Meliora Leader Tackles Smoking Cessation

By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Univ. Communications

Sanah Ali ’13 is part of an initiative to tackle smoking, one of America’s most controversial, decades-long health issues, as part of the Meliora Leaders Program at the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL).  Ali is working with the University of Rochester Medical Center’s Healthy Living Center (HLC) to help conduct a five year follow-up study to the Smoker’s Health Project, which includes advising patients interested in quitting smoking and recruiting those interested in services at the clinic.

The tobacco program offered by the HLC is free for U of R employees and allows smokers to meet with a doctor or a psychologist.  Program participants undergo a health evaluation and are given a doctor-prescribed “quit plan” of personalized and some not-so-obvious methods to quit smoking, in addition to medications that aid withdrawal symptoms if necessary.

“We find out about U of R employees who smoke via a voluntary personal health assessment.” says Ali.  “Helping them come in is the first hurdle. Often people wait for indications of decimating health before seeking help.”

For Ali, one of the hardest parts of her work has been broaching the subject of smoking with potential program participants. “It’s not like you can go up to someone and ask if they want to quit smoking,” says Ali. “Some people find it rude or may not want to be identified as smokers. Helping people in a polite and effective way is what I’m aiming for.”

On the other hand, Ali’s favorite part of the experience has been hearing the life stories and unique experiences (struggles and successes) with tobacco of the patients she works with.

One thing that surprised Ali was the strong stigma against medications recommended to help people quit.  As a result, she hopes to “increase awareness that although meds may have side effects or may add to concerns about dependence, these meds are not addictive and are for temporary use. The adverse effects of continuing to smoke overshadow any side effects of meds.”

Ali is intrigued by the biopsychosocial model of medicine developed at Rochester decades ago by Drs. George Engel and John Romano and hopes to incorporate aspects of it in the future as a practicing physician.

“The biopsychosocial model exemplifies the concept of holistic patient care, and points out that intrinsic motivation, living situation, lifestyle, support from family or friends, and mental health affect the likelihood of a long-lasting quit,” says Ali. “There’s only so much that a health care practitioner can do.”  In addition, Ali explains, “If someone smokes and everyone else in the environment does too, it’s going to be a lot tougher for them to quit because of the constant reminder.”

Ali also explains that there is increasing evidence for interplay between factors affecting smoking habits. For example, we know that caffeine stays in your system 40 percent longer when you’re not smoking and can increase anxiety and nicotine cravings; as a result, patients are advised to reduce their caffeine intake when they are trying to quit smoking.  Other unpopular side effects of smoking cessation include experiencing unpleasant withdrawal symptoms or weight gain due to changes in metabolism.

Ali, a Pittsford, N.Y. native and a cell and developmental biology major, hopes to pursue a career in healthcare and continue her involvement with smoking cessation. She intends to expand her work to free clinics, including “UR Well,” a clinic for uninsured patients and “UR Street Medicine” for the homeless population. She also is interested in promoting tobacco awareness at primary schools. In addition to her efforts in Rochester, Ali has travelled to Islamabad, Pakistan to study the smoking habits of high school students there.

Ali is one of five students accepted to the Meliora Leaders Program for the 2012-2013 academic year. The program, offered through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL), gives undergraduates the chance to create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.

This article is part three of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at

Women’s Soccer Team, SMD Students Host Soccer Camp

By Melissa Greco Lopes
Univ. Communications

Members of the University of Rochester’s Varsity Women’s Soccer team spent the morning of Saturday, Sept. 29, sharing their knowledge of the sport with more than 90 young girls from around Rochester during the Girls Rule Soccer Clinic.  Designed to empower young girls and get them excited about playing soccer, the free event brought girls of varying levels of soccer experience to Fauver Stadium for a morning of shooting, passing, and juggling.

After they practiced a variety of drills, members of the women’s team coached participants as they put their new found skills to the test during mini scrimmages. Campus tours were offered after the clinic and participants were encouraged to return to campus in the afternoon to cheer on the varsity squad as they played Brandeis University in their first University Athletic Association game of the season.

