Looking at Us: Alka Sharma, Epic Architect

Alka Sharma receives a PAWS Award from Dr. Scott Allen (left) and Dr. Andy Agwunobi (right) March 29, 2018, in Keller Auditorium. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health photo)

The cheers were loud when Alka Sharma was presented with a PAWS Award this spring. It’s a testament to the numerous colleagues who understand and appreciate her contributions, particularly to the transition to our new electronic health record, UConn HealthONE. Alka is an application architect in the Information Technology Department who, among other things, was instrumental to the technical dress rehearsal, or TDR—the testing of the functionality of every work station that would use HealthONE to ensure device compatibility. She lives in Southington.

Describe the HealthONE journey and your role in it?

My HealthONE journey has been fun. It has included many highs, a few lows, and more than a couple unexpected twists and turns. I have learned many valuable lessons and insights about myself, my abilities, and most importantly, my true potential.

I have been fortunate enough to work under four different chief information officers. Each of them saw some kind of potential and assigned me challenging and high-profile projects. I remember talking to Bruce Metz, our current CIO, and asking to lead “Technical Dress Rehearsal” (TDR) alongside project manager Dean Moroniti.

Alka Sharma

Favorite movie:
“The Emperor’s Club” with Kevin Kline

Favorite holiday:
Thanksgiving—John and I cook for the entire family and they enjoy each and every dish!

Favorite place to visit:

Famous person you’d most like to meet:
Michelle Obama… and I’d really love to have lunch with Dr. Andy one day.

Something about you today that your younger self would never believe:
I would play a key role in an Epic implementation for a hospital.

Bruce brought a unique perspective to my personal and professional development and his wisdom pushed me to see things about my own leadership capabilities and aptitudes that I had never seen, fully appreciated or understood in myself before.

I report directly to AVP of Strategic Projects Rob Darby, who is clearly interested in helping me grow as an employee. I continue to emulate his energy, expertise, and vision for UConn. Rob has also provided me many opportunities to grow in my role. He empowers me to make decisions in my current role and is open to new ideas. However, my thirst for learning and passion for work makes Rob’s job a bit difficult.

What is your assessment of how we’re doing with HealthONE so far?

Our go-live (April 28) was very successful. Our open ticket rate was below 20 percent after five weeks. I think we are doing great. HealthONE’s success is largely a collaborative effort from all of the HealthONE analysts, who deserve recognition as well.

What was your reaction to being honored with a PAWS award this spring?

I was overwhelmed and humbled by the nomination from [application analyst] Cori Brown. It’s a great feeling to be recognized by your peers. It was a busy month as we were preparing for go-live, yet a lot of people showed up to support my nomination, which made it even more special.

How would you describe the changes you’ve seen at UConn Health since your arrival here?

All the changes that I have witnessed in IT have been very positive, specifically the decision to move to our integrated system, HealthONE. Some folks have left but new people joined, bringing fresh outlook to technology and research, and they have made transformative changes to enhance patient care.

Personally, I love change because it gives one an opportunity to learn, unlearn old things and relearn new things.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I like to watch inspirational videos on YouTube and love ironing to de-stress.

Healthcare Doesn’t Take a Holiday

From left, Georgia Priestley, Lauren Walker, Aga Korycki, Cathy Spisak, Renee White, and Ellen Benson. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health)

When the 26-year old man arrived at our emergency department he was suffering from an excruciating headache. A brain scan found the bad news, a lesion the size of a golf ball. It was causing serious damage and needed to be removed ASAP. But the next day was July 4th – a time for parades, picnics, and fireworks.

“We have limited staffing on the holiday but we all got together and said we’re going to do it, we’re going to get it done,” says Ellen Benson, OR nurse manager. “It doesn’t matter what day of the week it is. Health problems don’t take a holiday.”

The surgery was a complex, requiring special high-tech equipment and extra hands to support changing the position of the patient during the procedure. Along with the primary surgical team, the OR also had a back-up team ready in case another emergency procedure came in that day.

