During Dean Eric Neilson’s second full year as leader of the medical school, he continued to oversee progress on a number of different fronts. From the commitment of Northwestern Medicine entities to donate $1 billion to research at the University to the selection of an architectural firm to design the new biomedical research pavilion on the Chicago campus, in addition to many other education, clinical and research activities, the past year showcased an outstanding time of growth and success at the Feinberg School of Medicine.
“The medical school had an exceptional year in 2013,” said Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for medical affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean. “We enhanced the strength of the Northwestern Medicine brand by integrating our clinical organization, established a number of innovative institutions and centers, made great strides in medical science and recruited more high-quality faculty. I anticipate another year of groundbreaking research, institutional growth and academic excellence as we begin 2014.”
Following are some of the 2013 highlights:
New Centers/ Institutes Launched
Institute Will Boost First-in-Human and Early-Phase Studies for Cancer Patients
Northwestern University established a major new initiative in May, the Developmental Therapeutics Institute, with an initial $10 million investment. Led by Frank Giles, MD, the institute brings more early-stage clinical studies of new anti-cancer approaches to Chicago. This program aims to develop much needed new therapies for cancer and other diseases based on Northwestern’s preclinical and translational research.
IPHAM Launches Center for Community Health
As one of eight centers in the Institute for Public Health and Medicine, the Center for Community Health facilitates multi-disciplinary, partnered efforts to envision and investigate a frontier of medicine that integrates public policy and population health. “The CCH offers a bold new vision for engagement that will enable Northwestern to emerge rapidly as a national epicenter for research that improves the health and healthcare of Chicago and beyond,” said center director Ronald Ackermann, MD, MPH
Leadership/ Alumni Appointments
In February it was announced that Deborah Clements, MD, nationally recognized for her contributions to education policy, was joining Feinberg as a professor and chair of the Department of Family and Community Medicine. In this role, she leads the department in the creation of clinical and educational programs that will impact primary care nationally, including the development of a new Family Medicine residency program at Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital.
Andrew T. Parsa, MD, PhD, an internationally renowned neurosurgeon specializing in complex tumors of the brain and spine, was named chair of the Department of Neurological Surgery. His wife, Charlotte Shum, MD, a hand and upper extremity specialist, was named associate professor of orthopaedic surgery. (See Dr. Parsa feature, “No Patient Left Behind.”)
Dimitri Krainc, MD, PhD, a distinguished investigator who has had an impact in the area of neurodegenerative diseases, was named chair of the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology and director of the newly established Center for Rare Neurological Diseases. (See Dr. Krainc feature, “No Patient Left Behind.”)
In September, John E. Pandolfino, MD, professor of Medicine, was appointed the Hans Popper Professor and chief of Gastroenterology-Hepatology. An internationally recognized gastroenterologist, Dr. Pandolfino specializes in esophageal disorders. (See Faculty Awards/Honors for details.)
In October, Alfred L. George Jr., MD, an internationally regarded leader of diseases caused by the dysfunction of ion channels, was named the Magerstadt Professor of Pharmacology and chair of the Department of Pharmacology, effective March 2014. (See Faculty Awards/Honors for more details.)
In November it was announced that Stephen B. Hanauer, MD, a distinguished physician-scientist and international leader in the treatment of inflammatory bowel disease, would join the medical school as medical director of the Digestive Disease Center. (See Faculty Awards/Honors for details.)
Alumnus Boris Lushniak, MD ’83, MPH, became “The Nation’s Doctor” in July, accepting the role of acting surgeon general following the departure of Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin, MD, MBA. In his new position, Rear Admiral Lushniak provides citizens with the best scientific information available on how to improve their health. He also oversees the operations of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the 6,700 uniformed health officers who serve around the world.
State and National Rankings
The medical school strengthened its position among the top research-oriented institutions, while maintaining its spot at No. 18 on the 2014 U.S. News & World Report rankings. Among specialty rankings, women’s health is 11th, and AIDS and pediatrics are both 14th.
Northwestern Memorial Hospital climbed six places to land at No. 6 as part of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Hospitals 2013-14 Honor Roll. It was the only hospital in Illinois to make the list. NMH was also recognized for its high performance in 14 of 16 medical specialties.
Medical Education/ Training
Honors Day was created to recognize outstanding faculty and students. Seventeen awards were presented to students and faculty at the inaugural event in May.
