Emerging Scholars Program adds three new members

Taubman Emerging Scholar Program funds three more "best and brightest" researchers
The Taubman Institute welcomed three new clinician-scientists to its Emerging Scholars roster to help advance research in breast cancer treatment, brain tumors and heart disease.

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.”

Cancer discovery symposium set for March 17

On March 17, the newly established Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery will present its inaugural symposium in Ann Arbor, co-sponsored by the A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute.

Four eminent speakers will discuss their latest findings in the understanding of cancer metabolism and how new research is leading to new avenues for cancer therapy.  

Speakers include Michael Lisanti, MD, PhD, Chair in Translational Medicine at the University of Salford (UK); Michael Pollak, MD, Alexander-Goldfarb Research Chair in Medical Oncology, McGill University; Max Wicha, MD, Director of the Forbes Institute for Cancer Discovery, University of Michigan, and Costas Lyssiotis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, University of Michigan. Opening remarks by Eric Fearon, MD, PhD, Director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.

All welcome, no registration required. Coffee and networking at 8:00 a.m. in the lobby of the A. Alfred Taubman Biomedical Science Research Building at 109 Zina Pitcher Place, Ann Arbor, MI, 48170. 

The Forbes Institute, established in 2016 with a gift from noted Michigan philanthropists Madeline and Sidney Forbes, aims to accelerate the translation of cutting-edge cancer treatment from the laboratory to patients.  It is lead by Dr. Wicha, a Founding Taubman Scholar who established the U-M Compreshensive Cancer Center. 

On Giving Blueday, help save the precious gift of eyesight

The number of overweight and obese children is on the rise — and they are developing diabetes at younger ages. This can lead to diseases and complications that will haunt these kids throughout their lifetimes, including kidney disease, nerve damage, and cardiovascular disease. Perhaps most devastating to quality of life is the loss of vision that often occurs in people with diabetes.

Durga Singer, MD
Durga Singer, MD

Taubman Emerging Scholar Durga Singer, MD, has made it her mission as a pediatrician and scientist to understand what links excess calories and weight to these adverse health conditions. In her laboratory, she studies how factors such as diet and weight gain activate the immune system and contribute to disease. Her aim is to develop new, more effective tools to predict, prevent and treat the life-long, devastating complications of diabetes.

On Giving BlueDay, your contribution can launch Dr. Singer’s newest study: to investigate the impact of weight on eye health in children with type 1 diabetes.

In collaboration with Taubman Scholar Tom Gardner, MD, MS, a U-M ophthalmologist and retina expert, Dr. Singer will assess eye health in pediatric diabetes patients, take blood samples in order to study white blood cell counts and perform annual re-screenings of these patients’ vision. Usually treated only after it becomes apparent to the patient – and irreversible – diabetes-related vision loss may be curbed or prevented if scientists like Dr. Singer can find a way to predict, at an early age and before sight is diminished, whose eyes will be affected.

“We think that one factor that leads to complications of diabetes is an increased inflammatory response,” said Dr. Singer. “Individuals who are heavier are known to have a chronic state of white blood cell activation. White blood cells that would normally be attacking infection are creating organ damage.”

By studying the relationship between weight, inflammation and eye health, Dr. Singer intends to develop predictive methods that can lead to earlier intervention and treatment to prevent diabetes-related vision loss.

Your donation will help Dr. Singer and Dr. Gardner train clinical staff to perform the patient evaluations, underwrite the costs of the blood sample evaluations and provide other support to the project. Dr. Singer expects that with a 100-patient cohort she could deliver meaningful results in as little as two years, leading to changes in recommendations for standard exams for children with diabetes.

The major expense – about $100 per patient -- is the cost of the blood analysis, so the study has the potential to make a significant difference for a modest $10,000.

“We already have a lot of interest in participation from patients and their families,” said Dr. Singer. “We see children with diabetes every three months, so they really feel part of the U-M team and want to help.”

Your Giving BlueDay donation, in any amount, will accelerate Dr. Singer’s important work. Thank you for your support of life-changing medical research!

Click here to make your Giving Blueday donation!   Many thanks for your support of life-changing medical research!








Emerging Scholars Program leads to full professorships for two young faculty members

The A. Alfred Taubman Medical Research Institute’s eye for talent received a resounding endorsement as two of its Emerging Scholars were tapped for endowed professorships this fall by donors who first met them through the institute's Emerging Scholars program.

Dr. Sung Won Choi of the Department of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, who is working to improve the success of bone marrow transplants, and Dr. Srijan Sen of the Department of Psychiatry, an expert in the biology of stress and depression, received the honors.

The professorships are funded by the same donors who launched their Taubman Institute Emerging Scholars grants, signaling continued confidence in the early-career physician-researchers. 

