UNLV School of Dental Medicine Earns Awards for Community Outreach

Two organizations recently bestowed awards on the UNLV School of Dental Medicine for its community outreach programs and clinics.

Nevada Medical Center presented the school with one of its two inaugural Eric M. Hilton Healthcare Collaboration awards, which recognizes organizations that find actionable and timely solutions for the state’s most pressing health care needs, with a particular focus on preventative care. Nevada Medical Center is a non-profit corporation created for the purpose of enhancing the lives of all Nevadans and visitors through improved access to quality healthcare.

Delta Dental Community Care Foundation gave a $50,000 grant to support the school’s Saturday Morning Community Clinics, which provide much needed care to underinsured and uninsured populations throughout Southern Nevada.

The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental Insurance Company and its affiliated companies. The Foundation’s mission is to improve the oral health of disadvantaged children and adults by removing barriers to quality dental care.

The clinics will be renamed as the UNLV Delta Dental Saturday Morning Community Clinics for the duration of 2019. The grant will support the purchase of dental supplies such as crowns and bridges, and will be applied to treatment and procedure costs.

The UNLV Delta Dental Saturday Morning Community Clinics, which typically occur ten months out of each year, conduct nearly 70,000 patient visits that, during 2018, delivered more than $6 million in free services to underserved populations, including veterans, women, children and homeless persons.

Photo: Dental students at Community Clinic, provided by UNLV School of Dental Medicine



Potent New Weapons May Target Causes of Brain Disease

When you hear the term “disease-modifying therapies,” you may well ask, “Don’t all therapies attempt to modify disease?” The short answer is that many do, but not all. Some treatments, for example, aim only to improve symptoms (symptomatic therapies). This is how Aaron Ritter, MD, explains the difference:

“There are four approved Alzheimer’s disease (AD) medications. All four have symptomatic benefits in that they help the brain work more efficiently, but there is little data to suggest they stop the processes causing the disease. Taking a symptomatic medication is like pouring oil into your car’s engine; it helps the car run better, but it doesn’t necessarily fix the underlying problem.”

Disease-modifying therapies, on the other hand, offer hope of preventing or halting the progression of disease.

“With recent advances in our understanding of how AD causes the brain to malfunction, we may now be able to target some of these disease processes,” says Dr. Ritter, Director of Clinical Trials for Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. “This is a very exciting time because a number of promising disease-modifying therapies are being tested at our center.”

He cautions, however, that challenges persist: “Changes tend to occur slowly in neurodegenerative diseases. Showing that a medication has an impact on disease course may take years to demonstrate.”

A Brief Guide to Clinical Trials
Thanks to the selflessness of clinical trial volunteers, researchers gain valuable insights on how the brain works ­and why sometimes it doesn’t. Clinical trials have varying aims, but with the exception of observational studies, which contribute to our understanding of brain changes but do not test new medications, most trials conducted at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health fall in the disease-modifying therapy category.

These studies are also termed “interventional” because new treatments (or placebos) are administered to participants. Here’s a brief rundown of only a few of the ongoing interventional trials in the center’s three major areas of focus:

TANGO: Asks whether an antibody against the tau protein, given as an IV infusion, can slow the decline of cognitive and functional impairment in people with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) or mild Alzheimer’s.

EMERGE: Tests whether an antibody directed against amyloid protein and given as an IV infusion can slow cognitive and functional impairment in early Alzheimer’s disease.

GRADUATE II: Tests whether an antibody directed against amyloid and given as a subcutaneous injection can slow cognitive and functional impairment in early Alzheimer’s disease.

Movement Disorders
Nilo-PD: Asks whether the anti-cancer drug nilotinib can be repurposed to slow the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Multiple Sclerosis
ARISE for MS: Investigates whether starting treatment promptly with the drug Tecfidera®, used to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS), can delay or prevent onset of the disease in people whose brain scans indicate that MS may be developing.

You can view a full list of ongoing trials, many of which are currently recruiting volunteers, at clevelandclinic.org/brainhealthtrials.

The Case for Early Intervention
The quest to find therapies that will attack the causes of brain disorders argues strongly for intervention before disease becomes severe. The lessons of the past decade are clear: the earlier we can test disease-modifying therapies, the better, says Dr. Ritter: “This has led us to encourage patients and families to pursue early testing, diagnosis and treatment.”

If early intervention could delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease by five years, he adds, we could decrease its prevalence by 50 percent – and save countless patients and families the heartbreak of a disorder for which we currently have no cure.

 “Ancient writings tell us that brain diseases have plagued people for thousands of years,” says Dr. Ritter. “Conquering them would be a global achievement with enormous political, social and economic consequences for all humanity.”

A Global Cause Needs Grassroots Support
Of course, the benefits of a breakthrough in halting the wreckage from the morbidity and mortality of neurodegenerative disease extend far beyond the family circle.

