UMMC clinicians, researchers tackle preeclampsia

UMMC clinicians, researchers tackle preeclampsia

Mississippi's health rankings commonly are among the worst in the nation, including percentages of children born prematurely and with low birth-weights. 

But a possible treatment for one of the contributors to these statistics - preeclampsia - could come from the very state impacted the hardest by the condition. 

"Preeclampsia is a disease that occurs in pregnancy and only in pregnancy," said Dr. Sarah Novotny, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. "It usually starts after 20 weeks gestation, and in the worst cases, it can lead to eclampsia which is seizures." 

Preeclampsia is more likely to occur in a patient who is pregnant for the first time and happens somewhere between 5-8 percent of all pregnancies, she added. It's more common in women with chronic hypertension prior to pregnancy, women with diabetes, and in women who are either very young or older going into pregnancy. Also, obesity increases the risk of preeclampsia. 

"As you can see, we have a lot of risk factors here in Mississippi," said Novotny, adding the condition causes a significant portion of the state's pre-term birth rate.  Nationwide about 15 percent of all premature births are due to preeclampsia. 

"The only cure for preeclampsia is delivery, and unfortunately this means a premature delivery," said Novotny. "In some cases we can try to manage the mother conservatively and keep her pregnant, but usually the result of preeclampsia is the need for delivery."

Researchers at UMMC are working to develop another potential treatment option for patients, one that would allow expectant mothers to take blood pressure medicine that normally is disallowed because of the potential harm to the child.

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#UMMCGrad15: SON grad gives props to Plum

Faith Sherman is about to receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing magna cum laude, which is .02 shy of her goal of summa cum laude

Her motivation for excelling through school was a Plum. 

And it isn't the kind you get from the grocery store. 

She's inspired by her 4-year-old daughter, Milan, who she calls by her nickname, Plum.

"When I was pregnant my sister said I looked like a plum, and she often called me that so we decided to call her Plum," Sherman said.

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#UMMCGrad15: SON grad gives props to Plum

#UMMCGrad15: Grad researcher nets catfish study

#UMMCGrad15: Grad researcher nets catfish study

From corn to catfish Dr. Erin Taylor always has indulged her natural curiosity and dove head-first into research. 

The Germantown, Tennessee native studied at Mississippi State University, earning bachelor's and master's degrees in biochemistry. After marrying a Jackson native and moving with him to the state capital, Taylor said she knew she wasn't done with her academic pursuits. 

"I knew at that point I wanted to get my PhD, so I applied to this program," said Taylor. The program - Doctor of Microbiology - was in the School of Graduate Studies in the Health Sciences at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. 

"I had researched corn with my undergraduate advisor at MSU. I had always been working in an agricultural field up until then," she said. "I don't know if that's why I chose the catfish lab, but when I took the graduate immunology class I was really interested in the area based on that. I knew that's what I wanted to do. 

"We use catfish both as a research evolutionary model of the immune system, but also for more practical reasons because catfish is such an important industry here in the state of Mississippi." 

During her time working with catfish, Taylor began a project looking into a disease known as the channel catfish virus. "It's a herpes virus that can affect really small catfish called fingerlings. At catfish farms there are a large numbers of those small fish, and this virus can cause up to 100 percent mortality." 

Her project received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, funding to study a possible cytotoxic cell response to the virus in order to help move toward a potential vaccine. 

"They would be able to vaccinate the fish and protect them from this disease. That's a serious economic loss if you lose all your fish in the pond at that age," she said. 

While Taylor mentioned the USDA grant in passing, her lab mentor - Dr. Melanie Wilson, professor of microbiology - said it was the first time a student in the lab was awarded this particular predoctoral fellowship. 

"As a student, I believe her greatest strengths included her ability to ask and answer the 'right questions' pertinent to her research, her determination and her ability to discuss and present her data in a logical manner," said Wilson. "Also, she was never hesitant to help other graduate students troubleshoot their experiments or talk with the newer students about their class work." 

The sentiments were echoed by Taylor's program advisor, Dr. Eva Bengten, a professor of microbiology. "I have frequently seen graduate students from different departments come to Erin for advice and she has been willing to help anyone who is sincere and prepared to work hard. She has high expectations of herself and expects others to rise to the same standards." 

Those high expectations helped Taylor win the graduate school's highest honor this year, the Randall-Trustmark Graduate Research Award. 

On Friday, Taylor will collect her degree. The following Tuesday, she'll be back at her new gig - a postdoctoral fellowship at UMMC, this time looking into another research field with Dr. Michael Ryan, associate professor of physiology and biophysics and the associate dean of the graduate school. 

The opportunity to learn about Ryan's research area - hypertension in lupus - is one she says she's ready to take on. 

"I thought this would be something different for me to do, where I can think of immunity in a different model, especially one that is more translational to humans," said Taylor. "Certainly what I've learned here in this lab to be an immunologist helps me in the new position." 

