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Dental medicine students and faculty provide free screenings at Boys & Girls Club

For many kids, a trip to the dentist is an exercise in apprehension and fear. Not so for a group of Boys & Girls Club members who had their teeth examined by CU School of Dental Medicine (SDM) students on a recent evening.

The children smiled, giggled and opened wide for the dozen dental medicine students who volunteered at the free screening at the Vickers Club at the Nancy P. Anschutz Center in northeast Denver. Students and residents from both the SDM and the Children’s Hospital Colorado Pediatric Dental Center provided the service, along with oral health education and entertainment. Several SDM professors also participated in the outreach program that served about 50 children over a few hours.

CU Dental Medicine free screening

Dental Medicine student Hayley Quartuccio examines a boy’s teeth during the free screening at the Vickers Boys & Girls Club in northeast Denver.

“I think it’s great for the School of Dental Medicine to be involved in the community and to stress the importance of good oral health,” said Assistant Professor Elizabeth Shick, DDS. “This partnership is a great way to reach children, especially if the children may not have access to a dentist.”

The volunteer screeners made care referrals if a child’s family didn’t have access to a primary dentist. Shick said clinical care, with flexible insurance acceptance, is available through both the SDM and Children’s Hospital Colorado Healthy Smiles Clinic. Also, the SDM regularly offers no-appointment-necessary free screenings to obtain patients for upcoming licensure exams for senior dental students.

CU School of Dental Medicine outreach free screening

Dental Medicine student Nikki Kumor, right, examines a boy’s teeth along with SDM faculty member Dr. Chelsea Shellhart at the free screening event.

The SDM also provides dental care to underserved communities by hosting the annual Colorado Dental Association Give Kids a Smile event on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

Shick said mobile screenings, such as the visit to the Boys & Girls Club, are important because they reach kids in their community environs. “It’s great to have dental school students here because they get to learn a lot about community outreach,” she said. “We hope it’s something they continue in their careers.”

Third-year dental student Nikki Kumor couldn’t imagine a better way to spend her time. She loves kids and hopes to become an orthodontist specializing in adolescents. “This screening allows us to see a lot of patients and interact with a large group,” she said. “The kids are lots of fun.”

CU School of Dental Medicine students volunteer at free screening.

School of Dental Medicine students wore costumes as they gave entertaining oral-health information to children at the free screening. Pictured from left are Adam Pink, Felisa Velasco, Libby Paulsen and Francis Babaran.

In dental school, students do a three-week pediatric rotation. Kumor’s rotation took place a year ago, so she jumped at the chance to examine children’s teeth.

“Kids don’t really know they have cavities; they don’t feel them or know what to look for. So here, it’s good to tell them,” Kumor said. “Also, this screening service is nice because we don’t often get to work with faculty members outside of school.”

Ken Durgans, Ed.D venta online viagra., Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, said the SDM, recognizing the importance of serving the surrounding community, is ramping up its outreach efforts. He said the SDM plans to add partnerships with other Boys & Girls Clubs in the Denver-Aurora area. Besides the screenings, the dental providers entertained the kids by dressing in tooth, toothpaste and tooth fairy costumes. They dispensed dental-care goodies as well as information about oral health preventative-care habits.

They also explained in an engaging way how the kids, if they so aspired, could someday become dentists.

“The kids see good oral-health habits from this fun, interactive perspective,” Durgans said. “The stars of the show are our (SDM) students and professors, because this is all after-hours and they don’t have to do this. They just want to help the community.”

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For First Time, Colorado Directly Funds Cancer Research

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signing House Bill 16-1408

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper with CU Cancer Center Director, Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, CU School of Medicine Dean John J. Reilly, Jr., MD and others at the signing of Colorado House Bill 16-1408.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill giving approximately $1.7 million annually to University of Colorado Cancer Center for cancer research. The money will be allocated from tobacco litigation settlement money. This is the first time the state legislature has earmarked money specifically for cancer research.

“We have always thought of CU Cancer Center as Colorado’s Cancer Center,” said Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, CU Cancer Center director. “The additional research money will help us move cancer science forward and get the right treatments and interventions to the right patients at the right time.”

