The Dean's Corner

Legislation puts our nation’s health at risk

Center for Care and Discovery

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of addressing the Pritzker School of Medicine Class of 2017 at the Divisional Academic Ceremony.  Our graduating students are entering the medical profession at a time of great uncertainty over whether their patients will have access to the type of comprehensive, affordable coverage that leads to better health outcomes. I encouraged our young physicians to advocate for the most vulnerable in our society, and to speak up on issues that will be central to their careers as physicians.

The most pressing issue is proposed legislation that would dramatically cut federal support for health care for the most vulnerable Americans. The American Health Care Act that narrowly passed the U.S. House last month would increase the number of uninsured people by 23 million, cut $834 billion out of Medicaid and remove protections for people with pre-existing conditions. In the coming weeks, the Senate is poised to vote on its version of a health care bill.

We urge the Senate to take a comprehensive approach to health care reform that maintains broad access to health insurance, provides financial support so people can get care and providers can serve their communities and promote cost-saving innovations.

More information about the potential impact in Illinois, and the ripple effect the Senate’s decision will have on hospitals, may be found in an op-ed that I wrote that was published in Crain’s Chicago Business.


The Duchossois Family Institute to launch this fall

Duchossois Family Foundation

The Duchossois Family Foundation. Standing (L to R): Craig J. Duchossois, Janet Duchossois, Ilaria Woodward, Jessica Swoyer Green, Dayle Duchossois Fortino. Seated (L to R): Ashley D. Joyce, Richard L. Duchossois, Kimberly Duchossois

The establishment of the Duchossois Family Institute: Harnessing the Microbiome and Immunity for Human Health was recently announced.  This institute has been made possible by an incredible $100 million gift from Craig Duchossois, Chairman and CEO of The Duchossois Group Inc., a member of the University of Chicago Medical Center Board since 1988 and the University Board since 2001; his wife Janet Duchossois, and The Duchossois Family Foundation. We are immensely grateful to the Duchossois family for their commitment and longstanding support. Since 1980, the family has given $37 million to the Medical Center, including a transformative $21 million gift to establish the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, the first facility dedicated to outpatient care on the UChicago Medicine campus. Three generations of the Duchossois family have been involved in making the new $100 million gift, and it has been my pleasure to work with them to develop a shared vision for using the power of science to promote wellness.

The scientific focus of the Institute was developed over two years of discussions between members of our faculty, led by T. Conrad Gilliam, the Dean for Basic Science and the Marjorie I. and Bernard A. Mitchell Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Human Genetics, and members of the family.  The overall goal of the Duchossois Family Institute will be to further knowledge on the interactions between the immune system, genetic factors and the microbiome, and then to determine how this knowledge can be used to promote human health. The Institute will be headed by an eminent scientist, who will be identified by a national search. This search will be initiated shortly.

The resources provided by the Institute will be used to recruit outstanding faculty who will be appointed in our departments, to provide seed funding for innovative research projects and funds to support students and fellows. In addition, a series of research and development platforms will be developed that will enhance our research infrastructure. Platforms under consideration include medicinal chemistry, the use of metabolomics to develop next generation biomarkers, high throughput microbiome sequencing as well as a data integration and analytics platform and a microbiome data commons.  It is anticipated that this additional infrastructure will have a positive impact on research in the BSD and will benefit our faculty broadly. The Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation will play an important role in The Duchossois Family Institute. As part of the gift agreement, it is expected that discoveries made under the auspices of the Institute will lead to intellectual property that can be patented and will form the basis of new companies. Funds will also be used to support training in the Polsky Center.  

This exciting new program is built on the accomplishments of our faculty — particularly in the areas of genetics and genomics, the microbiome, immunology and data analytics that positioned us to receive this transformative gift, the largest single gift ever in support of biology and medicine at the University of Chicago.

UCM-led studies honored by the Clinical Research Forum

The Clinical Research Forum is an organization devoted to promoting clinical research in the United States whose members include the leading academic medical centers across the country.  Each year, the Forum conducts a competition to determine the 10 outstanding clinical research accomplishments during the prior year.  This year, two studies led by University of Chicago faculty were selected for this highly competitive honor. 

The Herbert Pardes Clinical Research Excellence Award, the Clinical Research Forum’s highest honor, went to a team headed by Anne Sperling, Associate Professor of Medicine, and Carole Ober, Professor and Chair of Human Genetics. Their study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that despite similar genetic ancestries and lifestyles in the Amish and Hutterites, the much lower incidence of asthma and allergic sensitization in the Amish is related at least in part to differences in the house dust in Amish homes that engage and shape the innate immune system and suppress the immune reactions that lead to asthma.