Brain scan showing golf ball size lesion.

The procedure lasted from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and went off without a hitch. The patient had a great outcome and is recovering well.

“We continue to demonstrate that the OR team can step up to the plate and deliver the  best care possible, no matter what time of day or night it is,” says Benson.

Along with Benson, the team included Agnieszka Korycki, ST; Cathy Spisak, RN; Marissa Knight, RN; Dale Keckley, PA-C; Marc Paradis, MD; Marek Pilecki, APRN; Misha Frenkle; and Ketan Bulsara, MD.

Staff who worked the day before the procedure also played a vital role. “They made sure we had everything that we needed so when we came in all we had to do was execute,” explains Benson. “Lauren Walker, Renee White and Georgia Priestly set us up for success.”


Looking at Us: Peter Canning, EMS Coordinator

If you’ve had any interaction with emergency medical services or the emergency department, chances are you’ve met Peter Canning. Peter is a registered nurse, a paramedic, and the EMS coordinator for UConn John Dempsey Hospital. Last month the Connecticut Department of Public Health presented Peter with the Public Health Commissioner’s Award in recognition of his impact on pre-hospital care, his leadership, and his promotion of the EMS system. Peter joined UConn Health in 2008 and his position is part time. He lives in West Hartford with his wife and three daughters.

What is an EMS coordinator?

I provide EMS education and quality assurance. My job is to see that area ambulance services bring patients to our hospital and provide them with great care, and that as a hospital, we treat EMS as a valued partner.

Peter Canning, Paramedic, R.N., EMS Coordinator at UConn Health.

Peter Canning

Favorite musician:
Bruce Springsteen

Favorite literary work:
Homer’s The Odyssey

Favorite vacation spot:
Misquamicut, Rhode Island

Favorite delicacy:
Ackee and saltfish with breadfruit (My wife is Jamaican.)

Favorite sports team:
Boston Red Sox

What are the most challenging/rewarding aspects of your job?

Care for many of our patients begins when EMS arrives on scene of a 911 call. When someone is having a heart attack or stroke, EMS can diagnose the problem and provide us with advance alerts that speed the life-saving interventions such as cardiac catheterization and thrombectomy that UConn JDH provides. Every month in our EMS newsletter we highlight these cases where our care partnership has made a difference in our patient’s lives.

What’s something a lot of us don’t realize about EMS?

People are often unaware of the high degree of training and the advanced capabilities of paramedics. They are highly trained professionals who can administer more than 30 different emergency medications and perform skills such as endotracheal intubation, surgical airway and needle decompression. They are also skilled in crisis intervention as nearly every day they deal with people in emotional and psychiatric distress.

How has EMS/emergency medicine evolved since the start of your career?

When I began in EMS in 1989, we were known as ambulance drivers who often had to call the hospital for permission to give medicine. Today, we are valued partners who do most all of our work on standing orders.

Additionally, EMS recognizes UConn John Dempsey as a peer to the two large Hartford hospitals when it comes to our ability to treat critical medical patients. That has not always been the case prior to the expansion of our emergency department.

What was your reaction to being honored with the Public Health Commissioner’s Award?

You never do the work with the intention of winning an award, but to be recognized for almost thirty years of work to improve prehospital care in the state was gratifying. I am also a big fan of Commissioner Pino’s commitment to public health so it was special to get the award from him.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I am still a full-time paramedic in Hartford. I have published two nonfiction books and two novels about EMS. I love playing sports with my daughters and swimming competitively in US Masters meets.

Speed Networking for Grad Students and Industry

Barry Schweitzer, Elm Street Ventures, meeting with grad student Menghan Du.

By Brittany Knight, graduate student at UConn Health

You’ve heard of speed dating? Well, how about speed networking? An inaugural event was held this spring at UConn Health’s academic rotunda with positive reviews. Graduate students and post-doctoral fellows met one-on-one with industry representatives who included start-up CEOs, venture capitalists, patent agents, technology transfer professionals, and scientists.

