Dean's Weekly Message

September 9, 2019

Dear colleague:

UCHealth announced last week that it plans to invest $100 million over the next five years into behavioral health care in a transformative approach to meeting the needs of our patients and people throughout Colorado. The investment also came with a promise by UCHealth to match $25 million philanthropic donations, bringing the possible total investment to $150 million.  This investment in the people of Colorado and the professionals who provide them the best care comes at a time of particular need in our state. Data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that the rate of overdose deaths involving opioid prescriptions rose from 3.4 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2010 to 5.1 deaths per 100,000 persons in 2017. The Colorado Health Institute has reported that the suicide rate in Colorado is among the highest in the nation, with 1,175 people dying by suicide in 2017.

Three key initiatives were outlined by UCHealth: integrating behavioral health with primary care, tele-behavioral health consultation services, and a new inpatient behavioral health unit that is made possible by the expansion of University of Colorado Hospital on our campus. In an article on CPR News, Neill Epperson, MD, professor and chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the CU School of Medicine, explained the benefit of improving integration of behavioral health into primary care: “One of the big benefits of treating patients in a primary care practice is you demystify and destigmatize mental health care. It helps the patient feel like, ‘OK, I’m just getting my medical care, it just so happens to be for something that’s going on with my brain.’ We wouldn’t be feeling stigmatized if you had to go and get treatments for migraines.”

This investment is an important step in ensuring comprehensive care and addressing health conditions that can have a compounding effect on individuals and communities. We commend our partners at UCHealth. The School looks forward to our faculty making significant contributions to these efforts.

Rui Zhao, PhD, professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, is the lead author of an article published online last week by Nature. The article describes work that was made possible by School of Medicine investments in cryogenic electron microscopy equipment and in the RNA Bioscience Initiative, which is one of the Transformational Research Funding grant programs created in 2016. In their article, Rui and her colleagues describe “the first view of the earliest event in the splicing cycle that commits pre-mRNAs to splicing.” This work, which is important in understanding one of the essential steps of protein production, offers a direction for future experiments and proposes a model that would help elucidate some key unanswered questions about pre-mRNA splicing. It is rewarding to see scientific advancements that have been made possible by the School’s support for research and discovery.

Cecilia Sorensen, MD, clinical instructor in the Department of Emergency Medicine, is co-author of a Perspective article in the August 22 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine that addresses heat-triggered renal disease. The article identifies climate change among the factors for the rising death toll from chronic kidney disease among thousands of agricultural workers in Central America. She and her co-author acknowledge that exposure to agrochemicals, heavy metals, and infectious agents, as well as genetic factors and risk factors related to poverty, malnutrition, and other social determinants may be among the causes. One thing is certain, they write. These cases of kidney disease are “related to heat exposure and dehydration.” In a news report on NPR, Ceci explained that these cases “probably wouldn’t have occurred if it weren’t for the extreme global temperatures that we’re seeing.” Ceci’s research effort has been supported by the Living Closer Foundation Physician Fellowship of Climate Change and Health Science Policy.

April Giles, vice president of the Fitzsimons Innovation Community, has received the Denver Business Journal’s 2019 Outstanding Women in Business Award in the technology and telecom category. The Fitzsimons Innovation Community is a key to future growth for the Anschutz Medical Campus. It provides space for start-up companies that emerge from the breakthrough science and clinical care on our campus, while also offering spaces for major multinational corporations to land when they are considering partnerships with University faculty. April joined Fitzsimons Innovation Community last year after leading the Colorado BioScience Association.

Matthew Baughman has been named chief financial officer of the University of Colorado Medicine, effective September 9. Matt most recently had served as executive vice president of finance and accounting at Exclusive Resorts. He succeeds Mark Evans, who left earlier this year to become chief financial and administrative officer for The Colorado Health Foundation. I would like to thank Liz Kissick, vice president for health plans and analytics, for serving as acting CFO in the interim.

U.S. News & World Report has updated its annual ranking of the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals, resulting in Children’s Hospital Colorado now being tied for No. 10 and listed on the magazine’s Honor Roll. After the rankings were initially published this summer, the hospital team conducted its standard review of the metrics and scoring and during that process, an error was identified. The information was presented and acknowledged by U.S. News, resulting in the hospital’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders ranking No. 14, rather than an initial ranking of No. 16. That change resulted in placing Children’s Hospital Colorado on the magazine’s Honor Roll.

