Emerging Scholars Program adds three new members
Sascha Goonewardena, MD; Shawn Hervey-Jumper, MD; and Corey Speers, MD, won the grants, earning the designation as Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Emerging Scholars.
The Eisenbergs, U-M alumni who have helped young scientists since the Taubman Institute’s inception a decade ago, will fund the groundbreaking research, which they expect to lead to medical advances.
The Emerging Scholars Program was established in 2011 by the institute's founder, the late A. Alfred Taubman, who was passionate about encouraging, supporting and rewarding the next generation of breakthrough researchers. While the original Taubman Scholar grants fund research by established physician-scientists, the Emerging Scholar grants target early-career doctor-researchers at the University of Michigan. Uniquely, the funds are provided directly by benefactors such as the Eisenbergs, who select the disease field and the researcher they would like to support; many donor-researcher pairs develop warm relationships.
By helping these developing talents while they are growing the body of work that will qualify them for large government grants, the Taubman Institute and its supporters ensure the pipeline of medical discovery won't run dry. To date, philanthropists have sponsored 20 Emerging Scholars.
Dr. Goonewardena, an assistant professor and cardiologist, will concentrate on his specialty of using nanotechnology to deliver better drugs to combat cardiac disease, the leading cause of death worldwide.
“The Taubman Emerging Scholar grant comes at a critical career stage for young physicians who also want to pursue a research career,” said Dr. Goonewardena. “With this assistance, I expect to advance my research in nanotechnology and heart failure, enabling me to pay for staff and preliminary studies that are critical to advance this novel drug delivery platform and bringing us closer to personalized medicines for patients with heart disease."
Personalized treatment is also at the heart of Dr. Speers’ breast cancer research. The assistant professor in radiation oncology is developing molecularly based biomarker tests that will eliminate over- or undertreating breast tumors, making each treatment plan patient specific and based on the tumor’s biology, leading to less toxic therapies and decreased side effects.
“With the generous support of the Eisenbergs, we will not only understand more about the molecular underpinnings of breast cancers, but we will be able translate these findings into clinical trials that may positively impact millions of women with breast cancer,” Dr. Speers said. “This will, in turn, assist in ushering in the much talked about era of ‘precision’ or ‘personalized’ medicine.
“In addition, working with the gifted researchers in the Taubman Scholars and Emerging Scholars programs will allow not only for critical mentorship opportunities, it will aid in collaborative discovery that will speed clinical advances as we partner to solve challenges facing women with breast cancer,” he said.
Neurosurgeon Dr. Hervey-Jumper, also an assistant professor, will focus on treating gliomas, a common type of brain tumor that often causes disabilities – altering language, motor and cognitive functions even after removal surgery – and disrupt the patient’s quality of life.
“Our research seeks to understand how gliomas disrupt healthy brain and develop ways to help the brain recover and reorganize through a process called plasticity,” Dr. Hervey-Jumper said.
“I am so very thankful to Mr. and Mrs. Eisenberg for their generous support. This award allows my lab to incorporate new ‘high-risk, high-reward’ experiments that we otherwise wouldn't have been able carry out for many years, if at all,” he said. “It’s these partnerships that will help us move the field forward and improve the lives of our patients.”
That’s all the reward the Eisenbergs desire.
“Frances and Ken Eisenberg have provided a wonderful foundation for these Emerging Scholars to make a dramatic impact in each of their specializations,” said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute. “We’re grateful for their generosity and desire to unravel today’s medical mysteries.”
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