Alumni News Editor: Marianne Wolff, M.D.
Alumni News Writer: Peter Wortsman
Robert J. Lefkowitz: Receptive to Receptors
By Peter Wortsman
Robert J. Lefkowitz’66, the cardiologist turned basic researcher who discovered the seven-membrane-spanning structure of adrenergic receptors, among other landmark findings, author or co-author of more than 835 peer-reviewed papers, and the top-ranked scientist in citations in the field of biology and biochemistry in the 2002 ISI Essential Science Indicators, still had to face down his toughest critic his mother. “Wistful at the fact that, in her view, I had abandoned my true calling, clinical medicine, for the lab, she asked: ‘Well, you’ve been at this for so many years, don’t you have the answer yet?’”
|Photo credit: Peter Wortsman
|Robert J. Lefkowitz’66
There were, of course, important “answers” along the way. In 1974 his research team developed a method for directly measuring the ß-adrenergic receptors by ligand binding, thus achieving a long elusive goal. And in 1986 they succeeded in cloning and sequencing the gene coding for the human ß-2 adrenergic receptor and described its seven-membrane-spanning structure, a veritable molecular Rosetta Stone that opened the way to our understanding of G protein-coupled receptors. Pharmaceuticals that target these receptors beta-blockers, ulcer drugs, cortisone, antihistamines, anti-depressants, estrogens, androgens, contraceptives, insulin sensitizers, to mention a few “account for 60 to 70 percent of all the prescription dugs used in the world.” (in-cites, 2002) But science continuously teases the receptive mind. As Dr. Lefkowitz put it in “Not Necessarily About Receptors,” a reflection on the scientific life published in the journal Clinical Research: “Each question we answered posed several new ones which seemed even more interesting.”
Dr. Lefkowitz patiently fielded an interviewer’s questions one January 2008 afternoon at his office at the Duke Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
“People are Most Creative When They’re Playing”
At 64, ever spry of body and mind, radiating an infectious Bronx-inflected enthusiasm, the James B. Duke Professor of Medicine and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Duke University Medical Center is clearly still having the time of his life. “At no time in my career or careers, I should say, cause I’ve had two, initially as a ‘real’ physician and then as a scientist at no point have I ever conceived or conceptualized myself as working for a living. I play. People are most creative when they’re playing. I’m always playing,” he says, “and I’m always serious.”
Born in the Bronx
The son of an accountant and a schoolteacher, Robert Lefkowitz was born in the Bronx, where his idols included Yankee hitter Mickey Mantle, novelist Ian Fleming (of 007 fame), comic Woody Allen, and “our family physician, a hero closer to home, who always made me feel better. I wanted to be like him.” He attended the highly selective Bronx High School of Science and Columbia College before following his dream of becoming a doctor.
|Photo credit: Peter Wortsman
|Robert J. Lefkowitz’66 holding up a model of the seven-membrane-spanning structure of adrenergic receptors, which he discovered
At P&S, he came under the influence of Paul Marks’49, then a young faculty member whose erudite clinical lectures were infused with basic science. Dr. Marks subsequently served as dean of the medical school before leaving to become president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. As a medical student, Dr. Lefkowitz rounded with another great physician-scientist, Nobel laureate Dickinson Richards’23, “a very colorful man,” as he recalls. “If you really want to know what’s going on, you put your ear on the patient’s chest,” Dr. Richards counseled.
Dr. Lefkowitz also relished his clinical medical clerkship with the late Dr. Donald F. Tapley. Like Dr. Marks, Dr. Tapley later served as a revered dean of the medical school. His teaching style rubbed off on his young protégé. “He was so scholarly and so much fun. He had a certain way he would look down at you over his glasses... with a wink and a twinkle.” Dr. Lefkowitz, who conducted rounds on the general medical service at Duke for some 30 years, modeled his own teaching style on that of Dr. Tapley.
Following graduation, Dr. Lefkowitz stayed on at Columbia-Presbyterian, where he interned and pursued a residency in medicine. It was here on one fateful evening in the house-staff library that he first read a review article by future Nobel laureate Earl Sutherland, describing the hormone-sensitive enzyme system adenylate cyclase and its potential role in regulating the function of the cardiovascular system. Dr. Sutherland wrote of the concept of “hormone receptors, which he thought might represent the binding sites on the enzyme” soon to become the object of Dr. Lefkowitz’s lifelong quest.
Basic Science and Clinical Medicine:Two Points on a Continuum
In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam War, though still committed to a clinical career, he applied for and was accepted as a clinical and research associate at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases at the NIH, as an alternative to military service. His P&S classmate and friend, future Nobel laureate Harold Varmus’66 also joined the NIH. “It seemed like a much more attractive billet, if you will, than Vietnam.” Neither knew quite what lay in store.
Dr. Lefkowitz lauds “the quality of the scientists there, our mentors who ignited the research spark in us.” He worked under Jesse Roth and Ira Pastan. Dr. Varmus pursued one of Pastan’s research interests at the time, which eventually led to his Nobel-prize-winning work on oncogenes. Dr. Lefkowitz pursued Pastan’s other interest, the study of receptors.
