Class Notes Roundup: Summer 2017
Some of the following are reprinted from the Summer 2017 issue of the School of Medicine’s flagship publication, Pitt Med Magazine. Click here for more.
Dr. Leonard A. Stept (MD '63), of Shadyside, passed away peacefully Tuesday, June 6, 2016, at age 80. Dr. Stept is survived by his wife, Kathy, and numerous nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his brother, Dr. William Stept, and his uncle and mentor, Dr. Raymond Stept. Leonard was born to the late Reva and Abe Stept in Johnstown. He attended Westmont High School, W&J College, and served as a Captain in the Air Force. Dr. Stept received his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh and completed his residencies and fellowship training in surgery and urology at Allegheny General Hospital, Western Pennsylvania Hospital and New York University Upstate in Syracuse, N.Y. A consummate health care professional, Lenny made a name for himself by practicing as an expert in general urology. He was an assistant professor of urology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. His hospital affiliations were through UPMC Hospitals, comprising St. Margaret, St. Clair, Magee-Women's Hospital and Shadyside. Throughout his career, Dr. Stept contributed his expertise and knowledge to many health organizations in Pittsburgh and internationally including recent travel to Zambia, Africa to treat patients and educate medical professionals. After his volunteer work in Africa Lenny stated, "This was a life changing experience that I could not have gotten in any other venue." He was active in many local charities and nonprofits including serving on the boards at the Pittsburgh Zoo and Catholic Charities. Lenny was also actively involved with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History and the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and enjoyed traveling, accompanying the Symphony with his wife, Kathy, throughout Europe. Lenny loved Pittsburgh, and in particular Shadyside Village, where he was well known and adored by neighbors and business owners. Working to serve others up to the last day, Lenny died "with his boots on" having just retired from his medical practice hours before he was called. He had performed a literal lifetime of dutiful service with more than 53 years in the medical profession caring for the health of others. Lenny was loved by all who knew him and will be missed by his many friends, relatives and patients. His memory will forever live in the hearts and minds of those he touched.
Bleeding is personal, too. Ernest Moore (MD ’72), a vice chair for research at the University of Colorado’s department of surgery, is taking personalized medicine into the realm of critical care. “Ten years ago, everyone’s bleeding got the same treatment. We think the treatment has to be tailored to their unique coagulation abnormality,” says Moore, who’s studying personalized blood coagulation treatments with Pitt med’s Jason Sperry, assistant professor of surgery and critical care medicine. Moore spent much of his 40-year career in Colorado as chief of surgery and trauma at Denver Health Medical Center and training for ultramarathons with his coworkers. Today, life has hardly slowed down. He only runs regular marathons now, but he’s taken on a new gig as editor of the journal Trauma.
Jeffrey R. Botkin (MD ’79) came to Pitt following in the footsteps of three generations of Botkin physicians. He is now professor of pediatrics and associate vice president for research integrity at the University of Utah, overseeing the university’s institutional review board and research ethics education. In his studies, he examines ethical and legal challenges of newborn and prenatal screenings, as well as issues of patient education and informed consent. He is chair of the NIH’s Embryonic Stem Cell Working Group and member of the FDA’s Pediatric Ethics Advisory Committee.
After his undergraduate studies at Pitt, Lawrence Berk (MD ’88) received a PhD in chemistry from Yale before returning to Pitt for med school. On his path in academic medicine, he has found ways to incorporate his varied interests, from physical science to the history and philosophy of science to traditional Chinese medicine. Berk, chief of radiation oncology at professor of radiology at the University of South Florida, studies palliative care and symptom management in both standard and alternative realms. Recent projects include the use of honey to prevent esophagitis during radiation therapy in lung cancer patients; melatonin as a treatment for brain metastases; and the sexual health of cancer patients from a holistic rather than solely functional-damage perspective. Berk leads the Sexual Health Clinic in the Tampa General Hospital Cancer Center.
“I went from being a cancer doctor,” says Naoto Tada Ueno, “to a cancer patient.” As a result, Ueno (Internal Medicine Resident ’93), a medical oncologist, has seen the cancer community from three different sides: patient, doctor, and researcher. This gives Ueno unique insight into his work at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. As executive director of the center’s Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC) Research Program and Clinic, “the world’s largest IBC-specific research program,” his work focuses on the development of IBC drugs “from scratch to the clinic.” Ueno, who is “passionate about creating the next generation of oncology leaders,” was honored with an Outstanding Teaching Award from the UT Health System in 2013.
