Blood pressure: in your genes?

More than one billion people have high blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke and heart attack — and now researchers at the University of Washington are among the scientists who’ve found genetic variants associated with blood pressure in 28 regions of the human genome. The study included more than 200,000 people of European descent, and 346 scientists from more than 200 centers in 24 countries were involved in the project. Their results — which provide new insight into the biology of blood pressure regulation as well as hope for better treatments in the future — were published in Nature in September.

AIDS drug helps prevent spread of the virus in heterosexual couples

The Department of Global Health and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation collaborated on an HIV prevention study in Kenya and Uganda that has resulted in new findings. Participants included more than 4,700 heterosexual couples in which one partner had HIV and the other did not. The trial tested the efficacy of two drugs — Viread, an anti-retroviral drug, and Truvada, a drug previously found to help prevent the spread of HIV to uninfected gay men — in preventing the spread of HIV from one partner to another. Researchers found that the medications reduced the risk of HIV infection by between 62–73 percent. A similar study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also showed positive results.

High-fat diet may injure brain cells

Joshua Thaler, M.D., Ph.D., an acting instructor in UW Medicine’s Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence, and his colleagues used mice to study the short- and long-term effects of eating a high-fat diet (similar to a typical U.S. diet) on the brain. They found that the diet caused injury to (and eventual loss of) neurons in the brain that control weight regulation in mice. Thaler and his colleagues suggest that this finding may help explain why it is difficult for obese people to achieve sustained weight loss.

Manipulating mosquito populations to reduce the incidence of malaria

Scientists from Imperial College London and UW Medicine have shown that it is possible to genetically manipulate populations of mosquitoes; in their experiment, genetically altered mosquitoes bred with regular mosquitoes, and, in a few generations, the alteration took root in the population. David Baker, Ph.D., UW professor of biochemistry and adjunct professor of bioengineering, Raymond J. Monnat, Jr., Res. ’80, ’84, UW professor of pathology and genome sciences, and their trainees were among the researchers credited for the study, published in April in the online version of Nature. The researchers hope they can use genetic manipulation on malaria-bearing mosquitoes to reduce the threat of the disease. According to the World Health Organization, malaria killed nearly one million people in 2008, many of them African children.


Our new partner: Valley Medical Center

After a period of careful exploration and analysis, the UW Medicine Board, the UW Board of Regents and the Valley Public Hospital District Board approved the alliance of UW Medicine and Valley Medical Center (VMC). Effective July 1, 2011, Valley Medical Center became the eighth entity of UW Medicine — joining Harborview Medical Center, Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Neighborhood Clinics, UW Physicians, the UW School of Medicine and Airlift Northwest. VMC is an outstanding full-service, acute-care community hospital offering comprehensive medical, surgical and therapeutic services. It is strongly focused on the mission of improving health for the community. With 303 beds, more than 2,600 employees, and more than 450 health-care professionals on its medical staff, Valley provides some of the most innovative and high-quality care available to South King County’s 600,000 residents. The strategic alliance with UW Medicine melds Valley’s community focus, personalized patient care and history of innovation with the strength of UW Medicine’s clinical excellence, unique five-state teaching program and world-leading research programs.

UW Medicine’s hospitals: top rankings

U.S. News & World Report’s 2011 edition of “America’s Best Hospitals” ranks UW Medical Center 13th in the nation among more than 4,800 hospitals. UW Medical Center (UWMC) has been named among the nation’s best since the rankings began in 1990. Together, UWMC and Harborview Medical Center programs were ranked among the best hospitals nationally in the following specialties: rehabilitation medicine (ranked No. 3 in the nation), cancer (No. 6), diabetes and endocrinology (No. 10), nephrology (No. 11), orthopaedics (Harborview No. 11 and UWMC No. 17), ear, nose and throat (No. 12), neurology and neurosurgery (No. 15), pulmonology (UWMC No. 17 and Harborview No. 47), geriatrics (No. 20), gynecology (No. 28), and urology (No. 29).

Several months ago, U.S. News & World Report ranked all four UW Medicine hospitals among the best in the greater Seattle metropolitan area. UWMC and Harborview were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, and Northwest Hospital & Medical Center and Valley Medical Center were tied at No. 6 with a hospital in Tacoma.


Graduation and other transitions

On June 4, 2011, UW Medicine celebrated the graduation of the senior medical school class. UW Associate Professor of Family Medicine Raye Maestas, M.D. ’83, Res. ’86, was asked by the graduating class to give the commencement address. Her talk was filled with stories about the graduates, many from the students’ own reflections. Recalling her time as a student who grew up in rural New Mexico, she noted, “The goal at the School of Medicine then was to produce the best doctors possible, no matter where you came from. And that is still true today.” A few days earlier, on May 27, second-year medical students celebrated a milestone with the annual Clinical Transition Ceremony — an event that marks their transition from classroom learning to the clinical phase of their training. “Take everything you’ve learned,” said keynote Steve McGee, Res. ’83, Res. ’84, UW professor of medicine, “and turn it into something of value for your patients.”


Educating PAs to serve Alaska

MEDEX Northwest and the University of Alaska Anchorage reached an important milestone in August: the graduation of the first UW Medicine physician assistant (PA) class in Alaska. The training program was created so that Alaska — a large region, medically underserved, with many remote, rural areas — would be able to retain and deploy more medical personnel. The idea is already bearing fruit; 12 of the 15 students in the first class are Alaskans, and all but one intend to stay in Alaska to practice.