Week 28: Scholarship

As an academic medical center, we seek to excel in all missions, clinical care, community engagement, education and research. This week, I want to share with you some statistics that underscore the research productivity of the department of medicine (DoM). Over the past five weeks, our faculty published at least 67 publications covering a wide range of topics across multiple disciplines. I encourage you to go to our department’s communications home page, DoM Connect, where we keep an updated list of our faculty’s recent publications, which are added within a week of their release.

I have chosen to highlight four recent publications in this note. These exemplify the impact of our research, such as:

  • Changing cancer care.
  • Making fundamental discoveries that may explain sex differences in heart failure.
  • Driving innovation in DNA diagnostics.
  • Informing us about potential unintended consequences linking the dissemination of physician performance measures and burnout.

I should emphasize that these represent a small snapshot of our faculty’s incredible research productivity, and do not minimize the significance of any other individual publication.

Protecting the Thyroid from Immune Dysfunction Following Cancer Treatment with Checkpoint Inhibitors

Checkpoint inhibitors have revolutionized the care and outcome of many cancers by leveraging the body’s immune cells to attack and destroy cancers.  Unfortunately, up to 60% of patients receiving checkpoint inhibitors develop autoimmune disorders including thyroiditis. A multidisciplinary research team led by Dr. Melissa Lechner in the division of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism, recently discovered that inhibiting a specific cytokine interleukin 17A, could protect the thyroid from autoimmunity, without reducing the efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors to increase their cancer fighting potential. This work published in the Journal of Immunology, has the potential to mitigate a troubling side effect of these novel therapies. See the full publication HERE.

Differences in Heart Mitochondria Between Males and Females Might Explain the Increased Risk of Women for Developing Heart Failure with Preserved Ejection Fraction (HFpEF) 

Heart failure with preserved ejection fraction (HFpEF) represents over 50% of cases of heart failure. Specific therapy for HFpEF is suboptimal. HFpEF occurs more commonly in women, but the reasons for this are not completely understood. Mitochondria are organelles within cells that generate energy in the form of ATP, which is critical for fueling cardiac muscle contraction. A recent study in mice from the laboratory of Dr. Aldons Jake Lusis, professor of medicine, human genetics, microbiology, immunology & molecular genetics, and led by postdoctoral researcher Dr. Yang Cao, shed interesting insight that may inform the increased risk of HFpEF in females. Using a novel collection of mice with multiple genetic backgrounds, they discovered that mitochondria capacity and abundance was lower in females and correlated with increased risk of HFpEF. They also discovered a gene involved in mitochondrial fatty acid metabolism that could be a genetic determinant of HFpEF. This comprehensive study, published in the journal Nature Communications may shed insight into sex differences in HFpEF and point to new approaches to treatment.  Read the full article HERE.

An Improved Method for Identifying Mitochondrial DNA Mutations

Mitochondria contain DNA that include the instructions necessary for determining the sequences of several critical mitochondrial proteins. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can result in a variety of conditions that lead to severe disease including seizures, heart failure, deafness, muscular dystrophy and cancer. Identifying specific mitochondrial DNA mutations and linking these to disease states remains a challenge. Dr. Amy Vandiver a recent graduate from the Dermatology Residency STAR program, developed a new technique that will enable more detailed detection of mitochondrial mutations. The study published in the journal Mitochondrion, describes this approach. Read the full article HERE.

Can Sharing Peer Physician Performance Information Contribute to Burnout?

Many physician groups and health systems share physician performance information that is benchmarked to that of their peer group. This widely used practice assumes that dissemination of this information will motivate physicians to improve their performance. A team led by Dr. Daniel Croymans, assistant professor of medicine, and Dr. Maria Han, chief quality officer, DoM, with collaboration from colleagues in the UCLA Anderson School of Management, revealed that this approach may backfire and paradoxically lead to increase in physician burnout giving perceptions that these surveys signaled lack of leadership support.

This could be offset by training leaders to support physician employees more tangibly. This work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences coincides with the increased focus in the DoM on physician wellness. Read the full article HERE.

The leadership of the DoM is taking note!

Outstanding Success in Grant Funding in the First 6-months of 2022

Publications are the most public and direct manifestation of the research being conducted in our department. However, our faculty’s ability to obtain competitive research awards represents the fuel that drives this innovation.  Therefore, I collated a list of new or renewal grant awards received by faculty in the DoM during the first 6-months of 2022. The list is impressive. We have attempted to capture all the activity but recognize that there is information regarding grant awards from the Veterans Administration (VA), that we did not have access to at the time of this writing. We will summarize VA funding in a future post. 

Below is a summary of total research awards received by the DoM in the first 6 months of 2022.

Total Direct Funding (including multi-year funding received) = $274,507,675

Let me congratulate all faculty members who contributed to these successful applications. I look forward to seeing what the second half of 2022 will bring.

An important responsibility is ensuring that we provide a platform within our research enterprise to create an environment for building a sustainable pipeline of investigators to populate our ranks. So, it is gratifying to see new fellowships and training grants being added to our research grant portfolio. It is also essential that we do not lose sight of the importance of ensuring that pipeline development contributes to increasing the diversity of our research workforce.

I learned this weekend of a new award just received by Drs. O. Kenrik Duru and Carol Mangione, from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. The project entitled: LIFT-UP (Leveraging Institutional support For Talented, Underrepresented Physicians and/or Scientists) provides an initial award of $424,561. The goal of this program is to develop minority faculty conducting cardio metabolic research.

Congratulations! I look forward to seeing how this award will contribute to growing the population of diverse faculty pursuing research into diabetes, obesity and its cardiovascular complications.

Finally, I want to share with all faculty mentors, junior faculty and post-doctoral trainees a grant funding mechanism from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The goal of the Hanna H. Gray Fellows Program is to recruit and retain individuals from gender, racial, ethnic, and other groups underrepresented in the life sciences, including those individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds. Through their successful careers, HHMI Hanna Gray Fellows will become leaders in academic research and inspire future generations of scientists. If there are eligible trainees within the DoM, you should be applying for this!



Last week, I shared with you my experiences exploring an iconic LA activity. My office staff pointed out to me that another truly iconic LA experience is a gastronomic one, and last Wednesday, I was presented with my first IN-N-OUT Burger and a Diet Coke to wash it down. I was warned that these are best inhaled, because once you bite in you cannot stop until it is done. I was skeptical at first but realized that this is true.  I did share most of the french fries, but not the burger. I took an extra-long run this weekend to burn these calories off, and hope that my vegetarian colleagues will still talk to me.

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