Dr. Jim Florence. Courtesy of ACP.
Dr. Jim Florence. Courtesy of ACP.

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Appalachian College of Pharmacy names first dean of Department of Public Health

Dr. Jim Florence has joined the faculty and staff at the Appalachian College of Pharmacy as its first dean and a professor in the new ACP Department of Public Health.

ACP Dean Susan Mayhew made the announcement recently, also announcing several staff transitions and the retirement of long-time Registrar and Director of Financial Aid Vickie Keene.

Florence was previously a professor in the Master of Public Health Program, Department of Public and Community Health, School of Health Sciences at Liberty University. 

While at Liberty, Florence was a faculty member, course developer and instructor, researcher and committee member. He served as the lead faculty member on the accreditation committee. His work led to the successful accreditation in 2019 of the Liberty MPH program by the Council on Education in Public Health. Prior to joining Liberty University, he was chair of the Department of Community and Behavioral Health for the College of Public Health at East Tennessee State University. 

He is a graduate of California Baptist College with a Bachelor of Science Degree in biology; Loma Linda University Graduate School with a Master of Arts Degree in Biology, a Dr.P.H. in preventive care, an M.P.H. in health education/nutrition; and an M.A.T.S. in theological studies from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Florence has been published on a wide variety of topics and has been a member of a number community service organizations. He is also a past member and commissioner on the Virginia Department of Health Public Health Advisory Council.

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NIH group awards funding to Virginia Tech, Carilion, University of Virginia for four projects

The integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), a National Institutes of Health-funded Clinical and Translational Science Awards hub, has awarded teams of physicians, researchers, veterinarians and data scientists at Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, and the University of Virginia $200,000 in pilot funding. The funds will be used across four multi-institutional research projects to accelerate health breakthroughs in the fields of pediatrics, prenatal care, and cancer treatment. 

The funded projects are:

Identifying Institutional Factors Impacting Patient Care in Colorectal Screening 

Colorectal cancer screening rates remain well below the national goals and are substantially worse among some demographic groups. For example, one in two rural Virginians remains unscreened. Principal Investigator John Epling, vice chair for research and population health with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Carilion Clinic, will lead an interdisciplinary team to examine factors that may delay colorectal cancer screening and the consequences of these delays. Members of the research team include Michelle Rockwell, senior research associate at Carilion; Paul Yeaton, division chief of gastroenterology at Carilion; Sarah Parker, chair of the Department of Health Systems and Implementation Science at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and research associate professor at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; Jeff Stein, associate director of the Center for Health Behaviors Research at Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; and Li Li, chair of the Department of Family Medicine at UVA Health. Together, they will work to understand and quantify factors in health care processes, known as “sludge” — unnecessary paperwork, long wait times, etc. — and how these factors may affect vulnerable individuals. 

The Obesity EMBRACE Pilot: Empowering Moms and Basic Research Via Active Community Engagement

A team composed of Brittany Howell, assistant professor of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and of human development and family science, and Jaclyn Nunziato, assistant professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and obstetrician-gynecologist physician at Carilion, will examine a potential contributing factor to poor pregnancy outcomes: imbalance in the vaginal microbiome. The vaginal microbiome refers to all of the microorganisms found in the vagina. Most studies about the vaginal microbiome in pregnancy are focused on healthy weight populations, despite known differences in the vaginal microbiome associated with weight. The vaginal changes during pregnancy in overweight women have not been thoroughly studied, and it is not known how these differences may predict health outcomes.

Characterization of Extracellular Vesicles (EVs) after High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound for the Treatment of Sarcoma

Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are particles naturally released from cells that enable communication between cells locally and distantly. In some cancers, EVs are implicated in cancer progression and metastasis. A cross-institutional team of Shawna Klahn, associate professor of oncology in the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, and Natasha Sheybani, research director of UVA Health’s Focused Ultrasound Cancer Immunotherapy Center, plans to characterize the EVs released from soft-tissue sarcomas before and after treatment of the tumor with high-intensity focused ultrasound, a technique that uses sound waves to destroy cancer tumor cells. Researchers are seeking to understand the biological consequences of high-intensity focused ultrasound treatment on EVs. EVs represent a potential new drug delivery tool, and high-intensity focused ultrasound can alter the release and/or contents of the EVs. In addition, this work will offer important information about the use of focused ultrasound as a treatment option for some types of cancer.

