$3.7 Million Grant to Fund Research on Novel Drug Targeting Heart Diseases

The Exscien Corporation of Louisville, KY, in conjunction with LSU Health New Orleans Cardiovascular Center of Excellence, has been awarded an SBIR Fast-Track grant in the amount of $3.7 million over three years by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. The funding will be used to study the company’s first in a new class of drugs that repairs DNA damage to reduce cardiac tissue injury and improve outcomes in cardiovascular diseases.  

The grant will directly fund $1,441,643 to LSU Health New Orleans to study the potential efficacy of Exscien1-III, a patented three-part fusion protein designed to harness the body’s own mechanisms to control and repair disease pathways. The drug has demonstrated significant cardioprotective actions in rodent models of acute myocardial infarction, or heart attack, and the newly funded research will investigate its effectiveness in a model of heart failure. A goal of this research is to move this promising new drug toward human clinical trials.  

Exscien CEO Dr. Ker Ferguson and Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Glenn Wilson, and LSU Health New Orleans Cardiovascular Center of Excellence Director David J. Lefer, PhD, are the grant’s principal investigators. They will work alongside LSU Health New Orleans Cardiovascular Center Translational Core Laboratory Director Traci Goodchild, PhD, to develop a pathway for Exscien1-III to restore fundamental cellular metabolic function and disrupt a root pathway for cardiac disease progression and heart failure. 

 While at an early stage of overall development, Exscien’s proprietary protein leads the way to finding a means to mitigate and repair the underlying tissue damage suffered from these devastating diseases. “Exscien is able to deliver microscopic repair enzymes directly to the root of the damage and thus goes beyond the current standard of care of simply treating downstream symptoms,” says Dr. Ker Ferguson, Exscien CEO. “The therapy offers substantial commercial potential and has attracted large ‘pharma’ interest to date.” 

 “This approach could potentially effect more than 20 million people worldwide with progressive heart failure,” notes Dr. David Lefer, Professor of Pharmacology and Director of the Cardiovascular Center of Excellence at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. 



Funding Awarded to Study Cause of Alcohol Abuse to PTSD 

Leslie Capo
Director of Information  

Researchers at the SOM have been awarded a $1.85 million grant over five years by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to study the brain changes that may underlie excessive alcohol drinking associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers will use male and female rodents to investigate how individual differences in the stress response of specific brain circuits to traumatic stress affects the escalation of alcohol drinking after stress. The results of these studies could lead to treatments to improve mental health in a vulnerable population.      

“Men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to develop alcohol use disorder than the general population,” notes Principal Investigator Nicholas Gilpin, PhD, Associate Professor of Physiology, Associate Director of the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Center of Excellence at LSU Health New Orleans. “Alcohol Use Disorder is the most commonly co-occurring mental health disorder in people with PTSD. These conditions, separately and combined, affect millions of American, cause millions of deaths worldwide and cost society billions of dollars. The underlying cause for excessive alcohol drinking by individuals with PTSD is not understood.”    

The research will use diverse neuroscience techniques combined with brain and behavior analyses to systematically test the effect of traumatic stress on escalation of alcohol drinking and to identify the neurobiological processes involved.  Other members of the research team include Dr. Jeffrey Tasker, Tulane University Professor of Neuroscience, and Dr. Scott Edwards, Assistant Professor of Physiology and Neuroscience at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine. 


Noted Research for Treating Obesity and Diabetes 

Leslie Capo
Director of Information 

alahari2Research led by Suresh Alahari, PhD, Fred Brazda Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine, has demonstrated the potential of a protein to treat or prevent metabolic diseases including obesity and diabetes. The findings are published online in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. 

Nischarin is a novel protein discovered by the Alahari lab. The research team demonstrated that it functions as a molecular scaffold that holds and interacts with several protein partners in a number of biological processes. The lab’s earlier research found that Nischarin acts as a tumor suppressor that may inhibit the spread, or metastasis, of breast and other cancers. 

The current research project, conducted in a knockout mouse model, found that Nischarin interacts with and controls the activity of a gene called AMPK. AMPK regulates metabolic stability. The research team discovered that Nischarin binds to AMPK and inhibits its activity. In Nischarin-deleted mice, the researchers found decreased activation of genes that make glucose. The study showed that Nischarin also interacts with a gene regulating glucose uptake. Blood glucose levels were lower in the knockout mice, with improved glucose and insulin tolerance. As well, the researchers showed that Nischarin mutation inhibits several genes involved in fat metabolism and the accumulation of fat in the liver. The knockout mice displayed increased energy expenditure despite their smaller growth and appetite suppression leading to decreased food intake and weight reduction. 

“These studies demonstrate the potential of Nischarin as a regulator of metabolic diseases and suggest suppression of Nischarin function may be a valuable approach in the quest to cure such diseases as diabetes and obesity,” notes Dr. Alahari. 


