By Wendy Sarubbi | September 19, 2014 9:44 am

Dean’s Society members – a group united by their strong support of the College of Medicine – heard from two recently hired academic leaders on September 11 who are helping “turbo-boost” the young medical school into its next phase of research and clinical education.

Society members and guests met Dr. Griffith Parks, new director of the college’s Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Edward Ross, new chair of internal medicine. Dr. Parks, who has been in Central Florida for just over a month, talked about his plans to bolster research through collaboration with partners in Medical City and beyond. Dr. Ross, who arrived this summer, will lead Internal Medicine faculty in pursuing the college’s missions of education, research and patient care. “You only have to be here for a day to see that there is a unique culture of excellence” at the College of Medicine, said Dr. Ross, who came to UCF from the University of Florida.

The meeting was the first of the school year for the society, which was formerly called the Dean’s Aesculapian Society. Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the medical school, said the college had decided to change the group’s name because “the word Aesculapian just really tripped up some people. It’s a complicated word and hard to spell. So we’ve simplified our name. Here’s hoping a snappier name will encourage even more College of Medicine supporters to join us.”

As she introduced Drs. Parks and Ross to the society, she described as “close friends and family of the College of Medicine,” Dr. German explained, “Our college is at a tipping point. You’ll meet two leaders tonight who are going to help us turbo-boost our medical school to the next phase of research and clinical education.”

Dr. Parks described his vision that the Burnett School would be “a cornerstone in Medical City that unites all the research enterprises here,” including the Orlando VA Medical Center and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. “We have an excellent opportunity to reach out and partner with the world-class institutions around us.”

He highlighted current innovative research at the Burnett school, including clinical trials for treatments for Crohn’s disease and projects to find better therapies for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Dr. Parks’ research focus is viruses and he spoke about the cancer research he is conducting with Burnett school faculty member Dr. Ratna Chakrabarti to use viruses to stop normal cells from becoming cancerous.

Dr. Ross, a nephrologist by training, is also working on groundbreaking research that would grow organs from stem cells. Specifically he is working to grow kidneys using the outer “shell” of a pig kidney as a scaffold for human stem cells to grow. “The stem cells are actually smarter than we are,” Dr. Ross said of the cells, which essentially grow in the kidney “mold” to become a human organ.

All of these research projects are in their early stages, but Drs. Parks and Ross told Dean Society members that their support can help the young college do amazing things. In speaking about the college’s “unique culture of excellence,” Dr. Ross added. “You don’t usually find a group of people who have such pride in excellence for what they’re doing; it’s a special place.”

Two guests understand that culture first-hand. Drs. Robert Armacost and Julia Pet-Armacost were part of the original leadership team that helped create the college’s curriculum and operations from its infancy. The Armacosts retired just over a year ago. “We love seeing the developments at the college, and seeing everyone continue to excel,” said Dr. Pet-Armacost. “The College of Medicine is like another child for us,” said Dr. Armacost. “You want to be there to see how your child grows and succeeds in the world.”

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