The clinic was created by members of Grassroot Rochester, a student-driven initiative at the University’s School of Medicine and Dentistry that is committed to empowering and educating young people through participation in organized sports. Last spring, Grassroot Rochester member and third-year medical student Michael Barnes connected with student-athletes on the varsity soccer team, and Deon Rodgers, president of River Flow Soccer Club, to plan the first clinic. It drew nearly 35 girls from school districts across the area, including the Rochester City School District and Brighton Central School District. Barnes says the group intends to make the soccer clinics a sustainable effort that can be offered throughout the year, creating more opportunities for girls to play soccer.

Additional sponsors include the Department of Community & Preventative Medicine at URMC, which encourages medical school students to engage in community service activities, the undergraduate Office of Admissions and Financial Aid, MVP Healthcare, and the Athletics Department. To see more pictures from the camp, visit Grassroot Rochester on Facebook.

Article written by Melissa Greco Lopes, editor of The Buzz and student life publicist in University Communications. Photos courtesy of Michael Barnes, Grassroot Rochester.

Internship Leads to Career Ambition for Rochester Senior

Univ. Communications – Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man. The pre-med neuroscience major is not only doing a Take 5 year in environmental economics, he also is completing a senior thesis using research from his continued work in Dr. Kim Tieu’s neuroscience lab.

Grima, originally from New York City, graduated from LaGaurdia High School, where he studied drama. He visited the University of Rochester after hearing about it from his high school mentor. Grima was struck by the willingness of students and faculty from different disciplines to sit down and work together.  “It wasn’t cut throat here and I really liked that,” he said.

His interest in drama got him thinking about the mind which led him to minor in clinical psychology. When Grima heard about the neuroscience program, which combined his interest in the mind with science, he decided to make it his major. In early 2010, after reading about the work being done at the U of R Medical Center on the neurobiology of disease, Grima became particularly interested in Dr. Tieu’s lab and emailed him expressing his interest.  “[H]e was in the process of interviewing candidates for an undergraduate position. Just my luck; I was just in time,” Grima said. “I was lucky enough to receive the position and I have been working with him ever since.”  Using his research from Dr. Tieu’s lab, Grima has been working on his thesis since May 2011.

Grima’s research focuses specifically on the treatment of Huntington’s disease, which is a neurodegenerative genetic disorder passed down through families. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Huntington’s disease comes in two forms, early-onset Huntington’s disease, which is a rare form of the disease that begins in childhood or adolescence, and adult-onset Huntington’s disease, the more common form, which typically manifests itself during a person’s mid-30s and 40s.  Physical symptoms include jerking and uncontrollable movements that become progressively more exaggerated.  Cognitive problems also worsen over time, and ultimately lead to dementia and death.

The lab in which he works is testing Dr. Tieu’s theory that by suppressing the function of a certain protein they can provide a restorative effect for individuals with Huntington’s disease.  His research focuses on two methods of suppressing the protein and treating Huntington’s disease.  One method aims to treat the condition using gene therapy, while the other method treats it through the use of drugs.  In May, Grima will present his thesis and findings to a committee gathered together by his thesis adviser and mentor, Dr. Tieu. The experience of researching treatments for the disease has been transformative for Grima. “It has given me an interest in research,” he said. “I would like to continue with it in the future if I can.”

In March he will present preliminary findings to his peers at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Utah.  Grima is one of several University of Rochester students in many disciplines to be invited to the conference.  “It should be great,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what students from other disciplines are presenting.”

After graduation in the spring, Grima plans to take a gap year to continue his research in Dr. Tieu’s lab full time.  He is currently studying for the MCAT and hopes to get into the University of Rochester Medical School where he would like to continue his research and earn an MD/PhD.  Like I said, Jonathan Grima is an ambitious young man.

Article written by Daniel Baroff, a senior at the University of Rochester and an intern at University Communications. He is majoring in religion with a minor in Jewish studies.  His main area of study is the involvement of Jews in the American comic book industry, for which he keeps an infrequently updated blog (

In the Photo: Phillip Rappold (left), a doctoral degree student in the neuroscience graduate program, has acted as a mentor for Rochester undergrad Jonathan Grima (right) in Dr. Kim Tieu’s lab. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Grima.