Looking back at a busy 2007

by Chuck Brown, UNMC public affairs | January 02, 2008

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Jay Noren, M.D., left, speaks with the media last year about the College of Public Health, of which Dr. Noren is the founding dean, as UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., looks on.
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Hadley Sharp, M.D., a fourth-year medical student at the time of this picture, discusses a study she authored that concluded antibiotics are often overprescribed for sinus infections.
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From left: Byers Shaw Jr., M.D., Shirley and Michael Sorrell, M.D., and James Redford at the "Share The Beat" fundraiser. In the 1980s, Dr. Shaw performed two liver transplants on Redford at The Nebraska Medical Center.
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From left: UNMC Scientist Laureate Stephen Rennard, M.D., with Tom Rosenquist, Ph.D., UNMC's vice chancellor for research, at the Distinguished Scientist Award Ceremony in March.
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Pedometers became a common fashion accessory on campus in May as the UNMC 1 Million Step Challenge kicked off.
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From left: University of Nebraska President James B. Milliken, UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., and Alice and Robert Williamson take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation in May.
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C.L. Werner, chairman of the board of Werner Enterprises, with his daughter, Gail Werner-Robertson. Werner was recognized in June with an award for his support of the GWR Sunshine Foundation -- which supports research and treatment for autism.
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Celebrating the opening of the Nebraska Arthritis Outcomes Research Center in August were, from left, UNMC Chancellor Harold M. Maurer, M.D., Kevin Garvin, M.D., James O'Dell, M.D., Ruth Scott and Bill Scott.
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Peter Lennarson, M.D., displays an artificial disc (right) used in a new surgical procedure he will perform at The Nebraska Medical Center. On the left is a model depicting the fusion technique that has been the standard of care for people with degenerative disc disease. Dr. Lennarson is one of the only physicians in the region qualified to perform the new surgery.
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Virginia Tilden, D.N.Sc., dean of the College of Nursing, proposes a toast to celebrate the college's 90th anniversary in October.
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Joe Stothert, M.D., Ph.D., addresses the media about the surgical efforts made to save the life of Westroads Mall shooting survivor Fred Wilson.
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From right: President Bush jokes with UNMC's Kristine McVea, M.D., at OneWorld Community Health Center as the clinic's CEO, Andrea Skolkin, and Gov. Dave Heineman look on.
Breaking ground on a new low vision center, netting a record total in research funding and responding to one of the worst tragedies in Omaha history -- these were just a few of the memorable moments from 2007, another incredibly busy year at UNMC.

The year opened with College of Public Health officials declaring that the college, which was approved by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents less than a year earlier, was up and running.

There are only 38 public health colleges currently in the United States, and the UNMC college is the only one in a large region of the country bordered by Washington, Iowa, Oklahoma and Minnesota.

January also featured a visit from a team of evaluators from The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC-NCA). The visit resulted in the commission continuing UNMC's accreditation and approving the medical center's request to expand distance education programs.

In February, Bruce Buehler, M.D., announced he would step down from his dual role as director of the Munroe-Meyer Institute and chairman of the department of pediatrics. Dr. Buehler served as MMI director for more than 25 years and pediatrics chairman for more than 16 years.

The March issue of Archives of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery featured an article detailing a UNMC study that indicated antibiotics are often overprescribed for sinus infections. Hadley Sharp, M.D. -- a fourth-year medical student at the time -- served as lead author for the article, which was picked up by media outlets around the world.

During a Saturday night in mid-March, legendary UNMC physicians Michael Sorrell, M.D., and Byers "Bud" Shaw, M.D., were honored in front of a star-studded crowd at the Joslyn Art Museum during the "Share The Beat" event, which was sponsored by the James Redford Institute for Transplant Awareness.

In the 1980s, Dr. Shaw performed two lifesaving liver transplants on James Redford -- the son of Hollywood superstar Robert Redford -- at The Nebraska Medical Center. The "Share The Beat" event gave the Redfords a chance to thank Drs. Shaw and Sorrell for starting the medical center's world-renowned liver transplant program.

