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2021 Featured Stories


MetroHealth Part of Federal Grant for Major Research Center on Substance Use and HIV

Case Western Reserve University has been awarded a $16 million federal grant to launch a multi-institutional research center dedicated to deepening understanding of the relationship between substance use and HIV. The MetroHealth System will be one of the institutions playing a key role in this collaborative effort.

The use of opioids, methamphetamines, cocaine and other stimulants increases risk of HIV but also complicates the care of patients with HIV.

The grant, which was awarded from the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the National Institutes of Health, will be used to establish The Case Western Reserve University Center for Excellence on the Impact of Substance Use on HIV. Established at the School of Medicine, the center will be a resource for scientists across the university, at the four university-affiliated hospital systems in Cleveland, and among researchers around the country.

Ann Avery, MD, Division Director of Infectious Disease at MetroHealth, will lead the new center's clinical core. "This is where clinical information, patient samples, expertise and resources will be housed," explained Dr. Avery, whose expertise and research includes HIV. She added that substance use often involves an overlap in mental and physical health, so the MetroHealth team will include the following co-investigators:

  • Corrilynn Hileman, MD, Infectious Disease, a current NIDA funded translational researcher.
  • Annette Kyprianou, MD, Gastroenterology, who will collect biopsy samples. "The gut is full of lymph nodes and a prime target in understanding the immunobiology of patients with immune system disorders," said Dr. Avery.
  • Amanda Burger, PhD, Psychology, a clinical health psychologist in Infectious Disease.

The team will collect and create a repository of data that researchers around the country can access to supplement or further studies on substance use and HIV. They anticipate seeking referrals and enrolling patients from numerous MetroHealth clinics, partner institutions and community agencies.

"We think this is a great opportunity to highlight the excellence in care at MetroHealth in a project that aligns with our mission and will seek new strategies to address substance use and HIV epidemics."

The full announcement about the $16 million Case Western Reserve grant and research center is available here.


Dr. Kim Anderson-Erisman Awarded Neilsen Visionary Prize

Kim Anderson-Erisman, PhD, a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at MetroHealth Medical Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has received the 2021 Neilsen Visionary Prize awarded by the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

She is one of three people honored this year by the foundation, the largest private funder of spinal cord injury (SCI) research, education, clinical training and programmatic support in the U.S. and Canada.

The Neilsen Visionary Prize "celebrates influential voices who show great potential to expand or advocate for new ideas for those living with a disability," and its recipients reflect qualities "from being unafraid to take bold risks, to boundless determination and passion, to the ability to inspire others," the foundation said in its October 20 announcement.

The honor comes with a $1 million unrestricted prize.

"Pure shock," Dr. Anderson-Erisman said she felt when the foundation's leaders broke the news during a Zoom meeting earlier this month, then asked her to keep it confidential until the announcement was released.

"To be thought of a visionary in my field is very humbling to me," said Dr. Anderson-Erisman, who joined MetroHealth in 2018. She is Director of the Northeast Ohio Regional SCI System based at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute.

"For the last 16 or 17 years of my research, a huge part of it has been about bringing the voice of people with SCI into that research and making it better. I wanted to continually shape the research field to do important and potentially impactful work."

The other two recipients of the 2021 Neilsen Visionary Prize are Wesley Hamilton, whose nonprofit Disabled But Not Really (DBNR) Foundation focuses on fitness and nutrition, support for adaptive athletes and community service programs that highlight the underserved "disabled" community; and Alice Sheppard, an internationally recognized dancer, award-winning choreographer and founder of the disability arts ensemble Kinetic Light.

"That's part of the wonderfulness of this prize," Dr. Anderson-Erisman said. "There are a lot of people in the SCI community who are doing such amazing work.

"I didn't do all of these things for the hope that someone would give me money," she said. "I did them because it's the right thing to do, it's so needed in the SCI community."

Dr. Anderson-Erisman was 17 years old when she sustained a spinal cord injury in a car accident. Her research has focused on translational investigations and bridging the gap between basic science, clinical science, and those living with spinal cord injury. And, it is informed with her own perspective of living with a spinal cord injury.

"It's not enough to just do research", she said. "Is it really going to make any difference in someone's life? That's the perspective I come from and why I go against the grain. My drive has been that, in my lifetime, I want to make things better for other people with SCI."

One such study is following veterans and civilians with SCI, and a family member or support person, in the first year after injury. The goal is to gain a better understanding of their experience — how they define recovery and success and the struggles they face. That study is a collaboration between researchers at MetroHealth, CWRU and the Veterans Affairs Northeast Ohio Health System.