As Taylor continues to build on her research history, Taylor said she's where she is meant to be. 

"I really want to be in academia, but I want to work at a medical center type of place where there's a lot of research going on." 

The freedom that comes with research is one of the aspects she admits drew her to the field in the first place. 

"I knew, probably in the middle of college, that I wanted to work in research. I thought I wanted to go to medical school, but I had an advisor at State who gave me a job in her lab and that's what got me interested," she said. 

"You're kind of your own boss in a way, this independence to explore what you want to do. I was definitely given that opportunity here in this lab. If I had an idea, they would at least let me try it out for a while. That's what's fun about research is that you're kind of the master of your own destiny in a way."

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#UMMCGrad15: From drug rep to D.M.D.

After carving out a thick slice of the American Dream, Olivia Cook decided to punch the reset button.  

A pharmaceutical sales representative with a thriving business - the territory surrounding her home base in Tupelo had stretched for more than 150 miles and included 350 doctor-clients - Cook had a nice house in her hometown, a company car and a loving husband who she had met through her work.  

Yet after almost a decade in the pharmaceutical trade, she longed for something different.  

"The pharmaceutical industry was very different 10-15 years ago, before generic drugs came along," Cook said. "It became a totally different atmosphere, a lot more uncertain, and I didn't want to live with the instability."  

After her company launched a narcotic medication that her sales partners marketed to area dentists, Cook joined her friends for a dentistry Lunch and Learn one afternoon and quickly became fascinated with the profession.  

She found herself observing area dentists and their staff and called upon her own personal dentist for a "behind-the-scenes" look at his practice. It didn't take long for Cook to decide that a career change was the best medicine for what was ailing her.  

"I prayed about it and decided to go back to school," Cook said. But it wasn't as simple as applying to dental school - first, she had to return to her alma mater for two years' worth of prerequisite courses at the University of Mississippi.  

"I had to resign my position, turn in my car and sell my house, which was really hard for me," she said. "We moved to Oxford and I took classes to prepare for the Dental Admissions Test.  

"I scored well, applied to dental school and got in on my first try."  

It wasn't the only life-changing event Cook and her husband experienced at that time. Nine months before she would enter the School of Dentistry, the couple's daughter was born.  

"I hadn't really studied hard in 10 years, and now I was having classes in gross anatomy and neuroscience," Cook said. "I felt like I was behind the 8 ball. I just looked at it (dental school) like it was my job. I came in, put my head down and did it.  

"On Saturdays and Sundays, I would come here to the library, and my husband and daughter would bring me lunch and we would have a picnic on the grounds. That was just about our only family time."  

Then, to add another degree of difficulty to her new career quest, Cook developed a troubling thyroid condition that looked as if it might completely upend her educational pursuits.  

"I didn't tell anybody," she said, "but I thought I might have to withdraw a couple of times. I still battle with it."  

Through the darkest times, Cook said she relied on her faith, her family and her fellow classmates, many of whom delight in calling her "Mama Liv."  

"I'm definitely the 'momma' of my classmates," she said. "We have gotten so close, I can't imagine going through the last four years without them."  

Cook managed to excel in spite of her challenges and developed an interest in endodontics, for which she credits Dr. Scott Gatewood, professor of endodontics, and Dr. Pia Chatterjee Kirk, her academic advisor for three years.  

"Olivia has shown an exceptional ability to maintain balance in her life and career goals - with family, academics, extracurricular activities and planning for the future," Gatewood said.  

"Olivia has been an exceptional student. She truly understands the value of helping others," said Kirk, associate professor of care planning and restorative sciences. "Her ability to prioritize what is important alongside her work ethic allowed her to beautifully balance school and family."  

The day after commencement, Cook will set out for Columbus, Ohio, to begin an endodontics residency at Ohio State University. But she will keep an eye on her home state and the possibility of returning to the academic arena in Mississippi - just not as a student.  

"I would like to see private patients and come back here to teach," Cook said. "I think it's important to cultivate that interest in the profession in students.

"It's absolutely amazing to look back and see how the love of God and the support of my family has gotten me where I am. I took a different journey to get here, but I also wouldn't change it at all."

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#UMMCGrad15: From drug rep to D.M.D.

Family medicine resident joins UMMC faculty

Family medicine resident joins UMMC faculty

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

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Orthopedic resident, CCHO obtain distinctions

A fifth-year orthopedic resident is rewarded for excellence in medical care, while a chief community health officer brings in a summer fellowship.  

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Orthopedic resident, CCHO obtain distinctions

UMMC's April grants, awards surpass $13M

UMMC's April grants, awards surpass $13M

University of Mississippi Medical Center researchers garnered 39 grants - including six new, 31 renewal (two competing renewal), one supplement and one transfer - in April totaling $13,331,134.

The following faculty obtained the largest new awards during the month (note: award amounts are calculated as annual figures):

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