But infused as he was with a clinician’s expectations of “quick results and rapid feedback,” and lacking basic lab techniques as well as the necessary patience and perspective, his fledgling attempts at research met with “unremitting
failure.” He went home for Thanksgiving, bemoaning his failure to his father. “‘Chalk it up to experience! Run out the clock! You have a two-year assignment, then you’ll go back to your clinical training and become the consummate clinician you always wanted to be,” his father counseled. The plan seemed sound enough. Three weeks later his beloved father died from his fourth heart attack, at age 63.
|The son of an accountant and a schoolteacher, Robert Lefkowitz was born in the Bronx, where his idols included Yankee hitter Mickey Mantle, novelist Ian Fleming, comic Woody Allen, and “our family physician, a hero closer to home, who always made me feel better. I wanted to be like him.”
Devastated by the loss, Dr. Lefkowitz buried his grief in the lab. And “by the next year, the research was starting to work.” The bench bug had bitten, but he had already committed to pursue his clinical training as a senior resident in medicine at the Harvard affiliate, Massachusetts General Hospital.
In Boston, where he subsequently pursued a fellowship in cardiology, he enjoyed treating patients but began to miss the lab. “I was like a junkie who needed a fix. For the first time in two years I had no data.” So on top of his house staff duties in addition to night shifts in various emergency rooms around town, insurance physicals, and a stint as team physician for the football squad at a local high school to make ends meet the data-deprived doc sought scientific solace in the Harvard lab of another illustrious P&S alumnus, Edgar Haber’56. Working on problems related to the catecholamine-sensitive adenylate cyclase system, the young researcher was fascinated “by the question of how a receptor could activate its effector counterpart, thus altering cellular metabolism or activity.”
Receptors, Dr. Lefkowitz explains, “are specific molecules on, or in, a cell, with which a drug, hormone, neurotransmitter, or a stimulus interact, much in the lock and key analogy, triggering a cascade of events inside the cell which make the cell change its physiology.”
He chose to focus on adrenalin-sensitive receptors, specifically ß-adrenergic receptors, as his working model. The potential clinical implications for the cardiovascular system, the system that had failed in his father, were hardly lost on him. “What’s more cardiovascular than adrenalin?” But as a clinical cardiologist by day and a basic researcher by night, he was riding an intellectual see-saw. “On some days I pictured myself as the consummate clinician-teacher, on others as a prominent investigator making notable scientific contributions.” Something had to give.
In 1973, he accepted an invitation to join the faculty in the Department of Medicine at Duke University, moving to Durham, N.C., which for his Bronx relatives “might as well have been Tierra del Fuego.” But Dr. Lefkowitz thrived and put down roots, eventually marrying a local. He has five children. “Sure, I always tell people, I’m a Southerner. I’m from the South Bronx!” And though he continued to round, the investigator in him eventually won out. Still, to this day he remains a firm believer that “basic science and clinical medicine are merely two points on a continuum.”
“The Chutzpah of Youth”
There was considerable doubt at the time in the scientific community as to the feasibility of studying receptors. “The number of these receptors, if they existed at all, might be so small, people thought, that the kinds of techniques that were being bandied about to study them might not be up to the job .
“And yet and this is the chutzpah of youth for me it was always a matter of when, not if. What self-delusion! I was not a trained biochemist by any stretch, much less a molecular biologist. And yet I had this unvarnished faith that it would all work. Would I have the guts today to go after what I went after then, given the background that I had? The answer is: No way!”
“Do they know from chutzpah in North Carolina?” an interviewer interrupts.
“I’ve educated them,” Dr. Lefkowitz chuckles, pulling out his dog-eared copy of the “Joys of Yiddish,” by Leo Rosten. “You gotta have chutzpah! You gotta be able to think out of the box!”
“There are two completely antithetical ways to fail in science,” he says. “One is to choose problems which, while doable and answerable and publishable, are effectively trivial. The other way is to choose grand, wonderful problems which, if you could solve them, would be huge accomplishments. The only problem is, you can’t. To succeed in science, judgment is the key. You’ve got to be able to recognize an important, but doable, problem.”
Successfully isolating and cloning the ß-2 adrenergic receptor in his lab, he used his understanding of its structure as a “basis for the discovery that all G protein-coupled receptors have a characteristic seven-membrane-spanning domain arrangement.” This discovery would later win Dr. Lefkowitz the prestigious Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research. In the words of Albany Medical Center president and CEO, Dr. James J. Barba, as quoted in the online publication Inside, this discovery “allowed researchers to develop drugs which parodied the effects of the body’s hormones and transmitters.”
The distinctive seven-span structure is immortalized by a metal sculpture, a gift from his wife for his 60th birthday, which he keeps on a window ledge. Hoisting it in the air, he grins: “Looks like a Chanukah menorah, doesn’t it!”
Studying Receptor Desensitization
Parallel to their study of the structure and function of ß-2 adrenergic receptors, Dr. Lefkowitz and his lab mates examined the problem of receptor desensitization, whereby, “in seconds to minutes, depending on what system you’re
talking about, the response wanes, even though the stimulus is kept constant. The mechanisms for that desensitization were completely unknown.” As physiological problems go, “nothing seemed to me more fundamental to the concept of biological regulation than that. So, right from the beginning of my career at Duke, I worked in two directions: What are receptors and how can I study them? But at the same time, I wanted to understand: How are they regulated? How do they get turned off?”
|“You gotta have chutzpah! You gotta be able to think out of the box!”
