Wake Forest University School of Medicine October Awards and Recognitions

October 17, 2023


Cancer Leader Selected to Guide the American Association for Cancer Research Cancer Centers Alliance


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Ruben Mesa, M.D., president of Atrium Health Levine Cancer, executive director of Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist Comprehensive Cancer Center and vice dean for cancer programs at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has been named to the new American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Centers Alliance steering committee. Mesa will serve as subgroup chair of Education, Training, Professional Advancement, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

The Alliance will bring together the nation’s cancer centers with the goal of expanding the scope and impact of these institutions for the benefit of all patients across geographies and diverse populations. This initiative will accelerate the pace of discovery by providing an ongoing mechanism for transferring new knowledge, sharing resources, developing national demonstration projects, and driving innovation that impacts cancer science, cancer care delivery, and science and health policy.

As subgroup chair of Education, Training, Professional Advancement, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Mesa will help increase optimism about careers in the cancer field and create new and inclusive opportunities for the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians, with the goal of creating a workforce that is reflective of the diverse communities that the nation’s cancer centers serve.

The Alliance will initially focus on four main areas of collaboration: basic and translational research; clinical research, clinical trials, and regulatory science and policy; education, training, professional advancement, and diversity, equity, and inclusion; and speaking with a unified voice.

As the first and largest professional organization in the world dedicated to advancing every area of cancer science and medicine, AACR is uniquely positioned to identify and accelerate scientific priorities that lead to lifesaving discoveries. AACR will serve as a catalyst in support of the cancer centers’ goal to marshal their resources and collaborate directly, effectively, and synergistically to address the nation’s cancer mission and its major challenges.


Associate Professor Honored by Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Kiran Solingapuram Sai, Ph.D., associate professor of radiology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, was recently recognized as a “One to Watch” by the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging (SNMMI).

The SNMMI’s Ones to Watch campaign recognizes researchers early in their careers who have the potential to shape the future of precision medicine across all spectrums of the field and based on their contributions to research. Recipients are selected by the SNMMI Committee on Councils and Centers.

Sai focuses his research on developing novel PET imaging strategies for diagnostic and therapeutic applications of various neurological diseases.

The SNMMI is a nonprofit scientific and professional organization that promotes the science, technology and practical application of nuclear medicine and molecular imaging.


Professor Honored Receives National Recognition for Contributions to Vaccine Access


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Katherine A. Poehling, M.D., professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and prevention at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, was recently named an Immunization Champion by the Association of Immunization Managers (AIM), and funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for her efforts to promote immunization.

This award acknowledges the outstanding efforts of those who go above and beyond ensuring vaccination access in their communities and increasing their community’s immunization rate coverage. Poehling was one of 41 clinicians to be honored with this recognition.

Poehling served as a voting member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to her ACIP work, she is an active member of the North Carolina Pediatric Society and part of a core group of members who meets regularly with the North Carolina Immunization Program to improve vaccine efforts within the Vaccines for Children and COVID-19 Provider Vaccination Programs. Poehling is an expert on the community impact of vaccines, specifically pneumococcal and influenza.

AIM is dedicated to establishing a nation free of vaccine-preventable disease. AIM members are the leaders of state, local and territorial immunization programs – directing the public health efforts designed to keep children and adults vaccinated and protected against disease. Since 1999, AIM has provided a national voice for immunization programs and a forum for program managers to learn from each other, confront challenges and achieve success.


Assistant Professor Honored by Doris Duke Foundation


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Atalie Carina Thompson, M.D., assistant professor of ophthalmology, gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, has been named a Physician Scientist Advancing Insights for Improved Human Health by the Doris Duke Foundation (DDF).

Thompson – one of 21 physician scientists honored – was selected through a rigorous peer-review process. Applications were evaluated on significance, as well as research approach and environment. The DDF strives to advance the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases by strengthening and supporting clinical research. This year, through fellowships and multi-year grants, DDF awarded 21 scientists with a combined $7.92 million that will provide mentored research funding and time protection to early-career physician scientists to advance clinically significant research.

With DDF’s grant, Thompson will focus on a project titled: Development of a Vision Screening and Care Pathway in Frail Older Adults at Risk of Falls.

Since 1998, DDF has awarded more than $184.5 million in funding to 427 early-career physician scientists whose work is essential to the health care ecosystem given their unique position to align research questions with clinical relevance in order to fulfill unmet medical needs. These grants have helped awardees pursue clinical research projects with high potential to improve human health, attain additional research funding and become leaders in their field.


Assistant Professor to Lead Study for American Heart Association


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Giselle Meléndez, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology and comparative medicine at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, will lead a study from the American Heart Association (AHA) Strategically Focused Research Network (SFRN) on Biologic Pathways of Chronic Psychosocial Stressors on Cardiovascular Health. Meléndez is serving as the principal investigator for a large (~$2.4 million) nonhuman primate project.

