acute and chronic disease management. With this support, the future of adults living with sickle cell disease is bright.”

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 860-679-2100.

UConn Health Celebrates Opening of East Hartford Office

Ribbon Cutting East Htfd UConn Partners JGelineau #188
Dr. Denis Lafreniere, along with local lawmakers and UConn Health faculty and staff, cutting the ribbon at the opening celebration. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

UConn Health held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of its new medical office suite at 800 Connecticut Boulevard in East Hartford on Thursday.

“The relocation of our offices will expand access to quality health care for the citizens of East Hartford and the surrounding towns,” said Dr. Denis Lafreniere, medical director of outpatient services and associate dean for clinical affairs. “UConn Health is proud to offer world-class health care to the East Hartford community.”

Formerly located at 99 Ash Street, the new office opened earlier this year and consists of approximately 12,000 square feet and employs 29 full- and part-time employees. Services offered at the new location include primary care, cardiology, nephrology, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, rheumatology, diabetes education, and a blood draw station.

Ribbon Cutting East Htfd UConn Partners JGelineau #160
East Hartford faculty and staff attend ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health)

Several local lawmakers attended the ceremony including East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc who said she is pleased UConn Health remained in the city. State Representative Henry Genga also thanked UConn Health for “providing much needed medical services to the East Hartford community.”

Clean Eating and Whole Foods

shutterstock_299783225Clean eating and whole foods are buzzwords that you frequently hear about in the media or talked about in the gym. However, do you really know what the concept means? Is clean eating a passing trend or is it a healthy, sound approach to eating?

“Clean eating is not a diet or a fad,” says Lifestyle Medicine expert Brad Biskup. “It’s a lifestyle approach to eating food in its most natural state,” adds Biskup. Clean eating has been around for some time particularly among fitness, nutrition, and health conscious individuals who have been “eating clean” for years.

Biskup will present a free program about clean eating and whole foods on Wednesday, September 16, at 7 p.m. in UConn Health’s Keller Auditorium where he will discuss the principles of clean eating as well as:

  • How whole foods and eating clean are beneficial to your health
  • Reasons to avoid processed foods
  • How to incorporate a clean eating plan into your diet

The program is free and open to the public. Registration is required by calling 860.679.7692. The Keller Auditorium is located in UConn Health’s Main Building in Farmington. For directions, visit

UConn Health’s Lifestyle Medicine Program offers individuals a way to be proactive in treating and managing various health conditions, such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes by simply changing or modifying their daily habits. The program is very personalized. An individual’s specific risk factors, behaviors, and limitations are evaluated, and a lifestyle plan is developed.

Ceremony Marks Academic Building Addition and Renovation Project

A groundbreaking ceremony on Monday marked an educational milestone for the UConn School of MedicineUConn School of Dental Medicine, and the UConn Graduate School. The Academic Building Addition and Renovation Project will consist of a nearly 18,000-square-foot addition and several smaller renovations to UConn Health’s existing Academic and L Buildings located in Farmington.

The ceremony coincided with the start of the academic careers of 98 medical and 42 dental students who will benefit from the project.

“Today we mark an inspirational milestone in the history of UConn Health with the creation of a new academic addition for all of our schools. Welcome to our future,” said Dr. Suzanne Rose, senior associate dean for education for the UConn School of Medicine. “What will take place in this building in the years to come will impact the patients and lives of our communities in Connecticut and beyond for decades to come, and in immeasurable ways as young women and men learn to become scientists, dentists, and physicians,” added Rose.

Dr. Steven Lepowsky, Chad Floyd, Dr. Suzanne Rose, Dr. R. Lamont MacNeil, Dr. Bruce Liang, Francis Archambault, Dr. Barbara Kream, and Dr. David Gregorio. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health Photo)

The Academic Building Addition and Renovation Project is a component of Bioscience Connecticut that was championed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and approved by the Connecticut General Assembly in 2011. “Our sincere gratitude to the governor for his vision and effort for Bioscience Connecticut which this is a part of,” said Dr. Bruce Liang, dean of the UConn School of Medicine. In addition to various building projects, Bioscience Connecticut calls for a 30 percent increase in the UConn Schools of Medicine and Dental Medicine class sizes.