In August, the Class of 2017 arrived on campus and before entering the classroom, learned about the curriculum, interviewed patients and shadowed healthcare professionals during the Introduction to the Profession Module. At week’s end, they attended the Feinberg Student-Faculty Dinner, to meet the professors and administrators they will be interacting with over the next four years.
Nearly 1,100 friends of Feinberg donated more than $4.03 million in fiscal year 2013 for medical student scholarships. Of the total, nearly $974,000 was provided for current-use scholarships and more than $3.06 million for endowed funds. Seventeen new endowed scholarships were added. In 2013, Dean Neilson announced his vision for “A Tuition-free Medical School,” to enable the very best candidates with diverse backgrounds and experiences to attend Feinberg without the burden of tuition. Over time, this will require $600 million in additional endowment funds.
Talented Group of New PhD Students Arrives on Campus
More than 70 PhD students arrived on the Chicago campus to join the Driskill Graduate Program in the Life Sciences, Northwestern University Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program, Medical Scientist Training Program, Clinical Psychiatry PhD program, Doctor of Physical Therapy/PhD program, and the Health Sciences Integrated PhD Program.
Major Faculty Achievements
Faculty Elected to Prestigious Societies at Joint Meeting
In May, Xunrong Luo, MD, PhD, associate professor in Nephrology, Microbiology-Immunology and Surgery-Organ transplantation; Gokhan M. Mutlu, MD, associate professor in Medicine-Pulmonary; and Puneet Opal, MD, PhD, associate professor in Neurology and Cell and Molecular Biology, joined the more than 3,000 physician-scientists elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Susan Quaggin, MD, Charles Horace Mayo Professor of Medicine, director of the Feinberg Cardiovascular Research Institute and chief of the Division of Medicine-Nephrology, joined more than 1,200 active members in the Association of American Physicians.
Narahashi, Founding Father of Modern Pharmacology, Remembered for Six Decades of Research
Known as a leader in neurotoxicology and the father of cellular neuropharmacology, Toshio Narahashi, PhD, John Evans Professor of Pharmacology, was remembered for his dedication to mentoring, scientific accomplishments and well-developed sense of humor. Narahashi joined Feinberg in 1977, assuming the chairmanship of the Department of Molecular Pharmacology and Biological Chemistry. During 17 years in this role, he elevated the department to one of the most active in the country.
Feinberg, RIC Announce Expanded Collaboration
A new agreement between the medical school and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) establishes the RIC as the clinical venue for Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences faculty, expands clinical education experiences for students, creates a joint Northwestern-RIC physical therapy residency program and allows Feinberg and RIC researchers the ability to better pursue investigative questions and develop innovative science-based devices, technologies and treatments.
Clinical Operations Complete Integration Agreement
In March, the various hospital- and medical school-affiliated as well as associated private physician practices announced plans to integrate their clinical operations under one unified organization and branded as Northwestern Medicine. In September, the primary faculty practice for Feinberg, Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation, officially joined Northwestern Memorial Physician’s Group and Chicago Lakeshore Medical Associates to form Northwestern Medical Group, one of Chicago’s largest medical practices, with more than 1,000 physicians and other healthcare professionals. The health system will be able to better organize care across the inpatient, diagnostic and physician office environments. “Integrating our clinical organizations will allow us to maximize resources to support bold new endeavors in treatment, research and academic pursuits,” said Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president of Medical Affairs and dean of Feinberg, who chairs the NMG Board of Directors.
RIC Breaks Ground on New Rehabilitation Hospital
On July 1, RIC broke ground for a $550 million research hospital to be called the Ability Institute of RIC. Central to the new 1.2-million-square-foot facility, which is projected to open in early 2017 two blocks south of its current location, will be five Innovation Centers that leverage core expertise in brain, spinal cord, neuro-musculoskeletal, pediatric and cancer research and recovery. The hospital will have 242 beds with 900,000 square feet dedicated to clinical and research programs.
Significant Research Awards/ Discoveries
New Method First to Predict Brain Cancer Outcome
In January, Northwestern Medicine researchers developed a new method to predict an individual patient’s brain tumor growth. This tool could be used by physicians to quickly identify how well a tumor responds to a particular therapy. Senior author Kristin Swanson, PhD, professor and vice chair of research for Neurological Surgery, said the method will advance brain tumor treatment by helping to optimize treatment plans on a patient-by-patient basis.
