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Improving health care in state is goal of new UMMC school of medicine chair

The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson announced Aug. 6 that Dr. William C. Little, a nationally recognized cardiologist and researcher, would be replacing Dr. Shirley Schlessinger as chair of the university’s School of Medicine.

Little earned his B.A. in physics at Oberlin College in Ohio, and his M.D. from Ohio State University College of Medicine. He completed his residency at the University of Virginia Hospital as well as a cardiology fellowship at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Little has held faculty positions at UAB, the University of Texas Health Science Center and Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

In 2011, Little was named one of U.S. News & World Report’s “Top Doctors” of the year. He recently spoke with the Mississippi Business Journal about his new job via email.

Dr. William Little

Dr. William Little

Q: Dr. Little, since UMMC is a premier research hospital in the country, did you have any professional connections to the school before your current position?

A: Yes, this is one of the reasons why I am excited about this position. Like most medical students, I was introduced to the excellence of cardiovascular physiology at UMMC, when I used Dr. Guyton’s textbook of physiology. Because of similar research interests, I have continued to follow the outstanding cardiovascular physiology research at UMMC that is being conducted under the direction of Dr. John Hall.

My former colleagues at Wake Forest have important collaborations with the Jackson Heart Study under the direction Dr. Herman Taylor. Finally, one of my respected colleagues at Wake Forest, Dr. Bettina Beech moved to UMMC earlier this year.

Q: Tell me about your work while you were at Wake Forest.

A: At Wake Forest, I was a busy clinical and interventional cardiologist, served as chief of cardiology for 22 years and conducted research in cardiac function, heart failure and ischemic heart disease. In addition, I was vice chair of the department of medicine and served in leadership positions in Wake Forest University Physicians and North Carolina Baptist Hospital.

Q: You are board certified in internal medicine as well as cardiovascular disease and interventional cardiology. Could you explain what interventional cardiology is?

A: Cardiovascular disease is one of the 12 different specialties within internal medicine. Interventional cardiology is a sub-specialty of cardiovascular disease that does catheter heart procedures such as placing stents to open blocked coronary arteries. I have been honored to serve as the chair of the cardiovascular disease board for the last three years and on the board of directors of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

Q: Tell me about some of your notable work in cardiovascular research.

A: Our most important research contributions include: The discovery that many myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) are caused by the sudden occlusion (obstruction) of a coronary artery that did not previously have a severe blockage; the causes, diagnosis and treatment of diastolic heart failure; and the use of pacemakers to treat heart failure.

Q: You’ve also done extensive work with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) since 1985. How has the Institute changed over the years from when you first got involved? What are its current challenges?

A: The cutbacks in NIH funding has resulted in less that 15 percent of research proposals being funded. Thus, it is much more challenging to obtain NIH support for investigation.

Q: Could you summarize some of your latest NIH work?

A: Our current NIH grant supports our research using sophisticated imaging techniques to understand how the heart fills. Such abnormalities in the filling are an important cause of heart failure. Understanding how this happens will improve our ability to recognize and treat heart failure.

Q: You will be heading a huge department at UMMC. Have you set up your agenda yet or do you have any plans to make changes or expand in any areas in your purview?

A: Our goal is to improve heath care in Mississippi. To this end, we will continue to enhance the quality of the clinical care, further strengthen the educational and training programs that are preparing the next generation of physicians for Mississippi, and expand the generation of new knowledge by increasing our research especially in areas most important to Mississippi. These include: obesity, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease.

Q: UMMC does a lot of cardiovascular research and treatments. Do you plan to be involved in any of that?

A: Yes, the opportunity to help translate the important work being being done in physiology and the other basic science departments at UMMC to the care of patients is exciting and important part of my decision to join UMMC.


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