Dr. Lefkowitz and his Duke team found that G protein-coupled receptors actually set two chains of events in motion. One initiates a signal cascade, generating a specific response inside and on the surface of the cell. The other spurs a feedback signal in the cell, by means of a molecule, beta arrestin, effectively desensitizing the receptor and turning it off.
His lab subsequently discovered that beta arrestin can function as an independent signaling agent, a finding with profound implications for the simultaneous regulation and strengthening of heart function. Dr. Lefkowitz recently founded a biotech company to translate this and related findings into a new class of pharmaceuticals. “It’s a real culmination for me, reaffirming the continuum from bench to bedside.”
Inherited Traits of the Familial and Scientific Kind
To Dr. Lefkowitz, his lifelong inquiry is not just an intellectual quest, it’s literally heart-felt. Like his father, who died of a heart attack, and his mother, who suffered angina, though she lived to be almost 89, he, too, inherited heart problems, undergoing quadruple bypass surgery at age 51. A serious jogger until orthopedic issues caused him to restrict his exercise to a basement gym, where he works out daily, he takes two cholesterol-lowering medications and carefully restricts his diet.
|Robert J. Lefkowitz’66 at a reunion with some of his traineess
But as any scientist worth his salt will tell you, inheritance comes from influence as well as genetics.
Dr. Lefkowitz is a firm believer in the importance of what he calls “scientific lineages” promulgated through the mentor-mentee relationship. Among the many awards he has received in his career he is perhaps proudest of the 2006 Eugene Braunwald Academic Mentorship Award of the American Heart Association. Just as he learned the ropes by observing his own mentors in action, so an important part of his life’s work over the years has been demonstrating how it’s done. “In research, nobody can write down the rules. You can’t explain it. You can only show it.”
To illustrate the point, he plucks a metaphor from his medical school experience. “I remember sitting in my room at Bard Hall studying for exams with a beat-up old microscope and an atlas of what things were supposed to look like. I’d
put the slide in, get it in focus, and then turn to the atlas to see exactly how that cell or tumor was supposed to look. But by the time I looked back, it had fallen out of focus. So I learned by trial and error how to put just enough torque on the fine-tuning knob so that I could look away, come back, and it would still be in focus, because I was holding the knob. And I feel that’s what I do in the lab. I put just enough pressure on these guys to keep them focused, but not too much, because you don’t want to completely shut off the opportunity for inquiry.”
|“To succeed in science, judgment is the key. You’ve got to be able to recognize an important, but doable, problem.”
The proof of the pudding is the success and devotion of his 200-plus mentees, the ongoing links in his “scientific lineage,” many of whom have gone on to do outstanding work in receptor biology and related fields.
Dr. Lefkowitz’s honors and awards fill three pages on his CV. He has served on countless editorial boards of scientific journals and held high office in scientific societies, including the presidency of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. He has delivered named lectureships around the country, including the 2007 inaugural Clyde and Helen Wu Distinguished Lecture at P&S. He co-edited several books, notably the seventh edition of “Principles of Biochemistry” (the third edition of which he had used in medical school). A member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, his encomia include the P&S Alumni Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievements in Medicine and honorary doctorates from the Medical University of South Carolina and Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
A picture snapped at a recent reunion of his trainees, with which he is fond of concluding his guest lectures, eloquently (and spontaneously) evokes another kind of honor. “Once the formal group shot had been taken, the photographer asked: ‘Is there anything else we can do?’ And the next thing I know I’m up.” The roomful of young researchers whose careers he helped launch had hoisted him into the air and turned him into a living trophy. The laughter and love was palpable in every face.
Rx for Travel
Durham, N.C., from Tobacco Capital to Educational and Medical Mecca
By Peter Wortsman
The former tobacco warehouses around Brightleaf Square have been converted into high-end condominiums, shops, and restaurants. But the towering “Bull Durham Tobacco” sign on the side of an old cigarette rolling plant on West Main Street still harkens back nostalgically to Durham’s heyday, when it was the tobacco capital of America.
The city has since retooled as a medical, cultural, and educational mecca. And while a visitor may be inclined to chuckle at the NO SMOKING! signs posted throughout the vast perimeter of Duke Medical Center, there is, after all, a fitting irony in the fact that the revenues from the No. 1 cancer cause should have been plowed back into a formidable research enterprise (Durham’s current economic dynamo) devoted to cancer.
Durham’s fortunes remain tightly linked to the business genius of Washington Duke, a subsistence tobacco farmer
turned tobacco processing entrepreneur, and to the marketing savvy and philanthropic largesse of his son, James Buchanan “Buck” Duke, who built the family business into an empire. Like the “Bull Durham” sign, the Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum (www.dukehomestead.nchistoricsites.org), comprising the family’s ancestral cabin, aromatic old tobacco barns, and a display on the history of tobacco cultivation, is a colorful throwback to another era before the surgeon general’s report turned smokers into an endangered species.
|Photo credit: Peter Wortsman
|The Duke Homestead and Tobacco Museum
It was Buck who provided the funding and vision to transform Trinity College, a small Methodist school, into Duke University, today one of the nation’s leading research universities, still generously supported by the Duke Endowment. Its sprawling grounds, a city within a city, are divided between a smaller East Campus and a sprawling West Campus ringed by the Duke Forest and the impeccably landscaped Sarah P. Duke Gardens. One of the campus landmarks, the towering Duke University Chapel, was the site of stirring sermons with a bite delivered by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, among others.