Dr. Steven Lepowsky, senior associate dean for the UConn School of Dental Medicine, concluded the ceremony by addressing the new medical and dental school students who attended the event by saying, “This project is all about you. This is all about ensuring that we provide our students with state-of-the-art facilities to get the best possible education.”

Research Spotlight: Improving Communication in STEM Training

By: Jessice McBride

An interdisciplinary group of UConn researchers has collaborated on an innovative graduate training program to achieve an important and ambitious goal: teach science and engineering students to successfully communicate technical concepts to diverse audiences.

Margaret Rubega and Robert Capers from UConn’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and Robert Wyss from the Department of Journalism, recognize that for scientists in all disciplines, the ability to effectively convey the importance of their research to non-scientists is critical to the success of research projects. That is why they developed a novel science communication program to prepare scientists to talk about their work and a way to measure their success.

“Effective communication in STEM is incredibly important for many reasons,” said Rubega. “Whether a scientist is trying to explain technical findings to a policymaker to enact change at the governmental level, to describe a technology’s potential to commercial partners to spur economic development, or just help a kindergartener understand a scientific concept—a STEM practitioner who can clearly transmit complicated, technical concepts to any audience is a valuable asset to her discipline and to society.”

The program, which has already seen successes in the classroom, pairs graduate students from STEM fields and journalism to increase verbal communication skills through interviewing. It also teaches the STEM students written and multimedia communication skills that can be applied to traditional, digital, and social media. Innovative assessment tools have been developed to allow researchers to validate that the program successfully increases both the activity and quality of communication amongst STEM graduate students.

“Science isn’t just about designing experiments and collecting data,” said Jessie Rack, a PhD candidate in EEB who took the course last year. “You need to be able to explain what you did and why, why you need money to do more or why the public should care. Unfortunately, scientific training doesn’t often include courses on communication, so this type of training is hugely useful and necessary.”

Rack is currently in Washington, D.C. for the summer where she is interning at the National Public Radio Science Desk, thanks to an AAAS Mass Media Fellowship. She credits the science communications course with preparing her for this opportunity

The National Science Foundation has provided substantial funding to continue to grow the program over the next three years in the form of a $500K Research Traineeship Award. The highly competitive program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training.

“For years, we have felt there was a need to do more to help students, both in journalism and the STEM fields, better communicate complex issues to the public,” said program collaborator Robert Wyss. “This NSF grant gives us that opportunity, and we are both grateful and excited by the opportunity.”

Both the NSF and the UConn researchers expect that this program will enrich, improve, and extend the knowledge base in STEM graduate student training, and are confident that it will serve as a model for universities nationwide.

UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research applauds the researchers for their innovative project. The development of improved communication skills in STEM graduate education will ultimately produce a more informed citizenry, expanding public engagement and fostering greater understanding of some of the world’s most pressing scientific concerns.

For more research news and information, visit UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research.

Research Spotlight: Rodriguez-Oquendo Advancing Precision Medicine

Dr. Annabelle Rodriguez-Oquendo
Annabelle Rodriguez-Oquendo is a visiting associate professor of cell biology and recipient of the Linda and David Roth Chair in Cardiovascular Research, is performing groundbreaking studies of a genetic link between healthy HDL cholesterol, heart disease, and infertility in women. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Center Photo)

By: Jessica McBride

Dr. Annabelle Rodriguez-Oquendo, professor of cell biology and the Linda and David Roth Chair of Cardiovascular Research, has made important advances in her research since her arrival at UConn Health two years ago, in support of the University’s mission to further scientific understanding of human disease and develop precision medicine for better patient care.

Rodriguez-Oquendo, an endocrinology specialist, came to the University of Connecticut from Johns Hopkins in September of 2012 because of the commitment by both the State of Connecticut and UConn to the biosciences and genetic research, the opportunity to collaborate with world-class scientists at UConn and The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, and UConn Health’s large and successful fertility clinic.

