April 24, 2015

Student and Alumni News

C O P H Student Lisa Alley, M S

Lisa Alley, MS

Lisa Alley, MS, a COPH student whose MPH preceptorship and culminating experience are with Mohammed Orloff, Ph.D., won a third place award at the 12th Annual MidSouth Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (MCBIOS) Conference held on March 13-14 in Little Rock. Dr. Orloff is an Associate Professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health.

Ms. Alley presented a poster for which she was first author, titled “The Role of an NSCLC-candidate Gene in Lung Cancer Phenotypic Heterogeneity.” Other authors on the poster were Dr. Orloff; Rosalind Penney, Ph.D., Instructor in the COPH Department of Environmental and Occupational Health; and Konstantinos Arnaoutakis, M.D., and Matthew Steliga, M.D., both of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute; and Susan Jeffus, M.D. of the UAMS Pathology Department.

The study explored the role of the CD36 gene in non-small cell lung cancers (NSCLC), which accounts for 85 percent of all lung cancers. The long-term aim of the research is to improve diagnosis and treatment of NSCLCs.

Making diagnosis and treatment difficult is the lack of understanding of a patient’s genetic and non-genetic factors that eventually lead to the development of different NSCLC phenotypes, including adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and large cell carcinoma. Previous research has indicated that variations in the expression of the CD36 gene, located on human chromosome seven, may play a role in NSCLC development and may result in these different NSCLC subtypes. To test this hypothesis, the researchers extracted CD36-specific gene expression data from publicly available lung-cancer gene expression datasets. Analysis of the data showed a significant decrease in CD36 expression in lung cancer tissues compared to normal tissues; however, no significant differences in CD36 expression between the NSCLC subtypes were observed. They then chose to validate these findings using lung cancer cell lines. Their analysis showed similar CD36 expression results in that the CD36 gene was under-expressed in lung cancer cell lines; however, when looking specifically at NSCLC subtype cell lines compared to normal fibroblast cells, the degree to which CD36 was under-expressed differed. While these findings were not exactly what the researchers had expected, they point to the next place to look for answers.

It may be that current gene-specific short sequence of nucleotides (building blocks of DNA or RNA) that are used as a molecular probe to detect RNA regions and analyze gene expression in the public domain are biased towards a particular change in nucleotides. This may explain why no significant differences in CD36 expression were observed between NSCLC phenotypes. The research team is now exploring how they might refine their research by designing their own CD36-specific probe-sets based on results from mutation screenings of frozen NSCLC tissues from Arkansas populations. Their hope is that the use of these nucleotide-specific probes will allow for better measurement of CD36-expression and its relationship to the different NSCLC phenotypes.

Pharmacist Teresa Hudson Pharm D, P h D

Teresa Hudson, PharmD, Ph.D.

Congratulations to Teresa Hudson, PharmD, Ph.D., who successfully defended her dissertation defense on April 17. Dr. Hudson is a student in the Public Health Systems and Services Research Ph.D. program at UAMS. The title of her dissertation is “National Analysis of Opioid Use among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury in the Veterans Healthcare System.” Among the main findings of her research were these:

  • Most OEF, OIF and OND veterans with TBI who have used opioids are male, white and urban.
  • Opioid use in the OEF, OIF and OND populations was less than the overall VA population.
  • Females with a TBI appeared to be more likely to initiate use, but were less like to use chronically (more than three months) than were males.
  • Opioid use appears to be related to an increased risk for negative outcomes. This risk is greater for females than for males.
C O P H Alumni Executive Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission ( A M H C ) Micheal Knox M S, M P H

Mr. Micheal Knox, MS, MPH

Mr. Micheal Knox, MS, MPH, is the new Executive Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission (AMHC). Mr. Knox earned a Master of Science degree in physiology and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). He previously worked as a Public Health Administrator with the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH). Mr. Knox is currently a DrPH candidate in Public Health Leadership at UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health (COPH).

Mr. Knox says that his aim as the new director is to “educate, empower, and equip minority Arkansans, as well as any individual that does not have equal access to care and preventative services, with the tools necessary to not only advocate for those basic rights, but also to provide direct services to their communities.”

To that end, AMHC is hosting a conference in May to improve screenings and health education in minority communities. Called “Educating, Empowering, and Equipping Communities,” the conference will provide 25 individuals with training and certification on performing health screenings, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and community education on tobacco prevention, use, and cessation.

“These 25 individuals will be AMHC’s direct points of contact to aggressively increase awareness, education, and screenings that address health issues associated with tobacco, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, asthma,” Mr. Knox said. “The mood of business for AMHC will be community-centric and expressed towards mitigating and/or preventing negative outcomes to diseases that are absolutely controllable.”

Mr. Knox says he is excited about building coalitions with organizations united by the common theme of improved health in Arkansas, which is ranked 49th nationally in overall health rankings, according to America’s Health Rankings.

“The health issues and medical professional shortages that plague Arkansas are beyond the scope of one individual and one organization,” Mr. Knox said. “As the new Executive Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission, my role and goal will be to actualize the potential and promise of this organization through assisting those individuals that need access to equal health care gain access to equal health care. Therefore, it will be my mission to exhaustively work towards coalitions and collaborations with other state agencies, universities, state, county, and local municipalities, faith and community based organizations, and federal partners to close this gap.  This is a huge challenge, and I will embrace it.”

A decorated veteran, Mr. Knox served in the U.S. Navy from 1988 to 1992, reaching the rank of Torpedoman’s Mate Petty Officer 3rd Class aboard the USS Carl Vinson, CVN-70. He received two Armed Forces Expeditionary Medals, two Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, a Battle “E” Ribbon, a National Defense Service Medal; and an Expert M-14 (Marksmanship) Medal while in in the Navy.

Following his Navy service, Mr. Knox attended Henderson State University and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology.

While at UAMS, he served three years as an industrial hygienist, one concurrent year as a biological safety officer, and six years performing research. He is a published researcher with 21 scientific publications and abstracts.

During his six years of employment at the health department, Mr. Knox was instrumental in the development and implementation of a Syndromic Surveillance Program as well as a Preparedness Disaster Epidemiology course. He had a direct role in acquiring more than $25.4 million in cooperative agreements and grants for public health in Arkansas from 2009 to 2014.

“Micheal brought a high level of energy and enthusiasm to each of his roles here at the Arkansas Department of Health,” Nate Smith, M.D., MPH, ADH Director and State Health Officer, said. His ability to apply evidence-based solutions to solve public health problems has been a great asset to us. I am delighted that he will continue to work together with us to improve the health of all Arkansans as Executive Director of the Arkansas Minority Health Commission.”

The mission of Arkansas Minority Health Commission is to ensure all minority Arkansans access to health care that is equal to the care provided to other citizens of the state and to seek ways to provide education, address issues and prevent diseases and conditions that are prevalent among minority populations.