Another study is looking into whether electrical stimulation is more effective than physical therapy in helping individuals with SCI gain use of their arms. Dr. Anderson-Erisman, in collaboration with Dr. James Wilson, is leading the trial at the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute (MRI). Other participating centers include Houston, Toronto and Vancouver.

In addition to supporting MetroHealth's SCI fellowship program for the past several years, the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation has provided financial support to MetroHealth's driver rehabilitation program. In 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the foundation's Emergency Relief Fund also helped MetroHealth address the needs of more than 200 people living with spinal cord injury at high risk for contracting COVID-19.


Jeffrey Schelling, MD, receives $3.4 million NIH award to study mechanisms leading to diabetes-induced kidney failure

Jeffrey Schelling, MD, Director of the Division of Nephrology of the Department of Medicine, was awarded a $3.4 million NIH grant entitled "Mechanisms of Tubular Atrophy." More than 30 million people in the U.S. suffer from diabetes. Despite implementation of treatments to lower blood sugar and blood pressure, diabetes is still the responsible cause in half of the patients with end stage kidney disease. Dr. Jeff Schelling has been awarded an NIH R01 grant to explore the molecular mechanisms that lead to diabetes-induced kidney failure. 

The Schelling lab has been investigating the role of fat accumulation in kidney tubule cells. The NIH grant aims to determine whether inhibition of fat uptake by kidney tubules and/or sequestration of existing fat within tubules, halts the progression of diabetic kidney disease. 

Dr. Schelling is Professor of Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.


Spinal Cord Injury System receives $2.3 million grant

The Northeast Ohio Spinal Cord Injury System (NORSCIS) program was recently renewed as one of only 14 federally designated Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Model Systems Centers in the nation. This designation comes with a $2.3 million grant over five years from the National Institutes on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR). MetroHealth's spinal cord injury program is the only one in Ohio to receive the designation.

NIDILRR awards SCI Model Systems Center grants to institutions that are national leaders in medical research and patient care. It continues to put MetroHealth on the map as a nationally recognized leader in SCI care and research.

The NORSCIS is operated with Case Western Reserve University. The program is led by Kim Anderson, PhD, and James Wilson, DO, faculty in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the MetroHealth Center for Rehabilitation Research.

"For more than a half century, MetroHealth has been Northeast Ohio's leader in care for individuals with spinal cord injury," said John Chae, MD, MetroHealth Vice President of Research and Sponsored Programs and Chair of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation "We provide the highest level of comprehensive specialty services to patients with spinal cord injury, from the point of injury through rehabilitation and into the community as they regain quality of life."

MetroHealth's Rehabilitation Institute was recently recognized by U.S News & World Report as #24 in the nation and #1 in Ohio for the care of patients recovering from complex conditions such as SCI, stroke, traumatic brain injury and critical burns. Last year, Newsweek designated the MetroHealth Rehabilitation Institute as one of our nation's best rehabilitation hospitals.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Spinal Cord Injury System (NORSCIS) program at MetroHealth is focused on generating new knowledge to improve the lives of individuals with traumatic SCI. We accomplish this through research and treatment, drawing on more than 20 years' experience as a Level 1 Adult Trauma Center.

NORSCIS provides a comprehensive continuum of care for individuals with SCI that includes emergency medical services, acute care services, acute medical rehabilitation services, and post-acute services; conducts high quality research that is targeted at reducing the health burden of SCI by generating evidence-based interventions; and contributes significant numbers of under-represented minorities to the National SCI Database.

The site-specific research project will test the feasibility of early administration of gabapentin (a drug used to control seizures and pain) to enhance neurologic recovery. This multi-disciplinary grant includes co-investigators Drs. Christina Oleson (PM&R), Michael Kelly (Neurological Surgery), Nimitt Patel (Trauma), and Douglas Gunzler (Population Health). 

Dr. Anderson is a Professor of PM&R and Dr. Wilson is an Assistant Professor of PM&R at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. 


Dr. Kilgore awarded $2.6 million NIH grant to develop an implanted device to measure health status

Kevin Kilgore, PhD, staff scientist in the departments of Orthopaedics and Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), was awarded a $2.6M, 4-year grant from National Institutes of Health. The goal of the project is to develop an implanted device that can measure health status and predict disease states. 

