September faculty and staff features 2013

Meera Pahuja, M.D., Assistant Professor, Department of Internal Medicine
N. Ramesh Wijesooriya, M.D., Assistant Professor, Interim Chief, Division of Pediatrics

Meera Pahuja, M.D.
Meera Pahuja, M.D.

The VCU Center on Health Disparities has named Pahuja and Wijesooriya as the second cohort in its Clinical Faculty Scholars Training Program, a three-year training initiative for clinical faculty housed in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Healthcare Policy & Research.

This initiative represents a unique and exciting opportunity for junior clinical faculty to acquire multidisciplinary training that will enable them to conduct health services and population health/health disparities research that will impact clinical policy and practice on the local and national levels.

N. Ramesh Wijesooriya, M.D.
N. Ramesh Wijesooriya, M.D.

Pahuja is interested in developing novel methods to implement routine palliative care for all complicated HIV-infected patients.

“A more substantive evidence base is needed to guide best practices for HIV clinicians to utilize palliative care as an additional support layer for these complex patients,” she said.  “It is my hope to spend my career developing this evidence and providing new models to encourage early palliative care consultation for HIV-infected patients.”

Wijesooriya’s interests lie in conducting patient-oriented research that will enhance the health outcomes of children and families who live in under-served communities.

“Over the past five years I have developed a special interest in pediatric obesity and I have grown increasingly aware that this epidemic disproportionately effects under-resourced populations and ethnic minorities,” he said. “The statistics of childhood obesity are startling and if we are to stem the obesity tide it is imperative that we pay special attention to the highest risk populations.”



Rakesh C. Kukreja, Ph.D., Professor of Cardiology in the Department of Internal Medicine, VCU School of Medicine

Rakesh C. Kukreja, Ph.D.
Rakesh C. Kukreja, Ph.D.

Kukreja will be honored by the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences with its Norman Alpert Award for Established Investigators in Cardiovascular Sciences. He'll receive the award at the VII. International Symposium on Myocardial Cytoprotection, scheduled for September 26-28 in Pecs, Hungary.

"Being recognized by the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences is a true honor for me and my colleagues,” Kukreja said. “This award indeed underscores the fact that the cardiovascular research being done at the VCU Pauley Heart Center has worldwide recognition and impact."

The award is named after the former chairman for the department of physiology at the University of Vermont. The winner is recognized for work performed throughout his or her lifetime.

Kukreja’s research interests include cellular and molecular mechanisms of myocardial ischemia/reperfusion injury, gene therapy and cell signaling. His research is focused on the mechanisms by which ischemia (heart attack) kills cardiac cells and the development of novel therapeutic strategies that can minimize the damage in the heart muscle.



Benjamin W. Van Tassell, Pharm.D, Assistant Professor and Research Professor, Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, School of Pharmacy

Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D.
Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D.

Van Tassell was awarded the American College of Clinical Pharmacy’s New Investigator Award for his groundbreaking cardiovascular research. The award recognizes an ACCP member who has had a significant impact on clinical pharmaceutical science.

Since his appointment to the VCU faculty in 2008, Van Tassell has published 30 peer-reviewed research papers, served as the principal or co-investigator for several foundation- and industry-sponsored projects and received a K12 training grant from the VCU Center for Clinical Translational Research. His research currently focuses on immunomodulatory effects in heart failure.

“Dr. Van Tassell is an exceptionally talented cardiovascular research who has already made substantial contributions and is uniquely poised to train a generation of clinical and research pharmacists,” said Orly Vardeny, an associate professor of pharmacy and medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who nominated Van Tassell. “It is difficult to conceive of a more qualified candidate for this award.”

Van Tassell will deliver the annual New Investigator Award Lecture during the Oct.14 special session in Albuquerque.


Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, Ph.D., Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Professor of Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, VCU School of Medicine

Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, Ph.D.
Jeffrey S. Kreutzer, Ph.D.

Kreutzer, who has worked in the brain injury field for almost 30 years, will receive the North American Brain Injury Society (NABIS) Innovations in Treatment Award at the NABIS annual conference on brain injury, scheduled for Sept. 18-21.

The award is given annually to an individual selected by the NABIS Board of Directors for developing and implementing innovative and efficacious treatment for people with brain injuries. 

“I have appreciated the opportunity to work at VCU where teamwork, innovation and excellence are fostered and appreciated,” Kreutzer said. “ I am glad to know that my colleagues in the field appreciate the work we have done and the opportunity we have to help people with brain injury, and their families, live more productive and meaningful lives.

“Our work should be guided by the experiences of the people we serve, our perception of their needs and our sense of the most important things we can do to meaningfully improve their lives.”


Alex Krist, M.D., Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, VCU School or Medicine

Alex Krist, M.D.
Alex Krist, M.D.

VCU is the coordinating center for a national pragmatic trial to assess the implementation of behavioral and psychosocial assessments in a diverse range of primary care practices. Krist and a team of researchers from academic institutions around the country, including the University of North Carolina, the University of Vermont, Texas A&M, the University of Texas and the University of California, Los Angeles, collaborated on a report published in the journal Implementation Science, “Designing a Valid Randomized Pragmatic Primary Care Implementation Trial: The My Own Health Report (MOHR) Project.”

The study looked at one of the tools designed to systematically collect patient-reported information and provide patients with needed advice, goal setting and counseling in response.

The article reports on the design of the My Own Health Report (MOHR) study, which is a cluster, randomized, delayed intervention trial. The need and plans for an important ongoing pragmatic study of the administration and use of patient-reported items in primary care were described within the article. The findings of the article should be of interest to researchers, practitioners and policymakers attempting to make health care more patient-centered and relevant.

According to Krist, who was the lead author on the paper, VCU is leading a national initiative to do pragmatic community-engaged research in the primary care community.


Jeffrey Legg, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Radiation Sciences, School of Allied Health Professions

Jeffrey S. Legg, Ph.D.
Jeffrey S. Legg, Ph.D.

Legg joins the staff of the professional journal Radiography as an associate editor.

Radiography is a periodical presenting clinical and educational information related to radiographic imaging. The content also includes original research, case studies and an exchange of knowledge between professionals within the field.

Radiography also serves as the official publication for the Society and College of Radiographers, a trade union and professional organization for people employed within the fields of clinical imaging, radiotherapy and oncology.


Hope Ginsburg, Assistant Professor, Art Foundation and Department of Painting and Printmaking, School of the Arts

Hope Ginsburg
Hope Ginsburg

The 9th Mercosul Biennial in Porto Alegre, Brazil, is exhibiting Ginsburg’s artwork through November.

Her pieces, “On Resisting the Separation of the Continents” and “Gene for An Eye,” represent aquatic sponges local to southern Brazil. She constructed the sponges using wool and hand-dyed them with plants and insects. Patrons view the artwork from above looking into deep tanks mincing the natural environment of the sponges. The work is installed in a former thermoelectric plant. For images of the show, visit

Assisted by VCU students and local artists, the construction took place in the SpongeHQ in the Anderson Gallery. Sponge is Ginsburg’s ongoing, participatory artwork sustained by a network of co-artists, collaborators and visitors.

The 9th Mercousal Biennial is a month-long event that exhibits contemporary art, performances and events throughout the city. A nonprofit institute, Fundação Bienal de Artes Visuais do Mercosul, organized the festival to develop cultural and visual arts among various communities.