In 1998, Colorado signed the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement awarding a total of $206 billion to counteract the health effects of tobacco use in the United States. To date, Colorado has received more than $1.5 billion of these monies. The bill signed today, House Bill 16-1408, allocates money from this fund to speed the pace of cancer research and other health related programs in the State of Colorado.

CU Cancer Center is the only comprehensive cancer center in the state of Colorado as designated by the National Cancer Institute. It also is part of several elite groups, including the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) which establishes standards of care for cancer patients and guidelines for programs to improve quality of life for cancer survivors. CU Cancer Center is also a member of the Oncology Research Information Exchange Network (ORIEN). The partnership takes samples from patient tumors and pairs it with information describing their treatments and results. All while protecting patient privacy, the information is collected in a shared database so ORIEN-affiliated cancer researchers can draw conclusions based on many more patients than at their own institution, thus allowing studies would otherwise not be feasible.

With the signing of this bill, Colorado joins states including California, Illinois, Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Arizona, Massachusetts and others that directly fund cancer research, the vast majority with similar tobacco tax and/or tobacco settlement monies.

“This money from the state legislature will help our efforts to discover targets for cancer treatment, develop medications for those targets and deliver the therapies to patients,” said Theodorescu. “Knowing we have the confidence of the state legislature and additional resources, we will be able to make a bigger impact on the fight against cancer for patients in Colorado and beyond.”

Guest Contributor: Garth Sundem, CU Cancer Center

 

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Breastfeeding app shows promise in supporting first-time mothers

mother and baby renderingBreastfeeding was significantly increased by a mobile phone application that provided supportive texts and an online community to new moms, a new University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus pilot study found.

An abstract of the study, “Mother’s Milk Messaging (MMM): A Pilot Study of an App to Support Breastfeeding in First Time Mothers,” will be presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies (PAS) 2016 Meeting in Baltimore on May 1. Lead investigator Maya Bunik, associate professor of pediatrics at the CU School of Medicine, developed the app with colleagues in the mHealth Impact Laboratory at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. Bunik leads the Breastfeeding Management Clinic at Children’s Hospital Colorado and authored the PAS book: “Breastfeeding Telephone Triage and Advice.”

“We wanted as many mothers and babies as possible to take advantage of the health benefits of breastfeeding and all babies to be offered human milk as their first food, and we know that women of child-bearing age are in the generation most likely to own a cell phone and use texting to communicate,” Bunik said. “Cell phones have been shown to be an effective way to increase the prescribed use of HIV medication, to help people quit smoking and to better manage diabetes. Our pilot study suggests that they also can be useful with breastfeeding support and management.”

The study is another example of CU Anschutz researchers and clinicians bringing advances in the laboratory directly to the clinic to improve patient care.

Among study participants who used the app, 95 percent were currently breastfeeding three months after giving birth, compared with 83 percent of the control group. The same amount (95 percent) were feeding babies breastmilk more than 80 percent of the time, compared with 78 percent of women who hadn’t used the app. Participants who used the app also had greater confidence ratings about breastfeeding issues, such as knowing if their babies were getting enough milk and coping with breastfeeding challenges.

Women participating in the study began interacting with the MMM app roughly six weeks before and after their delivery date and received five to seven messages to the app as push notifications via text each week. About a quarter of the text messages asked for a response from participants, querying them about normal stooling patterns in babies in the first 4 to 7 days of life, for example, or whether they knew that babies fed exclusively with breast milk in their first months of life have lower rates of obesity later. The app also linked participants to a private Facebook page where informative links, supportive comments and brief videos were posted.

Bunik, who monitored user comments and questions and provided responses, said a larger trial is being planned.

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Sen. Bennet, FDA chief see CU Anschutz advances in diabetes care

The days of constantly checking his blood-sugar levels are over for Jason Gensler, who has type 1 diabetes. Now that he wears a state-of-the-art artificial pancreas that automatically monitors and adjusts his levels, a huge burden has been lifted.

Diabetes research at Barbara Davis Center

Kelli Raleigh, outreach manager for the JDRF Foundation, displays her continuous glucose monitor to Sen. Michael Bennet (second from left) during the senator’s visit. At far left is Robert Califf, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, and in the center is Robert Garelick, executive director of JDRF’s Rocky Mountain chapter. Jason Gensler, who wears a state-of-the-art artificial pancreas, is pictured at far right.