According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 2013-2014, more than 2 in 3 US adults (70.2 percent) were considered to be overweight or obese. The American Diabetes Association says that in 2015, 30.3 million Americans, or 9.4% of the population, had diabetes. 


Spirit of Charity Awardee 

deBoisblancThe Spirit of Charity Foundation announced Dr. Bennett deBoisblanc, LSU Pulmonary/Critical Care as the 18th recipient of the Spirit of Charity Award.  This award is presented annually to a physician whose career began or was nurtured in the healing and teaching wards of Charity Hospital and who has made a significant contribution to medicine.  

John T. Paige, MD, FACS 

Paige PhotoDr. Paige is a Professor of Clinical Surgery with appointments in Anaesthesiology and Radiology at the LSU Health New Orleans School of Medicine.  He is Director of the American College of Surgeons’ accredited Learning Centre there, is the Chairman of the Peri-Operative Simulation Interest Group of the Society for Simulation in Healthcare, and immediate past Chairman of the Simulation Committee for the Association for Surgical Education.

Dr. Paige received the SimHealth Best Paper Research Award for his presentation MOVING ON UP:  TEAM TRAINING FOR EMERGENCY ROOM TRAUMA TRANSFERS (TTERTT) given at the Australasian Simulation Congress 2017, in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia on August 31st 2017.

New AOA Inductees 

Congratulations go out to the following 24 seniors from the LSU SOM Class of 2018 who have been selected for membership into the Louisiana Beta Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society:

  • Taylor Dickerson
  • Edward-Michael Dussom
  • Christopher Ekker
  • Megan Fitzpatrick
  • Elaine Fleming
  • Alejandro Gimenez
  • Stephanie Hampton
  • Hoang Ho-Pham
  • Kyle Hoppens
  • Mae Igi
  • Casie James
  • Mitchell John
  • Bernard Landry-Wegener
  • Matthew Migneron
  • Aimee Moran
  • Kathryn Olivier
  • Elizabeth Owers
  • Mark Rolfsen
  • Stuart Schexnayder
  • Victoria Serven
  • Gabriella Squeo
  • Garrett Whipple
  • Ian Wisecarver
  • Blake Wittenberg

The following 8 members of the LSU SOM Class of 2018 were inducted as juniors into the Louisiana Beta Chapter of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society in April:

  • Christopher Anderson
  • Joseph Fougerousse
  • Mark Hoppens
  • Paul Kepper
  • John Miller
  • Jonas Miller
  • Laura Petrauskas
  • Chloe Renshaw

Please join us in congratulating these students for achieving this most prestigious honor!


Gold Humanism Award 

The Gold Humanism Society extended its congratulations to the following students & residents who were nominated and elected by their peers for Students of the Month for August 2017!

  • Hiba Elasaas (Class of 2020)
  • Joshua Ortega (Class of 2019)
  • Amber Jarrell (Class of 2019)
  • Erika Arceneaux (Class of 2018)
  • Catherine Chappuis (Class of 2018)
  • Residents-Dr. Monica Hajirawala (Pediatrics) & Dr. Niki Patel (Med-Peds)

Their interactions with their peers, patients, and community have been noted, and they are to be commended on being such great members of the LSUHSC community.  These students embody the GHHS pillars of Respect, Integrity, Service, and Empathy.

Congratulations again and keep on being golden!

Students Present Research at National Conference 

Two medical students presented their research at the 2017 Pediatric Medical Student Research Forum, held in Orlando, Florida.  Samantha Karlin presented her work entitled “Bardet-Biedl syndrome due to a pathogenic mutation on CEP290 and an unreported TTC8 variant.”  Jacob Grodsky presented work entitled “Utility of Electron Microscopy in Kidney Transplant Biopsies.”  Travel to the conference was supported by the Department of Pediatrics with assistance from the Office of Medical Student Research within the Office of Student Affairs. 

Medical students can receive travel support to present their research at a conference by applying through the Student Affairs Office (on the Awards and Honors section).  The department the student worked in must match the funding.  

General information and policies are available for travel:   


 The application forms are available:   


Dr. Paula Gregory (pgrego@lsuhsc.edu), Assistant Dean for Medical Student Research, or Melanie Brown (mbro15@lsuhsc.edu) can answer questions students may have about the Travel Funding program. 


New App for LSU SOM Students! 