The Distinguished Clinical Research Achievement Award for studies that demonstrate creativity, innovation, or a novel approach to impact the health and well-being of patients went to a team led by pulmonologist John P. Kress, Professor of Medicine, and Bhakti Patel, Clinical Instructor of Medicine. Their study from the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that using a transparent, airtight helmet instead of a face mask helps respiration in critically ill patients.

Please join me in congratulating Carole, Anne, John, Bhakti and their colleagues on their very significant accomplishments.

Celiac Disease Center researchers report major breakthrough

Jabri lab

This April, Bana Jabri, Professor in the Department of Medicine and Pediatrics and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine, and her colleagues announced a fundamental breakthrough in a paper published in Science: Infection with reovirus, a common but otherwise harmless virus, can trigger the immune system response to gluten that leads to celiac disease.

The study, done in collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, suggests that infection with a reovirus could be a key initiating event for developing celiac. In the United States, babies are usually given their first solid foods — often containing gluten — and weaned from breastfeeding around six months of age. Children with immature immune systems are more susceptible to viral infections at this stage, and for those genetically predisposed to celiac disease, the combination of an intestinal reovirus infection with the first exposure to gluten could create the right conditions for developing celiac.

The research also implicates viruses in the development of other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes, and raises the possibility that vaccines could one day be used to prevent these diseases. I’m excited to see what further discoveries Bana and her team will make as they pursue this promising line of research.


Distinguished Faculty Award recipients announced

Francis Straus

Francis Straus, MD'57, SM'64

Each June, I look forward with great pleasure to the reception honoring the Distinguished Faculty Award recipients.  The winners are selected by members of the Faculty Advisory Committee from among the many outstanding nominees in each award category. One of the highlights for me is listening to excerpts from the nomination letters written by faculty. The writers not only detail their colleagues’ accomplishments, they also share observations and experiences that speak to the nominees’ creativity, dedication and passion for teaching, patient care and research.

This year, we have a new award to announce. The inaugural Francis Straus Mentorship Award honors the memory of Dr. Francis H. Straus II, Professor in the Department of Pathology, as a mentor of students, residents, and fellows during his many years as a member of our faculty in the department of Pathology. “We wanted something within the Biological Sciences Division that would endure and acknowledge what Francis was and did,” said his widow, Lorna P. Straus, Professor Emerita of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, in a story in the Spring 2016 issue of Medicine on the Midway.

A reception honoring the Distinguished Faculty Award winners will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. June 27 in the fourth-floor atrium of the DCAM. Please click here to RSVP. We hope you will join us for this occasion to celebrate the work of your faculty colleagues, who are being honored for excellence in the following categories:

Francis Straus Mentorship Award: John P. Kress, Professor of Medicine, and Matthew Brady, Associate Professor of Medicine.

Distinguished Investigator: D. Allan Drummond, Assistant Professor of Human Genetics (Junior Award) and Joy Bergelson, Professor and Chair, Department of Ecology and Evolution (Senior Award)

Distinguished Leader in Diversity and Inclusion: Sonia Kupfer, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Junior Award) and Monica Vela, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Multicultural Affairs, Pritzker School of Medicine (Senior Award)

Distinguished Clinician: Kamala Cotts, Assistant Professor of Medicine (Junior Award); Edward Garrity, Professor of Medicine (Senior Award), and Wendy Stock, Professor of Medicine (Senior Award)

Distinguished Leader in Program Innovation: Megan Huisingh-Scheetz, and Katherine Thompson, Assistant Professors of Medicine (Junior Award) and Cathryn Nagler, Professor of Pathology (Senior Award)

Distinguished Educator/Mentor: Lolita (Maria) Alkureishi, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics (Clinical Sciences Award); John Alverdy, Professor of Surgery (Clinical Sciences Award); and Dorothy Hanck, (Basic Sciences Award).

Distinguished Leader in Community Service and Advocacy: Anna Volerman, Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics (Junior Award) and Brad Stolbach, Associate Professor of Pediatrics (Senior Award)

Quantrell and graduate teaching awards honor excellence in the classroom

Teaching is a crucial part of our mission in the Biological Sciences Division. Two of our BSD colleagues faculty members are among the faculty members honored by the University this year for exemplary efforts in the classroom that inspire students.

Bana Jabri

The Llewellyn John and Harriet Manchester Quantrell Awards are believed to be the nation’s oldest prize for undergraduate teaching, reflecting the College’s commitment to honoring inspiring teachers. One of the winners this year is Bana Jabri, Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics, and Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Medicine. Bana’s courses in immunology and immunopathology not only convey fundamental concepts to students, but also instill confidence that they can contribute novel ideas to the field.