“I loved the energy and the curiosity of the students and post-docs I met.  They all seemed excited about their science, but wanted to learn more about the business of biotech,” said Barry Schweitzer Ph.D., partner at Elm Street Ventures and entrepreneur-in-residence at UConn. “Their number one question was ‘How do I get my first job at a biotech company?’ Unfortunately, there is no easy answer – it’s really hard to get that job. Nevertheless, my advice is to network, network, network. Most often, getting a position in industry (like in academia) comes about through personal connections and recommendations. It takes time to build that network, so start now.”

Marcia Fournier, CEO of Bioarray Genetics, meeting with students.

Marcia Fournier, Ph.D., CEO of Bioarray Genetics, said, “It was refreshing talking to UConn Health graduate students and to share my experiences with them.”​

One of the students that attended said, “It was really great to have several professionals together in one room just to talk to us. I really appreciated how friendly and open they all were, and they provided some great career advice.”

In a survey conducted among the student attendees after the event, 71 percent of the respondents found the event informative and 86 percent said they are likely to recommend it to others.

“These types of events are incredibly insightful and productive for students and the business community,” said Carrie White, senior investment associate at Connecticut Innovations. “As the innovation ecosystem continues to grow in Connecticut, we look forward to seeing more of these vibrant events at UConn and at other universities around the state.”

Coordinators Cory Brunson and Robert Pijewski

Biomedical scientists and biotechnology companies have been collaborating since 2003 through the Technology Incubator Program (TIP) at UConn. The program has sponsored 96 independent start-up biotechnology companies.

Robert Pijewski, president of the Graduate Student Organization, and Cory Brunson, Ph.D., president of the UConn Health and Jackson Laboratory Post-Doctoral Association, coordinated the inaugural speed networking event. Robert and Cory received encouragement and mentorship from Vaibhav Saini, Ph.D., who is the licensing director for Life Sciences, Office of the Vice President for Research.

Spotlight on Services: Colon Cancer Prevention Program

UConn Health started its Colon Cancer Prevention Program a decade ago. Dr. Joel Levine, one of the co-founders, describes how what started as a novel approach to the disease is becoming a mainstream concept.

Dr. Joel Levine
Dr. Joel Levine is a co-founding director of the UConn Health Colon Cancer Prevention Program. (Photo by Janine Gelineau)

What makes the Colon Cancer Prevention Program successful?

The idea of prevention is what’s novel. There aren’t any other prevention programs that do what we do. If you Google “colon cancer prevention program,” we come out as the top listed patient centered resource.

Our process is very longitudinal. It’s not a one and done. We follow more than 6,000 people who return, at least annually, for both the latest information and for modulating their level of risk. Lowering risk is what we, the patient and Program, do. We are always learning how to do that more effectively. Indeed, we have not seen a colon cancer develop in someone who has been in the Program in about eight years. Put another way, if you come to us without colon cancer, we start by identifying risk and, then, follow you accordingly. If we reduce whatever risk level you have, we have not had a patient develop colon cancer on our watch.

The exceptions, so important to us, are patients who, on first visit, we find have colon cancer. Many patients are referred because of a positive FIT test (fecal immunochemical test). We introduced the quantitative FIT test to UConn Health and continue to study the test, over time, as an early marker for polyps or cancer. We work with the wonderful genetics group to identify those patients and families with inherited risk. Very few patients who have colon cancer in the family have actual inheritable risk (3 percent) but they are important to identify. These patients are followed closely, expecting them to develop colon cancer as a risk of their disease. We cannot as of yet prevent it in those inherited risk families, but we still can take steps to reduce risk by about half.

Prevention chose our program to feature in its “Guide to Preventing Disease” in its April issue. What do you see as the implications of that?

This is one of the largest magazine readerships in the world. The increasing recognition of a program dedicated to prevention is encouraging. Therefore we are at the tip of that spear and grateful to the Neag Comprehensive Cancer Center for supporting us from the outset.

