VCU Health Innovators Share Their Discoveries in Williamsburg

On Sept. 26, we celebrated our ninth gathering of healthcare discovery and dialogue with the Williamsburg community.

Making it our largest turnout ever, about 200 people attended the MCV Foundation Discovery Series event, which was held at Two Rivers Country Club. The Discovery Series featured a panel discussion with prominent VCU Health researchers and a reception that offered community members an opportunity to speak with the panel participants about the latest advances in healthcare treatment and research.

Discovery Series PanelWe created the Discovery Series in November 2013 as a satellite program to raise awareness beyond Richmond of the outstanding healthcare, research and education that happens every day on the MCV Campus, and the response has been remarkable. As participants have told colleagues, friends and family about their experiences at the Discovery Series over the years, attendance has steadily climbed and excitement has spread.

Drs. Berry Fowler and Jerry Strauss
Drs. Berry Fowler and Jerry Strauss

This September’s event was titled “On the Brink of Discovery: Innovative Treatments and Cures at VCU Health.” Jerry Strauss, M.D., Ph.D., former dean and current professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the VCU School of Medicine, led the discussion with a panel of three VCU Health researchers who are leaders in their respective fields.

Alpha “Berry” Fowler III, M.D., who is the William Taliaferro Thompson Professor of Medicine, chairman of the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, and director of the Johnson Center for Critical Care and Pulmonary Research at the VCU School of Medicine, was the first panelist to share his research story. Dr. Fowler is seven patients away from completing an NIH-funded clinical trial that uses a process he designed and developed at VCU. The intervention, which is significantly less expensive than current treatments, delivers high doses of vitamin C intravenously to patients who are suffering from sepsis and have developed acute lung injury and multiple organ failure. Dr. Fowler’s previous studies have shown that this treatment dramatically reduces organ failure in patients with sepsis, which is a condition that kills about 250,000 Americans each year.

Drs. Kathryn Holloway and Richard Marconi
Drs. Kathryn Holloway and Richard Marconi

Richard Marconi, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology and immunology at the VCU School of Medicine, spoke next. Dr. Marconi has more than 28 years of research experience studying Lyme disease, and that research has resulted in several patented and licensed products, including a vaccine for dogs and diagnostic test for humans. He is working aggressively to bring a next-generation human Lyme disease vaccine to market and to develop improved diagnostic tests and vaccines for other tick-borne diseases.

Kathryn Holloway, M.D., a professor of neurosurgery at the VCU School of Medicine, was the third speaker. She formed a team in the late 1990s dedicated to understanding and perfecting a new procedure called deep brain stimulation, which is now used to treat Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor and other neurological disorders. While participating in the defining clinical trials in deep brain stimulation, Dr. Holloway partnered with a medical equipment development firm to create a new surgical tool for the procedure that improves comfort for the patient, increases accuracy and reduces surgery time.

“These ideas and innovations are amazing and inspirational, and I am so pleased that we get to share them with our friends and neighbors in Williamsburg,” said Harry Thalhimer, MCV Foundation board chair. “The format that’s been established for the Discovery Series really maximizes the experience because the MCV Campus doctors and researchers — all truly leaders in their fields — are able to simply have a conversation with the audience, explaining the intricacies and impact of their life-saving work.”

Bob Hershberger
Bob Hershberger

Those who attended this September’s Discovery Series event also heard from Williamsburg community leader Bob Hershberger, who shared his personal story of undergoing a life-saving procedure at VCU Health.

“We attend these Discovery Series events and hear about the outstanding work that VCU Health is doing through research and practices to enhance patient care,” Bob said. “Sometimes I wonder if we’re hearing science fiction or reality.”

At a previous Discovery Series event, Bob heard Mary Ann Peberdy, M.D., director of VCU Health’s Advanced Resuscitation Cooling Therapeutics and Intensive Care (ARCTIC) post-cardiac arrest program, describe a cooling procedure designed to lower body temperature to 92 degrees that prevents neurological damage or death for those who have experienced a cardiac arrest.

Bob had no idea when he heard Dr. Peberdy speak that in spring of 2017 he would experience a cardiac arrest while exercising and be flown to VCU Health’s Pauley Heart Center, which is where he was administered the very same cooling procedure he learned about at the Discovery Series, and where he received a bypass operation a few days later.

“Normally the chances of surviving an out-of-hospital attack such as this are less than five percent, but the cooling procedure changes the odds,” he said. “Tonight, I’m here as a testimony of Dr. Peberdy’s clinical research and care, as well as the medical assistance I received from the many dedicated professional caregivers treating me throughout the entire process.”

To show their gratitude to those medical professionals, and to contribute to the type of research that advances the world-class care that saved Bob’s life, Bob and his wife Margaret presented a financial gift to the MCV Foundation after he delivered his remarks.

While Bob had little choice when the time came for him to be treated at VCU Health, many others who have attended the Discovery Series have made deliberate decisions to seek care on the MCV Campus. To date, more than 150 new patient referrals have been attributed to the Discovery Series.

To provide an opportunity for individuals like Bob in the greater Williamsburg area to support the excellence in medical care and research that we hear about from researchers like Drs. Fowler, Marconi, Holloway and Peberdy, the MCV Foundation established the Discovery Society in 2015. Discovery Society members help raise the visibility of VCU Health and foster financial support for clinical research, patient care and education happening across the MCV Campus.

Discovery Society members are invited to Discovery Series pre-receptions and annual Discovery Society receptions. They also have access to VIP tours and navigation/parking assistance at VCU Health on the MCV Campus.

In 2016, 74 inaugural members joined the Discovery Society, and that number has now grown to 115 members. To learn more about the Discovery Society, click here.

Discovery Series events are made possible, in large part, by the host committee, which includes Julie Baxter and Paul Dresser, Louise and Bob Canfield, Ginny and Charles Crone, Jane and Jim Kaplan, and Judi Forehand Starkey. To learn more about the Discovery Series and watch past panel discussions, click here.

Discovery Series attendees speaking with panelists and each other during the reception