“It keeps you in your target range all the time – it’s incredible,” said Gensler, a professional research assistant at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes. “With this, you can relinquish control, and you have so much more time to do whatever you want. The relief of that stress and burden is obviously the thing I’m most grateful for.”

A room of grateful and optimistic people greeted Sen. Michael Bennet (D) and Robert Califf, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), when they visited the Barbara Davis Center at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus on April 1. They also attended a roundtable discussion with members of the Colorado Bioscience Association and CU Anschutz faculty members.

Bennet convened the gathering as part of his years-long effort to highlight the importance of an FDA-approved artificial pancreas (AP) system. The senator invited Califf to CU Anschutz to hear directly from these families about the life-changing effects of this technology and compel Califf to prioritize the final stages of the AP.

Bennet and Califf were joined by David Maahs, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics, and Marian Rewers, MD, PhD, professor of pediatrics and executive director of the Barbara Davis Center.

‘World-class facility’

Seven families who are affected by type 1 diabetes talked about their experiences with new devices, such as continuous glucose monitors (CGM), which when combined with an insulin pump and a computer program constitute an AP. They also expressed hopes for a cure to the disease that adds 1.4 million cases every year in the United States.

Gathering at Barbara Davis Center

Patients with type 1 diabetes are pictured with FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD, (fourth from left), Sen. Michael Bennet (fifth from left) and Robert Garelick, executive director of JDRF Rocky Mountain chapter (sixth from left) during Califf and Bennet’s visit to the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes on April 1. Marian Rewers, MD, PhD, executive director of the Barbara Davis Center, is pictured third from right.

“The Barbara Davis Center is a world-class facility that helps people of any age who are diagnosed with type 1 diabetes,” said Bob Pailet, whose 23-year-old daughter, Molly, was diagnosed six years ago. Pailet, sitting with his wife, Cindy, added, “We’ll be thrilled when Molly is cured someday, but, in addition, America spends many billions of dollars a year in health care costs related to type 1 diabetes. So, from a citizenship standpoint, we’d like to see that burden go away, too.”

Bennet and Califf praised the families for participating in research at the Barbara Davis Center, which is funded primarily through grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the JDRF Diabetes Foundation. JDFR, launched by parents of children with type 1 diabetes and run mostly by volunteers, has funded $2 billion of type 1 diabetes research worldwide, including at the Barbara Davis Center, since its founding.

Califf said progress toward successful interventions, prevention and a potential cure is made possible when type 1 diabetes families participate in studies. “You are all pioneers for a whole bunch of people who are going to come along behind you and benefit from the work you are doing,” he said.

Maahs is involved in multiple studies taking place at the Barbara Davis Center. Devices such as the artificial pancreas worn by Gensler – a model that the manufacturer anticipates will receive FDA approval and enter the market in spring 2017 – will continue to develop over time and give people with type 1 diabetes more choices. “The technology is going to go in a step-like fashion, and we’re probably going to be working on refining these over the next couple decades,” he said.

‘They’re going to help patients’

Type 1 diabetes patient Tiana Cooks at CU Anschutz

Tiana Cooks (third from left) explains how type 1 diabetes has made her a stronger person, during the visit by Sen. Michael Bennet and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf, MD. Cooks said, “I had to figure out that God has another plan for me … I’ve just really had to take a positive view of my life.”

The researchers and JDRF officials greatly appreciated the visit by the FDA commissioner and Bennet, as Congress is instrumental to NIH funding. In 2012, Bennet convened a similar meeting to highlight the lack of options available for kids with diabetes. The gathering helped prompt the FDA to release guidance so researchers and companies could determine how to develop an AP system. Four years later, some of the same families explained the significance of the progress so far, and the exponential effects a full AP system can have on their lives.

The FDA is vital in the process of getting new, patient-aiding devices approved, Maahs said. “They play an important role in terms of safety, and they’re very collaborative with industry – we all work together,” he said. “It’s very clear, with these types of research studies, how they’re going to help patients.”