Dr. Choi was named to the Edith S. Briskin/SKS Foundation Research Professorship in Pediatrics after demonstrating accomplishments and potential in pediatric oncology research. Dr. Sen received the Frances and Kenneth Eisenberg Professorship of Depression and Neurosciences. It was created as part of a transformative $10.75 million donation to the University of Michigan Depression Center.

Dr. Choi and Dr. Sen both believe the professorships are a direct result of their hard work combined with strong donor relationships.

It has been wonderful getting the chance to know Kenneth Eisenberg,” Dr. Sen said. “His initial funding through the Taubman Institute was integral in allowing me to initiate a high-risk high-reward project related to mobile technology in depression. The project is generating some really interesting early results and I am excited build on this work going forward.”

Dr. Sen is tracking more than 13,000 training physicians across the country as they embark into the highly stressful intern year. This work demystifies the links between stress and depression and identifies different genes and other biological factors involved, revealing that depression can be a part of a person’s genetic makeup. 

Dr. Choi also quickly made strides with her Emerging Scholar support from Edith Briskin, one of the founding donors of the program. 

“I cannot express enough how humbling, yet inspiring it is to know that Edie is donating as much as she has, is, and continues to do so for the sake of medical research,” she said. “And to know that it’s going toward my own research – well, that inspires you to keep doing and to work as hard as you physically can.”

Dr. Choi has made advances with the study of graft-versus-host disease, a complication in a bone marrow transplant in which the newly transplanted material attacks the patient’s body. She is working to prevent and treat it. She also has an interest in blood cancers as a clinician and a researcher.

“As a young assistant professor, the funding support provided by the Taubman Institute Emerging Scholar program was instrumental,” Dr. Choi said. “Other early career awards essentially provide support only for salary. And to have the additional funds of the Institute – this provided latitude to support my research in other needed areas.”

Both scientists agree that having access to Taubman Institute’s other professionals helped their research.

“I have really benefited from being part of the TI,” Dr. Sen said. “In particular, having the chance to interact regularly with such an impressive group of scholars working at the cutting-edge of research across biomedical science has broadened my understanding of what is possible.”

Dr. Choi adds, “The Institute provides an environment to interact with senior, well-established, and successful investigators as well as other junior folks doing some really fantastic work. This type of interaction is key. You learn how they think, and you learn how they do. I would say that the designation had an important impact on me and my work, particularly as a young faculty member.”

Such praise gladdens Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute, and a professor at the U-M Medical School.

“We are proud of the Taubman Institute Emerging Scholars program and believe we’ve helped these clinician-scientists embark on careers full of promise and integrity,” Feldman said. “We expected advances from their research and their professorships show that they’ve delivered on the highest level.”

Taubman Symposium draws enthusiastic crowd

Two top cancer specialists keynoted the Taubman Institute’s 9th annual symposium Oct. 21, telling a robust crowd of about 200 guests that a cure for cancer may be found inside the human immune system.

Suzanne L. Topalian, M.D., a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Chief of the Immunotherapeutics Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, discussed their landmark research at the Kahn Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus.

Both clinician-scientists proved immunotherapy, where the human body’s own immune system fends off cancer cells, is a promising treatment approach for many types of advanced cancer.

The duo travelled to Ann Arbor o pick up their shared 2016 $100,000 Taubman Prize for Excellence in Translational Medical Science for their complementary work.

The Taubman Prize, established in 2012, recognizes those beyond the University of Michigan who are transforming laboratory discoveries into clinical applications.

Gayle Taubman Kalisman, whose late father A. Alfred Taubman established the award, presented the medallions to Dr. Topalian and Dr. Wolchok. Her brother, Robert Taubman and his spouse, Julie, attended the symposium as well.

“My father is here in spirit,” Taubman Kalisman noted.

Dr. Wolchok brought his own spirit along. He sported the U-M lapel pin of his late uncle, Irwin Jaeger, a 1953 U-M alum who went on to be the high school biology teacher of now-Taubman Scholar Dr. David Ginsburg. 

Both doctors met U-M faculty in various cancer-related fields and toured the medical center campus.

“These esteemed physician-researchers were generous with their time and talents,” said Eva Feldman, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Taubman Institute, and a professor at the U-M Medical School. “You could see the sparks they ignited in the students, fellows, scientists and clinician-researchers with their lectures.”

The two-hour symposium was preceded by a networking period and a poster session, where U-M's research scientists and students displayed summaries of their experiments. 

The next Taubman Institute showcase is the Emerging Scholars Symposium slated for May 12, 2017, when six of U-M's most promising young physician-researchers will share highlights from their research.

The institute also is accepting nominations for the 2017 Taubman Prize through February 2017. 

“We are deeply committed to helping unlock the mysteries of disease and we are looking forward to inspiring further scientific questions that may lead to breakthroughs,” Feldman said.



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