Emory Woodruff Health Sciences Center


May 18, 2011
filoviruses . brad_baird . graduation-108 . eye . david_sencer108
Funds for filovirus vaccines New vision for optical center Graduation across the health sciences Patent for drug-delivery tool In brief

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Mining data to improve care


When John Sweeney, director of clinical quality and safety in the Department of Surgery, discovered that Emory Healthcare was above the median in general surgery readmissions, he set out to find out why. He discovered that 20% of the surgical procedures were responsible for 80% of readmissions.

  John Sweeney
  Kimberly Rask
  Fred Sanfilippo

He and his colleagues studied data collected over time to analyze how discharge decisions were made. This led them ultimately to alter criteria for discharge in underperforming areas and in turn focus on changing the departmental culture in both patient care and education to improve quality and outcomes. Each surgical specialty has a quality leader, and collected data is available for many faculty research projects.

"When Chris Larsen became chair two years ago, his goal was to make Emory Healthcare the best place in the country for surgical care, from the standpoint of patients, providers, and insurers," says Sweeney. "We work with the University Health System consortium and the American College of Surgeons National Surgical Quality Improvement Program on gathering data and conducting health services research to measure quality."

Using data to study health care effectiveness has been the focus of Kimberly Rask's work for more than 20 years. She and her 15 colleagues in health policy and management in the Rollins School of Public Health use health services research to measure quality, economics, and health outcomes in chronic diseases, obesity, mental health, and cancer.

Rask and Sweeney presented their work at a recent Health Services Research Town Hall sponsored by the Atlanta Clinical and Translational Science Institute and led by David Stephens, WHSC VP for research. The way health care is provided and the myriad details of access, cost, outcomes, and safety have been studied since at least the early 1960s. But the bigger field of health services research and its companion—comparative effectiveness research—have never occupied more of the limelight in academic medicine, says Stephens, who is organizing WHSC efforts in this field. Funding for health services research is an increasing priority at the NIH and other federal agencies, particularly as health care reform aims to tie funding more directly to outcomes.

Also debuting at the town hall was the new Health Innovation Program (HIP) led by Fred Sanfilippo. The recently launched HIP website http://hip.emory.edu marks the first time that information about the spectrum of health services research at Emory and its academic partners has been aggregated in one place.

"We didn't realize how much activity was already under way," says Sanfilippo. "We discovered some 200 faculty involved throughout Emory University, Georgia Tech, Morehouse School of Medicine, and our affiliated hospitals.”  More than 100 sponsored research projects have been identified and listed by investigators, funding sources, and topics. HIP is a combination of virtual and real interactive networks to facilitate research, educational, and service programs in health care delivery that will include workshops, pilot projects, and symposia across Emory and its regional partners.

$5.4 million awarded to develop hemorrhagic fever vaccines

Richard Compans leads the effort at Emory to develop filovirus vaccines.

The NIH has awarded nearly $5.4 million to scientists at Emory University, Georgia Tech, and Texas Biomedical Research Institute (TBRI) to develop vaccines to prevent deadly hemorrhagic fevers.

The project focuses on Ebola and Marburg viruses, two members of a family named "filoviruses" because they produce long filamentous particles.

"These viruses cause fevers with up to 90% mortality and can be passed via person-to-person contact, thus posing a high risk in case of epidemic outbreak as well as a possible bioterrorism threat," says Richard Compans (microbiology/immunology), one of the project's lead investigators.

  Chinglai Yang

Other lead investigators include Emory's Chinglai Yang (microbiology/immunology), Mark Prausnitz (Georgia Tech), and TBRI's Jean Patterson and Ricardo Carrion.

In ongoing research, Compans' group has developed virus-like particle (VLP) vaccines to prevent disease, including VLPs for Ebola. The Ebola VLPs have induced strong antibody responses, indicating that they could be effective vaccines. The group also has found that immunization with a mixture of DNA and VLP vaccines induced higher levels of protective immune responses than immunization with either vaccine alone.

In addition, they are testing these vaccines with microneedle skin delivery technology developed at Georgia Tech that could further increase such responses.

New vision for Emory Optical Center

One in a series of profiles of people in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center

Emory is an optician's dream, says Brad Baird, who came here two years ago as manager of the Emory Optical Center after having worked 30 years for some of the nation's biggest prescription lens chains as well as private practice ophthalmologists. "I see more unusual cases here in a week than I saw in a year in my other jobs." Baird's team of opticians at Emory devises materials to balance vision disparities in those who have had a cornea transplant or cataract removal. They see infants and toddlers who need specially designed rubber frames, safe even for babies. And Baird himself recently developed a lens with multiple focal points to provide stronger reading power for patients with macular degeneration.

