UW Medicine Online News webpage header

April 13, 2012

Table of contents

Message from Paul Ramsey

Paul G. Ramsey

UW to establish Institute for Protein Design

Dear Colleagues:

I am very pleased to tell you about two exciting events in the Department of Biochemistry. UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce recently approved establishment of the University of Washington Institute for Protein Design. In addition, a new endowed chair has been established by the Washington Research Foundation that will advance progress in the newly formed Institute for Protein Design. The endowed chair honors Edmond H. Fischer, UW professor emeritus of biochemistry and Nobel Laureate and is named the Edmond H. Fischer - Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry.

The Institute for Protein Design will study the structure and modification of proteins for 21st century medicine. Proteins are the workhorses underlying all cellular life and they regulate pathogen entry into cells and viral replication as well as other disease processes.

David BakerA major challenge for designing proteins for specific purposes is predicting three-dimensional shape from the amino acid sequence. David Baker, UW professor of biochemistry and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has had remarkable success in making these predictions and in designing new proteins with new functions. Dr. Baker will serve as the institute’s director. His work includes the development of Rosetta software, which has become the world’s standard for predicting protein structures and designing new proteins. His regular success with the protein structure prediction experiment (CASP) and his numerous awards for protein design breakthroughs attest to his international stature in the fields of protein structure prediction and protein design. His group has used Rosetta to design proteins with a wide range of new functions, including catalysts for chemical reactions, HIV vaccine candidates, and flu virus inhibitors, and involved the general public in these efforts through Rosetta@home ( http://boinc.bakerlab.org/rosetta/ ) and Fold.It.

The Institute for Protein Design will coalesce and expand existing strengths within the UW and Seattle. The institute will integrate UW expertise in biochemistry, engineering, computer science and medicine, and leverage local strength in the software industry to solve problems in medicine.Together they will pursue new pathways to solving medical challenges by using and enhancing already successful strategies that Dr. Baker and his colleagues have developed.

The Edmond H. Fischer-Washington Research Foundation Endowed Chair in Biochemistry will enhance the institute’s ability to recruit distinguished faculty members of into the Department of Biochemistry. The Washington Research Foundation is a wonderful organization that assists universities and other nonprofit research institutions in the state of Washington with commercialization of technologies and that provides support through gifts and grants for scholarship and research.

The foundation is very far-sighted in envisioning the potential innovations that will come from the institute to improve the health of the public. The foundation’s generous contribution is also a wonderful tribute to Eddie Fischer, one of our preeminent scientists who, along with the late Edwin Krebs, received The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1992 for discovering reversible protein phosphorylation as a biological regulatory mechanism. These are remarkable individuals who have changed the face of medical science.

Please join me in thanking the Washington Research Foundation, in honoring Eddie Fischer for his many contributions to science, and in welcoming the new Institute for Protein Design to our scientific community.


PGRamsey Signature2


Paul G. Ramsey, M.D.
CEO, UW Medicine
Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and
Dean of the School of Medicine,
University of Washington






Autism mutations, scattered across genes, merge into network of interactions 

Brian J. O'RoakUW researchers announced their findings from a major study looking into the genetic basis of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) with an approach piloted at the UW. Their results are reported in the journal Nature on April 4.

The researchers have been studying ASD in children who have no family history of this or related impairments - so called “sporadic autism” - and also why autism varies in its symptoms and severity. By focusing on “sporadic autism”, the researchers sought to evaluate a specific genetic model for ASD risk, namely the appearance of new mutations (termed de novo) in children with ASD that were not found in either parent.

By uncovering new gene mutations that disrupt the function of proteins, the researchers have discovered a pathway related to modifying chromatin—the tightly coiled spools of DNA in the cell—and to regulating genes in the brain and nervous system. Various changes in this pathway contribute to children developing autism in different ways. Mutations in this pathway also may contribute to a variety of childhood intellectual, social, and psychiatric disabilities, with implications beyond autism.

To identify these new mutations, the researchers used the latest sequencing technologies and analytical methods to determine the sequence of the protein-coding portion of the human genome, called the “exome”, in family trios (father, mother, and child). This approach was piloted this past year at the UW with an initial set of 20 autism families. The pilot demonstrated the technical feasibility and potential impact of this approach.

For the current study, the researchers expanded the research to include 677 individuals from 209 families with a single child with autism. They also sequenced the exomes of 50 unaffected brothers and sisters. In the newly reported results, 248 de novo mutations were validated and 120 of these were classified as severe. These were predicted to produce, for example, proteins that were truncated or malfunctioning. The researchers then narrowed in on 60 top candidates most likely to contribute to autism risk, based on the nature of the mutation, functional evidence, or previous studies.

