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The Top 10 Health Sciences Connect Stories of 2021

Now that the calendar page has turned to 2022, we look back on the top stories of the year based on your interest.
Madison Brandt, RN, is the first University of Arizona Health Sciences graduate student to pursue a dual Pharmacy-Nursing degree at the university. Her story is one of the top 10 Health Sciences Connect stories of 2021.

The Top 10 Health Sciences Connect Stories of 2021

A new year means a new beginning. Before we get too far away from 2021, though, Health Sciences Connect is looking back at the top stories we published last year. These stories were your most clicked-on features and videos of 2021.

Sairam Parthasarathy, MD (left)

To make the public more comfortable with the nationwide rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, three University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson experts weighed in to ease the public’s mind and debunk commonly-held misconceptions about the vaccine. Michael D.L. Johnson, PhD, assistant professor of immunobiology, Francisco Moreno, MD, professor of psychiatry and associate vice president for the Health Sciences Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Sairam Parthasarathy, MD, chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and principal investigator for Arizona’s CEAL group shared their knowledge and advised that the best way to counter vaccine hesitancy is to promote widespread health literacy.

Despite living a healthy lifestyle – exercising, eating right, not smoking or drinking – Taylor S. Riall, MD, PhD, FACS, professor in the Department of Surgery at the College of Medicine – Tucson, was diagnosed with lung cancer.College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Surgery professor Taylor S. Riall, MD, PhD, FACS, shared about her early lung cancer diagnosis. Told from her own perspective in this guest column, Dr. Riall opened up about her surgical complications and spoke candidly about the toll taken on her mental health. But thanks to exercise, meditation, a Japanese art form called Kintsugi and her own resilience, Dr. Riall continues to persevere on her road to recovery. Dr. Riall followed up her initial personal story with how her cancer diagnosis and her transition to cancer patient changed her perspective on surgery and recovery.

From left: Dr. May Khanna, Jaesa Strong and Christina Moehring performed proof-of-concept experiments in the Khanna Lab in the Center for Innovation in Brain Science.May Khanna, PhD, former assistant professor of pharmacology at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson and member of the Center for Innovation in Brain Science (CIBS), inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs and scientists with her innovative course, Designing Drugs: From Chemistry to Cure. One such product of her course is Cliacept Inc., a startup aimed at finding a pharmaceutical cure for Alzheimer’s disease, run by UArizona Health Sciences students and alumni. In this story, Cliacept chief executive officer and Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences graduate Jaesa Strong, and chief scientific officer and second-year PharmD student Christina Moehring, shared how they are collaborating with global Alzheimer experts and what they are learning about the science, technology and business sides of pharmaceutical development.

Liliana Rounds, pictured with Georg Wondrak, PhD, and Margaret Briehl, PhD, has been conducting original research to identify a potential biomarker for prostate cancer.Liliana Rounds, a fifth-year student in the Cancer Biology Interdisciplinary Program at the UArizona Cancer Center, may have uncovered a potential biomarker for prostate cancer while working in the laboratory of Georg Wondrak, PhD, a research member at the Cancer Center and professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the UArizona College of Pharmacy. In this story, Rounds shared her winding journey, beginning in a remote farming village in Mexico to pursuing her lifelong dream of obtaining a PhD in cancer biology at the UArizona Health Sciences.

Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya was part of a team that developed a leading antibody test for the virus that causes COVID-19. When the delta variant surged last summer, Deepta Bhattacharya, PhD, professor in the Department of Immunobiology at the College of Medicine – Tucson, provided important insight on the changing virus. In this story, Dr. Bhattacharya elaborated on the interactions between the COVID-19 vaccine and the delta variant, booster shots and other ways to protect ourselves. Dr. Bhattacharya also suggested additional ways to protect you and your family as the virus continues to evolve, such as wearing a high-quality mask with multiple layers of cloth or a KN95 and opting for outdoor activities rather than indoor activities where poor ventilation can transmit the virus to others.