Type 1 diabetes cases are dramatically increasing – another aspect that is being studied. Rewers said the number of people diagnosed with the disease doubles every 20 years. The good news is, he said, thanks to new treatments and the way the disease is managed, their life expectancy is the same as people without type 1 diabetes.

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Anschutz: City of Health

These articles originally were published in a 48-page special section of the Denver Business Journal, March 25-31, 2016. Together, they provide unique insight into the world-class health care and innovation that are the hallmarks of CU Anschutz, one of the nation’s foremost medical complexes.

Click here to see the entire special edition of the Denver Business Journal. 

 

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Everyday Colorado online health survey tool launches statewide

trees

Students at the Colorado School of Public Health are launching an interactive, online community engagement tool April 4 during National Public Health Week called Everyday Colorado.

Everyday Colorado is investigating the intersection of the environment, public health and community development. The public engagement tool aims to generate knowledge from communities around the state about local environmental concerns, values, experiences and successes. It’s a statewide initiative involving the Colorado School of Public Health, Colorado State University, Tri-County Health Department and public health professionals throughout Colorado.

Tom Butts, project co-director and Deputy Director of Tri-County Health Department, said: “The success of this project relies on people sharing their stories with us to inform how we do business. We want to know about the everyday concerns and priorities of people in the diverse communities of Colorado, from Denver to Silverton to Sterling and everywhere in between.”

The project explores both the everyday and emerging environmental health issues across Colorado’s varied and changing landscapes. Professor Jill Litt teaches Environmental Health Policy & Practice at the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and is a project co-director.

“Student involvement, through community engagement and developing content about environmental policies and action steps, is a critical component of this community-based learning project,” Litt said.

Jennifer Peel of the Colorado School of Public Health at Colorado State University and co-director of this project, said: “The ‘Everyday Colorado interactive online tool asks participants to identify values and rank concerns and offers the opportunity to learn more about emerging issues that may affect the health and well-being of Colorado communities.”

After obtaining stories from Colorado residents that are shared online, Everyday Colorado will publish a comprehensive results report later this year, highlighting local and professional perspectives about Coloradans’ values and necessary action steps to prepare the state for emerging challenges.

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Center focuses on innovative mental health strategies

Matt Vogl pays attention to swings. He’s a baseball fan, so he follows batters at the plate, especially his beloved St. Louis Cardinals. But his greater passion is seeing swings in behavioral health, especially those that move people toward happier, more productive lives.

Vogl knows that if not for one such serendipitous swing – a neighbor stepping in and transforming his own thoughts from utter despair to something approaching hope – he wouldn’t be here today. Now he stands on the cusp of the most satisfying opportunity of his career: Vogl, MPH, is executive director of the new National Behavioral Health Innovation Center (NBHIC) at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The center will harness behavioral health assets that currently exist in Colorado and across the country to help implement innovative programs for schools, workplaces, courts, health care facilities, and anywhere else they’re needed.

NBHIC at CU Anschutz

The National Behavioral Health Innovation Center recently opened on the second floor of the University Physicians building at CU Anschutz.

The NBHIC will operate out of the Office of the Chancellor. “This center will bring together behavioral health experts and community resources to produce new strategies that advance care in Colorado and across the nation,” said CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman. “With the generous support of The Anschutz Foundation, the expertise available at CU Anschutz, and Matt Vogl’s vision and leadership, the National Behavioral Health Innovation Center will help implement innovative behavioral health programs wherever they’re needed in our society.”

Vogl said the field is set for something big, possibly a home run or two, to advance behavioral health. Although Colorado has struggled with mental health issues – occasional mass shootings, a high suicide rate and the nation’s lowest psychiatric bed capacity – the state now aims to lead in mental health services, he said. A few recent swings in momentum:

  • The State Innovation Model, which touches every aspect of the state’s health system, including mental health.
  • John Hickenlooper’s award of $18 million for crisis centers and a statewide crisis line.
  • A state Suicide Prevention Board, relatively uncommon nationally.
  • The Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center at CU Anschutz, which recently received an investment of $10 million from the Helen K. and Arthur E. Johnson Foundation.
  • And now the NBHIC, which occupies 4,000 square feet on the second floor of University Physicians, Inc., 13199 E. Montview Blvd.