“It is important to point out that in each generation there is on average one new coding mutation per child and not all of these will cause developmental problems. However, in the case of children with autism, what we are finding is disruptions in many genes that are known to directly interact and also look similar to genes previous associated with autism,” said Brian J. O’Roak, a senior fellow in the Department of Genome Sciences (pictured above, right) who works with senior authors Jay Shendure, UW associate professor of genome sciences, and Evan Eichler, UW professor of genome sciences.

Read the paper in Nature. Read more in UW Today

(Photo: Brian O'Roak, a postdoctoral fellow in genome sciences, led the study of autism mutations in children from families with no previous history of autism. )

UW leads NIH-funded consortium to train global health researchers

The UW is one of five consortia of colleges and universities to receive funds from the National Institutes of Health to help foster the next generation of global health scientists.

The Fogarty Global Health Program for Fellows and Scholars program is building a network of U.S. academic institutions to provide early career physicians, veterinarians, dentists and scientists with a significant mentored research experience in a developing country. About $20.3 million in total will be awarded over the next five years to support 400 early-career health scientists on nearly year-long research fellowships in 27 low- and middle-income countries.

The UW is the leader of a consortium, including University of Hawaii, University of Michigan and University of Minnesota, that will receive about $4 million over five years to support the training activities of fellows. Other consortia are led by University of California, Berkeley, University of California Global Health Institute, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Vanderbilt University.

Each consortium will develop and support global health research training programs that provide focused mentoring for participants and diverse clinical research experiences at approximately 80 established research sites in low-resource settings. Program trainees will study traditional global health problems such as HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and maternal and child health, and will address  chronic non-communicable diseases that cause a majority of deaths in developing countries, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

The grant will provide new opportunities for training 12 to 15 U.S. and international doctoral students and post-doctoral trainees each year in international settings.

“This grant award emphasizes the NIH's confidence in the University of Washington as a national leader in global health research and training,” said King Holmes, chair of the UW Department of Global Health.

The grant application deadline is May 14. For more information, e-mail NPGHFellowship@fogartyfellows.org.

Read more in UW Today

Gunn-Loke Lecture set for April 24; Gunn family endows pain medicine professorship

C. Chan GunnThe UW Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine is holding the 27th Annual Gunn-Loke Lecture on Tuesday, April 24, at 5 p.m. in the Health Sciences Building, room T-733. The lectureship, founded by a gift from C. Chan and Peggy Loke-Gunn in 1986, features a leading researcher pain medicine. This year’s lecturer is new UW Medicine faculty member Heather Tick, clinical associate professor in the Division of Pain Medicine.

C. Chan Gunn is the longest-serving clinical faculty member in the UW Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine. He is known for his work on intramuscular stimulation, which uses precision diagnosis and dry needling for the treatment of neuropathic pain.

The Gunn family recently made a commitment that will establish the Gunn-Loke Endowed Professorship for Integrative Pain Medicine. This endowed professorship will be one of the first in the country to support integrative pain medicine, the study and use of complementary and traditional medicine to help patients with chronic pain.

(Photo:  C. Chan Gunn, pictured holding an acupuncture needle, is the longest-serving clinical faculty member in the Department of Anesthesiology & Pain Medicine.)



Clinical Care

Richard Utarnachitt appointed Airlift Northwest medical director

Richard UtarnachittRichard B. Utarnachitt, UW acting instructor and co-director of the medical school program in the Division of Emergency Medicine, has been appointed medical director of Airlift Northwest (ALNW). Utarnachitt has served as acting medical director of ALNW since January. ALNW is UW Medicine’s air medical transport service for critically ill and injured patients throughout the WWAMI region.

In his new role, Utarnachitt will work with ALNW nurses in their education and ongoing training, perform vital outreach activities within the WWAMI region, and work with Christine Martin, executive director of ALNW, in day-to-day activities and long-term strategic planning.

Utarnachitt trained in emergency medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine where he was chief resident. He joined the UW Department of Medicine in 2008. He also serves as emergency airway physician for the Seattle Seahawks and as a member of the award-winning Code Sepsis Task Force at Harborview Medical Center.

Single-session ablation relieves misery of cancer that has spread to the bones

Bone AblationThe removal of tissue with electrical currents that transmit radio waves, called radio frequency ablation, enables doctors to destroy abnormal growths, quell arrhythmias and halt nerves' transmission of pain signals.

