Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar Honors Class of 2016


Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar has added 33 new doctors to its ranks.

The medical students in WCM-Q's Class of 2016 received their Cornell University medical degrees during commencement on May 4 at Hamad Bin Khalifa University Student Center at Education City. The new graduates join 223 other WCM-Q alumni who are currently working at hospitals in Qatar and around the world.

"Graduation is the highlight of the academic year, and it is the culmination and a celebration of everything that we strive for," said Dr. Javaid I. Sheikh, dean of WCM-Q. "It gives everyone at WCM-Q great pleasure to be able to address these young, talented people, as 'doctor' for the very first time."

WCM-Q Class of 2016

Her Excellency Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, minister for public health, with Dr. Javaid Sheikh, dean of WCM-Q, and the 33 graduates from the Class of 2016.

"Everyone at WCM-Q is confident that these new doctors will be wonderful ambassadors for the college and Qatar," Dr. Sheikh added. "They will demonstrate to the wider world that the country's leadership is committed to excellence in education and unlocking human potential."

Student speaker Sally Elgazar addressed her fellow graduates — who will go on to their respective residencies in hospitals in the United States and Qatar, or take up research positions — challenging them to always keep the patient at the center of their work.

"It was Ghandi who said that science without humanity is one of the seven roots of evil," Dr. Elgazar said. "Similarly, medicine without empathy is the most basic reflection of that."

She then told her peers to imagine themselves in their patients' shoes. She said that by placing their parents or children in the situation as a patient, she posed an important question.

"Would we like ourselves, our parents, our children to be treated with the compassion and empathy they deserve, or would we like our physicians to be self-involved, frowning, and glowering at us while performing the most basic service?" Dr. Elgazar said. "If there's anything I can guarantee, it's that we'll all be patients at one point or another. We'll all need that empathy. And we'll all have a myriad of compassionate and alternatively indifferent doctors. So be what you would prefer yourself, your parents, and your children to have."

Qatar's minister for public health, Her Excellency Dr. Hanan Al Kuwari, U.S Ambassador Dana Smith, and Weill Cornell Medicine Dean Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher joined the graduates and their family and friends for commencement. Dr. Glimcher told the students to always focus on their patients and to always strive for new knowledge.

"Whether you end up working at the bedside or in a lab, becoming an ophthalmologist or an orthopedic surgeon," said Dr. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean. "Remember that the patient is always the motivation for your efforts — and your source of inspiration. As you gain specialized skills, technical expertise and a deep base of knowledge, never stop trying new things or asking questions."

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Cornell University Forms Search Committee for New Weill Cornell Medicine Dean


Cornell University has formed a committee to search for a new Weill Cornell Medicine dean and provost for medical affairs. Co-chaired by Cornell University Interim President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers Chairman Jessica Bibliowicz, the committee is tasked with selecting the institution's next leader, who will take the reins during a period of unprecedented growth.

The new dean will succeed Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, who announced in February that she would be leaving Weill Cornell Medicine to lead the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

The search committee comprises 19 members who have a deep and comprehensive understanding of Weill Cornell Medicine’s commitment to enhancing human health by providing exemplary and individualized patient care, making groundbreaking biomedical discoveries, and educating generations of exceptional doctors and scientists. In addition to Rawlings and Bibliowicz, the committee includes board members from Cornell and Weill Cornell Medicine, senior administrators, faculty, alumni and students, as well as NewYork-Presbyterian leadership:

  • Robert Appel, vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Avery August, chair of microbiology and immunology at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Dr. David Blumenthal, clinical professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Lewis Cantley, Meyer Director of the Meyer Cancer Center at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Steven Corwin, president and chief executive officer of NewYork-Presbyterian
  • Dr. Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science at Cornell Tech and professor of public health at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Barbara Friedman, vice chair of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Robert Harrison, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees
  • Dr. Barbara Hempstead, senior associate dean for education at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Gary Koretzky, dean of the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences and vice dean for research at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Dr. Michael Kotlikoff, provost of Cornell University
  • Raul Martinez-McFaline, M.D.-Ph.D. student in the Tri-Institutional M.D.-Ph.D. Program and Weill Cornell Medicine student overseer
  • Edward Meyer, member of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Carl Nathan, chairman of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medicine
  • Timothy O’Neill, member of the Weill Cornell Medicine Board of Overseers
  • Dr. Gene Resnick, past president of the Weill Cornell Medical College Alumni Association Board of Directors
  • Dr. Michael G. Stewart, vice dean and the E. Darracott Vaughan Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at Weill Cornell Medicine

Dr. Augustine Choi, the Weill Chairman of the Weill Department of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and physician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, was named interim dean effective June 1. Glimcher will continue as an adviser at Weill Cornell Medicine through Aug. 31.

