A President's Perspective – Sept. 2022

Dear MUSC family,

As we once again batten down the hatches and prepare for potential impacts from Hurricane Ian across the state, my thoughts are also with the people of Florida as they withstand a probable Category 4 storm today in addition to the citizens of Puerto Rico, who are continuing to navigate the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona only a few short years after the devastation from Hurricane Maria.

In addition to several ways that individuals can help those suffering from the continued lack of power and reduced access to basic human necessities in Puerto Rico, I wanted you to know that a nationally renowned MUSC Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences team, led by Rosaura Orengo-Aguayo, Ph.D., is offering direct assistance to first responders, community leaders and others who are working around the clock to deliver psychological aid to this storm-weary population. These MUSC colleagues forged ties with Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and are also working on a long-term telehealth strategy to support the island and its citizens for years to come. I encourage you to read more about their important and impactful work.

As noted in a timely report from our emergency management team, the Atlantic hurricane season will be reaching its peak in late September through October. Be prepared.

If you haven’t already, please become familiar with your area’s plans for storm preparations and operations, including your specific role, as well as ensuring that your personal storm plans with family and loved ones are in order. If you need a refresher on what to be thinking about, I encourage you to take a close look at the South Carolina Hurricane Guide along with MUSC policies and procedures on the University and health system intranets. And as always, please pay close attention to institutional messages in the days and weeks ahead so that you understand how various MUSC locations may or may not be affected.

Yours in service,

David J. Cole, M.D., FACS
MUSC President

Innovation in Action

Recently, I spent a few hours visiting four basic science research labs on the Charleston campus with Lori McMahon, Ph.D., MUSC vice president for Research. Each one of these research teams embodies who we are as an enterprise – innovators that drive toward new discovery and impact. MUSC scientists not only push their entire field forward but also enable MUSC Health to deliver cutting-edge care for our patients.

Just some brief sound bites from our day:

  • Chip Norris, Ph.D., and his research team are redefining the entire field of hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (hEDS).
  • Steve Duncan, Ph.D., and his group are using stem cells to gain a next-level understanding of hepatocyte disease and leverage new therapeutic breakthroughs.
  • James Otis, Ph.D., and his team are harnessing incredibly powerful neurotechnologies to gain insight on how the brain is wired for reward-seeking behavior and where to intervene.
  • Hongjun Wang, Ph.D., and her collaborative research team are leveraging MUSC’s clean cell facility for mesenchymal stem cell clinical trials driving toward a cure for Type I diabetes.

Later that evening, I was able to stop by the newly created Advance Discoveries event, where researchers essentially have an opportunity to network with other researchers whom they might not normally encounter, complete with an “open mic” (but no spontaneous karaoke). People were able to address the group and talk briefly about what they are working on, how it connects to MUSC’s purpose and, possibly, find new or unlikely collaborators on topics of choice.

Our research and education missions are what set us apart from others throughout South Carolina and enable us truly to change what’s possible for those we serve. I look forward to spending more time with our research faculty and students as my schedule allows – this day of events certainly got this previously R01-funded surgical scientist re-energized about the amazing experiences that engagement with health care basic science research provides. Without this critical discovery process, at some point, high-quality, innovative health care delivery grinds to a halt.

Giving with Purpose

Earlier this month, we broke ground on the MUSC Health Sea Islands Medical Pavilion, located on Johns Island. This new medical pavilion will provide rapid access to outstanding care for the entire Sea Islands community. It’s another key to our efforts to provide better community access and local care in the greater Tri-county region as well as coastal communities to the north and south of Charleston.

Community support is critical to the short- and long-term viability of this project, and we have been blessed with so many residents and organizations from Seabrook, Kiawah and Johns Islands that have partnered with MUSC in order to make this a reality.

It all began with Kiawah Partners, now South Street Partners, which donated the 6 acres of land upon which the new pavilion is being built. The Town of Kiawah Island also made a gift of $1 million to the effort, signifying that community’s urgent need for nearby medical services. Even part-time residents have joined the effort, including Chris and DeeDee Gibson of Austin, Texas, who recently contributed $2 million to make the pavilion a reality. To date, we have received more than $9.5 million in confirmed gifts toward our goal of $17 million. We are grateful to everyone who has invested in helping us to deliver the best possible care, closest to home

Read the full release.