You can enlist in the fight. We have made significant strides in the first 10 years of the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health’s existence, but we need you more than ever to accelerate the tempo in the next decade. Together, we can make advances we only dream of today.

To find out if you, a loved one or a friend meets the qualifications for one of our clinical trials, call 855.LOU.RUVO or email healthybrains@ccf.org.

Photo: Chart – Based on Kennedy GJ. Primary Psychiatry, Vol. 14, No. 11, 2007. Provided by Cleveland Clinic Nevada

OptumCare opens first phase of Cancer Center in LVMD

OptumCare recently opened the first phase of a new 55,000-square-foot Cancer Center at Rancho Drive and Charleston Boulevard in the heart of the Las Vegas Medical District. It will soon launch the second phase of this $22 million investment this summer, including an expanded breast care department, imaging center, patient and family resource library and café. Offering all of these services in one location means patients won’t have to leave the Cancer Center to get diagnosed, visit doctors or receive treatment.

The Cancer Center features 26 semi-private infusion suites for patients undergoing chemotherapy. The suites were built with patient comfort in mind and feature pull-out tabletops, charging ports for mobile devices and extra seating for friends and family. The building features beautiful cause-based art created by clients from local nonprofit, Opportunity Village, and other organizations, plus a resource library for patients and their families.

OptumCare is proud to offer more choices in cancer treatment to Southern Nevadans. OptumCare Cancer Care offers a variety of cancer treatment services for its patients including medical oncology, hematology, radiation oncology, surgical oncology, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, breast care, imaging, genetic counseling, palliative care and laboratory services, with more services coming soon.

OptumCare’s approach to cancer care is based on highly coordinated care, with holistic individualized treatment plans and shared decision-making between physicians and patients. This is achieved through partnerships with other medical organizations, nonprofit organizations and community partners. OptumCare also plays a leading role within the medical community and creates a place of learning and support for all who live in Southern Nevada.

For more information, visit: optumcare.com/NVcancercare

Photo: OptumCare Cancer Center in the Las Vegas Medical District

Cancer Patient Grateful for UNLV Surgical Oncologist who Saves, Extends Lives

The story that ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in May 2018 was compelling.

Mary Kay Duda’s life was saved by UNLV Medicine’s Dr. Charles St. Hill.

St. Hill, one of only three fellowship trained surgical oncologists in Nevada, performed a complex 10- hour surgery known as a Whipple procedure to remove a large tumor that enveloped her pancreas.

“I’ve been given the gift of life,” a grateful Duda would later tell St. Hill and reporter Jessie Bekker.

As Black History Month unfolds, St. Hill, an African American, hopes the story of how he became a surgeon will be found compelling enough to inspire other minority youths to go into medicine.

“That’s why Black History Month remains important,” said St. Hill, who stresses that he wants to be known as a fine surgeon, not a fine black surgeon. “If the history revealed in that month can inspire others to go into fields they might not otherwise attempt, it’s worthwhile.”

St. Hill, whose late father was an OB-GYN, says his mother told him that at the age of three he had already expressed the desire to be a surgeon. He notes that one reason his parents didn’t dismiss that desire as just a childhood fantasy was because of his extraordinary ability to sew at such a young age.  — “Both my parents could sew and they taught me before I went to school — my dad actually could make men’s suits growing up in Barbados.”

When the snout fell off his teddy bear, St. Hill sewed it back on. Maybe, just maybe, his parents thought, that example of sewing while he was still a pre-school child was a precursor to his suturing as a surgeon.

St. Hill’s father first came to the United States to run track for Philander Smith College, a private black college in Arkansas. In 1969, he was in the first University of California at San Diego medical school class that admitted blacks. St. Hill said he was told by his father’s mentor at the school that threatening hang-up phone calls made by people unhappy with blacks at the school were not uncommon.

Three months before his father graduated from medical school, St. Hill was born. He attended San Diego private schools, where he did very well, but still ran into a few roadblocks on his way to becoming a surgeon. In high school in the early 90s, he had an English teacher that gave him a “C” for a grade even though he received straight “A’s“ on papers. When he asked why, he said the teacher replied, “People like you aren’t going to do anything with yourself anyway.” He said a math teacher did the same kind of thing — gave him a B- — after he received all A’s on tests. “You people aren’t going to do anything with yourselves anyway,” he was told. Stunned by the behavior and worried about making waves, he didn’t go to administrators for possible redress.

“I couldn’t get into AP courses (advanced placement) courses because of that,” he said. “And that could have played a large role in my getting into the college I wanted.”

Even at the University of California at Berkeley, a school considered a hotbed of liberalism, St. Hill ran into racial problems, eventually graduating with a degree in molecular and cell biology. “I loved my time at Berkeley, but even there, I couldn’t get away from the race thing entirely.”