 Needlelike probes generate heat that chars tissues within a millimeter or two of the probe's tip. While this is fine for small targets, the technology has been limited by poor range—the charred tissue impedes more distant ablation—and by somewhat unpredictable heat patterns emitted by single-polarity probes. (Two or more probes have been needed to conduct energy).

Recent advances have overcome these challenges, thereby increasing radio frequency ablation's utility against cancer.

"The range increases to a sphere about the size of a ping-pong ball. If you need to ablate a malignant tumor, this type of device is effective," said Michael Gofeld, a specialist at the UW Medicine Center for Pain Relief at UW Medical Center-Roosevelt.

New probes are internally water-cooled, which dissipates the heat around the needle such that tissue is ablated but without residual char. This extends the instrument's reach. Also, the placement of positive and negative conductors on one probe creates a predictable zone of ablation.

Cancer specialists typically refer patients to Gofeld to relieve pain after chemotherapy and multiple external-beam radiation therapies have failed against the metastases (cancer that has moved to another part of the body from its original location). Gofeld frequently treats people whose lung, kidney or breast cancer has spread, excruciatingly, to the pelvis or spine. Metastatic prostate cancer is most prone to invade bone but its accompanying pain is more diffuse, he added.

"Patients with a bone metastasis receive radiation therapy as the standard of care," he said, "but a large portion of them are not candidates because of vital organs located nearby or because they have exceeded the maximum radiation dose. About 30 percent of patients don't respond to radiation at all. Others cannot lie still for the treatment because of pain."

For these patients, some cancer specialists may perceive hospice care and high-dose opioid painkillers as the lone remaining options. Gofeld instead would propose ablation - and as an earlier consideration, too.

"There are two goals here: first is palliation of disease. If we ablate the metastasis, we are slowing its potential invasion of other organs, so it is disease-modifying. Second, we aim for symptom palliation, that is, the pain," Gofeld said.

Watch a video demonstration of an ablation procedure. Read more in UW Today


(Photo: The radiofrequency ablation probe’s tip, with positive and negative contacts, produces a larger, more predictable area of ablation.)





Education and Training

Remembering Nelson Fausto, former Pathology chair and innovative liver researcher

Nelson FaustoNelson Fausto, UW professor of pathology, senior advisor to the dean of the School of Medicine, and former chair of the Department of Pathology, died at home April 2 after a long illness with multiple myeloma. He was 75.

Fausto was co-editor of the universally used medical textbooks Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease and Arias’ The Liver: Biology and Pathobiology, acclaimed researcher in the field of liver growth and disease, and teacher and mentor to several generations of medical students, graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and other younger colleagues.

Born Dec. 13, 1936 in São Paulo Brazil, Fausto attended Colégio Mackenzie and Rio Branco College. He graduated from the University of São Paulo Medical School in 1960. Afterward, he conducted postdoctoral research on liver regeneration at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and became a citizen of the United States.

Fausto joined the UW School of Medicine in 1994 as chair of the Department of Pathology. Under his leadership the department held the largest number of NIH grants in the country for many years. He guided a large faculty while continuing his basic research on liver function and disease, topics on which he published over 200 widely cited research papers. Last October, after 17 years, Fausto stepped down as chair of the Department to serve as senior advisor to Paul Ramsey, dean of the School of Medicine. In that role, he advised the dean on research, educational and clinical programs.

Prior to joining the UW faculty, Fausto was founding chair of Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Brown University in Providence, R.I., from 1983 to 1994.

Fausto was president of the American Society of Investigative Pathology (ASIP) from 2004-2005. From 1992 to 2001, he served as editor–in-chief of ASIP’s flagship journal The American Journal of Pathology. Under Fausto’s leadership and influence, the journal became the leading journal in pathology research.

In 2010, in recognition of his role as past president, as founding editor of the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics and as “an individual who represents the highest ideals in pathology and medicine,” he received the Gold-Headed Cane award from ASIP, the highest honor offered by this organization. This year, Fausto received the Distinguished Service Award from the Association of Pathology Chairs (2012).

Nelson Fausto is survived by his wife Ann De Lancey and brothers Boris Fausto of Brazil and Ruy Fausto of France.

A memorial service was held April 9. The family prefers that those who wish to make contributions do so in his name to the Native American Education Outreach Program or the Nelson Fausto and Ann De Lancey Professorship and Chair, Department of Pathology, University of Washington, School of Medicine, Seattle, WA 98195.

Read Dr. Fausto's obituary in The Seattle Times.