Jason MacLean

The Faculty Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching and Mentoring recognizes regular, full-time faculty members in the four divisions and the Divinity School for exemplary graduate teaching. Among the recipients is Jason MacLean, Associate Professor of Neurobiology. Jason’s commitment to rigorous examination of neuroscience research provides students with essential critical thinking skills as they pursue their own careers.

Please join me in congratulating both Bana and Jason for their invaluable work preparing our students for the future.

UChicago Medicine one of the nation’s top-performing hospitals in quality and safety


We have recently received several national honors that speak to the quality and safety of the care we provide to patients. This spring, the University of Chicago Medicine earned its 11th consecutive “A” from The Leapfrog Group, which assesses hospitals using 30 safety metrics. We are one of only 63 hospitals in the nation that have earned continuous top marks from the prominent watchdog organization, which began its twice-a-year reviews in 2012. Additionally, UChicago Medicine was included on Becker’s Hospital Review’s 2017 review of “100 Great Hospitals of America.”

Stephen Weber, Associate Professor of Medicine, Chief Medical Officer and Vice President for Clinical Effectiveness, is one of the leaders of our ongoing, broad-based effort to improve quality and safety. I am delighted that his contributions have been recognized by Becker’s Hospital Review, which named him to its 2017 list of 50 experts leading the field of patient safety. The publication cited his studies on the prevention and management of health care-associated infections and his work on an infection prevention outreach team. 

Celebrating half a century of training physician-scientists

Our Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is one of the longest running programs in the country. We were one of the first schools to obtain federal funding in 1967. Since then, our program has graduated more than 280 physician scientists, and many of our former trainees are now doing groundbreaking research at some of the nation’s most prestigious institutions.

We have invited some of our most accomplished alumni back to campus to talk about their research during the upcoming MSTP Reunion and Retreat.  The 50th Anniversary Alumni Research Symposium will be held from 1 to 6 p.m. June 23 in the Gordon Center for Integrative Science. The symposium is open to the entire University community, and I expect it will be a fascinating afternoon.

Faculty members receive national recognition

Please join me in congratulating colleagues who recently received national recognition for their accomplishments and leadership.

Neil Shubin, the Robert R. Bensley Distinguished Service Professor of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, was inducted into the American Philosophical Society — the nation’s oldest learned society, founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin. Neil was selected for this prestigious honor for his discoveries involving the evolution of limbs and the transition from water to dry land.

Jeffrey Hubbell, the Barry L. MacLean Professor of Molecular Engineering Innovation and Enterprise, Professor in the Committee on Immunology, recently received the Society for Biomaterials’ 2017 Founders Award, the organization’s top honor, given for “long-term, landmark contributions to the discipline of biomaterials.”

Olufunmilayo Olopade, the Walter L. Palmer Distinguished Service Professor and Associate Dean for Global Health received the 2017 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Humanitarian Award at the ASCO Annual Meeting earlier this month in Chicago. The award recognizes an oncologist who personifies ASCO’s mission and values by going above and beyond the call of duty in providing outstanding patient care through innovative means or exceptional service or leadership in the U.S. or abroad. Funmi is known globally for her work on breast cancer genetics, health disparities and health equity, and cancer prevention. She talks about her work in an interview with the ASCO Daily News.

Thomas F. Gajewski, Professor of Medicine and Pathology, has been named one of 12 “Giants of Cancer Care for 2017” by OncLive®, an organization that offers oncology professionals information they can use in patient care through its publications videos. Tom, an authority on immunotherapy, is the fourth University of Chicago Medicine physician to win this honor since it began in 2013. Previous winners were Samuel Hellman, Janet Rowley (posthumously), and Everett Vokes. Tom and his team study new ways to overcome a tumor’s ability to resist immune-based therapies, with a focus on drugs that help the immune system, especially T cells, gain access to tumor sites.

Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News named Michaela Gack, Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology, to its list of “Top 10 Under 40” in Biopharma Research and Business. In a profile, the magazine cites her “unique experimental system that combines RNAi screens with proteomics as well as molecular, biochemical, and cell biological studies” to identify and characterize the regulatory mechanisms that govern the detection of viral infections.

Monica E. Peek, Associate Professor of Medicine and Associate Director of the Chicago Center for Diabetes Translational Research, was elected a Council Member to the national Society of General Internal Medicine. The national medical society’s 3,000 physician members are the primary internal medicine faculty of every medical school and major teaching hospital in the United States.

Stacie Levine, Associate Professor of Medicine, was accepted as a Fellow in the 2017-2018 Class of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine (ELAM) Program for Women. The program is a yearlong, part-time fellowship for women faculty in academic medicine, dedicated to developing the professional and personal skills required to lead and manage in today's complex health care environment. 