The Center for Interprofessional Practice and Education (CU CIPE) is launching the academic year with the theme “Responding to the Opioid Crisis.” This year’s One Book One Campus selection is “Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic” by Sam Quinones. Interested readers can participate in in-person and online book clubs. On August 28, first-year students discussed a case related to the opioid epidemic and were asked to review and consider signing the Change The Narrative Pledge, which encourages health professionals to avoid stigmatizing language and instead use person-first, recovery-focused language. A number of activities related to the theme are open to the CU Anschutz community. These include site visits to the Harm Reduction Action Center, a three-part film series, and a round-robin discussion with the key characters featured in the book Dreamland as portrayed by CU Anschutz faculty and staff. To learn more about the activities and book clubs and to sign up, the CU CIPE has posted the Menu of Offerings online. The opioid epidemic has had a profound and widespread impact, as shown in this New England Journal of Medicine perspective from last week reviewing the case of a UCSF medical student with opioid use disorder who died from a heroin overdose.

The Colorado Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute is taking applications for the Fall 2019 I-Corps@CCTSI Training Program, a free team-based short course for faculty, staff, and students who want to convert an idea into a product, service, or biomedical innovation. The program was developed for academic researchers by entrepreneurs working with the National Science Foundation and has been used to train hundreds of teams of innovators across the nation. The fall session is scheduled for October 17-18 and November 8. To learn more, watch this video. To sign up, go to the registration page.

The Eighth Annual Education Scholarship and Innovation Symposium, hosted by the Academy of Medical Educators, is scheduled for Wednesday, March 11, 2020, from 8 a.m.-4 p.m. All Anschutz students, residents, graduate students, post-docs, and faculty are invited to submit an abstract on educational research and/or innovations in the health sciences professions. Abstracts are due no later than 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, October 15. Details about the abstract submission process and the symposium are available at the Academy of Medical Educators website. All abstracts will be considered for poster presentations, with some selected for oral presentations.

The Child Health Research Enterprise newsletter for August has been posted. It provides updates on the second phase of a comprehensive review of the current and possible future state for research related to child health research.

The CU Medical Alumni Association is hosting a night at the symphony featuring soprano Renee Fleming performing “The Brightness of Light.” Alumni, faculty, students, and staff are invited. The event is scheduled for Friday, November 15, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House at the Denver Performing Arts Complex in downtown Denver. An alumni reception begins at 5 p.m. and the performance is at 7:30 p.m. Prices range from $55 to $150. The deadline to register is Wednesday, October 9.

The Denver Research Institute, in conjunction with the VA Research Service, the School of Medicine’s Division of Gastroenterology, and the CU Cancer Center, plans to establish a visiting lectureship in honor of Dennis Ahnen, MD, associate professor emeritus of medicine, for his mentoring and achievements in disease prevention. Dennis has been a thoughtful, productive, and gracious member of the CU and Rocky Mountain Regional VA Medical Center clinical and research communities for several decades. He has recently been diagnosed with appendiceal cancer after spending his career working to prevent cancer in others. The goal is to support inviting a visiting professor to coincide with VA Research Days. Denver Research Institute (DRI), founded in 1997, serves as the non-profit organization affiliated with the VA Eastern Colorado Health Care System. Information about how to contribute is available at the Denver Research Institute website.

The Seventh Annual Anschutz Medical Campus Block Party is scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, September 18, on Bonfils Circle, directly south of the Fitzsimons Building. This annual event features music, food trucks, and more than 100 booths representing units and services across campus and from the Aurora community. Everyone is invited.

Have a good week,

John J. Reilly, Jr., MD
Richard D. Krugman Endowed Chair
Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs and
Dean, School of Medicine



The Dean’s weekly message is an email news bulletin from John J. Reilly, Jr., MD, Dean of the CU School of Medicine, that is distributed to inform University of Colorado School of Medicine faculty members, staff, students and others about issues pertaining to the School’s mission of education, research, clinical care and community service.  For clinical news and patient stories from UCHealth, please visit UCHealth Today

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