The center was made possible through a $10 million investment from The Anschutz Foundation. “When we met with The Anschutz Foundation, we said we wanted to be known as the state where innovation happens, where solutions are found,” Vogl said. “We plan to engage people across the spectrum of society.”

‘I wasn’t getting treatment’

Matt Vogl of the NHBI

Matt Vogl is executive director of the National Behavioral Health Innovation Center.

When Vogl moves to the new state-of-the-art space, a floor below the Helen and Arthur E. Johnson Depression Center, where he worked since 2008 (becoming deputy director in 2010), he plans to prominently display a bat signed by Jimmy Piersall, a Major League centerfielder in the 1950s and ‘60s. Piersall is a kindred spirit – he loves baseball and he has bipolar disorder.

Vogl nearly succumbed to his mental illness 13 years ago. He was headed to the basement to end his life when a neighbor, who had received training in suicide prevention, noticed his distressed condition as he got out of his car. She asked about his state of mind, then inquired if he’d been contemplating suicide. The floodgates opened.

“I came this close to dying from suicide (he shows a tiny space between thumb and forefinger) when my oldest son was a newborn. I wasn’t taking care of myself, wasn’t getting treatment. I sort of ignored it,” he said. “Now, I’m really fueled by my passion for mental behavioral services.”

Since that fateful day, Vogl has been treated and his condition is under control. Driving his desire for advancements in mental health are his two sons; he’s well aware that bipolar disorder has a genetic component. “If I can do the work now and make life a little easier for them if they develop (bipolar disorder), maybe they’ll come into a world where there’s less stigma and treatments are better,” he said. “And then they don’t have to get to a point like I did before they decide to take care of it.”

Vogl said it’s easy for people to keep their conditions hidden, which only reinforces the stigma around mental illness. That’s partly why he is open about his own condition. “Unless we come forward and show how we are taking care of ourselves,” he said, “how will people know what better looks like, or if better is even possible?”

‘All hands on deck’

One of Vogl’s favorite movie scenes comes from “Apollo 13” where the astronauts must quickly improvise, using the limited resources they have on hand, to fix CO2 scrubbers in the lunar module. Similarly, he said, today’s climate of lean resources makes it imperative to use what is currently available and build from it.

NBHIC at CU Anschutz

The new National Behavioral Health Innovation Center features plentiful meeting space.

Mental health issues cost the U.S. economy $210 billion a year (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry) and are one of the main drivers of health care expenses for employers. Improving integrated health care, facilitating mental health court programs (similar to drug courts), and training the next generation of professionals to be aware of mental health issues are just a few of the collaborative projects that NBHIC will advance.

“Why not take advantage of the fact we work for the largest university system in the state?” said Vogl, noting that instruction on behavioral health could be integrated across many disciplines. “And why stop there? Let’s engage other universities and get other schools to integrate mental health education into their curriculums. Let’s make this the norm. If we’re going to have an impact and solve this stuff, it’s all hands on deck.”

The NBHIC will be a national focal point where ideas will be exchanged with an eye toward getting effective projects off the ground quickly, Vogl said. The initial grant will fund the NBHIC through its first five years; after that, the center is committed to being self-sustainable.

“The goal for our shop is to develop real solutions that are up and running in the community to impact people’s lives,” he added.

‘What a gift’

Vogl said Anschutz Foundation resources, strong support from the chancellor and a “dream team of thinkers” are combining to, quite literally, load the bases.

Toss in his personal passion for behavioral health, and the NBHIC appears ready to take on one of the nation’s most pressing health concerns.

“It’s hands-down the most exciting thing I’ve ever done professionally – and terrifying all at once,” Vogl said. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities like this in life, so I’m keenly aware of what a gift this is. And that’s going to help me ensure that I’m successful.”

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School of Medicine students get lesson in crisis response

A dangerous virus wasn’t the only thing quickly spreading when an outbreak of avian flu swamped the hospitals and clinics of Mountain City and High Plains City.

Tension sometimes flared as public health officials responded to the crisis. Stress often centered around dissemination of accurate information, so as not to touch off undue panic about the pandemic.