On completing the dual Pharmacy-Nursing degree program, Madison Brandt, already an RN, will have earned an MSN and PharmD, as well as FNP certification.A new dual Pharmacy-Nursing degree program from the University of Arizona Health Sciences provides next-generation education to future students by aiming to fill health care gaps. Featured in this video is Madison Brandt, MS, a registered nurse and the first graduate student in the dual degree program. According to Brandt, “this program offers a depth of knowledge and a depth of science that you wouldn’t get in any nurse practitioner program.” Brandt said that after she graduates, she is looking forward to using her one-on-one bedside training as well as her science knowledge to work with patients and look at wellness from a holistic point of view.

From left: Oscar Moreno, Mara Rodriguez, Jairo Lopez, Ruben Sosa, Nestor Quiñonez and Jesús Pérez – all farmworkers from Agua Prieta, Mexico – gathered at the Consulate of Mexico in Douglas, Arizona, for a COVID-19 vaccine clinic hosted by UArizona Health Sciences and the Cochise County Health Department.The goal of the University of Arizona Health Sciences’ Mobile Outreach Vaccination and Education for Underserved Populations (MOVE UP) program has been to vaccinate people in rural, Hispanic and hard-to-reach communities in southern Arizona since last February. Cecilia Rosales, MD, MS, who heads the MOVE UP initiative and is associate dean of Phoenix programs as well as community outreach and engagement at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, explained that transportation, language and technology issues are usually to blame for people in remote areas not making it to the COVID-19 vaccine points of distribution like drive-up and fixed-sites that were common in urban areas when vaccines were first being rolled out last winter and spring. The clinics are staffed by faculty and student volunteers from all five University of Arizona Health Sciences colleges.

Dean Rick G. Schnellmann, PhDThanks to Dean Rick G. Schnellmann, PhD, the University of Arizona R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy students and faculty can expect to see some exciting new developments on the horizon. Dr. Schnellmann explained that by the end of the academic year, the college will have six new endowed chairs. This will allow the College to recruit and retain world-renowned scientists. Hiring the best faculty means students will receive the best education possible from leading experts at the top of their field. On a personal front, Dr. Schnellman also recounted how a high school teacher and mentor spurred his interest in math and science, leading him to pursue an education and eventually a career in pharmacy and pharmaceutical sciences.

Poison Center venomous reptile curator Dan Massey, PharmD, used a clear acrylic tube to safely allow toxicologists an up-close examination of a Western Diamondback rattlesnake. Once the snake’s head is in the tube, it cannot turn around and bite anyone, but can be closely observed.How do you train future pharmacists and physicians to treat bites and stings from venomous animals? By introducing and familiarizing them with an array of poisonous snakes, Gila monsters, spiders and scorpions, that’s how. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (AzPDIC) at the UArizona College of Pharmacy does just that every day. In this story, director Steven Dudley, PharmD, DABAT, and venomous reptile curator Dan Massey, PharmD, BCPS, talked about the role these desert-dwelling creatures play in preparing trainees who might otherwise not be exposed to these venomous animals. The AzPDIC handles 150-200 snake bites calls each year, so the more pharmacists and physicians who can help, the better.

Researcher Andrea Wellington used a dissecting microscope in a lab on main campus. An image captured while researching diabetes hangs in the background.Andrea Wellington, assistant research scientist in the Eggers Lab in the Department of Physiology at the College of Medicine – Tucson, loves sharing her photographs of the biological art she sees under a confocal microscope. Wellington studies diabetic retinopathy in mice to find targets for medications to help people with diabetes maintain their eyesight. Beautiful, colorful images can be seen when cells are stained and observed under the microscope, according to Wellington, and she’s motivated to share these images for the world to enjoy, not just those in the scientific community. Her images have been featured at biological art exhibitions and entered into photo contests, with a recent exhibited image winning the Vector Labs’ photo contest.