Using Golden Nanoparticles to Kill Lymphoma Without Chemotherapy
A new study by C. Shad Thaxton, MD, assistant professor in urology, and Leo Gordon, MD, Abby and John Friend Professor of Oncology Research, showed that synthetic HDL nanoparticles killed B-cell lymphoma, the most common form of the disease, in cultured human cells and inhibited human B-cell lymphoma tumor growth in mice. The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Northwestern Medicine to Invest $1B in Research
Leaders of Northwestern Medicine made a commitment of more than $1 billion toward creating a leading medical research enterprise on Northwestern University’s Chicago campus. Constructing additional research space and attracting top scientists to Northwestern will create more opportunities to discover breakthroughs in such areas as neuroscience, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Northwestern Joins Consortium to Develop Ways to Treat Macular Degeneration
Northwestern University scientists became part of a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary consortium that aims to develop new treatments for exudative age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Awarded a $6.2 million grant over five years from the National Eye Institute, the consortium will leverage its diverse scientific expertise to characterize and test novel therapies in animal models using cutting-edge approaches that combine signal transduction and physiology, chemistry, nanoparticles and novel imaging technology.
New Chemo Drug Found to be Gentler on Fertility, Tough on Cancer
In March, Northwestern Medicine scientists developed a new, gentler chemotherapy drug that is less toxic to fertility. Consisting of nanoparticles, this is the first cancer drug tested while in development for its effect on fertility using a novel in vitro test. “Our overall goal is to create smart drugs that kill the cancer but don’t cause sterility in young women,” said Teresa Woodruff, PhD, a co-principal investigator of the study and chief of Fertility Preservation.
Building a Human Kidney
Within the next few decades, getting a new kidney could be as simple as having a doctor order an engineered organ that will be developed with a patient’s own cells. In April, international experts gathered at Feinberg for a brainstorming session on kidney regeneration. The conference, “Building a Kidney: From Stem Cells to Organ,” was sponsored by Northwestern University, the Simpson-Querrey Center for Regenerative Nanomedicine at IBNAM and Cellular Dynamics International.
Promising New Alzheimer’s ‘Drug’ Halts Memory Loss
A new class of experimental, drug-like small molecules showed great promise in targeting a brain enzyme to prevent early memory loss in Alzheimer’s disease. Developed in the laboratory of D. Martin Watterson, PhD, John G. Searle Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, the molecules halted memory loss and fixed damaged communication among brain cells in a mouse model.
Northwestern Part of New Big Ten Cancer Research Consortium
Meant to transform cancer research, a group of 11 schools formed a collaboration to leverage the scientific and clinical expertise of individual institutions. Newly developed clinical trials will be linked to molecular diagnostics, enabling researchers to understand what drives and what might be done to stop cancer growth. The consortium will also leverage geographical locations and existing relationships among cancer centers.
Study Shows Positive Results for New MS Therapy
A phase 1 clinical trial for the first treatment to reset the immune system of multiple sclerosis patients showed that the therapy was safe and dramatically reduced immune system reactivity to myelin by 50 to 75 percent, according to co-senior author Stephen Miller, PhD, the Judy Gugenheim Research Professor of Microbiology-Immunology.
New Test May Help Reveal Early-Onset Dementia
Simple tests that measure the ability to recognize individuals such as Albert Einstein, Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey may help doctors identify early dementia in those 40 to 65 years of age. The study, published in the August issue of Neurology, was conducted by lead author Tamar Gefen, a doctoral candidate in neuropsychology at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.
Overhauling Confusing Prescription Medicine Instructions
Northwestern Medicine, Walgreens, the Alliance of Chicago community health centers and Merck collaborated on a study to provide clear instructions on prescription medicine labels to simplify daily medications and decrease patient mistakes. Michael Wolf, PhD, MPH, professor of Medicine, led the project. The results could help launch a new national standard in the way prescription labels are written.
Cancer Center Receives Grant Renewal, $25 million Funding
The Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University received its highest rating, an overall “Outstanding”, on the competitive renewal of its National Cancer Institute (NCI) Cancer Center Support Grant (CCSG), along with recommended funding of $24.9 million over five years. The grant award, which will run through 2018, provides essential support for the Lurie Cancer Center’s nine research programs and 15 shared research facilities.