We have a program whose purpose is to think about the disease. We are migrating from just doing colonoscopy, which is still important, to what do you do before and after the colonoscopy—how you define risk and  how you then modulate the risk—and that’s prevention. In recent conversations with Dr. Dorado Brooks, who leads the colon cancer division of the national American Cancer Society, we plan to forward this more broad-based and lifelong strategy to lower the frequency and mortality of this disease. The evidence is emerging and our approach that combines the latest in scientific thought to patient care is shaping how we see the problem and solution.

What’s happening on the academic side?

We are publishing and hoping to influence thought. I just co-wrote an editorial for a leading GI journal with Dr. Joseph Anderson [former UConn Health colleague, now at Dartmouth] in which we discuss a particular type of colon cancer pathway. The emphasis is on how long it takes for that pathway to go from one level of risk to another. Young people can have polyps in that pathway but do not commonly develop colon cancer; it is only when they are much older do you see the colon cancers appear, so you have a long period of time in which the disease evolves. There are even specific risks, because this pathway involves DNA methylation, a biologic process that can silence key genes. This occurs progressively as you get older but can be increased cigarette smoking, a behavior we really fuss about. Dr. Anderson’s study of smoking risk, begun here, is very well recognized and regarded.

How has the approach to mitigating colon cancer prevention evolved over the program’s 10 years?

It’s really colonoscopy-plus, with super-sensitive blood stool testing, better understanding of the colon’s microbiome, and an ever-growing knowledge of modifiable risk factors. In this regard, Dr. Ethan Bortniker, who directs new approaches in clinical research, studies how other lifestyle factors (cardiovascular health, metabolic fat in the liver) influence colon polyps and cancer. Our patients know this and are proactive participants in their own well-being. They fastidiously stick with the program.

Overall the colon cancer attack rate is still low. If you have a 5 percent attack rate in a disease, your anxiety says, “Show me I don’t have the disease.” We hope to focus more on those who are likely the 5 percent. Early prediction of biologic and then clinical risk is the name of the game. Dr. Dan Rosenberg, who is the director of our basic research, is a leading authority and invaluable to our clinical approach. We hope to be able to understand the biology of early cancer risk and keep it from becoming a clinical reality. So far, we are making progress.

Q&A Corner: Dr. Suzanne Doyon, Medical Director, Poison Control

Dr. Suzanne Doyon, medical director, Connecticut Poison Control Center (Photo by Tina Encarnacion)

National Poison Prevention Week is March 18-24. Dr. Suzanne Doyon, who joined UConn Health as the medical director of the Connecticut Poison Control Center in November, shares her expertise as a medical toxicologist.

What’s trending in toxicology?

The teenager laundry pod challenge occupied the airwaves in January. Local media helped us get the word out about this trend and the Connecticut Poison Control Center was featured in many stories. Carbon monoxide poisonings have kept us busy recently following the nor’easters and bomb cyclones.

What are the most avoidable poison hazards?

Unsecured household products and unsecured medications are still the number one avoidable poison hazard in the home. Other sources of calls are medication errors in the elderly, especially if they do not use pill dispensers. As a result, the Connecticut Poison Control Center supports child-resistant packaging and poison prevention practices and the use of pill dispensers by the elderly.

What’s most asked about on calls to the poison control center hotline?

The most common types of call remain unsupervised ingestions in children, usually involving personal care products (shampoos, creams, etc.) or household products (detergents, cleaners, etc.)

What makes the Connecticut Poison Control Center successful in its mission?

The Connecticut Poison Control Center is staffed 24/7 by nurses and pharmacists with extensive training and knowledge of poisons and poisonings. Collectively, the poison specialists have over 100 years of experience in poisonings. The person answering the phone is an expert. The hotline is a service is free to the caller.

What brought you to UConn Health?

I am a medical toxicologist interested in public health, especially opioid use disorder. My previous position was assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and prior to that I was medical director of the Maryland Poison Control Center. I missed doing poison center work. The position of medical director of the Connecticut Poison Control Center opened up and the rest is history.