It was all part of this week’s preparedness drill on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus – an annual tabletop exercise in the Integrated Clinicians Course for University of Colorado School of Medicine (SOM) students. Two fictional cities in Colorado were dealing with the “outbreak,” and the responders were about 150 fourth-year students representing all disciplines within the SOM. Leading each student team were actual professionals representing health agencies, cities, hospitals, clinics and the media.

‘Critical decisions’

CU School of Medicine students act as media team

Students on the Metro News team discuss a story to pursue during the emergency preparedness drill. Tyler Anderson, center, a fourth-year psychiatry student, acted as the team’s editor.

Students went into the exercise knowing only they’d face a health crisis of some kind. “This tabletop is going to cram a pandemic of six to eight weeks … into about 90 minutes,” said Charlie Little, DO, associate professor of Emergency Medicine in the SOM. “There are really no right or wrong answers,” Little told the group before students broke into 16 teams representing health agencies, city and state offices, hospitals and clinics, media and an ethics group. “It’s designed to help you work cooperatively in a group. The key thing is you’re going to have to make critical decisions with limited information, and that’s what happens in emergency management.”

A key part of the exercise was seeing how public health emergency response unfolds and how various agencies coordinate to best manage a crisis, Little said. “The goal is to have the students work through the issues under time pressure like they would in a real-life event,” he said. “That usually gets them a little stressed.”

Metro News, the media outlet in the drill, became a source of irritation for a few agencies and government offices scrambling to contain the pandemic as well as release timely and accurate information.

‘Difficult balance’

Tyler Anderson, a fourth-year psychiatry student, volunteered to be editor of Metro News. He enjoyed the exercise, but found it quite challenging. “It’s kind of a difficult balance” to be both quick and accurate in news reports, he said. “I understood better the reporters’ need for information – like why they push so hard and why it can be annoying to people. But it really helps get information to the public.”

At one point, as Metro News reporters fanned out to press for information, a hospital representative stepped into the “newsroom” and threatened to sue the outlet for an alleged libelous tweet (see video below). Metro News stood by its story.

Anderson said the drill brought to light some comforting insights as well, such as learning about actual strategic medication supplies. “We as medical students aren’t the only ones being trained in what emergency response looks like,” he said. “It’s something that’s being thought about at many levels – city and national government, as well as public health agencies. It’s good to know that it’s being considered and thought about, so something won’t hit us completely off guard.”

Shilo Smith, a fourth-year neurology student, said she has received incident-command training and knows just how quickly things can come unglued in an emergency. “I can tell you it is a challenge to make sure that people have the supplies they need,” she said.

CU School of Medicine students discuss response to health crisis

A public health team discusses how to respond to an avian flu pandemic during the emergency preparedness exercise.

Jeffrey Druck, MD, associate professor of Emergency Medicine and director of the Integrated Clinicians Course, spoke to the full group at the exercise debriefing. Students said the fast-paced drill was at times stressful, but also informative as to the enormous coordination required to manage a public health emergency.

“We hope this brings home to you how important it is to get involved in disaster planning early as opposed to later,” Druck said. “As you can see from this exercise, if you are behind the 8-ball it can be much worse than if you are in front of the 8-ball.”

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Wilderness Medicine Series draws huge interest

A packed house. People interested in the outdoors – as well as staying safe when they venture into the wild – showed up in force for the launch of a Wilderness Medicine Series at the Liniger Building at CU South Denver.

Wilderness Medicine launch at CU South Denver

A large crowd turned out for the Wilderness Medicine Series launch event at CU South Denver.

In front of a crowd of 200, Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine in the CU School of Medicine, and wilderness medicine instructor Todd Miner, Ed.D., recently gave a snapshot of the innovative series that starts this spring. The program includes three courses at CU South Denver, as well as evening film events and educational travel experiences.

‘Energy and enthusiasm’

Wilderness Medicine program at CU South Denver

Participants in the Wilderness Medicine Series will learn important skills on how to stay safe when venturing into remote areas.

“There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Lemery, who is also section chief of of the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the SOM’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was clear we hit the right demographic group. Now it’s a matter of building a successful program.”