Mark Wicks named School of Medicine career advisor

Mark Wicks has been named full-time career advisor for the UW School of Medicine. He has been serving in the role since January. He will continue to work with medical students in Seattle and in the WWAMI region as they prepare for residency programs.

Wicks joined the UW School of Medicine in 2000 and has held a variety of positions including medical student counselor and clinical associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine. He has worked with students, faculty, and leadership across the WWAMI region. In addition to student counseling, Wicks has contributed to the organizational links between sites and disciplines. Wicks is committed to improving professionalism in medical education and assisting medical students with the important milestones of their careers.

Wicks received a Ph.D. in higher education from the UW College of Education. He researched medical education and the experiences of adult learners in professional identity formation and the development of expertise. He studied issues of mistreatment in medical education and organizational conditions that influence the faculty-student relationship. Wicks also has research and practice expertise in professional identity formation and career decision-making.

Wicks is a licensed social worker—an area of expertise that helps him provide confidential and responsive support to medical students who are making complex medical career decisions. In 2010, Wicks was selected for the Margaret S. Anderson Award by the graduating class for his professional support and responsiveness to students.

Erika Goldstein, UW professor of medicine in the Division of General Internal Medicine and associate dean for the Colleges, chaired the search committee that included students and faculty.

School of Medicine Service Excellence Award winners announced

The Dean’s office of the School of Medicine is proud to recognize people who represent the values of excellent service and commitment to the School of Medicine’s mission. The following recipients of the Service Excellence Award have demonstrated their dedication to the mission through effective mentoring, inspiring leadership and exemplary service to others.

Service Excellence Award winners for winter 2011 (January – March) were: Daniel O. Graney, UW professor of biological structure; Ruth Ballweg, director, MEDEX Northwest; Ruth Woods, administrator, Department of Bioengineering; and Carson R. Simoes, analyst, Office of Research and Graduate Education.

Service Excellence Award winners for spring 2011 (April - June) were: Christina M. Surawicz, UW professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology and chief of gastroenterology at Harborview Medical Center; Gabriel S. Aldea, UW professor of surgery and section chief of Adult Cardiac Surgery in the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery; Scott Kenyon, senior computer specialist, Dean of Medicine IT; and Evelyn Davis, human resources manager, Faculty Affairs, Department of Surgery.

The Service Excellence Committee welcomes your input and nominations. To nominate nominate someone for a Service Excellence Award visit the Service Excellence Committee's website




WWAMI Regional News

Wyoming WWAMI honors leaders

Wendy CurranHoward Willson of Thermopolis, Tom Spicer of Rock Springs, and Robert Kanard and Wendy Curran of Cheyenne were honored for dedication and service to the Wyoming WWAMI program Feb. 28 at the Wyoming WWAMI 15th anniversary celebration. These leaders were instrumental in the creation and development of the WWAMI program in Wyoming.

Wendy Curran was the guiding force in coordinating the efforts of several diverse groups, including the Wyoming Medical Society (WMS), the Wyoming legislature, the University of Wyoming and other groups, to effectively ensure the beginning of Wyoming WWAMI in 1997. Curran joined the WMS in 1992 as the associate director for government and public affairs. She was named executive director in 1998. While serving in that position, Curran lead the effort to make the WWAMI program the outstanding success that it is today. She developed the Wyoming Medical Society WWAMI Task Force to coordinate the program with the University of Washington and champion the increase in the class size from 10 to 16 students. Under her leadership the program emphasized the return of quality, well-trained physicians to the practice of medicine in rural Wyoming. WWAMI became “Wyoming’s Medical School.”

After leaving the Wyoming Medical Society in 2005 to become senior health policy advisor for Wyoming Governor Dave Fruedenthal, Curran continued to advocate for expansion of the WWAMI program and its role in meeting the physician workforce needs of the state. She also served as a health advisor for the current Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead, before becoming senior director of planning and program development at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming.

Willson, Spicer and Kanard, who also received awards at the luncheon, were early physician leaders in Wyoming WWAMI and the first members of the Wyoming WWAMI Admissions Committee.


(Photo, left to right): Wyoming WWAMI leaders Robert Kanard, Wendy Curran, Howard Willson, and J. Richard Hillman celebrate their achivements.)




Upcoming Events

The following events may be of interest to the UW Medicine community:  

Pediatric Urology Lecture, April 14

Pediatric Neurogenic Bladder: The Challenge of Transitioning Care from Childhood to Adulthood by Andrew E. MacNeily, 8 a.m., Saturday, April 14, Wright Auditorium, Seattle Children’s, 4800 Sand Point Way N.E. MacNeily is professor and head of the Division of Pediatric Urology at the University of British Columbia. This lecture is presented by Seattle Children’s Division of Pediatric Urology and UW Medicine Department of Urology. Please RSVP to doram@uw.edu.