The event featured performances from country music superstars Tim McGraw and Phil Vassar. James Denton -- who plays the hunky plumber, Mike Delfino, on the ABC series Desperate Housewives -- served as emcee.

Also in March, Stephen Rennard, M.D., Larson Professor of Medicine in the UNMC Pulmonary and Critical Care Section, was honored as the first UNMC Scientist Laureate. At the same ceremony, 23 other researchers were honored for being a part of the first class of UNMC Distinguished Scientists.

April brought news that UNMC was continuing to climb steadily in the U.S.News & World Report's ranking of the country's graduate schools. This included the College of Medicine's primary care program cracking the top 10 for the first time and the UNMC rural medicine program ranking sixth nationally among similar programs.

UNMC brought home serious hardware in April when the universitywide awards for research and teaching were announced. Alexander "Sasha" Kabanov, Ph.D., Professor and Parke-Davis Chair in Pharmaceutics, won the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award (ORCA); Paul Larsen, M.D., professor of pediatrics and neurological sciences, won the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Creativity Award (OTICA); and Steven Hinrichs, M.D., senior associate dean for research development in the College of Medicine, received the Innovation, Development and Entrepreneurship Award (IDEA).

Ground broke on the Weigel Williamson Center for Visual Rehabilitation in May. The $1.2 million center will be the region's only not-for-profit comprehensive center for visual rehabilitation of adults and children. It will take the place of UNMC's Low Vision Clinic, which lacks space and equipment.

May also marked the beginning of the UNMC 1 Million Step Challenge -- a campus wide fitness initiative that challenged employees to walk 1 million steps in a year.

June kicked off with thousands attending the Cattlemen's Ball in Lodgepole in western Nebraska. The event raised about $480,000 for research at the UNMC Eppley Cancer Center.

The cancer center had more to celebrate in June with the arrival of world-renowned breast and colon cancer researcher, Michael Brattain, Ph.D., who took over as the cancer center's associate director for basic research. Dr. Brattain is in the top 1 percent of life scientists, in terms of grant awards from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as well as the number of times his work is referenced by other scientists.

Later in the year, Eppley would again welcome the arrival of high-profile scientists as outstanding breast cancer researchers -- Hamid Band, M.D., Ph.D., and Vimla Band, Ph.D. -- joined UNMC from Northwestern University.

The husband/wife team, who prior to going to Northwestern worked at Harvard Medical School, brought with them $8 million in grants from the NIH and 14 research team members.

In June, the GWR Sunshine Foundation held a dinner and golf tournament in Omaha that raised about $660,000 to support UNMC's autism program. The GWR Sunshine Foundation is headed by Omaha businesswoman, Gail Werner-Robertson, who has two sons on the autism spectrum.

Also in June, the board of regents approved a land swap between UNMC and Omaha Public Power District that resulted in UNMC taking possession of approximately 10 acres of property and buildings on the southwest edge of the UNMC campus near the intersection of Emile Street and Saddle Creek Road. The area will provide UNMC with the space needed to construct a new cancer research tower as well as additional parking.

In July, a multidisciplinary team of UNMC researchers secured a $1.6 million NIH grant to study the prevention of depression in head and neck cancer patients. UNMC psychiatry professor Bill Burke, M.D., is the grant's principal investigator and William Lydiatt, M.D., division director of head and neck surgical oncology in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, is the grant's co-PI.

July wrapped up with news that Joe Sisson, M.D., chief of the UNMC Pulmonary, Critical Care, Sleep and Allergy Section, received the prestigious Method to Extend Research In Time (MERIT) Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) to further study the stimulation effects of alcohol on airway clearance.

The MERIT award -- which extends Dr. Sisson's NIH R01 grant from 5 years to 9 years -- allows him to focus on the science without the need to prepare competitive renewal applications. This increases his total grant award from $2.5 million to nearly $5 million over the extended 9-year period.