Natural fit for wilderness programming

The Liniger Building at CU South Denver houses a unique wildlife museum, and the architectural design and materials used in the building enhance and support a sense of the great outdoors.

The location is perfect for wilderness medicine programming. “You walk in that building and outdoors stewardship and education is all over the place,” said Jay Lemery, MD, CU School of Medicine. “The stuff we do is very accessible to the public, and it fits with the Liniger Building’s theme (of outdoor education), so it was a natural fit. We’re there to run a great series of courses and to think what else could work there.”

The community events portion of the Wilderness Medicine Series features two film screenings, each with featured speakers. The films are “Tales from a High Altitude Doctor” on March 15, and “Climate Change & Human Health” on May 4. For more information, click here. For information about the adventure/educational trips being offered, click here.

“The launch of the Wilderness Medicine Series,” said Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, “points to the possibility that CU South Denver could be a location that propels educational innovation and collaboration – contributing in a unique way to the excellence of CU.”

Already, there is a class for almost everyone – both healthcare professionals looking to better apply their skills in the backcountry, or people wanting to learn winter survival basics and first aid, or seeking a primer on safe practices in remote places and developing nations.

Miner, education director for WEM, said programs like this bring the medical world to the outdoors in an evidence-based way. “Whether it’s a family going camping in the Rockies or somebody doing an expedition in the Himalayas, we’re excited about making the bridge between medicine and wilderness,” Miner said.

The non-degree Wilderness Medicine Series:

In each class, students will receive a SOM certificate and, in the case of Advanced Wilderness Life Support, they will also earn continuing medical education (CME) credit hours accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. All classes take place over three days and are taught by expert medical faculty from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“We picked courses we thought were good for all learners,” Lemery said. “They’re a way to learn how to mitigate risk in the outdoors, and they’re fun.”

Also, a Polar & Mountain Medicine course is going to be run at 11,000 feet on Chicago Ridge, outside of Leadville.

‘Practice pure medicine’

Lemery and Miner have always gravitated to the outdoors – a place they get to combine two of their biggest passions. “I call it the art and science of taking care of people in remote and austere places,” Lemery said. “I’ve always thought it’s a very exciting way to be true to medicine.”

While health care in the United States has become technology dependent, Lemery said, most places across the globe don’t have access to similar levels of technology. “Wilderness medicine gives us a way to practice pure medicine – the way it’s done in the majority of the world. Also, it’s an outstanding vehicle for education. It has its hands in wilderness, global health and disaster response. It’s very creative. You have to teach people to think beyond the algorithm, outside the box.”

Creative collaboration

WEM at CU Anschutz offers destination trips

The Wilderness & Environmental Section in the Department of Emergency Medicine offers adventure trips to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations.

Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, said the student-centered program emerged from a creative collaboration between Lemery and Miner’s team and CU South Denver. “The program was designed for learners of all ages and skill sets, with multiple entry points – courses, community events, and travel study experiences,” she said. “In addition, we wanted to leverage the unique assets of the Liniger Building – outdoor spaces, classrooms and movie theatre – into program offerings.”

Lemery said the Wilderness Medicine Series will help measure demand in South Denver for new programming as well as cross-promote wilderness medicine and educational travel opportunities already offered by WEM. WEM currently offers CME trips for all comers looking to combine medical education with travel to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations – including Costa Rica, Patagonia, the Colorado Rockies and Greenland. The latter, the site of an Introduction to Polar Medicine course this August, is one of its newest offerings, the result of WEM being awarded a prestigious subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services in Greenland.

The collaboration will continue as Lemery and Miner’s team works with the CU South Denver team to develop a K-12 wilderness and environmental medicine curriculum that could integrate into the outdoor and K-12 educational programs currently offered at the Liniger Building. This kind of programming is a perfect fit for CU South Denver, as the Liniger Building is a four-campus location that provides educational opportunities for the entire learning lifecycle.

“It just goes to show how outdoor-oriented Coloradans are,” Miner said of the excitement generated by the Wilderness Medicine Series. “They recognize these are important skills. If you’re going to play outside, you want to have the ability to take care of yourself and family so you can come back in one piece and go out and do it again.”