The Poison Control Center Hotline is 800.222.1222, offering free and confidential information around the clock.

Keeping Things Running During Winter Weather

Even when UConn Health has an emergency closing, it’s not really closed.

Inpatient care must go on, as do some laboratory experiments, and other 24/7 operations such as public safety, housekeeping, dietary, information technology, the telephone operators, and the Connecticut Poison Control Center.

Making that possible is the work of Facilities Management and Operations, whose staff ensures those who do need to come to work (or to the hospital) can do so safely.

“They tackle their job with a real positive attitude, and they’re definitely engaged in the work that they do,” says Cliff Ashton, associate vice president of Facilities Management and Operations. “They work around the clock. They do take breaks for safety purposes, but it’s not an easy job.”

For this week’s nor’easter, that included six groundsmen operating four plow trucks and two skid steer machines, plus contractor support including six plow trucks and drivers, a bucket loader and operator, and 15 laborers shoveling around the entrances and fire exits.

“There’s a certain order of priority,” Ashton says. “When it’s snowing real hard, the focus is on keeping the roads open. We obviously want to keep access to the ambulance bays clear.”

Part of what makes the storm response effective is the preparation work that takes place in between storms.

“We check all the equipment, make repairs when needed, and we flush all the equipment after a storm because of all the salt,” Ashton says. “There’s always freezing and thawing, and our guys are out there first thing in the morning, going around all the sidewalks to put the ice melt material down.”

What can the rest of us do to help with the snow removal effort? Observe parking bans, for starters.

“When we have a parking ban, there’s not supposed to be anyone parking roadside or in uncovered areas, and that does get to be a problem,” Ashton says. “The other important thing is being attentive to their own personal safety. People should wear the right footwear to get from their car to the building to reduce the risk of falls.”

Logistics Management also has storm-preparation protocol, which includes fully stocking all hospital departments, shifting schedules to minimize staff traveling in dangerous conditions, and coordinating with different areas to determine their needs.

"We'll provide cots to the operators, the help desk, and Correctional Managed Health Care pharmacy, and reach out to the nursing supervisor to make sure we have enough cots for hospital staff," says Logistics Management Director Jeff Boyko. "For the hospital, we're always servicing every facet. The outpatient clinical areas are often closed, but the urgent care offices may stay open, and we also make sure lab medicine and the pharmacy can continue to serve all the correctional facilities."

Three skid steer machines (left) and three plow trucks are among the equipment Facilities Management and Operations crews use for snow removal. (Photo by Joe Caron)

Heroism and Good Fortune

A member of the UConn Health grounds crew is being called a hero after a close call following the March 7 nor’easter. Mark Koziol and fellow groundsman William “Toby” Berry were in a grounds truck on lower campus when they stopped to pick up a sign. With Berry still in the driver’s seat, a tree fell on the truck. Koziol, who hadn’t returned to the truck yet, realized the danger and, risking his own safety, pulled his coworker out of the truck. Thankfully, both escaped serious injury. (Photo by Joe Caron)

Progressive Approach to Campus Safety

UConn Police Chief Hans Rhynhart is the director of the UConn Division of Public Safety. (Photo provided by Hans Rhynhart)

It’s natural that campus safety, while always a priority, would be even more top of mind following a mass shooting like what took place in Parkland, Florida, last month.

Within the last two years, UConn has shifted to a progressive model, folding police, fire, emergency management, communications centers, and the fire marshal’s office into a single Division of Public Safety. The resources span all campuses, including UConn Health.

Division Director Hans Rhynhart, who is also chief of the UConn Police Department, says the key to readiness for an active threat situation on any campus is preparation and prevention.

“We’ve accomplished and standardized combined training with all division personnel, with police, fire, communications and emergency management, to understand roles and responsibilities to enhance our unified response,” Rhynhart says. “We have threat assessment teams in place which are on the leading edge of trying to prevent a tragedy from happening.”