August kicked off with a ribbon cutting for the Nebraska Arthritis Outcomes Research Center, which is on the third floor of Poynter Hall. The center was made possible by a major donation from Omaha philathropists Bill and Ruth Scott and will provide a better understanding of arthritis through detailed analysis of the many determinants used to predict outcomes for arthritis sufferers.

August brought more good news on the funding front as UNMC reported receiving a record $80.2 million in research funding in fiscal year 2006-2007. The increase in overall funding bucked a national trend that had other institutions receiving decreased amounts of research funding.

Also in August, Courtney Fletcher, Pharm.D., was selected to become the new dean of the College of Pharmacy, replacing Clarence Ueda, Pharm.D., Ph.D., who stepped down this year after filling the role for more than 20 years.

The month was capped with the announcement that UNMC and Omaha's Children's Hospital would embark on a historic pediatrics affiliation agreement. The affiliation will provide new and exciting opportunities to conduct cutting-edge research into childhood disorders ensuring that children and the families of this state and region will have access to the latest, most advanced care.

September brought news that UNMC neurosurgeon Peter Lennarson, M.D., had become one of the first physicians in the area to have completed training on implanting the Prestige artificial disc for people with degenerative disc disease in the cervical spine.

Also in September, UNMC Physicians announced plans to open a comprehensive cancer center in west Omaha.

Saying goodbye

UNMC mourned the loss of several members of the campus community in 2007 including former orthopaedics chairman John Connolly, M.D., who died July 31 at 71; pediatrician Hobart Wiltse, M.D., Ph.D., who died on June 6 at 75; researcher Joseph Gilmore, Ph.D., who died April 24 at age 78; and nursing administrator Carol Wilson, who died Nov. 23 at age 82.

October proved festive as UNMC celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the College of Nursing, the opening of the newly-renovated Olson Center for Women's Health, the 10-year anniversary of its partnership with The Nebraska Medical Center, and a combined alumni reunion that brought together alumni from all UNMC colleges.

Also in October, 22 members of the Visiting Committee of the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation spent a few days assessing the UNMC College of Dentistry's programs, students, faculty and staff, and left with a favorable impression. Although the official report of the College of Dentistry's accreditation status won't be publicized until February, it's likely to contain good news for UNMC.

UNMC geneticist Warren Sanger, Ph.D., played a key role in providing the genetic testing for a major scientific breakthrough in November in which scientists studying rhesus macaque monkeys were able to derive embryonic stem cells by reprogramming the genetic material from skin cells.

Also in November, the European aging network, LINK-AGE, paid tribute to UNMC's Denham Harman, M.D., Ph.D., at the group's convention in Portugal. Dr. Harman was honored because of his development of the free-radical theory on aging, which he first proposed in 1954.

UNMC personnel provided key relief efforts in the wake of the Dec. 5 shootings at Westroads Mall, which left nine people dead and several others wounded. Some of those wounded in the shooting were treated at the medical center, including Fred Wilson, whose life was saved by medical center professionals including UNMC surgeon Joe Stothert, M.D., Ph.D.

Wilson was shot in the right arm during the shootings and had lost nearly three-quarters of his blood when Dr. Stothert began performing surgery.

UNMC mental health professionals also helped in the shooting's response by providing counseling and emotional support for those in the mall when the rampage occurred, speaking to the media about how a community can cope with such tragedy and later facilitating forums for employees, students and the public about how to respond to such an event.

The Dec. 5 shootings overshadowed a visit that same day from President George W. Bush. During his visit, Bush visited Omaha's OneWorld Community Health Center. Kristine McVea, M.D., associate professor in UNMC's Department of Family Medicine, is medical director at the center, which provides health care to underserved populations. Dr. McVea and other center officials spent about 20 minutes in a face-to-face meeting with the president during the visit.