Recognizing Hispanic Heritage Month

“When public health scientist Hermes Florez, M.D., Ph.D., decided to move from Miami, where Latinos are the majority, to Charleston, where they make up a much smaller percentage of the population, some friends were surprised.

“A lot of my former mentors said, ‘Are you sure that that’s the right move for you? And I said, ‘Why not? It’s a great opportunity.’ There are a lot of misconceptions about the Deep South. I realized that Charleston is quite diverse, and you really can embrace those values.”

Florez, born in Venezuela, is proud to be part of that diversity. “I am very honored to be a champion for Hispanic heritage,” he said, as the nation celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month. Florez brings that same sensibility to his role as chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he works to improve the health of people of all backgrounds.

Read more about Hispanic Heritage Month.
Charleston Campus Events: https://education.musc.edu/students/ose/diversity

From Kathy

Y’all! I had such a great time earlier this month getting a chance to meet and talk with so many student organization volunteers and new and returning MUSC students from all six colleges. And, I must admit, it’s always fun when we get to bring King of Pops to our students. It’s the little things, right?!

At the annual MUSC Student Activities Fair, there were almost 90 MUSC student groups or organizations represented, plus some local community organizations. There was quite literally something for everyone to get involved in, and I was so excited to see so many students wanting to find new ways to get involved with MUSC and the local community. Dave and I are HUGE proponents of MUSC students taking care of their WHOLE selves while moving through their curriculums, and that means finding extracurricular activities that feed individual development as holistic, passionate and competent future health care professionals, providers, researchers and educators. Hundreds of students participated this year, and we couldn’t have asked for better weather at the event, near the Urban Farm. Although I know that Dave wished he had been able to join us (he was called away for an issue with one of his patients), I know he is looking forward to more opportunities throughout the fall to engage with the MUSC student body.


Flint Mental Health: Study led by researchers at MUSC found high levels of depression, PTSD and a “large unmet mental health need” following Flint water crisis.
Newborn Screening: Brittany Morris was thrilled to welcome her second child into the world. In her eyes, James was perfect. But newborn screening would reveal a hidden issue.
Circulating ctDNA: A pilot study will measure circulating tumor DNA in cancer patients with ‘extraordinary’ response to immunotherapy.
Innovator Awards: The MUSC Office of Innovation recognizes Christy Huggins and Casey O’Neill, Ph.D., as recipients of the I am an MUSC Innovator awards.
Student Mental Health: Students were not alone in managing anxiety, depression, grief during the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to CAPS services.
Managing Cancer Pain: Proper pain management allowed Julie Jablin, who has stage 4 lung cancer, to attend a wedding overseas and enjoy everyday life.
Homeless Telehealth: The MUSC Health homeless telehealth clinic in downtown Charleston aims to expand coverage with new grant money.
Expanding Screenings: With a grant from The Duke Endowment, a new project at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center has ambitious goals to increase screening rates for five cancers.
Bivalent Booster Distribution: MUSC Health Primary Care clinics are distributing the new bivalent booster capable of fighting off Omicron’s subvariants.
Breast Cancer Research: A Hollings researcher has received two grants aimed at early career investigators to help advance his breast cancer research.
OTC Hearing Aids: Over-the-counter hearing aids are about to hit the market. How much you might save? Who should consider them? How they differ from prescription aids.
Endemic Phase?: It’s a time of transition for COVID testing scientists at MUSC as one lab leader says we may be moving toward an endemic phase.
Lab Summer: A summer in a research lab might change one Charleston County high schooler’s career path.
Pediatric Heart Defects: MUSC researchers have found that certain treatable maternal health conditions can partially explain poorer outcomes in infants of color with heart defects.
Cancer Equity Symposium: Consider “place, space and ancestry” when investigating health disparities, said the keynote speaker at a cancer health equity symposium at Hollings.
Best Employers: Forbes names MUSC Health one of South Carolina’s best employers, based on surveys about fair pay, safe working conditions and an inclusive culture.
Breast Cancer Disparities: Peggi Angel, Ph.D., is looking at whether glycosylation regulation may be influenced by socioeconomic stressors and contribute to breast cancer disparities.