Dr. King’s memory is also marked at North Carolina Central University, a traditionally African-American institution downtown, where the Durham Woolworth’s lunch counter he helped desegregate in 1960 during a famous sit-in was moved.
Segregation was, of course, the insidious heir to centuries of slavery. It was an African slave named Stephen who accidentally stumbled upon and helped develop the flavorful “brightleaf” (or flue-cured) tobacco, for which the region became famous. The grim conditions of slave life, the flipside of the prosperity they helped support, have been preserved in several cabins left standing just outside town at Historic Stagville, once one of the largest plantations in the state.
I lodged at another 18th century plantation house turned bed and breakfast, the Arrowhead Inn (www.arrowheadinn.com). And on the advice of my friend and sometime North Carolina resident, Sandra Repp, I sought and found the requisite pig in the marquee of the Original Q Shack, a roadside eatery (at 2510 University Drive), where, temporarily ignoring my cholesterol, I dug into
a plate of pulled pork, hush puppies, and collard greens with no regrets. For more information on Durham, check www.durham-nc.com/.
Alumni Association Activities
While the scheduled guest speaker, Burton J. Lee III’56, fell ill and was unable to attend, the council dinner program on Nov. 14, 2007, hardly lacked for excitement. CUMC Capital Campaign Chair P. Roy Vagelos’54 gave a rundown of campaign goals. The campaign hopes to raise $90 million to $95 million, $39 million of which, he was pleased to report, had already been gifted and/or pledged at the time of his remarks, even though the campaign had not officially been launched. Among the medical school’s most pressing needs, Dr. Vagelos noted, were teaching, living space, and scholarships. He described one possible scenario, in which a new state-of-the art education building with consolidated educational facilities and new residential housing would be erected at the current site of Bard Hall. Dr. Vagelos also stressed the urgency of raising funds to bolster merit and need-based financial aid, if P&S hoped to continue to attract the brightest candidates regardless of their ability to pay.
Stand-in guest speaker, Dr. Lisa Mellman PSY ’91, senior associate dean for student affairs, chaired a lively presentation on “Student Life at P&S: Keeping the Balance,” with presentations by students and staff. “I think I have the best job in the world,” Dr. Mellman said. One of her ongoing priorities, she pointed out, was to help students maintain a
healthy balance among academic, extracurricular, and personal activities. She introduced a senior, Mary Mulcare’08, who described the efforts of the Center for Student Wellness and the associated Wellness Committee and Peer Support Network, all of which help students reduce stress while coping with the heavy academic workload. The center sponsors dinners for third-year students to discuss the experience of the clinical setting and mock residency interviews for fourth-year students. P&S Club co-presidents Robert Neely’08 and Jason Sulkowski’08 enumerated some of the club’s most popular activities, including the Bard Hall Players, whose production of “Kiss Me Kate” was a success. Andrea Sturtevant, the director of student activities, described her role as liaison among students, faculty, and the administration. The club oversees orientation for new students, “Super Night” for fourth-year students, and “TeamWorx” to prepare students for the major clinical year.
|Gerard M. Turino’48 and Dorothy Estes’50
Other presenters were Danielle Trief’10, who spoke about the International Health Organization, and Chris Boyle’10, who described his thrilling experience last summer in sub-Saharan Africa as a student participant in the Millennium Villages Project. Damani Taylor’10 spoke about “Mosaic,” a cultural evening held for the first time in November 2007 and highlighted the diverse nature of the medical school campus and the community, with dances and other performances from various nations. Students hope “Mosaic” will become an annual event.
On Jan. 16, 2008, at the traditional Dean’s Council Dinner, Dean Lee Goldman began his “state of the medical school address” by saluting the alumni, whose commitment to the medical school and its students he lauded as unlike that of any other alumni he has encountered. P&S, he said, “has an involved, committed alumni group who come to events, who interact with students from day one, and welcome them into the family.” He praised the academic “raw firepower” and diverse backgrounds and interests of the student body. Among the stellar new recruits on the medical center campus, Dean Goldman cited Dr. Linda Fried, the new dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, and Dr. Lawrence Stanberry, chair of the Department of Pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. Searches are well under way for chairs in rehabilitation medicine, microbiology, and medicine. Dean Goldman praised Donald Landry’83, interim chair of the Department of Medicine. In addition, the dean welcomed new members of his administration, including Dr. Anne Taylor, vice dean for academic affairs; Martha Hooven, vice dean for administration; and Aren Laljie, associate dean for finance.
Shifting to another priority, that of the renovation and expansion of facilities, Dean Goldman said: “My role is to assure that the best researchers, the best doctors, and the best teachers have an environment in which they are happy and successful. That makes for a good student experience.”
He also highlighted two major initiatives linking the medical school and hospital. Under the leadership of Dr. Jean Emond of the Department of Surgery, the transplant program has launched a new program “designed to ‘rocket-boost’ transplant immunology.” Another longstanding clinical and academic strength, cardiovascular research, has likewise gotten an organizational boost by a new research initiative.