Part of that prevention component is intelligence gathering. UConn Police have a detective assigned to an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force, which provides direct access to real-time information on a threat or activity of interest.

“There is almost no better resource than the task force that we have to call upon should we need enhanced, immediate intelligence gathering,” Rhynhart says.

Another Detective works with the U.S. Attorney’s Office on cyber crimes. Social media monitoring is also one of the tools police use to stay aware and gather intelligence. Monitoring can be done on a specific incident or event as well as through the creation of a geo fence to alert investigators to certain phrases and words being used, all with the goal of intercepting and preventing a critical incident from occurring.

Meantime, a general sense of awareness and vigilance in the community can also help with prevention.

“There exists a ‘see something, say something’ philosophy,” Rhynhart says. “If you think that there’s something ‘off’, if you think that an employee or student is acting in a way that is concerning to you, let one of the police officers assigned to your campus know as soon as you can, so we may work with our partners at the University to try to understand what is going on. Most reports we receive are not threatening in nature and do not rise to the level of a criminal violation, but the information gives us an opportunity to talk with and most of the time develop a solution or positive path for an individual. We want to assist in creating a positive and safe environment for all involved.”

An additional component to campus safety is an extensive network of surveillance cameras and blue emergency phones.

The UConn Division of Public Safety offers resources for the public to take an active role in its own safety on its Office of Emergency Management and Community Outreach Unit websites.

“Part of it is being familiar with the information that we put out,” Rhynhart says. “Accessing these websites provides a wide array of tools that will aid in not only your own personal response to hazards, but what you can expect from the University as well. There are fliers and guides, including a campaign we started called ‘Seconds for Safety.’ We break information out into different types of incidents. They’re very quick to consume, you can look at it in seconds, and understand what you should do at any specific moment to ensure a better chance of survival.”

New Developments in Stroke Research

As we near the end of heart disease and stroke awareness month, Biomedical Sciences Ph.D. candidate Brittany Knight offers some insights into the exciting developments in stroke research at UConn Health. She met with Rajkumar Verma, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center to discuss a recent conference he attended and his research studying potential therapeutic targets for protecting the brain following stroke.

To understand the exciting new discoveries in stroke research, we first need to know what stroke is and what happens to the body following stroke. Stroke is an incidental disease that affects the entire body (systemic disorder) when blood supply is prevented from reaching the brain. Lack of blood supply decreases the amount of oxygen and nutrients required to keep brain cells healthy and functioning properly. Other areas of the body beyond the brain are also affected by stroke, for instance pneumonia and urinary tract infections are the most common complications following stroke. Recently, the effect of stroke on gut microbiota axis has drawn serious attention. The microbes that inhabit your gastrointestinal system can transport toxic substances and exacerbate the inflammatory response following stroke. When a stroke occurs or if you see someone having a stroke you may notice some odd things that occur as a result of this blood/oxygen loss. These symptoms are important to know and are easily remembered by memorizing the acronym F.A.S.T. –  Facial drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulties; and Time. If you notice any of these symptoms in another person or yourself – call 911!

Rajkumar Verma Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Neuroscience, in his research lab. (Brittany Knight/UConn Health)

Within the first 5 minutes  of discontinued blood supply, brain cells start to die. This rapid cell death results in inflammation and increases the risk of additional brain damage in surrounding regions. Damage increases progressively in the absence of reestablished blood flow or drug treatment. Currently, tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) and thrombectomy, the removal of a blood clot, are the only FDA-approved available treatment for stroke. TPA treatment works by breaking down blood clots and is beneficial if administered within a narrow 4-5 hours following a stroke, similar to thrombectomy. This time frame emphasizes the importance of T in the F.A.S.T. acronym. However, sometimes individuals that have a stroke do not seek immediate medical attention and wait until the following day to see their physician or go to the emergency room. This unfortunately can result in more brain damage and impede the recovery process.