Susan Appt, D.V.M., professor of pathology - comparative medicine; Heather Burkart DeLoid, D.V.M., assistant professor of pathology - comparative medicine; Carol Shively, Ph.D., professor of pathology - comparative medicine, and Jay Kaplan, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine, are her co-investigators.

Wake Forest University School of Medicine researchers are partnering with Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) to discover how long-term, chronic stress can cause heart disease and how adding acute stress – stress that occurs more suddenly, like getting a cancer diagnosis – may impact the heart. As part of their research, they will study the molecular disarrangements of cardiac tissue induced by stress and how this causes heart failure.

Additionally, investigators will explore how different diet and exercise plans may impact stress and heart health and whether it may be beneficial to make changes to diet or exercise habits when experiencing stress to have healthy heart function. The researchers will collect information through pre-clinical science models in laboratories and clinical science involving human subjects. The project, led by Meléndez, is titled Role of Chronic Psychosocial Stress on Chemotherapy-Induced Cellular Senescence and Cardiac Fibrosis.

The collaborative $15 million research project, led by The Ohio State University, University of California Davis and the Pauley Heart Center at VCU, will focus on learning more about how the body responds to chronic stress, as well as how certain interventions may help reduce health risks.

SFRNs enable groups of investigators conducting multiple projects in multiple locations to all focus on the same topic. Network investigators interact and meet regularly to share outcomes and ideas. The AHA began to fund SFRNs in 2015, adding one or two networks each year. The topics are chosen by AHA science leadership.

The AHA is dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, the AHA funds innovative research, advocates for the public’s health and shares lifesaving resources.


Assistant Professor Inducted into American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology 2023 Class of Fellows


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Richard Flowers, D.N.P., assistant professor of academic nursing and program director of Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Nurse Anesthesia Program, was recently inducted into the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology (AANA) 2023 Class of Fellows.

Flowers was one of 58 distinguished leaders in the profession of nurse anesthesiology to be inducted.

To be selected as an AANA fellow, individuals must have at least 10 years of professional experience as a practitioner of nurse anesthesia, educator, facility leader or business leader. In addition, they must have demonstrated outstanding achievements in nurse anesthesia and leadership that command respect and recognition from other leaders in the profession.

Flowers has been a practicing certified registered nurse anesthetist for over 25 years and has been faculty in the nurse anesthesia program since 2018, serving in various capacities.

The AANA is the professional association of nurse anesthetists in the United States. The organization has a membership of more than 59,000, which includes Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists and student members.


Associate Professor and Director of Business Development Named Recipients of Winston Under 40 Leadership Awards


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Emily Dressler, Ph.D., associate professor and vice chair of biostatistics and data science at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, and Nicole Moore, director of core market growth and business development at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, were recently named recipients of the Winston Under 40 Leadership Awards.

Dressler is passionate about team science and has been involved in more than 20 clinical trials as lead statistician. Her primary focus is on cancer research and statistical approaches and leads these efforts for our National Cancer Institute Community Oncology Research Program.

Moore is an avid supporter of the Winston-Salem community and serves on the Winston-Salem Under 40 Advisory Board, as co-chair of the Community Engagement Committee and as a member of the Intern Experience Committee.

Winston Under 40 is designed to cultivate young professional talent in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County through programming in leadership development and community service. This year, Winston Under 40’s annual Leadership Awards were presented to 25 individuals who showcase strong professional and personal accomplishments resulting in a positive impact for Winston-Salem.


Professor Admitted to American College of Surgeons Academy of Master Surgeon Educators


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Oct. 17, 2023 – Perry Shen, M.D., professor of surgical sciences – oncology at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, was recently admitted as an associate member into the American College of Surgeons (ACS) Academy of Master Surgeon Educators.

Developed by the ACS Division of Education, the Academy recognizes surgeon educators who have devoted their careers to surgical education. Individuals are selected as members, associate members or affiliate members following stringent peer review. The Academy’s mission is to play a leadership role in advancing the science and practice of education across all surgical specialties, promoting the highest achievements in the lifetimes of surgeons. Academy membership carries a responsibility for commitment to the Academy’s goals, which are to identify, recognize, and recruit innovators and thought leaders committed to advancing lifelong surgical education; translate innovation into actions; offer mentorship to surgeon educators; foster exchange of creative ideas; disseminate advances in surgical education; and positively impact the quality of surgical care and patient safety.

In addition to supporting the mission and goals of the Academy, members must actively participate in Academy programs and activities. Associate membership was accepted by the steering committee for a period of five years (October 2023 – October 2028).

Founded in 1913, the ACS is a professional medical association for surgeons and surgical team members. It is comprised of more than 88,000 members in 144 countries.

Media contact:

Jenna Kurzyna, jkurzyna@wakehealth.edu