In an ongoing effort to get to know the students, Dean Goldman spoke of the success of his breakfast meetings, during which he encourages a frank and honest give and take to discover pressing concerns and recommendations for improvement. The breakfasts are organized by Dr. Mellman.
Based on the constructive input of students, faculty, and alumni, and on his own observations since taking the helm, Dean Goldman noted what he called the “four betters,” four areas in need of improvement to keep P&S competitive: housing, educational space, financial aid, and updating of the curriculum.
Among his proposed curricular changes, he would like to see students “finish required clerkships a bit earlier,” so as to free up time in the third and fourth year “to major in something and have an area of real expertise.” Inspired by his recent visit of Columbia-sponsored medical programs in East Africa, and thrilled at the ever-growing student interest in international medicine, Dean Goldman is pushing to enhance the opportunities for study abroad, particularly in developing countries, as an essential part of the curriculum.
Dean Goldman also reported on the renovation of the bottom two floors of the Health Sciences Library into new education/classroom space.
The dean concluded his remarks by saluting the hard work and success of Dr. Anke Nolting, associate dean of alumni relations and development, and the continuing commitment of alumni.
|Alumni Association president Jacqueline A. Bello’80
The Alumni Association and the Black and Latin Students Organization co-hosted the annual minority dinner at the Donald F. Tapley Faculty Club on Nov. 12, 2007.
Lester Blair’70, chairman of the Minority Affairs Committee of the Alumni Association, officiated as master of ceremonies. “This has been a P&S tradition for about two decades now,” Dr. Blair reported. He introduced the president of BALSO, Felicia Rosario’10. Ms. Rosario remarked on how “great it is for minority students to see minority alums and have them inspire us.” She reported on recent BALSO activities, including “Mosaic,” an evening of performance from diverse cultures, produced in conjunction with the Asian and South Asian medical student organizations, “that helped educate the medical school community about our other cultures.” She also reported on a new mentoring relationship between BALSO members and students from the Health Opportunities High School, in the Bronx.
Dr. Blair introduced the evening’s speaker, Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., MPH. Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the Bronx, Dr. Carrasquillo attended the Bronx High School of Science and the City College Sophie Davis School of
Biomedical Education. He received his medical degree from NYU and came to P&S for an internal medicine residency. After completing a fellowship in general medicine at Harvard and earning an MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health, he returned to P&S to join the faculty in the Department of Medicine. He is currently associate professor of medicine, health policy, and community partnerships.
At Harvard, Dr. Carrasquillo published a study, which as he put it, “proved the obvious,” that non-English speakers are less likely to be satisfied with the quality of their health care. He has since devoted his career to attempting to redress inequities in health care delivery, particularly in the Latino population, only one-third of which have health insurance. “We keep documenting a problem,” he said with a note of frustration, “that doesn’t seem to be going away.” He was one of the co-founders of the National Center of Minority Health and Health Disparities and has been a vocal advocate for a single-payer national health insurance.
New Alumni Relations Director Takes the Helm
By Peter Wortsman
Elizabeth A. Williams, the dynamic new director of alumni relations, took a minute from her busy work day to reflect on her role and that of the Alumni Office: “We’re reaching out to alumni and students. We’re all in this together to help make medical school the best possible experience and turn out the best doctors, and together we’re helping to change the world. So I think what we do here is really important.”
Born in the Bronx to immigrant parents from the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, Ms. Williams, the mother of two, is pursuing a degree in economics and hopes to pursue advanced studies in business. She first came to the Alumni Office in 2001 as a development assistant working under Dr. Anke Nolting, associate dean of alumni relations and development. “Short of cloning Liz,” Anke says, “we were delighted to promote her to this position. Her organizational and people skills are topnotch. We’re really lucky to have her.”
Ms. Williams Liz as she is known to all is both daunted and thrilled to be following in the footsteps of her esteemed predecessor, Katherine Couchells, who retired in June 2007 but continues to come in once a week to help in the transition. “Kathy is amazing,” her successor observes. “She’s a task juggler and a walking calendar with a ‘to do list’ engraved in her brain. A consummate professional, she manages to make it all look easy and pull it off with a smile. For a little person, she has big shoes to fill.”
Among the first things the new alumni director did was to revamp the association’s website: www.psalumni.cumc.columbia.edu. “Alumni want and need to be interactive with the association and each other,” she says, “and busy students don’t have time to flip through files.” Alumni can register online for all events, including Alumni Reunion Weekend, and peruse a secure password-controlled online alumni directory. Students, particularly fourth-year students planning for their residency interviews, will benefit from the chance to seek out and connect with alumni around the country willing to host them during their stays.
“Connect is the key word here,” says Liz. “I want students and alumni to be able to stay connected with us and each other at the touch of a button.”
Among her immediate goals, Liz is eager to reach out and foster relationships with younger alumni and encourage their active participation in the Alumni Council. “We have a lot of alumni who succeeded thanks to hard work and the opportunity they were given here. It’s important for students to get to know those who came before them and satisfying, I think, for alumni to offer advice and, maybe, a helping hand.”
She also hopes to revive the Regional Representatives Committee and to organize more regional events wherever alumni live and practice.
