New CI lab looks for ‘core’ of disease development

New CI lab looks for ‘core’ of disease development

Researchers at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Cancer Institute are moving into new arenas with the formation of a Non-Embryonic Stem Cell Core.

Led by cancer researcher Dr. Radhika Pochampally, the core will work with multiple researchers in cancer, heart and other departments to study stem cells and their role in disease and illness.

For cancer studies, the initial focus is on breast and bone cancers, Pochampally said.

“Most of the time, the primary cancer can be treated,” she said. “The cells that survive treatments for primary cancers go into dormancy, and then come back – these are the bad cells, the most difficult to kill.”

Bad? Yes, because those cancer stem cells have the ability to lie low for a long time, roam a person’s body, find a home in another organ and reproduce more malignant cells. Chemotherapy drugs may destroy other tumor cells, but now scientists know that sometimes a few – the cancer stem cells – may remain.

Even more confusing, this scenario doesn’t happen all the time, so researchers want to find out when and why it occurs in some people and not others.

Like a plant, the stem cell roots may lie unseen once the green top is removed or unscathed by pesticides, only to reappear in another season.

Somehow, Pochampally said, these cells have the ability to resist many chemotherapies.

The new core is seeking permission to ask cancer patients for samples of their normal tissue and malignant tissue. Pochampally said if the UMMC Institutional Review Board agrees, her team will use the samples to search for the difference between the normal stem cells and the malignant ones.

On the surface, she said, normal and malignant stem cells from one person may look the same.

“If you go down deeper, they look very different.”

If researchers here can find minuscule differences, then they’ll work with colleagues at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi in Oxford to find a drug that targets a vulnerable area on the cancer stem cells and leaves normal healthy cells alone.

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Psychiatry and Human Behavior under new leadership

Chances are, Dr. Scott Rodgers speaks your language.

In addition to English, he knows German and French, and has his sights set on Spanish.

But, most of all, he speaks the language of the mind.

Rodgers, who joined UMMC on Dec. 1, is the new chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, taking over for Dr. Grayson S. Norquist.

It’s Rodgers’ “Traumberuf,” his “métier de reve.” His “dream job.”

“It gets me back to my roots in psychiatry,” said Rodgers, whose main clinical interest is child and adolescent psychiatry. “It’s a return to my specialty.”

A Decatur, Ga., native, Rodgers arrived at the Medical Center from Vanderbilt University, where he served for more than seven years as the associate dean for Medical Student Affairs. 

He had been filling other roles there as well: associate professor of education and medical administration, and associate professor of psychiatry. He was there for about 15 years.

“I thought I would never leave there,” he said, “because I loved it so much.”

His road to Nashville began at Duke University, where in 1988 he earned degrees in zoology and German literature.

“I love foreign languages,” said Rodgers, who taught himself French. “I also love to travel, and there’s no better way to learn about a culture than through its language.”

After Duke, the culture of home called him back to Georgia, where he worked for two years as a sixth-grade science teacher and swim coach at a private prep school in Atlanta. His simmering plans for medical school came to a boil when he won a scholarship to Vanderbilt – his future as a pediatrician assured. Or so he thought.

“I shifted to psychiatry, what I saw as the most interesting specialty of all – sitting down and talking with people about what motivates them,” he said. “It is an underappreciated profession, but it can be enormously helpful to people, which I had not realized before medical school.

“I became passionate about it; I decided to choose what I love.”

That love translated into post-medical school training that included an internship at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, where he also did his residency in psychiatry, as well as a fellowship in child and adolescent psychiatry.

His first job, post-Harvard, was back at his alma mater. There, during the past 10 years, he oversaw a Student Wellness Program that sought to maintain the physical and mental health of highly-stressed medical students, providing them with classes in yoga and healthy cooking, forums on nutrition and sleep, a mentoring program and more.

“From that, I realized that I love leading, building programs, raising morale. Now, the opportunity to be chair of a department is just a continuation of that,” he said.

As the chair, he is setting a host of goals, not least of which is this: “To see more medical students choose psychiatry and stay here and work in the state. We need to eliminate health disparities in Mississippi, and that includes disparities in the treatment of mental illness.”

Rodgers will help treat some of those illnesses himself, particularly those affecting children. “I will be able to see patients,” he said. 

As an administrator, he’ll oversee about two dozen faculty members, leading them from an office furnished with shelves holding items that suggest his priority as a clinician: toys, teddy bears and other stuffed animals. 

 “There probably aren’t too many chairs who have all that,” he said.

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Psychiatry and Human Behavior under new leadership

Neonatology chief, peds critical care specialist join faculty

Neonatology chief, peds critical care specialist join faculty

The Medical Center is proud to announce the following additions to its faculty and leadership staff:

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