“It’s clear that the Feinberg community has much to be proud of when we reflect on all that we accomplished in 2016,” says Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean. “From our students to our faculty, our scientists to our staff, we all did much to further our school’s mission: to impact the practice of medicine through discovery and education.”
Check out some of the highlights from an outstanding year.
In May, Feinberg’s Class of 2016 — the first to complete the medical school’s revised curriculum — graduated with distinction. In August, an exceptional Class of 2020 arrived on campus. Selected from a pool of 7,608 applicants, the 163 students represent many backgrounds: Collectively, they had 77 different undergraduate majors, speak 29 languages and come from 32 states and 6 foreign countries.
Recognizing that wellness and self care are essential to academic success and a rewarding career, Feinberg continued to support the well-being of its students by providing resources ranging from yoga in the library to mental health services. In December, medical students took this idea to heart by taking a break from the stresses of school for the 38th annual performance of In Vivo, Feinberg’s sketch comedy and variety show. “One of the things I love about Feinberg is that it fosters an environment where a group like In Vivo exists,” said first-year medical student Max Kelsten.
In December, medical students presented research projects on topics spanning from neurogenesis and cancer to big data and global health. Part of the curriculum’s Area of Scholarly Concentration, the four-year longitudinal research project gives students a chance to perform a hypothesis-driven investigation under the tutelage of a faculty mentor. “Doing research is invaluable in medical school. Everything in medicine is based on science and really the best way to understand how to read a paper and interpret findings is by doing it,” said second-year medical student Alison Szabo.
During a break between classes at Lake Shore Park, five first-year medical students saved a man’s life — and performed CPR for the first time. “There was a split second of fear, because we’re first-year medical students, and we’d only practiced on mannequins, but we realized if we didn’t do anything then he would die,” said Jessica Quaggin-Smith. The group attributed their actions in the park to a basic life support course they took during the first week of medical school at Northwestern Simulation.
In 2016, Northwestern University established a master of science in reproductive science and medicine. The 18-month, full-time degree program provides training in reproductive science focusing on mammalian reproductive biology and medicine with an emphasis on applications to human health. Northwestern also officially launched a PhD program in health care quality and patient safety — the first of its kind in the country — and graduated its first student in the fall (read more about it on pg 4).
In November, former U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello, MD, the first Hispanic and the first woman appointed to the position, visited Feinberg to discuss health disparities in the United States. “We have to be a voice for the underserved,” she told students. Throughout the year, the Feinberg community came together for additional diversity-focused events, including a presentation on the public health aspects of the pipeline construction protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota.
A study published in Nature challenged previous beliefs about dormant HIV by finding that HIV is still replicating in lymphoid tissue, even when it is undetectable in the blood of patients on antiretroviral drugs. The findings provide a critical new perspective on how HIV persists in the body despite potent antiretroviral therapy. “We now have a path to a cure,” said corresponding author Steven Wolinsky, MD, ’82 GME. “The challenge is to deliver drugs at clinically effective concentrations to where the virus continues to replicate within the patient.”
A Northwestern research team developed a tool to rapidly test millions and perhaps billions of different nanoparticles at a time to zero in on the best particle for a specific application, from pharmaceuticals to electronic devices. “As scientists, we’ve only just begun to investigate what materials can be made on the nanoscale,” said Chad Mirkin, PhD, professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and founding director of Northwestern’s International Institute for Nanotechnology, who led the study, which was published in Science.
New Targets to Treat Depression Revealed
Two studies published in Molecular Psychiatry demonstrated how new pathways in the brain can be manipulated to alleviate depression. The first showed that decreasing a set of proteins called HCN channels reduced depression-like behavior in mice. The second study indicated that blocking a pathway in the hippocampus involving a protein called BMP also has an antidepressant effect. Both findings could inform fresh therapies for millions of patients who do not respond to existing treatments for depression.
Northwestern Medicine scientists discovered a new cause of Parkinson’s disease — mutations in a gene called TMEM230. This appears to be only the third gene definitively linked to confirmed cases of the disease. In a study published in Nature Genetics, the scientists provided evidence of the mutations in patients with Parkinson’s disease from both North America and Asia. They also demonstrated that the gene is responsible for producing a protein involved in packaging the neurotransmitter dopamine in neurons. Loss of dopamine-producing neurons is a defining characteristic of Parkinson’s disease.
Trailblazing Cancer Discoveries
Important findings at Northwestern in the field of cancer spanned basic science, translational and clinical research published in 2016. A study in Nature Communications showed how a signaling pathway and genetic material work together to regulate two subtypes of brain tumors called glioblastomas. Another study, published in Nature Medicine, demonstrated that reprogrammed stem cells can be used to identify patients with cancer who are likely to experience a dangerous side effect of a common chemotherapy drug. And the results of a phase III clinical trial published in Lancet Oncology suggested that a combination of the drugs palbociclib and fulvestrant provides an effective and well-tolerated therapy for patients with recurrent metastatic breast cancer who are resistant to endocrine therapy.
New Drugs Clear Chronic Skin Diseases in Clinical Trials
About 80 percent of patients with moderate to severe psoriasis saw their disease completely or almost completely cleared with a new drug called ixekizumab, according to three large, long-term clinical trials led by Kenneth Gordon, MD, professor of Dermatology. Likewise, nearly 40 percent of patients with atopic dermatitis saw improvement with dupilumab in two clinical trials led by Jonathan Silverberg, MD, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of Dermatology. The results of these studies were compiled in papers published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The latest government guidelines doctors follow to determine if patients should be screened for diabetes missed 55 percent of high-risk individuals with prediabetes or diabetes, according to a Northwestern Medicine study published in PLOS Medicine. The widely accepted 2015 screening guidelines from the United States Preventive Service Task Force recommend patients be screened for diabetes if they are between 40 and 70 years old and are overweight or obese. But the study found many patients outside those age and weight ranges develop diabetes, especially racial and ethnic minorities.