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Regional science fair brings Denver’s brightest to campus

Emhyr Subramanian, an eighth-grader at Challenge Middle School, wants to find a way to clean polluted water. He won’t be satisfied with solving the issue of oil spills in the ocean. He wants to clean up organic waste spilled in any body of water, large or small. He decided this problem would be the perfect topic for his project in the Cardel Homes Regional Science Fair (CHRSF)-Denver metro area, hosted on the CU Denver campus, with judges from both CU Denver and CU Anschutz.

Emhyr Subramanian

Emhyr Subramanian, an eighth-grader at Challenge Middle School, won Best in Show for his project, Chitosanic Change.

“Over the summer I was reading about all of the problems with waste,” Subramanian said. “I wanted to broaden my focus not just on oil, but any sort of organic waste, and not just in the sea, but also in lakes, rivers and even on land. That’s how I came across super-absorbent polymers (SAP).”

Sophia Callender

Sophia Callender, a seventh-grader at Stanley British Primary School, tracked evaporation in five vessels over 48 hours to see how exposed surface area affected evaporation. She found that increased surface area increases evaporation, proving her hypothesis.

Subramanian wanted to make sure that SAPs could be used to remove organic waste in water in an environmentally friendly and effective manner. He watched a 35-video course to learn the basics of organic chemistry and interviewed researchers in the field. Not only did he test a variety of SAPs to measure their effectiveness, he even developed his own SAP, which is biodegradable and does not leave residue. Subramanian’s project won Best in Show for the junior division.

A gateway to science

More than 460 middle and high school students from the Denver metro area showed off their ideas and experiments at the CHRSF. CU Denver and CU Anschutz faculty as well as outside professionals served as expert judges for high school and middle school projects, covering topics from technology to environmental issues.

Jennifer Hellier, director of the CHRSF, assistant professor in Family Medicine and Cell and Developmental Biology at CU Anschutz, and associate director of pre-professional education at the Colorado Area Health Education Program Office, knows that the fair is more than one day of projects. It can be the gateway to a career in the STEM fields. In fact, Hellier attributes her own career in sciences to her participation in the science fair during seventh and eighth grade.

“I have a passion for the science fair because it’s a great place for students to start their scientific inquiries and interest in science,” Hellier said.

Hellier has continued to watch student projects grow more complex and ambitious. She has been seeing students taking on more projects in energy, engineering and plant biology. One of the most memorable projects for her was a student who grew a fuel cell right under her bed.

For Hellier, nurturing interests in STEM topics is important for students and for Colorado.

“CU Denver and CU Anschutz are focused on making Colorado one of the best states for science and engineering,” Hellier said. “This science fair is our opportunity to highlight what is available at our campuses and also encourage students to continue on through STEM.”

Students get hands-on with science

boa constrictor

Students got hand-on with a boa constrictor from Madagascar brought in from the Denver Zoo.

While the afternoon was spent showing off their own experiments and research, the morning was spent with hands-on activities such as using DNA “scissors” to cut DNA, touching a live boa constrictor from Madagascar and watching the dissection of cow eyeballs, pig kidneys and sheep brains with the CU Denver Biology Club.

Michael Ferrara, associate professor in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences at CU Denver, coordinated the hands-on activities for the fair. He rallied volunteers from CU Denver and CU Anschutz and the community to not only engage students, but also to give them a taste of some of the opportunities offered at CU Denver.

“This is a great opportunity to show them some things they haven’t seen and get them to think about some things they haven’t thought about,” said Ferrara. “This is also a tremendous opportunity for CU Denver. We had 460 brilliant kids here. Wouldn’t it be great if they had a really positive STEM-infused experience right here?”

Sharing their passions for science and math with middle and high school students was also an opportunity for student volunteers from CU Denver, as communication in STEM disciplines is becoming increasingly necessary.

CU Denver Biology Club

Students from the CU Denver Biology Club dissected dissection of cow eyeballs, pig kidneys and sheep brains in a hands-on session.

“One of the big barriers we face as scientists is the ability to communicate science to the general public,” Ferrara said. “Talking to a middle schooler really makes you think about the best way to explain your science.”

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