Organizing events is the part of the job she likes best. “I love putting together all the little pieces and seeing them come together.” Thanks to her, the new students and house staff reception in September 2007 came off without a hitch and proved truly inspirational. All present were thrilled when Nobel laureate and P&S professor Dr. Eric R. Kandel signed copies of his memoir, “In Search of Memory.” The books were paid for through the generosity of alumni philanthropist George A. Violin’67. Liz worked out the logistics with donor, signer, publisher, the P&S bookstore, and the Student Affairs Office, making sure every new member of the P&S community got a copy.
At the end of the day which often runs into the evening hours she enjoys sitting back and appraising her performance: “All right, not too shabby, Liz!” she says.
By Marianne Wolff’52
Class of 1943D
Hobart A. Lerner, clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of Rochester Eye Institute and University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, has been named the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s most senior fellow in active practice. Hobart still sees patients at his office four mornings a week but no longer operates. He could represent the oldest P&S graduate in active practice!
Class of 1955
The California Senate unanimously approved a bill that would require the state to screen veterans of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan for traumatic brain injury and refer them to VA treatment. Jerome Blum, who entered the idea in a “There Oughta Be A Law” contest run by a California state senator, can share credit for the bill. Jerry, a retired ophthalmologist who lives in Los Altos Hills, Calif., testified as an expert witness before a Senate committee considering the bill. Although Jerry never saw combat, he was a Navy physician at Camp Pendleton, where he developed a concern for the young men and women who have fought for our country. “American society has paid a heavy price financially, psychically, sociologically, and substance abuse-wise for all the Vietnam veterans who were not properly screened and treated for TBIs,” Jerry told a Los Altos newspaper. Veterans often do not show symptoms of TBIs until they have started to adapt to civilian life. The bill now proceeds to the California Assembly, and Jerry, who won one of three “Oughta Be A Law” awards, hopes laws will be passed in all states; no similar federal law exists. The senator who sponsors the contest calls it “proof positive that one person can make a difference.”
Class of 1959
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences inducted Allan Rosenfield, outgoing dean of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, the DeLamar Professor of Public Health, and professor of ob/gyn at P&S, into membership in October 2007. The Academy is an independent research center that conducts multidisciplinary studies in science, technology, global security, social policy, the humanities, culture, and education.
Class of 1961
John Talbott is author of a blog, John Talbott’s Paris, at http://johntalbottsparis.typepad.com
Class of 1962
Ian Nisonson has been presented with the Distinguished Service Award by the South Florida Chapter of the American College of Surgeons “for a lifetime of dedication and devotion to the improvement and advancement of surgery and contributions to the training of future surgeons.” He became a member of the medical staff of Baptist Hospital in 1970 when he joined the late Dr. Warren S. Witus in the practice of urology. This later became the Urology Center of South Florida (Drs. Madorsky, Cohen, Pinon, Santa Cruz, and Bruck). He was president of the medical staff from 1997 to 1999 when the staffs of Baptist Hospital and South Miami Hospital first merged. He was also editor-in-chief of Dade County Medical Society’s monthly publication Miami Medicine. He was past president of the South Florida Chapter of the ACS as well as a governor and was a member of the ACS Board of Regents Committee on Patient Safety and Professional Liability for 16 years. He is now a member of the honorary medical staffs of Baptist Hospital and South Miami Hospital, a member of the Baptist Health System Medical Education Committee, and co-director of the annual symposium on the autism spectrum, which began in April 2003.
Class of 1968
Pipex Pharmaceuticals has appointed David A. Newsome as its chief scientific officer. An ophthalmologist by training, David has been interested in metal dyshomeostasis, particularly in how it affects the eye and central nervous system. Most recently David practiced ophthalmology, with an emphasis on the retina, in the Tampa Bay area. Before that he was clinical professor of ophthalmology at Tulane, professor of ophthalmology at Louisiana State, and associate professor of ophthalmology at Johns Hopkins. From the late 1970s to early ‘80s he was section chief of retina and ocular connective tissue diseases at the National Eye Institute. He has published more than 150 scientific articles and lectured extensively. He is perhaps best known for pioneering new treatments for age-related dry macular degeneration and Wilson’s disease. David and family have relocated from Florida to Ann Arbor, Mich.
Class of 1969
David S. Pao has been elected president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology, an organization he has served actively for 25 years. In addition he is a councilor to the American Academy of Ophthalmology and member of its Political Advocacy Executive Committee. He is on the teaching staffs of Wills Eye Hospital and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. His special interest is in diseases of the retina.
Class of 1963
In November 2007 Geraldine P. Schechter received the 2007 Laureate Award from the Washington, D.C., chapter of the American College of Physicians. Geraldine was elevated to Master of the ACP in 2005. She is professor of medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and chief of hematology, clinical and research sections of the VA Center in Washington, D.C. She has authored more than 150 scientific papers and abstracts, serves on multiple committees, and is a reviewer for Blood, Annals of Internal Medicine and the New England Journal of Medicine. Geraldine is married to classmate Allan N. Schechter, who is also a hematologist. They live in Bethesda, Md., with their two children.
Class of 1969
John Bilezekian, chief of endocrinology, director of the metabolic bone disease program, and professor of medicine and pharmacology at P&S, has been appointed the Dorothy L. and Daniel H. Silberberg Professor of Medicine. John’s research on metabolic bone diseases, particularly osteoporosis and primary hyperparathyroidism, is recognized internationally. He has edited or co-edited more than 20 textbooks and published more than 500 articles.