Students awarded research fellowships, honored for service and leadership

I am immensely proud of our many Pritzker School of Medicine and Biological Sciences Division students who have been recognized for academic and research accomplishments, service to the community and leadership.

At the recent American Medical Association meeting in Chicago, Hasenin Al-khersan, MD’17, and Phillip Hsu, MSTP, received prestigious AMA Foundation Excellence Leadership in Medicine Awards.  The awards recognize physicians and students who exemplify the highest values of volunteerism, community engagement, leadership and dedication to the care of underserved populations.

Schweitzer Fellows

Schweitzer Fellows Rachel Stones, left, Margaret Wang, Jessica Chen and Tyrone Johnson

Four Pritzker students — Jessica Chen, Tyrone Johnson, Rachel Stones and Margaret Wang — have been named 2017-18 Schweitzer Fellows.  The Chicago Area Schweitzer Fellowship is a one-year service learning program during which students develop innovative community-based projects. During the coming year, our students will be implementing their programs at agencies from the South Side to Uptown to address the needs of vulnerable populations, including survivors of domestic violence and people who are housing insecure.

Our graduate students in the biological sciences have an excellent record of obtaining competitive fellowships, receiving national awards for their research, and publishing findings that advance their fields. BSD graduate students have received prestigious fellowships to support their research from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Ford Foundation, Field Museum of Natural History and other entities. A list of fellowship recipients and their faculty mentors can be found here.

The University’s Center for Leadership Involvement honored five Pritzker students with University of Chicago Student Leader Awards in recognition of their contributions to campus life and the surrounding community. The students honored include three recent graduates — Chris Mattson, MD’17, Sean Gaffney, MD’17, and Elizabeth Donnelly, MD’17 — and Shirlene Obuobi, MS4, and Zaina Zayyad, MSTP. Among these recipients are a student who opened her apartment to classmates for monthly conversations about race and identity, and a student whose efforts inspired Pritzker to launch the Identity and Inclusion (I2I) Initiative.

We all take pride in the contributions of these exceptional students. 

BSD to participate in Chicago’s Pride Parade

This is Pride Month, and I am pleased that we are participating Chicago’s 48th Annual Pride Parade on June 25. In our division, we work hard to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment, not only for our patients, but also for our students, staff, and faculty. Additionally, we are proud that the University of Chicago Medicine is identified as a leader in LGBT Health Equality, a formal recognition received from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Many BSD and UChicago Medicine faculty, staff and trainees, as well as their partners and allies, have signed up to participate in the parade. They will be wearing T-shirts sponsored by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and the LGBT+ Resource Group.

CAR-T cell therapy emerges as promising treatment for cancer

Andrew Parker

CAR-T cell therapy patient Andrew Parker

Our hematopoietic cellular therapy program, directed by Michael Bishop, Professor of Medicine, aims to be a leader in the development of a promising new treatments for blood cancers. CAR-T cell therapy is a complex treatment that begins with the removal of a few million of the patient’s white blood cells, including T cells. These cells are then sorted and the T cells are reprogrammed. A virus is then used to insert an antibody-like protein, called a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), into the T cells. This receptor latches onto a protein typically found only on leukemic cells and normal B cells. When they connect, the T cell kills the cancer cells.

The University of Chicago has been selected as one of the initial sites for new applications of CAR-T cells, based on new molecular targets that may work for other cancers, including multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s disease. Remarkable responses have already been seen in some patients, including Andrew Parker of Ann Arbor, Michigan. I invite you to read more about Mr. Parker’s CAR-T cell treatment at the University of Chicago Medicine, and listen to him talk about it in his own words in this excellent podcast.


Compelling videos highlight innovative surgery, clinical trials

I am deeply proud of the exceptional care that we provide every day to our patients, many of whom come to us with extremely challenging diagnoses. Two recent patients generously shared their compelling and inspiring stories with us for videos produced by the University of Chicago Medicine Marketing and Communications team.

Jennifer Scott was the 500th patient treated by UChicago Medicine’s robotic cardiac surgery team, led by Husam H. Balkhy, Associate Professor of Surgery. She needed a repair of her mitral valve and treatment for atrial fibrillation, and she sought care here because she did not want to have her chest opened. Our team treated her using a robotic totally endoscopic approach. She was interviewed less than 48 hours later, feeling “remarkably good” and looking forward to going home.

Jazz pianist Billy Foster has surgery for kidney cancer a decade ago, and came to us for a second opinion after learning the disease had metastasized to his lungs, liver and brain. He is doing well on a leading-edge clinical trial and continues to pursue his musical passions. Mr. Foster and, his wife and caregiver, Renee Miles-Foster, discuss the innovative, compassionate care he received at UChicago Medicine.