Sanger Renovations

Home to Pathology administration and basic research, a major renovation of the fourth floor of the Sanger building has been underway. Phase I, completed in April 2016, included new administrative space and state of the art laboratories and support facilities for four basic researchers. Phase II, slated for completion in September 2017, will include laboratory bench and support space for five additional researchers. In total, these facilities encompass 25,000 nsf. This renovation has created large, open laboratories that are modular and flexible in nature facilitating research group collaboration. These collaborations are further enhanced by the presence of three conference rooms that are fully equipped for streaming audio-visual presentations.

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NIPT testing in cfDNA at VCU Health

VCU Health, the School of Medicine, and Department of Pathology will start offering a non-invasive prenatal screening test or NIPT in the beginning of 2018.   NIPT is a cell free DNA (cfDNA) based test on maternal blood to screen pregnancies for the most common fetal chromosome anomalies: trisomy 21 (Down syndrome), trisomy 18 (Edwards syndrome) and trisomy 13 (Patau syndrome).  CfDNA is present in all body fluids in a dynamic state of constant turnover and is comprised of small fragments of extracellular DNA that circulate freely in the bloodstream. Technological progress using Next Generation Sequencing technology and bioinformatics tools in molecular genetics has enabled us to utilize this uniquely accessible genetic material for a whole new generation of blood tests that detect and monitor disease. The majority of cfDNA in plasma is derived from hematopoietic cells that release fragments of DNA during cell turnover, but a large variety of solid organs also contribute to the circulating plasma pool. In the non-pregnant state, the genomic profile (i.e. the proportional representation of each chromosome) in plasma cfDNA simply reflects the individual's karyotype and the size of each chromosome.

During pregnancy, cfDNA from the placenta is released into the maternal plasma.  Non Invasive Prenatal Testing or NIPT looks at cfDNA from the baby’s placenta in the mother’s blood to identify an increased risk of giving birth to a child with a genetic disorder. Even though this is a screening test, it is 97 to 99 percent accurate for the three most common genetic conditions described above.  Significantly, cfDNA carries none of the risks associated with other sampling methods for fetal genetic testing, such as chorionic villous sampling.  In addition, NIPT can provide information regarding the baby’s Rh blood type and gender and can be performed any time after 9 weeks into pregnancy, which is earlier than any other prenatal screening or diagnostic test. 

Although NIPT can be performed in every pregnancy, it is especially indicated if the triple test or first trimester screening suggests an increased risk for Down syndrome, trisomy 18 or trisomy 13, and in the case of advanced maternal age.  Studies have shown that NIPT testing creates fewer false alarms than standard first-trimester blood screening and is even more accurate in predicting the risk for Down syndrome than standard screening tests.  In the past, NIPT testing was recommended for women at high risk for carrying a baby with chromosomal abnormality such as pregnant women 35 year of age or older, previously had a child with a genetic disorder, or have a family history of these conditions.  The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now recommends that doctors discuss all screening options with all pregnant women regardless of risk or age.

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Capital Equipment

The Department of Pathology is pleased to announce the recent purchase of the IncuCyte S3 Live-Cell Analysis System (Essen BioScience) to automatically acquire and analyze images continuously of cell migration, invasion, proliferation, immune cell killing and much more. This will help researchers in our department to streamline their experiments and never miss an important observation overtime. Additionally, through state equipment grant monies, the Massey Cancer Center's Cancer Mouse Models Core under the direction of Dr. Jennifer Koblinski purchased the Vectra Polaris (PerkinElmer), an automated quantitative pathology imaging system. This fully automated imaging system will provide the ability to extract proteomic and morphometric information from tissue sections, and provide a platform for essential collaborations between basic and clinical researchers.

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In Memory of Dr. Margaret Grimes

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Margaret Grimes, MD, MEd on Monday, May 15.  Margaret was a faculty member in the Department of Pathology for 27 years.  During her career at VCU School of Medicine she provided leadership for many courses, programs and committees, including service as Director of the Pathology Training Program, Vice Chair for Pathology Education, and Chair of the Graduate Medical Education Committee.    She was the recipient of numerous Outstanding Teacher and Best Teacher awards, as well as the Enrique Gerszten MD Faculty Teaching Excellence Award.  At the national level, she served as Chair of the Program Directors Section of the Association of Pathology Chairs, Chair of the ACGME Pathology Residency Review Committee, and President of the American Board of Pathology.   In 2013, she received the Association of Pathology Chairs Distinguished Achievement Award in Graduate Medical Education.  In recognition of her life-long contributions to Pathology education, the Association of Pathology Chairs has posthumously renamed its Distinguished Teaching Award in Graduate Medical Education in her honor.  Her diagnostic expertise in pulmonary and breast pathology was well recognized and she produced some 60 peer reviewed papers.  With her calm and quiet manner, she was a port in the storm for many residents, faculty, and staff and her influence and mentorship will be missed.   


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In Memory of Dr. Alphonse Poklis

Alphonse Poklis, PhD, famed toxicologist and VCU Department of Pathology faculty member, died on September 3, 2016.  During his career at VCU, Dr. Poklis gained an internationally renowned reputation, particularly as a scholar and educator.  His opinion on complex, high profile forensic toxicology cases was widely sought.  He was respected and loved by all, colleagues, staff, and students alike.  While he was a celebrity to many, speaking to enraptured audiences about the many facets of toxicology, others knew him to be humble and practical.  In memory of our dear friend and colleague, please enjoy this article on VCU News: "VCU Health toxicologist who was topic expert on “Snapped” dies at 71".