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Inaugural Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children's Health Research Awarded to Infectious Disease Pediatrician


Dr. Sing Sing Way's Research on How Mother's Immune Cells Respond to Infection During Pregnancy Unveils New Strategies for Protection Against Stillbirth, Preeclampsia and Premature Birth

NEW YORK, NY (March 17, 2016)Dr. Sing Sing Way, the Pauline and Lawson Reed Chair in Infectious Disease at Cincinnati Children's Hospital and an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, has been awarded the inaugural Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children's Health Research, Weill Cornell Medicine announced today.

The Drukier Prize honors an early-career pediatrician whose research has made important contributions towards improving the health of children and adolescents. Dr. Way was recognized for his groundbreaking research on how a woman's immune system naturally tolerates the developing fetus and placenta during pregnancy, preventing rejection of these genetically foreign tissues. Many pregnancy complications — including stillbirth, prematurity and preeclampsia — are associated with disruptions in fetal tolerance, and children born following these pregnancy complications are highly susceptible to infection, breathing disorders, deafness and blindness, along with learning and behavior disabilities. With a better understanding of immune cells that maintain healthy pregnancy, doctors may be able to provide more effective therapies against these complications to improve the health of infants and children.

Dr. Way formally accepted the award, which carries a $10,000 unrestricted honorarium, and delivered a public lecture on March 16 about reinforcing maternal immune tolerance during pregnancy.

"We are thrilled to honor Dr. Way with this inaugural award, and to formally recognize the quality of his vital work and his dedication to improving children's health," said Dr. Gale Drukier and Weill Cornell Medicine Overseer Ira Drukier, who together established the prize. "Dr. Way exemplifies just why we created this prize: We could not think of a more deserving individual, or someone who is a greater exemplar for the importance of pediatric research."

The Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children's Health Research was established as part of a $25 million gift to Weill Cornell Medicine in December 2014, which also created the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children's Health. As part of its mission, this premier, cross-disciplinary institute, dedicated to understanding the causes of diseases that are devastating to children, will award this prize annually.

"An accomplished physician-scientist and leader, Dr. Way is deeply committed to driving advances in pediatric research and patient care," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. "His groundbreaking basic and translational research has the power to profoundly improve the health of each and every pregnancy — and generations of children along with it. Weill Cornell Medicine is delighted to honor Dr. Way with the inaugural Gale and Ira Drukier Prize in Children's Health Research."

"There is still so much we don't know about how the maternal immune system functions during pregnancy, and what role it plays in devastating outcomes like early-term miscarriage, spontaneous abortion, stillbirth and infant mortality," said Dr. Gerald Loughlin, the Nancy C. Paduano Professor and chairman of Weill Cornell Medicine's Department of Pediatrics. "Dr. Way is dedicated to answering these fundamental scientific questions and investigating how researchers can bolster women's immune systems to ensure that they and their children are healthy. For that reason, he is an ideal awardee."

"I have enormous gratitude toward the Drukier family for creating this recognition, and toward Weill Cornell Medicine and the Department of Pediatrics for using this award to put pediatric research in the national spotlight," Dr. Way said. "Reproductive immunology and prenatal infection are specialized research areas, and I am excited for this award to draw more attention to these understudied clinical problems that carry profound medical and emotional repercussions for families."

Dr. Way has shown that expanded immunological tolerance during pregnancy weakens a woman's ability to fend off infection-causing microbes. Once infection takes hold in women during pregnancy, the maternal immune cells' tolerance of the developing fetus, which bears genetically foreign tissues, is overturned, causing a rejection-like reaction.

Dr. Sing Sing Way

Dr. Sing Sing Way. Photo credit: Stephanie Diani

"If the root cause of pregnancy complications stems from maternal immune cells unintentionally attacking the baby, immune-based therapies may be the key to help mothers better tolerate their pregnancies," said Dr. Way, who published a series of papers on these findings in Cell, Nature and The Journal of Clinical Investigation. This might involve somewhat counterintuitively weakening the responsiveness of maternal immune components, he continued, so that they do not reject the baby.

"Another interesting idea is developing vaccines that reinforce fetal tolerance. While most vaccines work by priming the immune system to become activated, this vaccine would tell the immune system to be more tolerant," he said.

Dr. Way also discovered why newborn infants in the first weeks after their birth are more susceptible to infection. His research showed that immune cells in newborn babies are actively suppressed. These findings, published in Nature, profoundly change the conceptual framework for how scientists view newborns' susceptibility to infection, which may lead to improved strategies for preventing infection when children are most vulnerable.