Reproductive Health Symposium, April 18

Annual Women's Reproductive Health Research/Male Reproductive Health Research (WRHR/MRHR) Symposium, 8 a.m. to noon, Wednesday, UW South Campus Center, Room 316. UW Obstetrics/Gynecology Chair David Eschenbach (WRHR) and Department of Medicine Chair William Bremner (MRHR) are principal investigators of these NIH-supported K12 training programs. Reproductive scientists Ashley Moffett, University of Cambridge, and M. Susan Smith, Oregon Health & Science University, will speak. WRHR scholars John Liao and Jennifer Unger and MRHR scholars Sheela Sathyanarayana and Mara Roth will each present their research. The symposium is open to all members of the UW community, and there is no registration. For more information, e-mail  felta@uw.edu.  

The Brotman and Ragen Awards: Nominations due April 19

The UW Medicine Board is calling for nominations for two awards: the 2012 Brotman Leadership Award and the 2012 Ragen Volunteer Service Award, named after UW Medicine advocates Jeffrey H. Brotman and Brooks G. Ragen. The Brotman Award recognizes visionary philanthropic leadership, while the Ragen Award recognizes outstanding service from volunteers, faculty and staff. Nominations are due April 19, 2012. If you have questions, please contact Lynn Hogan, chief advancement officer at UW Medicine, at 206.543.6865 or lhogan@uw.edu. (Please note: current UW Medicine Board members are not eligible to receive these awards.) 

Faculty Development Workshop, April 24

Audience Response Systems, 8:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., will demonstrate basic audience response functions, with an emphasis on determining appropriate use of basic and advanced ARS tools to poll audiences on content questions or controversial topics. Digital Professionalism, 10:15 a.m. to noon, will explore how social media is used in the classroom, clinic and beyond and will illustrate cases of unprofessional behavior in the use of social media. Presenters include Michael Campion, UW School of Medicine director of academic and learning technologies; Margaret Isaac, UW assistant professor of medicine; and medical students Michael Duyzend, Jay Conahim, Gabriel Wallace, and Alex Farnand. All workshops are free to all UW School of Medicine faculty and health sciences faculty. Registration is required. For more information, contact Rachael Hogan at rhogan@u.washington.edu  or 206.616.9875.

9th Western Regional International Health Conference, April 27-29

At A Crossroads: Choosing Hidden Paths in Global Health, April 27-29, UW Seattle campus. This student-led conference seeks to engage the global health community in prioritizing its programs based on need and to challenge existing paradigms in global health. The conference will explore the politics of the global health agenda, training for healthcare professionals, and realities in the field. Kavita Ramdas, executive director of Ripples to Waves: Program on Social Entrepreneurship and Development at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law will be the keynote speaker. Students, faculty, and professionals from all disciplines are invited to attend. Early bird registration until March 15. Register online. For more details about the conference, visit conference website or contact Colleen Fulp, graduate student WRIHC coordinator at cfulp@uw.edu.

Genome Sciences Department to celebrate 10th anniversary May 7

The Future of Genome Sciences, a panel discussion, 7 p.m., Monday, May 7, Kane Hall, Room 210. Speakers are Bruce Alberts, editor of Science magazine, author of The Cell, and former President of the National Academy of Sciences; Natalie Angier, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science writer for The New York Times and the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University; James Evans, the Bryson Distinguished Professor of Genetics and Medicine at University of North Carolina and director of the Clinical Cancer Genetics Services at UNC; and Keith Yamamoto, University of California, San Francisco vice chancellor for research, executive vice dean of the School of Medicine, and professor of cellular and molecular pharmacology. Maynard Olson, UW professor of genome sciences and medicine, and one of the founders of the Human Genome Project, will moderate the public discussion. A reception will follow. Contact Carlene Cross at 206.221.5374 or crossc2@uw.edu  for more information.

Continuing Medical Education

Visit Continuing Medical Education for more information on upcoming classes.


In the News 

Spring issue of UW Medicine magazine

Spring issue of  Consult

Read about WWAMI preceptors, UW physicians’ clinical expertise, and how useful physicians find the Medcon service, or watch a video demonstration of radio-frequency ablation in Consult online. 

Media coverage of UW Medicine    

Online News Archives  

UW Medicine website