Race, he said, was not a factor from students or professors while he was pursuing his medical degree at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine; a general surgery residency at the University of Nevada School of Medicine; and a surgical oncology and a Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary fellowship from the University of Louisville.

His experience was so positive in Nevada that he returned in 2017. He is now a tenure-track assistant professor of surgery in the UNLV School of Medicine.

As a practicing physician, he has run into a few people who say they don’t want to be operated on by a black doctor. “I don’t take it personally,” he said. “It’s just the way some people are in our country. It’s part of our culture.”

He recalls with a chuckle that one Asian American woman sought him out because he was a black surgeon. “She said I really had to be good if they allowed a black man to be a surgeon.”

St. Hill has been recognized as one of the country’s finest technical surgeons, winning the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons “Top Gun” competition in 2010. In the competition, surgeons compete on virtual anatomy simulators. He also was a finalist in 2009.

St. Hill knows that he’s had it much easier than many other blacks who wanted to go into medicine. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, for instance, few medical schools would admit black students regardless of their academic excellence. Medical education was limited to a few black medical colleges, including Howard University College of Medicine and Meharry Medical College in Nashville. In 2008, the American Medical Association, called by many economists the strongest trade union in the United States, issued an apology to black physicians. It had excluded black physicians from its ranks for nearly a century after the Civil War, closing several black medical schools and virtually ensuring that most black physicians were kept from specialties like surgery as well as research.

Today, the AMA, which has 220,000 members, works to rectify its past. It funds pipeline programs for aspiring students, offers financial aid to underrepresented students and supports programs to cultivate minority faculty members.

St. Hill, who says he will do all he can to help young people enter the medical profession, enjoys what he does as a clinician, teacher and researcher.

His research is regularly published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Surgical Oncology. Now in his 40’s, St. Hill, the married father of two young children, expects to continue doing what he’s doing.

“I love what I do. I get to work with students — they keep you on top of your game. And I get to work with patients – by making them feel better. My goal is just to keep pushing the envelope with surgical oncology. I want people to be able to have better lives.”

Photo: Provided by UNLV School of Medicine, Grateful Patient Hugs Dr. St. Hill

Innovation and Technology Saving Lives in the Las Vegas Medical District

Stakeholders and friends of the Las Vegas Medical District recently gathered at City Hall for a free Town Hall. Hosted by city of Las Vegas, Valley Hospital Medical Center and the Clark County Medical Society, in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging (SDMI) and UMC, the informational event featured cutting-edge technology and innovation used by medical facilities within the Las Vegas Medical District to save lives and treat patients.

Four key presentations focused on mammography and digital imaging, clinical trials, advanced heart care, and robotic surgery.

Dr. Aaron Ritter, Cleveland Clinic Nevada, shared a sobering map showing Nevada as one of the country’s top three states where the prevalence of Alzheimer’s is predicted to increase dramatically. The newest hope for treating the disease lies in drugs and treatments that remove proteins in the brain before they accumulate. Fortunately, the Cleveland Clinic Nevada’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health is one of the most active clinical trial centers in the country with more than 70 studies completed and dozens more in the works.

Dr. Aanshu A. Shah, Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging (SDMI), discussed the new Pristina 3D mammogram that is now available at all of SDMI’s eight Southern Nevada locations. The machine has been lauded for delivering the most accurate results while using the lowest dose of radiation possible and offering the most comfort to patients. Considered a breakthrough in breast cancer detection, Tomosynthesis, or 3D mammography, reduces the number of call-backs and false positives while improving the detection of actual cancers by a significant margin.

Dr. Chowdhury Ahsan, who oversees advanced cardiac care at UMC and is program director of the cardiology fellowship program at UNLV School of Medicine, shared the compelling story of 49-year-old patient Daniel Tena who came to UMC with chest pain. Thanks to the cardiac catheterization laboratory at UMC, Tena received the critical care, including cardiac resynchronization therapy, he needed to recover.

And finally, Dr. Leslie Browder, a board certified colorectal and general surgeon who works out of Valley Hospital Medical Center, showed off the impressive abilities of the DaVinci Robotic Surgical System. Considered even more advanced than laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgery is minimally invasive and highly effective thanks to robotic instruments that can easily reach places and parts unknown in the body – with minimal to little impact to surrounding tissue and organs. Dr. Browder talked about her own personal health journey as a hysterectomy patient. Because her surgery was performed robotically, she was back to work in just over a week!

At the Town Hall, guests got the chance to get up close and personal with some of the actual equipment, including a virtual reality GE Senographe Pristina mammography system, along with a da Vinci® Xi™ Robotic Surgical System.

To view a video of the Town Hall, click here.

Photo: LVMD Town Hall with Dr. Leslie Browder speaking, provided by Valley Hospital Medical Center