RANKINGS AND HONORS
Feinberg rose two spots to rank 17th among the best research-oriented medical schools in the country, according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings. This is the ninth year in a row Feinberg has placed as a top 20 research-oriented medical school. This year’s ranking represents an all-time high.
Four Northwestern Medicine hospitals were recognized by U.S. News & World Report in its 2016–17 ranking of America’s Best Hospitals, with Northwestern Memorial Hospital ranked 8th in the nation. The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago was again recognized as the national leader in physical medicine and rehabilitation, topping the U.S. News list for the 26th consecutive year, while Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago was ranked the 6th best children’s hospital in the country.
The medical school ranked 18th among U.S. medical schools in total National Institutes of Health funding, an increase over previous years, according to an analysis from the Blue Ridge Institute for Medical Research. Nine departments at Feinberg ranked among the top ten in their specialty and six more ranked among the top 20. In addition, Northwestern University ranked 10th among worldwide institutions with the most highly cited researchers, according to analysis by Thomson Reuters.
Ronald Ackermann, MD, MPH, was named senior associate dean for public health and director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine (IPHAM), succeeding IPHAM’s inaugural leader, Rowland Chang, MD, MPH. Ackermann has already played a central role within IPHAM as director of the institute’s Center for Community Health.
Four Leaders Appointed to Guide Admissions and Medical Education Programs
Roopal Kundu, ’01 MD, ’02 GME, was named associate dean for Admissions. Formerly program director of the dermatology residency program, she will help promote the medical school’s curriculum and clinical experiences to attract students of the highest caliber. Meanwhile, Marianne Green, MD, was named senior associate dean for Medical Education, to continue fostering innovation in the undergraduate medical education program. Aarati Didwania, MD, ’04 MSCI, associate professor of Medicine, was chosen to succeed Green as director of the Honors Program in Medical Education. In addition, Robert Brannigan, ’92 MD, ’93 ’94 ’98 GME, professor of Urology, was appointed assistant director of Student Affairs. He will address the unique issues medical students face, help with career planning and collaborate with education leadership to implement effective wellness program.
Three New Chiefs for Department of Medicine
In April, Scott Budinger, MD, was appointed chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, after serving on the medical school’s faculty for 16 years. In November, Babafemi Taiwo, MBBS, ’06 GME, was named chief of Infectious Diseases. Also director of African Research in the Center for Global Health, Taiwo started at Northwestern in 2005 as a fellow. In the same month it was announced that Jeffrey Linder, ’97 MD, MPH, will join Northwestern as chief of General Internal Medicine and Geriatrics, following 14 years on the faculty at Harvard Medical School.
Charles Hogue Jr., MD, a renowned specialist in cardiovascular and thoracic anesthesiology, was named chair of the Departments of Anesthesiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Northwestern Memorial Healthcare. He previously served as chief of Adult Anesthesia at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
In January, the National Institutes of Health and Food and Drug Administration made effective a policy to include women in basic science and clinical research studies. “We wanted to make this point — that women’s health is not just about pregnancy and having a child,” said Teresa Woodruff, PhD, director of the Women’s Health Research Institute. “In the WHRI, we’ve embraced this broad perspective of assuring women that when we say women’s health we mean all of women’s health.” The new policy instructs scientists to account for the possible role of sex as a biological variable in animal and clinical studies and to factor sex into research designs, analyses and reporting.
Northwestern University has launched the Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing, the first research institute in the United States established university-wide that is focused exclusively on LGBT health. “We now have an extraordinary window of opportunity to conduct innovative research on the most important health concerns and needs of LGBT populations, to train scientists and clinicians in the best practices to meet those needs and to profoundly lower barriers to healthcare and eliminate inequities in health outcomes, “ said director Brian Mustanski, PhD.
Huda Zoghbi, MD, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and professor at Baylor College of Medicine known for her groundbreaking research on Rett syndrome and other neurological disorders, was the inaugural recipient of the Mechthild Esser Nemmers Prize in Medical Science at Northwestern University. The prize is awarded to a physician-scientist whose body of research exhibits outstanding achievement in their discipline as demonstrated by works of lasting significance. Zoghbi delivered her keynote lecture at Northwestern in September.
New data science initiatives propelled Feinberg to the future of medicine, enabling important discoveries in rare and common diseases that are beginning to translate into new treatments and individualized patient care at an accelerated pace. To support the burgeoning data science field, Feinberg is recruiting faculty, creating a major new center, training graduate students and connecting scientists to each other’s data.
Northwestern University was awarded more than $50 million for a five-year precision medicine grant as part of a landmark longitudinal research effort that aims to engage 1 million or more U.S. participants to improve disease prevention and treatment measures based on individual differences in lifestyle, environment and genetics. “The big excitement here is the opportunity to improve the way we predict, prevent and eventually treat disease,” said Philip Greenland, MD, the Harry W. Dingman Professor of Cardiology and a principal investigator of the new award. “Just the scope of it — 1 million people — is beyond anything that anybody in the U.S. has ever done. This could be a game changer.”