When Lara Kunschner Ronan (MD ’94), an academic neurologist and neuro-oncologist, worked at Allegheny General Hospital in 2012, using Botox to treat migraines was an emerging practice newly approved by the FDA. Trained by a colleague, “I was an early adopter despite initial skepticism,” Ronan notes. Botox allowed Ronan’s patients to decrease their dependence on daily medications, helping patients to feel “less sedated,” without “bothersome side effects.” Today, Ronan directs the Dartmouth-Hitchcock neurology residency program and serves as an associate professor of neurology and medicine at Dartmouth. Botox remains part of her patient-treatment arsenal for migraines; Ronan also cares for patients who have primary or metastatic tumors of the nervous system, in addition to neurological illnesses related to cancer, paraneoplastic disease, and various autoimmune conditions.
Constantin Aliferis (PhD ’98), professor of medicine and data science at the University of Minnesota and director of its Institute for Health Informatics, is “very, very excited” about how rapidly his field is growing. His work to shape informatics infrastructure in precision medicine training has resulted in new educational programs across the United States, including 18 new in-house courses. Aliferis is interested in solving long-perplexing problems in his own research. One recent grant proposal examines ways to predict and prevent suicide—“one of the hardest things to do,” Aliferis says, in terms of predictive modeling. He hopes his work, alongside that of colleagues at New York University, will pave the way for new treatments and prevention.
When we last met Nima Sharifi (MD ’01) in 2014, he was busy accepting the American Association for Cancer Research Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cancer Research, given in part for his work on abiraterone metabolites’ ability to block androgen promotion in tumors of the prostate. Now Sharifi and his team at the Cleveland Clinic have discovered that some of these metabolites do quite the opposite: Through a clinical trial, Sharifi’s team verified that, “beyond that first metabolized form, abiraterone actually becomes a bad metabolite [5-alpha-abi] that promotes tumor progression,” he says. They then realized that by “giving another drug [dutasteride] along with it, you can actually reverse the production of that bad metabolite that promotes tumor progression.” Recently, Sharifi accepted the 2017 Richard E. Weitzman Outstanding Early Career Investigator Award from the Endocrine Society, presented yearly to an early career doctor with exceptional research accomplishments.
The what: He is a two-time Jeopardy winner who earned more than $25,000 in three episodes earlier this year. The answer: Who is Neil Uspal (MD ’03), assistant professor in the pediatric emergency department at Seattle Children’s? “I watch enough that I thought I could do it,” says Uspal, who typically catches Jeopardy over dinner with his partner. Following an online tryout, Uspal was invited to audition. Then, nothing, not even a letter. Two years later, he was called to appear on the show and faced a medical category. “There was one where I said, ‘cortisol,’ and the answer was ‘cortisone,’” he says. “So that was mildly embarrassing.”
PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY JEOPARDY PRODUCTIONS
As a recent college graduate, Laura Goodman (MD ’12) taught English in Mongolia. One day in a friend’s ger—a Mongolian tent—she reflected on her life and how she could help the people around her. “I had a clear moment,” she says, “where I realized medicine was the way to give back.” Goodman, who’s now a general surgery resident at the University of California, Davis, has returned to Mongolia, this time as a Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health research fellow. She’s studying birth defects specific to the Mongolian region as well as Mongolia’s surgical infrastructure and capacity. Goodman says in the public health sphere, “global surgery has always been neglected... up until now.” Before her return to the States in May, Goodman plans to present her team’s findings to Mongolia’s minister of health. “I hope that through painting this picture, we can recommend some changes,” she says.
As an undergraduate, Cynthia Grady (MD ’15) didn’t have a mentor to lead her toward medical school acceptance. At her small, historically black university, she noticed too many students were starting out as pre-med and not enough were ending up in medical school. “I had to pave the way myself, in terms of figuring out what I needed to do to get to med school,” she says. Today, Grady is a cofounder of the PavedPath (pavedpath.musc.edu), a Web site launched last year that serves as a portal for pre-med students, particularly those in underrepresented groups, to connect with admissions officers, successful medical students, and their peers. Grady, an obstetrics and gynecology resident at Louisiana State University, says though free time to run the site can be hard to come by, “if it’s something you feel is worthwhile, you’ll put forth the time and effort.”
—Evan Bowen-Gaddy, Gavin Jenkins, Rachel Mennies, Susan Wiedel, Kylie Wolfe