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'Virtual Grand Rounds': Rx for fungal infections

Physicians and medical students from around the world can now access a new interactive web-based guide developed at MIT for understanding and managing invasive fungal infections, including those that attack AIDS patients.

"Creating this educational tool is a response to the recent increase in life-threatening fungal infections due to the rise of people with immunosuppressed diseases such as AIDS and, ironically, the increase in transplantation successes," said Dr. Robert H. Rubin, the project's editor in chief and director of the Center for Experimental Pharmacology and Therapeutics at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology (HST).

"The availability of new antifungal drugs for treatment and the development of new diagnostic methods and strategies for controlling the disease was also a determining factor in developing this course," added Rubin, who is also associate director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital.

"Fungal Infections: Virtual Grand Rounds " is a joint project of HST's Center for Experimental Pharmacology and Therapeutics and the Center for Advanced Educational Services (CAES). The title of the site comes from the concept of "grand rounds," a weekly educational session for the entire staff of academic medical centers. By attending grand rounds virtually, all physicians and medical students can benefit from experts in the field, irrespective of time or place.

The free web site, funded through a grant from Pfizer Inc., presents an overview of the most common types of fungal infections and provides the tools to diagnose and treat the disease. To that end, it offers lectures from world experts using the latest in streaming media technology, as well as a collection of interactive case studies that ask the physician to make critical decisions in each case.

"Fungal Infections" also offers an extensive searchable library of relevant journal articles and texts with abstracts provided by PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine. Users can identify different types of fungal infections and methods for diagnosis, select appropriate medications, and practice new skills to formulate a decision in case diagnosis and management.

The site may be used as either a reference or a full course on the diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections. It's organized in two parts. The first is a series of eight lectures (virtual grand rounds) by experts who present information on key aspects of fungal infections. The second consists of 16 interactive case studies to illustrate the lessons and principles established by the lectures so the participant can formulate a decision in the diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections.

Physicians and researchers from MIT, the National Cancer Institute, and several hospitals and medical schools have contributed to "Fungal Infections." Other involved groups at MIT include CAES, the Center for Educational Computer Initiatives, and the Academic Media Production Services.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on July 17, 2002.

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