The proposed implanted device, called the "Lifeline", measures parameters such as body temperature, photoplethysmogram, electrocardiogram, audio, and acceleration. Taken together, these measures may be able to predict the early onset of autonomic dysreflexia (specific to spinal cord injury (SCI)), pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and pulmonary embolism. These comorbidities are among the top causes of death in SCI. Early treatment may prevent them from progressing to life-threatening conditions. The Lifeline device will be incorporated into an existing modular implant system that Dr. Kilgore's team has previously developed, called the "Networked Neuroprosthesis."

Dr. Kilgore is the P. Hunter Peckham and George J. Picha Professor of Biomedical Engineering in the Dept. of Orthopaedics and PM&R, Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). His co-investigators include Niloy Bhadra, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Dept. PM&R, CWRU; Michael Fu, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dept. Electrical, Computer & Systems Engineering and PM&R, CWRU; Pedram Mohseni, PhD, Professor of Electrical, Computer, & Systems Engineering, CWRU; Laleh Najafizadeh, PhD, Associate Professor of Electrical & Computer Engineering, Rutgers University; and Brian Smith, BScHons, Director of Implant Development, Biomedical Engineering, CWRU.


MetroHealth Forms Its Center for Cancer Research

MetroHealth has formed a new cancer research team to improve outcomes for all patients. The team, which is backed by millions of dollars in support and grants and dozens of research assistants, will also focus on ending the racial, ethnic, social, and economic inequities that impact cancer diagnosis and treatment.

The MetroHealth Center for Cancer Research team includes:

  • Bingcheng Wang, PhD, Director of the Division of Cancer Biology in the Department of Medicine and Director of Basic Sciences in the MetroHealth Research Institute, has assembled an impressive team of cancer researchers who are bringing cutting-edge care to The MetroHealth System and its hundreds of thousands of patients.
  • William Tse, MD, is training blood cells to become cancer-killing CAR T cells so patients can beat cancer without the toxic side effects of chemotherapy and radiation.
  • Khalid Sossey-Alaoui, PhD, is working to understand why triple-negative breast cancer occurs much more often in African-American women so he can help end the dreaded disease.
  • Zhisan Wang, MD, PhD, is searching for the biological signal in patients’ bodies that tell doctors lung cancer is there – long before it becomes deadly.

“We’re doing this for the patients we serve, to ensure that they have the latest advances in cancer care and that they are able to participate in cutting-edge clinical trials in cancer care," says Bernard Boulanger, MD, MetroHealth Executive Vice President and Chief Clinical Officer. Clinical trials give patients access to newly discovered medical testing and treatments before they’re available to the public. 


Drs. Bolen and Caron Receive $4.1 Million Award to Expand Ohio Cardiovascular Heart Collaborative

Shari Bolen, MD, Director of the MetroHealth Population Health Research Institute (PHRI), and Aleece Caron, PhD, Co-Director of Education for the MetroHealth PHRI were awarded a 4-year, $4.1 million grant from The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) entitled "Achieving Outstanding Cardiovascular Health for All Ohioans: a Statewide Cardiovascular Health Collaborative (Cardio-OH). 

The goal of the grant is to improve cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular health disparities for all Ohioans. They will work with primary care teams, patients and families, and statewide partners to develop a heart-healthy intervention program that primary care clinics in Ohio can use to improve care and reduce disparities for patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and who smoke. 

Drs. Bolen and Caron are Associate Professors of Medicine at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. 


Ash Sehgal inaugural Director of Research and Evaluation for I4HOPE

Dr. Ashwini (Ash) Sehgal will be the inaugural Director of Research and Evaluation for the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ in the Population Health Innovation Institute (PHII) at The MetroHealth System. 

The mission of the Institute for H.O.P.E.™ is to identify and help eliminate barriers to optimal individual and community health and well-being through improving social influencers of health and addressing the root causes of health disparities in the Northeast Ohio region.  In this new role, Dr. Sehgal will foster the missions of the PHII and the Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) to generate new knowledge, inform and target health and health care improvement initiatives, and conduct program evaluation to improve the health and health equity of the communities we serve.

He will continue to serve as co-director with Dr. Daryl Thornton for the Center for Reducing Health Disparities within PHRI while supporting enhanced collaboration between PHRI and PHII.


Bingcheng Wang, PhD Appointed Director of Basic Sciences

Bingcheng Wang, PhD, Director of the Division of Cancer Biology within the Department of Medicine, was appointed MetroHealth Research Institute Director of Basic Sciences, effective January 4, 2021. As Director, Dr. Wang will further develop basic and translational sciences research at The MetroHealth System (MHS) and guide its continued growth in alignment with System mission and vision.