Class of 1972
Michael F. McGuire of Santa Monica, Calif., was elected vice president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the world’s largest society of board-certified plastic surgeons, at its annual meeting in Baltimore. He is associate clinical professor of surgery at UCLA and in private practice in Santa Monica. He has been chief of plastic surgery at St. John’s Health Center for more than 10 years. He previously served as president of the California Society of Plastic Surgeons and president of Lumetra, the Medicare quality improvement organization for California. In his limited spare time, he enjoys gardening and bicycling and is a founder of the LA Opera.
|Shearwood McClelland’74, Kimberly McClelland, and Yvonne Thornton’73
Class of 1973
Edward Tabor, affiliated with the FDA until 2005, is executive director and head of regulatory affairs and medical writing, Americas, at Quintiles, a global research company.
Yvonne Thornton appeared on C-Span in July 2007 with Congressman Charles Rangel as part of the Harlem Book Fair.
Class of 1974
P&S Ophthalmology Chair Stanley Chang is one of three U.S. clinicians chosen to receive the Castle Connolly National Physician of the Year Award for Clinical Excellence. More than 600,000 physicians were nominated from the top U.S. specialty hospitals and medical centers, as well as from Castle Connolly’s America’s Top Doctors publications. Stan is the holder of two named professorships at P&S. The awards ceremony was in March 2008.
L. Dade Lunsford, chairman of the Department of Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, received the Ralph C. Wilde Award from the Allegheny County Medical Society in January 2008. The award is given to “the physician who exemplifies the personal and professional characteristics physician, teacher, leader, and human being of the late ACMS president, for whom the award is named.” Best known for introducing radiosurgical techniques, such as the gamma knife to the United States, Dade installed a radiosurgery system at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 1987 and directed a residency training program for neurosurgery. He also founded and served as president of the American Society of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery and founded the Stereotactic Radiosurgery Society.
Shearwood McClelland has been named to the Columbia University Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing.
Steven M. Schwarz, professor and chairman of pediatrics at the Long Island College Hospital and professor of pediatrics at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, has been appointed senior scientist and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of Curemark. Steven is considered one of the foremost authorities in pediatric gastroenterology and developmental disabilities. Curemark is a drug development company focused on the treatment of neurological and other diseases by addressing certain gastrointestinal/pancreatic secretory deficiencies. The company investigates autism, ADD/ADHD, Parkinson, and other diseases. Steven previously served on the faculties of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and New York Medical College, where he received the Charles H. Revson Foundation Career Scientist Award and in 1995 he was named Distinguished Lecturer in the Graduate School of Health Sciences.
Class of 1975
The American Heart Association’s annual William W. Glenn lecture for 2007 was given by Eric Rose. The lecture was titled “Fulfilling the Promise of Long-Term Mechanical Circulatory Support.” The Glenn Lecture was established to honor the first surgeon to serve as AHA president.
Class of 1976
James V. Dunford received the Chancellor’s Award for Community Service at the University of California, San Diego, in 2006. He also received the Pursuit of Solutions Research Award from the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, for “the year’s most significant research in homelessness.” The award ceremony was held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. A third award, given in 2007, was from the U.S. Metropolitan Municipalities Medical Directors Association for “individual contributions to emergency medical success.” The award was bestowed in Dallas. The Medical Directors Association consists of medical directors from the 25 largest cities in the United States.
Class of 1978
Andrew Kaunitz, professor and associate chairman of ob/gyn at the University of Florida College of Medicine in Jacksonville, is also director of menopause and gyn ultrasound services at Southside Women’s Health on Emerson, in Jacksonville. In November 2007 he received the Heath Byford Award from the Department of Ob/Gyn at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago; the award is given annually to the outstanding Northwestern University alum in the field of ob/gyn. The next day, Andrew delivered the 2007 Heskett Visiting Professor lecture at Northwestern on “Reassessing Hormonal Therapy for Menopausal Women.”
Class of 1980
Jacqueline Bello, 2007-2008 president of the P&S Alumni Association, is president of the New York State Radiological Society. Her regular day job is as head of the neuroradiology division at Einstein. Most recently she was an alternate delegate for the American College of Radiology to the AMA House of Delegates.
|Jacqueline Bello’80 (back row) and family
Class of 1981
President and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics Inc., Ron Cohen, has been inducted into the Spinal Cord Injury Hall of Fame in the corporate executive category. The SCI Hall of Fame was created “to recognize excellence and to honor individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to quality of life and advancements toward a better future for all individuals with spinal cord injury.” The induction ceremony took place at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
The first James G. McMurtry Associate Professor of Clinical Neurological Surgery (in Otolaryngology/Head& Neck Surgery) is Michael Sisti, who specializes in treating benign, malignant, and functional brain tumors using the gamma knife and fractionated stereotactic radiosurgery technologies. Mike is one of only a few neurosurgeons with a background in engineering, having graduated from the Cooper Union School of Engineering.
Class of 1982
Robert J. Strauch has been promoted to professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at P&S. His special field of interest lies in hand and microvascular surgery, with a focus on nerve injuries, congenital hand disorders, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Class of 1983
Aaron E. Glatt has been appointed CEO of New Island Hospital in Bethpage, Long Island. He will retain his previous title of president of the hospital. Before joining New Island Hospital, Aaron was chairman of medicine at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx, associate dean of New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y., and chief of the infectious diseases division at St. Vincent’s Catholic Medical Centers of New York City.
