Peter Leone, M.D. (’82), Delivers Watanakunakorn Endowed Lecture

The guest speaker’s topic was infectious disease, but as a 1982 graduate of the College of Medicine, Peter Leone, M.D., wanted to connect with the students more personally first.

The quality of the education they are getting at NEOMED is “second to none,’’ said the former Kent State University BS/MD student, now a professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Leone, the featured speaker for the annual infectious disease lecture named for the late Chatrchai Watanakunakorn, M.D., added, “This is a great institution and I’m really proud to be back.”

Before delivering “Syphilis: From Christopher to Columbus, The Return of the Great Pox,” Dr. Leone was introduced by Ping Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Watanakunakorn Chair of Integrative Medical Sciences, to an audience filled with second-year College of Medicine and College of Pharmacy students, faculty, staff and guests, including Eleanor Watanakunakorn, Dr. Watanakunakorn’s widow.

Who knew an STD could be so amusing? Dr. Leone’s reference to Ted Cruz’s recent Twitter activity went over well with the audience, and the physician was able to captivate his listeners to deliver a serious topic in a light-hearted manner.

Although treatment has come a long way from strapping mercury belts onto syphilis patients, Dr. Leone expressed the continued need for better diagnostic testing to accompany one of the few current treatment options, penicillin. The United States is seeing a surge in syphilis, an infectious disease infamous for being hard to diagnose. The problem is compounded by the fact that it’s difficult to conduct research on syphilis, because humans are the only natural hosts of the disease.

A few of Dr. Leone’s key takeaways:

  • Syphilis tends to surge in 10-year cycles and is currently seeing a spike in cases
  • Take precautionary measures by screening at-risk patients
  • Be on the lookout for symptoms, including painless sores, vision loss, and more

The Watanakunakorn Endowed Lecture was preceded by a private dinner, held annually at the Tippecanoe Country Club in Youngstown, Ohio, at which Dr. Zhang thanked Eleanor Watanakunakorn and her family for their generosity and support of NEOMED. Third-year College of Medicine student Joanna Peng joined members of the NEOMED Board of Trustees, NEOMED Foundation Board of Directors and several Youngstown-based community members at the dinner to share her passion for pursuing a degree in medicine and to express gratitude for the Watanakunakorn family’s support of medical education.

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