  Brad Baird

When Baird, who has a business degree, was brought on board in 2009 by Emory Eye Center administrator Andy Garrard and Susan Primo, director of Vision and Optical Services, he was charged with maintaining the high quality of the newly renamed Emory Optical Center while expediting production and improving customer service. He saw immediate strengths in a skilled staff of opticians already in place: Richard Jefferson, Cora Lester in the midtown office, and Chris Rosenbluth. (Collin Atkins came on board more recently.)

He also saw opportunities for improving the center's business practices. He negotiated discounts with lens and frame suppliers and persuaded them to remove the 7% tax they had been charging, since Emory is a nonprofit with a charity care component as part of its mission.


As prices declined, selection of frame styles increased. Frame suppliers were given a designated allocation of display case and told they would receive no more orders until displayed ones were sold. This gave suppliers incentive for recalling stale models and issuing more popular ones. Baird also brought in upscale designer lines like Gucci and Liz Claiborne as well as new bargain lines of frames and lenses, offering, in his words, "style for any budget."

Finally, the center space in Clinic B was rearranged to replace a bulky reception area with a new dispensing station to increase patient flow, which was rapidly expanding. New lab equipment sped up the process of preparing lenses. Order tracking was streamlined, and labs were asked to send daily progress reports so patients could be notified about order status on a timelier basis. Patient satisfaction scores shot up. A new software database soon will provide faster, more complete data on all areas of operation, from orders to inventory control and costs.

While Baird and his colleagues have accomplished a great deal to enhance service and process at the center, he says he still spends 90% of his time, alongside his staff, taking care of patients. He enjoys the camaraderie he has with the other opticians and medical staff, and he loves knowing they are giving people vision they couldn't otherwise have.

Farewell graduates

The class of 2011 was the first class to experience all four years of the medical school's new curriculum, which debuted in 2007.

"You are in a profession that can save the world. Use this gift wisely," Pete Correll, chair of Grady Hospital's board of directors and former CEO of Georgia-Pacific, told the 128 graduates of the School of Medicine.

These newly-minted doctors are the first to graduate under the medical school's new curriculum. Graduates were hooded by their faculty advisers, with whom they have spent the entire four years of medical school. The students voted Douglas Parker (pathology) as an honorary member of their class, and he also was chosen as this year's recipient of the Evangeline Papageorge Distinguished Faculty Award. The Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Award was awarded posthumously to Shanthi Sitaraman (medicine), who passed away in April from cancer.

  Recipients of the Emory Williams Distinguished Teaching Awards
  Shanthi Sitaraman
  John McGowan
  Catherine Vena

At the 36th annual diploma ceremony of the Rollins School of Public Health, the school awarded 415 MPH degrees, 25 dual degrees, and 14 PhDs. The graduates hailed from 37 states and 24 countries.

Paul Fleming, a Peace Corps fellow who addressed the graduates, said that he and fellow students may have been idealistic when they started their coursework. "We hoped we might glean some nuggets of gold for how to solve the world's public health problems. But what we've found is that there are no quick fixes, no simple answers to the problems we face. If I've learned anything, it is that changing health policy and systems is complicated."

Fleming and classmate Haley Stolp won the James Alley Award for providing the greatest service to disadvantaged populations. John McGowan received the Emory Williams Teaching Award, the highest award for excellence in teaching given by Emory. McGowan directs the MD/MPH program, and this ceremony saw the 100th graduate of the program.

The School of Nursing celebrated its largest graduating class in its 106-year history. The school's 187 graduates included 140 BSNs, 46 MSNs, 1 PhD, and the inaugural class of Accelerated BSN students. Karen Minyard, executive director of the Georgia Health Policy Center, served as the diploma ceremony speaker and told graduates that as the most trusted professionals in the health care industry, nurses have the power to influence health care policy, particularly as health care reform is implemented nationally. Catherine Vena received the Emory Williams Teaching Award. Watch a photo montage of nursing commencement.

Patent for microneedle for the eye

A patent for a microneedle for administering drugs into the eye has been awarded to Emory ophthalmology researcher Henry Edelhauser, along with Mark Prausnitz and Ninghao Jiang at Georgia Tech.

  Henry Edelhauser

Considerably smaller than needles currently used, the microneedle will help minimize discomfort for patients, such as those with age-related macular degeneration who have injections on a regular basis. In the future, the same microneedle technology may be used to inject medication directly into the eye for other ocular conditions, such as glaucoma, eliminating the need for everyday use of eye drops.

"In the 1990s Dr. Edelhauser and I initially conceived of getting drugs from the outside of the eye, the sclera, to the back of the eye, the retinal space," says Timothy Olsen, Emory Eye Center director. "What we have now found is that the suprachoroidal space, an area located between the sclera and the retina, offers opportunity to deliver medications very effectively to the retinal region. This microneedle technology may prove to be the safest and most effective path to this important area of the eye."