Discovery of Probiotics to Improve Infant Health

In this proposed project, an interdisciplinary team of Xin Luo, associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and Monica Garin-Laflam, associate professor of pediatrics and the director of the Pediatric Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at Carilion, will test the hypothesis that infants with higher abundance of specific strains of Lactobacillus reuteri in the gut microbiome have more protective antibodies (known as IgA) for fighting infections. Researchers plan to examine the fecal microbiome of breastfed infants to determine whether infants with more strains of Lactobaccillus reuteri also have more IgA capable of recognizing gut pathogens such as salmonella, enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli and shigella. The team hopes that understanding which Lactobaccillus reuteri strains promote IgA production will inform the design of baby formula to promote better infant gut health and will guide parents in the selection of the best baby formula.

iTHRIV is supported by the National Institutes of Health through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (award number UL1TR003015). A collaboration of the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Carilion Clinic, and the Inova Health System, iTHRIV unites the research infrastructure of these flagship institutions to accelerate innovation in health-related research with the latest advances in clinical and translational science. (Disclosure: Carilion is one of our donors but donors have no say in news decisions; see our policy.)

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Virginia Tech Carilion medical school to host speaker on oral health

Kim Boggess. Courtesy of Virginia Tech
Kim Boggess. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

The Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine (VTCSOM) and Delta Dental of Virginia will host the 12th annual Delta Dental of Virginia Oral Health Endowed Lecture at 7 p.m. Jan. 4. The speaker will be Kim Boggess, a professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. She will present relevant research in her talk, “You Can Learn a Lot by Just Watching: Maternal Oral Disease and Pregnancy Outcome.” 

The lecture is free and open to the public. The event will be hosted in person and online. Registration is required. 

Hormonal changes during pregnancy bring about significant physiological changes throughout the body. The oral cavity reflects many of these changes, which include exacerbation of periodontal disease, tooth decay, enamel erosion, loose teeth and oral dryness. Some evidence suggests a bi-directional relationship between maternal periodontitis and preterm deliveries, low birth weights and preeclampsia.

Boggess said in a statement, “The seriousness or impact of oral health issues is two-fold because you are dealing with two patients — the mother and the fetus/child and their oral health.”

A reception will be held at 6 p.m. prior to the lecture. To learn more information, visit the event page

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Alan Munshower and Alex Kinnaman. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.
Alan Munshower and Alex Kinnaman. Courtesy of Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech librarians win award

The Best Paper Prize was awarded to Alex Kinnaman and Alan Munshower of Virginia Tech’s University Libraries at iPRES 2022, the 18th International Conference on Digital Preservation in Glasgow, Scotland. The jury members selected Kinnaman and Munshower’s paper, “Green Goes with Anything: Decreasing Environmental Impact of Digital Libraries at Virginia Tech,” in part because the “topic of this paper couldn’t have been more timely.”

Kinnaman and Munshower examined the carbon footprint of University Libraries’ practices, particularly appraisal and preservation, and made a set of recommended adjustments and areas for further consideration. 

Measuring a carbon footprint is complicated and difficult. The team investigated two specific areas, fixity and storage, and the energy consumption of both based on the University Libraries’ current digital infrastructure. 

“Storage, for example, is fluid,” said Kinnaman, University Libraries’ digital preservation coordinator in a statement. “Content moves back and forth between various servers on different mediums, and pinpointing an accurate read of any given storage space at a given time requires estimations and a grain of salt.”

They focused on how they could reorient library practices to consider the climate impact more urgently. 

“This paper helps start the internal conversation around the environmental impact of current digital storage and information management practices across the profession, and how University Libraries at Virginia Tech can adapt,” said Munshower.  

Libraries are designed to preserve analog and digital material, and all things digital require significant energy. “As a digital preservationist, my job is essentially to ensure that all of our digital assets are accessible to a minimum of five to 10 years,” said Kinnaman. “This requires a massive amount of storage and ongoing maintenance activities, which effectively does what is necessary to meet that goal, but there is never a stopping point because preservation is active.” 

Kinnaman used the example of turning off lights to save energy. “Those on campus may be familiar with our Lights Off/Power Down event, a designated time intentionally dedicated to powering down anything nonessential to conserve energy,” said Kinnaman. “Preservation never powers down entirely, but there needs to be similar intentional decisions made in preservation to decrease certain activities to save on power where possible.”