Week 38: Game Changers

Earlier this week I learned via a news release from CNN that the Los Angeles Unified School District will ensure that all schools in the district will be equipped with naloxone, also known as Narcan, which temporarily reverses adverse consequences of opioid overdose. This measure was instated following the recent death of a student from an opioid drug overdose.

This story cited work from UCLA, recently published in JAMA that presented data indicating that although overall rates of opioid use among 10th graders was not increasing, exposure to more toxic agents such as illicit fentanyl was. Amongst the co-authors of this collaborative report that included faculty from UCLA’s Center for Social Sciences and Humanities and the division of emergency medicine, was Dr. Chelsea L. Shover a faculty member in the division of general internal medicine, who conducts policy-relevant research at the intersection of addiction, psychiatry and infectious disease.

I was therefore pleased to learn that Assistant Professors Dr. Chelsea L. Shover and Dr. David Goodman-Meza were awarded a 5-year $3.1 million-dollar R01 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop methods to identify overdose hotspots in Los Angeles County. According to the researchers, the study will be performed in partnership with five local agencies to aggregate local population data on overdose, substance use disorders, and harm reduction services: Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, Los Angeles County Department of the Medical Examiner and Coroner, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, Los Angeles Fire Department, and Office of the AIDS Coordinator of the City of Los Angeles.

In the first stage of the grant, they will develop methods to rapidly process data from these local agencies to “nowcast,” or predict the present status, based on incomplete surveillance data. They will use natural language processing and machine learning tools to estimate difficult-to-measure outcomes including non-fatal overdose, injection drug use, and opioid use disorder. UCLA co-investigators include Dr. Alex Bui (Radiology), Dr. Steve Shoptaw (Psychology) and Dr. Michael Shin(Geography). The goal of this project is to establish an online, public dashboard that stakeholders can use to better inform allocation and placement of addiction treatment and harm reduction services within Los Angeles County.

This grant represents a serious, multi-agency commitment to address overdose and substance use disorders in Los Angeles,” said Shover. “Los Angeles County has had more fatal overdoses than any other U.S. County in the past two years, and our large population means that understanding geographical nuances is critical to targeting resources.

Impressive to see the contribution of department of medicine (DoM) faculty’s scholarship, directly impacting a current public health challenges.

Creating scholars of the future is a long game and requires efforts that expose individuals from all backgrounds to research opportunities that could be influential in shaping the future trajectories of their careers. As such, you will be pleased to learn about a grant awarded to DoM faculty called “Cultivating Interest in Research Careers (CIRC).” This R25 grant from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) led by Dr. O. Kenrik Duru, professor in the division of general internal medicine and Dr. Dulcie Kermah, assistant professor at Charles. R. Drew University of Medicine is designed to provide community college students from underrepresented backgrounds who meet NIH criteria for economic disadvantage, with a summer research experience at UCLA.

This past summer the inaugural group of 10 students were matched with UCLA research labs. This represented the first exposure to scientific research, in terms of hypothesis generation, study design, and laboratory techniques for these students. They presented a summary of their experience at a culminating event at the James West Alumni Center on 8/17.  

Based on their feedback, the student's experiences were very positive. Here are some of their post-program comments:

“I enjoyed the CIRC Summer Research Program. Overall, it was a great experience. My mentor was great, her assistant was awesome, and the weekly presentations were valuable. Also, the near–peer mentor was great.”

“I learned a lot about research and how to conduct research. There was a lot of information that I did not know about that I am aware of now.”

“This program was very enriching and helped provide an insight I didn't have previously into how research could be conducted. It was nice to learn firsthand about the mentor's research and the work that goes into it.”

Particular thanks to the DoM faculty and post-docs who volunteered their time to mentor CIRC students:

Our faculty impact communities and the pipeline, but also individual patients with medical conditions that are difficult to treat and require unique expertise. As such, I was pleased to learn that Dr. Elizabeth Volkmann, from the division of rheumatology, was recently recognized as the Doctor of the Year by the National Scleroderma Foundation. This award reflects Dr. Volkman’s commitment to improving the lives of people living with scleroderma, her outstanding skills in clinical practice and patient education.

Dr. Volkmann is a world renowned clinical and translational researcher in systemic sclerosis and connective tissue disease-related interstitial lung disease. Her research is focused on developing personalized treatment approaches for patients through the discovery of novel biomarkers. She launched the first study exploring the gut microbiome in patients living with systemic sclerosis and leads an international consortium of investigators who are advancing our understanding of how the gut microbiome in this patient population contributes to inflammation and onset of clinical symptoms.

We are fortunate to count on her leadership as the director of the UCLA Scleroderma Program and the founder/co-director of the UCLA Connective Tissue Disease-Related Interstitial Lung Disease Program. As Dr. Volkmann reflects on this special honor, she shared:

Scleroderma has the highest mortality rate of all rheumatic diseases. Patients with scleroderma often see multiple specialists before receiving the correct diagnosis, and this process can delay their access to life-saving therapies. Working with the scleroderma community has motivated me to help educate and empower all patients with this rare disease. These patients are true warriors, and their experiences inspire my research and commitment to ensuring that the voices of all patients with scleroderma are heard. I share this award with all my colleagues at UCLA who participate in the multidisciplinary care of patients with scleroderma.”  

You can learn more about Dr. Volkmann’s latest research in two of her recent publications in the American Journal of Respiratory Care Medicine and The Lancet Rheumatology.

Congratulations Liz!

Finally, let me celebrate the leadership of our faculty in the division of endocrinology who have taken an active role in supporting the professional development needs of endocrinologists across California. Let me highlight faculty who are stepping into important leadership roles that will guide the future of the Clinical Association of California Endocrinologists (CACE). For over 20 years, CACE has been dedicated to improving quality of care, increasing awareness, and creating a professional forum for scientific and advocacy issues that impact the field of endocrinology. This year, Dr. Dianne Cheung has been appointed president of CACE and will be leading nearly 600 physicians/endocrinologists across the state in advancing CACE’s core missions of education and service. Involved in the organization for 15 years since her days a UCLA endocrine fellow, Dr. Cheung has held various positions in the CACE board of directors and served as program chair for multiple CACE Annual meetings, including the most recent 2022 CACE Annual Meeting.  Dr. Cheung will be joined by DoM colleagues that include Dr. Jennifer Han, who will serve as vice-president and Dr. Tina Mosaferi, as secretary. Together, they will work towards the following:

  • Strengthening educational curriculum to California based endocrinologists through webinars, a Hot Topics in Endocrinology Series and their annual meeting.
  • Increasing their outreach to primary care physicians through their Hot Topics in Endocrinology Series.
  • Growing their membership base to include more areas of endocrinology.
  • Promoting fellowship growth through their Fellowship Presentations on the CACE website and mentoring endocrine fellows to become strong endocrinologists in the community.
  • Increasing advocacy for the rights of people living with all types of endocrine disorders.
  • Enhancing the multidisciplinary collaborations between endocrinologists, nephrologists, cardiologists, primary care providers and surgeons.

It is important to note that Dr. Cheung and colleagues will be building upon the success and leadership of DoM and VAGLA faculty member Dr. Jane Weinreb, who is the immediate-past president of CACE. Dr. Weinreb was instrumental in guiding the organization towards becoming an independent organization after years of being a state chapter of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinology.

Many of our divisions are providing national and state level leadership in graduate medical education, and I will share a summary of these activities in future posts.



Thanks to CACE for the invitation to speak at their annual meeting last week. The pictures below clearly show how happy our endocrine faculty family were, not necessarily about my talk, but perhaps for the chance to hang out with friends and colleagues during the meeting.

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