New Orleans higher education briefs for June 24, 2013

LSUHSC professor wins award

Jennifer Hew, assistant professor in the Department of Comprehensive Dentistry and Biomaterials at the LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans School of Dentistry, is one of eight 2013 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction recipients nationally.

Hew, a registered dental hygienist, will be honored at a ceremony at the RDH Under One Roof conference on July 18 in Las Vegas.

In 2011, Hew launched a comprehensive program to care for special needs adults and children at the LSUHSC School of Dentistry, integrating the effort into the dental and dental hygiene curriculum.

Four days in every academic year are dedicated to caring for those with special needs. The care is provided in the school clinics, and more than 40 dental and dental hygiene students participate at each event. Since its inception, 119 patient visits have been provided, with more than 85 percent of the costs covered.

Hew also leads the year-round Special Olympics Special Smiles Program, which conducts oral health screenings at athletic competitions.

Study: Race critical in liver transplants

African-Americans with hepatitis C who are undergoing liver transplants have better outcomes when they’re matched with black donors, according to a new study led by Nathan Shores, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine.

For years, doctors have found that African-American hepatitis C liver transplant patients have poorer outcomes and lower fiver-year survival rates compared to other racial groups. However, doctors don’t consider the donor’s race or the recipient’s hepatitis status in evaluating whether a donated organ will survive in a potential transplant patient.

Shores and researchers from University of California San Francisco analyzed data for more than 1,750 hepatitis C positive African-American patients to more accurately determine transplant risks for black patients.

The findings showed that when racially matched, black patients had long-term survival rates closer to those of other groups.

His new risk model showed that study patients did best when the liver was from a black donor, a young donor and there was very little “cooler time” for the organ prior to transplantation.

The study, which will be published in a future issue of Hepatology, underscores the need for more minority organ donors. African-Americans comprised only 14 percent of organ donors last year, yet 29 percent of those waiting for transplants are black, according to the federal Office of Minority Health.

Grant to study college aid programs

Tulane economics professor Douglas Harris, working in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools, has won a $3 million federal grant to evaluate The Degree Project.

The Degree Project provides scholarship funding to a large group of Milwaukee Public Schools ninth graders in 2011. Traditional grant and loan programs, such as Pell grants, wait to inform students about grants and loans until after they are leaving high school — when many are already off track. Compared to these “late commitments” aid programs, the objective of The Degree Project and other early commitment programs is to encourage students to improve their preparation during high school.

This is the first randomized trial of the program in the United States to test their effects. Harris and his team will test the program’s efficacy in influencing students during high school and into college and seek to understand how and why the program works.

Researchers featured in documentaries

David Blask, a Tulane University circadian rhythms expert, and his laboratory manager, Robert Dauchy, are prominently featured in “Lights Out,” a documentary that recently premiered on the Canadian Broadcast Company’s “The Nature of Things,” hosted by David Suzuki.

Produced by Markham Street Films, the documentary, portions of which were shot at Tulane last year, joins four leading scientists in the lab and in the field to explore the effects of light pollution on health, particularly with regard to cancer and depression. This is the second documentary to feature Blask’s research in the last two years.

A third documentary featuring Dr. Blask and his team — shot by a Japanese film crew — also aired recently as part of a Japanese TV documentary series, “The Origins of Disease — Cancer.”

Compiled by
the New Orleans bureau.