Class of 1986
Pediatrician and epidemiologist Steven B. Auerbach is working for the U.S. Public Health Service; his work supports community health centers and other programs for low income and other medically underserved persons. Steve has an MPH; he is a member of the Commissioned Corps Readiness Force and served at Ground Zero for the first three weeks after 9/11. He also served in Louisiana after Katrina, leading a team of 80 other officers to conduct a rapid statewide needs assessment for displaced persons in shelters. He is a member of the board of Physicians for a National Health Program and holds an appointment as a guest investigator at Rockefeller University. Steve’s wife, Karen Becker, is a family physician and a professor at the Montefiore Medical Center Residency Program in Social Medicine. Steve and Karen, who live in New York City, have two children, Anya and Asher.
Class of 1990
Joshua E. Hyman, director of the pediatric orthopedic trauma service at Columbia, has been promoted to associate professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at P&S. Josh is particularly interested in diseases of the hip, scoliosis, limb deformities, cerebral palsy, neuromuscular diseases, fractures, and sports injuries.
Class of 1991
One of the Young Investigator Awards given by the American Society for Clinical Investigation went to Rosemary Sampogna, assistant professor of clinical medicine-nephrology at P&S. In addition she received a five-year research award from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive & Kidney Diseases for the identification and functional analysis of renal stem cells. Rosemary received a Ph.D. from P&S before entering medical school.
Daniel S. Schechter was awarded the prestigious Pierre Janet Scientific Paper Prize by the International Society of Trauma and Dissociation in November 2007. On April 1, 2008, he joined the faculty of the University of Geneva (Switzerland) Faculty of Medicine as associate professor of psychiatry, where he will be director of pediatric consult-liaison and director of the new Infant-Parent Research Unit. He will remain an adjunct faculty member at P&S and will continue as director of research for the child division of the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.
Class of 1992
William B. Macaulay Jr. has been promoted to professor of clinical orthopedic surgery at P&S and has been named the first Anne Youle Stein Professor of Clinical Orthopedic Surgery. He is also director of the Center for Hip and Knee Replacement. He is conducting outcome studies and clinical trials about fractures of the femoral neck. Bill has been prominently featured in the New York Times and by CBS News as one of the nation’s leaders in hip and knee replacement and hip resurfacing.
Class of 1993 Ph.D.
Lori Sussel has been named professor of genetics & development at the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at P&S. She was previously affiliated with the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.
Class of 1996
Carlos Jose Rodriguez, assistant professor of clinical medicine at P&S and of clinical epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, has become a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar. He also has been accepted into the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Development Program, an effort to increase the number of faculty from historically disadvantaged backgrounds who achieve senior ranks in academic medicine. Carlos’ research studies focus on hypertensive heart disease in Hispanics.
Mathew R. Williams, surgical director of cardiovascular transcatheter therapies at P&S, has been named assistant professor of surgery (in medicine).
Class of 1997
Adam Ratner, assistant professor of pediatrics and of microbiology at P&S, has been appointed to the peer review panel of the Flight Attendant Medical Research Institute, established with settlement funds from a tobacco class-action lawsuit to study the impact of second-hand smoke on flight attendants.
Class of 1998
Sabrina Cherry has been promoted to associate clinical professor of psychiatry at P&S.
Class of 2000
Daniel Chrzanowski, newly appointed instructor in clinical psychiatry in the division of child psychiatry at P&S, had all his specialty training at CUMC. His responsibilities will include serving as assistant residency training director for child and adolescent psychiatry and as a consultant to the division’s telepsychiatry program.
Class of 2003
Joanne Hrusovsky married Tamin Nazif’04 in September 2007 in the Philadelphia area. The wedding party included her classmates Andrew Ducruet, Kristin Kozakowski, Allison Pestroak- Levey, and Sarah Lambert.
Having completed a residency in emergency medicine, Kiran Pandit has been appointed instructor in clinical medicine in the Center for Emergency Medicine at P&S. Her specialty training was at CUMC. She received an MPH from the Mailman School of Public Health. One of her academic interests lies in the field of international health. Kiran was recently elected to the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine in India.
Class of 2004
“Woody” McClelland was awarded the annual Resident Award for Excellence in Geriatrics Scholarship from the Minnesota Medical Foundation and the William Peyton Award for Outstanding Presentation of Scientific Investigation. He has published 34 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Tamin Nazif and his bride, Joanne Hrusovsky’03, included his classmates Andrew Rose and Stacey Johnson Rose among their wedding guests. Also present was Trilivas Lawson’02. Joanne and Tamin are living in San Francisco but plan to return to New York when Tamin begins his fellowship.
Class of 2006
Josh Bazell’s debut novel, “Beat the Reaper,” prompted a two-day bidding war in November 2007 among eight publishing houses for North American rights to publish the book, which is described as a darkly comedic thriller about a hit man who becomes a doctor in an attempt to redeem himself. Rights have since been sold to 19 foreign publishers. “Beat the Reaper” will be published by Little, Brown on Jan. 7, 2009. Josh, a psychiatry resident at UCSF, has a bachelor’s degree in writing from Brown University and is working on his next novel.