LSU Health AppThe LSU School of Medicine Companion App was designed to help the school manage our LCME accreditation site visit.  Students are required by the LCME to be familiar with multiple policies and services (needle stick policies, student health protocols, campus assistance, ombuds reporting, work hours, mistreatment policies, professionalism policies, diversity, emergency policies, etc.)  This is more than they can possibly remember, and these things are scattered across the Health Science Center and School of Medicine websites.  Therefore, we put all of this information and more in a single app for easy access.  The app includes 6 ‘buckets’: student services, directory of important numbers, policy and procedures, curriculum, clerkship information, and SGA and student organizations.  Most information is just 2 taps away once you open the app.  We have had good feedback from students so far, and we hope that the student technology committee will suggest improvements and updates in the future.

Faculty are also encouraged to get the app and it is available for free in the app store.  Search under “School of Medicine Companion” or “LSU Health Companion”.  You will need to use your LSUHSC email address and password in order to install it on your phone.  Discussion are ongoing for the development of a similar app for SOM faculty.  Stay tuned!


Student Initiated Diversity Forums 

Hilary Gary - Diversity Forum
L2 Hillary Gary leads the second Diversity Forum

Students Advocating Medical Equity (SAME) Committee for Curriculum Development –Hillary Gary (Class or 2020), Anthony Pham (Class of 2020), De’Angellica Vaughn-Allen (Class of 2020)

Imagine you are a fourth-year resident on a flight home from a wedding. Suddenly, two rows ahead of you, a woman screams that her husband is unresponsive. A flight attendant begins to assess the situation and calls for someone to request a physician. You raise your hand to get her attention. She sees you but states, “Oh no sweetie. We are looking for actual physicians or nurses, we don’t have time to talk to you.” You attempt to inform her that you are a physician but your statements are cut short with condescending remarks. You are an African American female.

This true story made its way through the news last year while we were in the first semester of medical school. It brought attention to the issue of discrimination experienced by minority and female physicians across the country. Though our careers in medicine had just begun we were already discovering that while these situations are seldom so deliberately and obviously caustic, they are not rare.

Often when reading stories of discrimination in the news we can swear to ourselves that such a thing would never happen here—that’s not who we are—but as the saying goes, “the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.”  After an incident of insensitivity on the class of 2020’s Facebook page devolved into a 3 day, 200-comment thread witnessed by all, many students realized that the camaraderie within our cohort was not as ironclad as it seemed. This event led to students coming together to discuss what they had experienced individually, bringing awareness to their classmates who had not fully appreciated their peers’ discomfort.

For us, these frustrations seemed to boil down to a lack of cultural understanding on our campus. We believed that because we were entering the healthcare profession, our cohort had an intrinsic tendency toward empathy. We believed we needed to exercise this empathy now, collectively as a class, and not reserve it for future doctor-patient relationships. We believed empathy needed to permeate all aspects of our lives, not be compartmentalized into strictly the professional sphere. Indeed, when doctors leave the hospital, they do not cease to be doctors. Considering the effort the school had put into our curriculum to reflect their values of producing culturally competent and empathetic physicians, we believed they would be receptive to our ideas.

First, though, we reached out to classmates to see how they would feel about having their experiences presented anonymously to the class. It was crucial to us that we present scenarios for discussion that occurred here on campus. However, we also recognized that talking about someone else’s lived experience requires ample care and sensitivity. Most everyone that we approached was very receptive. Initially the idea was presented to the Students Advocating Medical Equity group to try to include this information with the incoming class’s orientation. They agreed that a student-led format would amplify the school’s overall efforts to highlight the importance of empathy and cultural awareness in medicine. We just needed to reach out to the curriculum faculty to see how they felt about it.

Our biggest concern going forward was whether we would have faculty support. We were worried that directly addressing incidents of discrimination may be seen as too critical or divisive. To our surprise, though, they were 100% supportive of the idea. With their collaboration, what was initially designed as an event for orientation evolved into the current set of four forums to be held through the first year of medical school. The forums address peer-peer relationships, the doctor-patient relationship, implicit biases, and the historical precedence for healthcare disparities. As we have moved forward through the planning stages we have been infinitely impressed with the support and trust the faculty have given us.

We held the first forum this past August for the Class of 2021 (L1s). It was run entirely by student facilitators from the Class of 2020 (L2s), though faculty members were invited to attend to listen. Despite a few functional hiccups (we’re talking about you, microphones!) the feedback we received from faculty and students alike was resoundingly positive. Students were glad to have space to discuss culturally sensitive topics without a feeling of judgement, and faculty were grateful for the opportunity to reflect on how they can help create a culture of inclusivity here on campus.

Moving forward, we hope to continue to have a meaningful impact with future forums. We hope to create a program that future classes can reproduce so that over time we can see lasting, generational change here at LSUAt their root, the forums aim to teach students about others’ lived experiences within an environment of thoughtful conversation and mutual respect. We believe that this kind of person-to-person, face-to-face conversation is the best pathway toward common understanding, and only through understanding can we hope to both improve the experiences of minorities on our campus and the quality of LSU physicians.