Since arriving at UConn Health, Rodriguez-Oquendo has received attention for important discoveries regarding a study she led, which was published in the May 20 issue of PLOS ONE. This study, in which Rodriguez-Oquendo and her team charted the genotypes of participants and tracked episodes of heart disease over a period of seven years, concluded that a common mutation in a gene (SCARB1) that regulates cholesterol levels may raise the risk of heart disease in carriers. Now that UConn researchers know the connection between the mutation in SCARB1 and heart disease, their work will focus on determining a way to fix it.

Rodriguez-Oquendo has also brought her experience and expertise in technology commercialization to UConn Health, with the move of her startup, Lipid Genomics, into the UConn Technology Incubation Program (TIP) in June 2015. Lipid Genomics is developing its FDA-approved investigational drug targeted at people with variations in the HDL (“good cholesterol”) SCARB1 gene. More than 117 million people in the US could benefit from this drug. The market value for this therapeutic is $2.8 billion and for the company’s second product, a novel immune checkpoint inhibitor known as lymphocyte activation gene-3 (LAG-3), the market value is $1.4 billion, totaling a potential $4.2 billion addressable market for Lipid Genomics.

Most recently, Rodriguez-Oquendo has edited an important, comprehensive textbook on precision medicine: Translational Cardiometabolic Genomic Medicine. Currently available for pre-order with anticipated release in October 2015, this work is an important resource to postgraduate (medical, dental, and graduate) students, postdoctoral fellows, basic scientists, and physician scientists seeking to understand and expand their knowledge base in the field of genomic medicine as it is applied to cardiometabolic diseases. It encompasses a range of topics that highlight bioinformatic approaches to better understanding functionality of the noncoding regions of the human genome to the use of molecular diagnostic testing in predicting increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. Where applicable, the text also includes chapters related to therapeutic options specifically aligned to molecular targets.

UConn’s Office of the Vice President for Research commends Rodriguez-Oquendo on these recent accomplishments, all of which work to further advance Connecticut and UConn’s commitment to the biosciences, genetic research, and precision medicine.

Read more about Rodriguez-Oquendo’s research in UConn Today. Information about Rodriguez-Oquendo’s textbook is available at the Elsevier Store.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal Visits UConn Health

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal speaking to Anne Diamond Chief Executive Officer, John Dempsey Hospital, and Dr. Pramod Srivastava during his recent visit to UConn Health.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal speaking to Anne Diamond,
Chief Executive Officer, John Dempsey Hospital, and Dr. Pramod Srivastava during his recent visit to UConn Health. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health photo)

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal recently met with UConn Health officials to discuss the important role data registries will play in the future of health care in Connecticut and across the country. All health care stakeholders, organizations, providers, insurers, and patients, have questions related to the medical care they are receiving or providing. The answers to these questions should be accessible in registries providing patients the data they need to make informed health care decisions and allowing health care organizations to report and benchmark their quality measures against other providers.

“Beyond participation in national data registries, it will be the changes in clinical practice, based on the rigorous data analysis that will define meaningful improvements in health care delivery. The commitment to total outcome transparency will be anxiety provoking at first but, in the end, it will be the ‘quality tide’ that raises all boats: improved patient outcomes, optimal practitioner performance, and value-added, highest quality care that third party payers will demand,” says Dr. Stephen Lahey, chief of cardiothoracic surgery, and vice chair of quality improvement at UConn Health.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal with L to R: Dr. Pramod Srivastava, Blumenthal, Anne Diamond, and Dr. Stephen Laheh
Dr. Pramod Srivastava with U.S. Sen. Blumenthal, Anne Diamond, and Dr. Stephen Lahey. (Janine Gelineau/UConn Health photo)

During his visit, Blumenthal also toured the research lab of Dr. Pramod Srivastava, professor of immunology and medicine and director of the Carole and Ray Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center. Blumenthal learned about Srivastava’s recently approved FDA genomics-driven clinical study for patients with advanced stage ovarian cancer, in which personalized cancer vaccines will be developed for each patient.