However, exciting new developments in the field of stroke research show new promise for individuals who do not receive immediate treatment. This January, Dr. Verma attended the world’s largest conference for cerebrovascular disease: the 2018 International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles. More than 4,500 individuals in the field of stroke and some 1,500 presentations were given on the pathophysiology and potential treatments for cerebrovascular diseases, including stroke. Attendees consisted of researchers, clinicians, nurses, and therapists as well as other professionals from around the world. During the International Stroke Conference, it was revealed that the time that thrombectomy is beneficial is now extended to 16-24 hours following a stroke in an eligible patient. Time is still important, but this means surgical intervention can be administered later thus, more people can receive medical attention.

In the clinic, doctors seek to reach several goals: increase the amount of oxygen and nutrients to the brain to preserve tissue that may become damaged during the inflammatory process as well as rehabilitate patients post-stroke to improve and maintain both physical and mental health. The conference also discussed that starting rehabilitation more than 2 months and even as late as 6 months following a stroke can still provide benefit to the recovery process. In other words, if you or someone you know suffered from a stroke in the last 6 months and has not been physically active, the benefits of starting physical therapy are still warranted.

The National Institute of Health funds a variety of research aimed at providing more effective therapies for stroke. One method thought to help decrease the amount of damage that occurs following stroke, during the inflammatory process, is by decreasing core body temperature. Researchers have shown that during hibernation, reptiles (as well as other animals) can decrease their core body temperature which slows cellular metabolism. Essentially, this method slows down the speed of reactions inside the body to protect the brain from additional damage post-stroke.

Similarly, Dr. Verma is interested in finding a candidate target that can be pharmacologically inhibited following stroke to decrease brain damage. Excessive ATP release, which occurs during mass cell death or when oxygen is cut off from part of the brain, can increase the activity of brain cells and the release of inflammatory mediators causing further damage. He has found a candidate, called P2X purinoceptor 4 (P2X4). P2X4 binds ATP which is released by stressed or dying cells and leads to the inflammatory process. This vicious cycle of cell death and inflammation can cause significant detriments to physical and mental function if untreated. By targeting P2X4, Dr. Verma hopes to disrupt this pathway and potentially improve outcomes following stroke.

Brent Graveley Named Chair of Genetics and Genome Sciences

Professor Brenton R. Graveley, Ph.D., is the new chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences in the UConn School of Medicine. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health Photo)

I am pleased to announce that Professor Brenton R. Graveley, Ph.D., has accepted the position of chair of the Department of Genetics and Genome Sciences, in the School of Medicine. Brent will begin in his new leadership position effective February 2, 2018.

Since the inception of his School of Medicine faculty appointment in 1999, Brent has enjoyed a distinguished career. He is the current associate director of the Institute for Systems Genomics, director of the UConn Stem Cell Institute, and John and Donna Krenicki Professor in Genomics and Personalized Healthcare. He has attained national and international recognition for his work on RNA biology, a notable example of which is his accomplishment in developing a comprehensive map of functional human protein-RNA interactions. Among a number of other scientific achievements, Brent has authored over 100 research articles, 16 of which have appeared in Cell, Science or Nature. As a further recognition, he is also a member of the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) National Advisory Council for Human Genome Research. This has enabled Brent to have a keen insight into and steer the genomic funding priorities of the NIH. Brent has been funded by multiple NIH R01, R21, U54, U41 and R35 grants, representing both individual and large multi-investigator, multidisciplinary consortium projects. In fact, he has just received a large project grant from NIH titled, “A Comprehensive Functional Map of Human Protein-RNA Interactions” with a total cost of about $10M.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere thanks to the entire search committee for its excellent work during the search and selection process. Led by its chair Dr. George Kuchel, the committee included Drs. Stormy Chamberlain, Rachel O’Neill, Travis Hinson, Kimberly Dodge, Christopher Heinen and Andrew Winokur.

Please join me in extending an enthusiastic welcome to Brent as he assumes his new role in the School of Medicine.

Bruce T. Liang, MD, FACC
Dean, School of Medicine