     From the Executive VP

Wright Caughman
Wright Caughman  

New research strategic plan will build on success

I remember a time in the not too distant past when the annual research funding goal for the Woodruff Health Sciences Center (WHSC) was $100 million—a goal we then considered ambitious. Fast forward just a few short years, and for the first time in our history we have surpassed the half billion dollar mark. This past year, our research funding increased 10.5% to $500.7 million. That's more than 93% of the total research funding for the entire university and an increase of more than 3,000% over the past 25 years.

This rate of growth is unparalleled across the country, and its human implications are almost unimaginable. Discoveries pioneered here in WHSC are improving health and extending life both locally and globally. Our research success also distinguishes our institution among its peers, aids in recruiting and retaining the finest faculty, and has a positive impact on the economy by generating income and jobs for the community.

Now we are launching a new research strategic plan designed to accelerate our momentum and position us for the highest level of achievement in creating and sharing new knowledge. The plan represents the collective work of more than 100 research faculty and clinical and academic leaders under the leadership of David Stephens, WHSC VP for research, and it encompasses four overarching strategies:

Interface synergy means the development of platforms to advance discovery through programs that bring together multiple disciplines and units to form research collaborations, key partnerships, and training and mentoring programs.

Integration of research and health care enhances the infrastructure and conduct of clinical research at Emory and develops virtual and physical repositories of clinical and research information and bio-specimens.

Alignment of research infrastructure and platforms is a priority. This will streamline research administration, enhance IT operability and alignment, develop and expand cutting-edge research areas, and develop WHSC intellectual property, which will enable us to commercialize new therapies, tools, diagnostics, and technologies.

Promotion of a culture that values research and collaboration will encourage interdisciplinary research and scholarship.

The plan also includes operational improvements that will enhance our already impressive research efficiency and plans for strategic investment in high-potential areas. We will measure success not only by advances in knowledge but also by the impact of our research on the people we serve and our community—socially and economically.

Thanks and congratulations to Dr. Stephens and to all the faculty and staff who have made our past growth possible and whose collaborative efforts have given us a plan for accelerating our extraordinary research success in the future.

Please let me know your thoughts and suggestions at evphafeedback@emory.edu.

In brief

RSPH's "founding father" dies

David Sencer  

David Sencer, who helped launch Emory's master of community health program, died May 2 of suspected heart failure. He was 86. He became CDC director in 1966 and was the agency's longest-serving top official. He held various positions after he left the agency in 1977 and was New York City's health commissioner during the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. His son, Stephen, is Emory's general counsel. Read more about David Sencer's work.

EHSO to review risk assessment

Patty Olinger  

Emory's Environmental, Health and Safety Office (EHSO), directed by Patty Olinger, plans to review safety and inventory of all shops and instrument repair areas on campus. This measure follows the accidental death of a Yale student in a Yale chemistry and physics lab. EHSO's efforts will include working with faculty and staff to ensure a current risk assessment is in place. Questions? Contact Kalpana Rengarajan. 404-727-5922.

Listen here: Emory's Sound Science gets new look

Sound Science, a podcast featuring Emory's scientists and their latest research, got a brand new look this spring. Leaner and cleaner, the podcast still focuses on many of your favorite investigators but in shorter formats. Check out upcoming podcasts on cardiology, neurology, genetics, oncology, immunology, and predictive health.


Jeffrey Boatright  

Jeffrey Boatright has been elected president of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the premier vision research organization in the United States.

Joan Giblin  

Joan Giblin joins the Winship Cancer Institute Survivorship Program as its nurse practitioner specialist. She previously directed the Winship Referral Management Office.

Laureen Hill  

Laureen Hill will chair the medical school's anesthesiology department and serve as chief of services for this specialty at Emory Healthcare as of Aug. 1. She currently is professor of anesthesiology and cardiothoracic surgery at Washington University.

Craig McCoy  

Craig McCoy has been named CEO at Emory Johns Creek Hospital. He began his new role on May 16. McCoy comes to Emory from Vanguard Health Systems, where he most recently served as CEO of Paradise Valley Hospital in Phoenix.

Steve Warren  

Steve Warren (chair, human genetics) was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Membership in the academy is one of the highest honors for a scientist in the United States.

All in the timing

Charles Hatcher signs a book for Kamal Mansour, professor emeritus of cardiothoracic surgery.

Charles Hatcher, WHSC director emeritus, recently signed copies of his new autobiography, All in the Timing: From Operating Room to Board Room. The book details his Emory career that almost didn't happen. Read excerpts.

Walking for Meg

Meg Jeffrey  

Faculty and staff across the health sciences have raised more than $9,700 for the National Kidney Foundation, and more than 60 people have signed up to participate in the 2011 Kidney Walk on May 21 in honor of Meg Jeffrey 83N. Jeffrey passed away last year at the age of 48. She worked at the Emory Transplant Center for nearly 20 years.