Dr. Wang received his PhD in Toxicology and Oncology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where his innovative research on breast cancer led to the award of one of the first three US biotechnology patents. Dr. Wang joined La Jolla Cancer Research Foundation for postdoctoral training where he honed his skills in small peptide-based cancer therapeutics. He joined MetroHealth and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine in 1997. 

Dr. Wang is an internationally-renowned cancer biologist who has many publications in top journals including Cancer Cell, Nature Cell Biology and Science Signaling. His laboratory focuses on how a group of essential cell surface communication molecules called receptor tyrosine kinases controls malignant behavior of cancer cells. His team has made multiple contributions to the field.

His laboratory has been continuously funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH), DoD and a number of private foundations. He served as a program leader in the National Cancer Institute-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer for 10 years, first leading the Genitourinary Program and then the Molecular Oncology Program. Nationally he is a regular reviewer for many of the top journals and served for over 20 years on study sections of NIH, DoD, ACS and other agencies and foundations.

Dr. Wang has been the inaugural Director of the Division of Cancer Biology in the Department of Medicine since 2014. Under the new strategic vision of research at MetroHealth, Dr. Wang had a major role in the successful recruitment of four new basic and translational cancer researchers, all of whom are nationally recognized and talented investigators with prestigious grants from NIH.

Dr. Wang is currently Professor in the Department of Medicine at CWRU and holds the John A. and Josephine B. Wootton Endowed Chair in Research. He also holds appointments in Departments of Pharmacology and Physiology and Biophysics and is a member of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center.


MetroHealth Part of One of Eight Multi-center Sites Funded by NIH to Uncover Risk Factors for COVID-19 Related Inflammatory Syndromes in Children

The MetroHealth System’s Population Health Research Institute’s Center for Clinical Informatics Research and Education is part of one of eight multi-center NIH R61 grants awarded to investigate COVID-19 in the pediatric population.

David Kaelber, MD, is site PI for MetroHealth on the grant entitled “COVID-19 Network of Networks Expanding Clinical and Translational approaches to Predict Severe Illness in Children (CONNECT to Predict Sick Children)”.

The primary goal of the grant is to develop robust predictive models in pediatric patients to predict who is likely and not likely to develop severe COVID-19 illness (short-term and long-term).

Because COVID-19 appears relatively rare in children and severe short-term and long-term COVID-19 related illnesses are even rarer in children, large databases will be needed to develop these robust predictive models.

MetroHealth’s primary role will be in providing access to and consultative expertise in using large electronic health record derived data sets including: Cosmos, IBM Watson Health Explorys, and TriNetX.

Each of these large data sets now contains data on over 70 million patients, of which 10-20 million are pediatric patients.


PHRI Center and Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine faculty Awarded Three-Year $4.1 Million Grant

In January 2021, the PHRI Center for Health Care Research and Policy and Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) School of Medicine faculty were awarded a three-year $4.1 million grant from The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality led by Drs. Shari Bolen and Aleece Caron to expand a statewide Ohio cardiovascular health collaborative (Cardi-OH).

This grant brings together leaders at The MetroHealth System, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati, and three regional health improvement collaboratives (The Health Collaborative, The Healthcare Collaborative of Greater Columbus, and Better Health Partnership) across the state along with many other state professional organizations, payers, community organizations, and other partners to improve cardiovascular health and reduce cardiovascular health disparities for all Ohioans.

To do this, they will work with primary care teams, patients and families to develop a heart healthy intervention that primary care clinics in Ohio can use to improve care and reduce disparities for patients with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and who smoke.


Dr. Aleece Caron Awarded $450,000 Grant

In November 2020, PHRI faculty member Dr. Aleece Caron was awarded a $450,000 grant from Project ECHO via the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) ECHO National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network.

This grant will provide training to 118 congregant living facilities in Ohio on critical and timely topics to decrease the risk of nursing home prevalence and spread of COVID-19. To do this, we assembled a team of clinicians and local experts in nursing home administration, infectious disease, geriatrics, and quality improvement to provide a 16-week training program.

We are currently offering four 90-minute sessions each week led by MetroHealth faculty including Drs. James Campbell, Eileen Seeholzer, Ann Avery, Patricia Campbell, Lorella Luezas Shamakian, and Tiffany Leake, APRN. In addition, this grant creates a rapid response framework to provide urgent, immediate technical assistance, resources, and guidance to nursing homes that experience outbreaks and other emergencies.