"Children are most susceptible in the first month after birth, and in fact, more than 40 percent of childhood deaths occur in this critical developmental window," Dr. Way said. Some of these infants are born too early and their medical issues are a direct reflection of pregnancy complications, while others acquire life-threatening illness soon after birth. "By better understanding how maternal and neonatal immune cells are uniquely regulated during pregnancy and the early postnatal period, we hope to develop more effective therapies for reducing infant mortality and improving the health of surviving children."

Dr. Way received both his medical degree and a doctorate in microbiology and immunology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. He completed his residency in pediatrics at the University of California, San Francisco, a fellowship in infectious disease at the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle, and post-doctorate research training at the University of Washington. He is outspoken about the need for pediatricians to develop research careers to optimally address the clinical problems unique to infants and children.

"Many times, parents will ask me why their child got sick, and what can be done to prevent their child from getting sick again," Dr. Way said. "While the answers pediatricians provide in response to these practical, real-life questions are often disguised in medical jargon and complex laboratory testing, the root cause in most cases remains undefined."

"Physicians like me who struggle to find acceptable ways to say ‘I don't know,' to sick children and their parents have an enormous motivation to perform research, so that one day, we can eliminate the need for these questions to be asked in the first place," he continued. "Caring for sick children day in and day out should drive us to find ways to make things better. After all, our future is in the hands of today's children, and accordingly, there is nothing more important than their health and wellbeing."

Weill Cornell Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine is committed to excellence in patient care, scientific discovery and the education of future physicians in New York City and around the world. The doctors and scientists of Weill Cornell Medicine — faculty from Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and Weill Cornell Physician Organization — are engaged in world-class clinical care and cutting-edge research that connect patients to the latest treatment innovations and prevention strategies. Located in the heart of the Upper East Side's scientific corridor, Weill Cornell Medicine's powerful network of collaborators extends to its parent university Cornell University; to Qatar, where Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar offers a Cornell University medical degree; and to programs in Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Weill Cornell Medicine faculty provide comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens. Weill Cornell Medicine is also affiliated with Houston Methodist. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

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Dean Laurie Glimcher to lead Dana-Farber Cancer Institute


Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, Cornell's provost for medical affairs and the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of the Medical College at Weill Cornell Medicine, has been named president and chief executive officer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She will assume her new position when her term as dean ends in December 2016.

"In addition to my and Beth Garrett's sincere congratulations, Laurie has earned Cornell's deepest appreciation for her many contributions to Weill Cornell Medicine and the university," said Acting President Michael Kotlikoff. "She has provided superlative leadership, and her vision and commitment to excellence have advanced Cornell's reputation in many areas, including clinical care, education, research, outreach and global health. I wish Laurie well as she returns to Boston, where she has spent so much of her personal and professional life."

Glimcher, who also is a professor of medicine, came to Cornell in January 2012 from the Harvard School of Public Health, where she directed the Division of Biological Sciences, and Harvard Medical School, where she headed one of the top immunology programs in the world. In her new role, she will be a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

"I am grateful for Laurie's many efforts on behalf of Weill Cornell Medicine, and wish her all the best," said Jessica Bibliowicz, chair of the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers. "Thanks to her leadership and the dedicated support of our overseers, faculty and staff, Weill Cornell Medicine is positioned on an impressive trajectory of growth in care, discovery and education. The future of Weill Cornell Medicine is brighter than ever before, and we look forward to deepening our collaborations with Cornell University and NewYork-Presbyterian as we continue our commitment to advancing medicine and improving human health."

Under Glimcher's leadership, Weill Cornell Medicine opened the Belfer Research Building in 2014. The 18-story, $650 million building nearly doubled the college's research space. The facility houses bench-to-bedside research targeting some of the most formidable health challenges of the 21st century and is home to several new institutes, including the Meyer Cancer Center, the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, the Feil Family Brain and Mind Research Institute, the Drukier Institute for Children's Health, the Weill Center for Metabolic Health, the Appel Alzheimer's Disease Research Institute, and the Roberts Institute for Research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

In addition, Weill Cornell Medicine Physicians has emerged as the largest and most successful clinical services program in the tri-state area, with significant additional growth projected to meet the needs of patients. Recently more than 40 medical practices in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn were added to the network of physicians. The college also recruited numerous top-quality clinicians and basic, translational and clinical researchers.

In fall 2014 the college unveiled a new curriculum that exposes students to patient care from their first day of school. This program, during which teams of students follow a panel of patients with chronic illnesses for all four years of their medical education, illuminates health care delivery as well as the physical, social and psychological effects of disease to impart the value of treating patients holistically.

"Under Laurie's leadership Weill Cornell Medicine has seen extraordinary clinical growth, pioneering research advances and a new vision of medical education," said Robert S. Harrison, chairman of the Cornell University Board of Trustees. "The leadership, faculty and staff will continue to move the college forward strategically and sustain its momentum in meeting its mission of providing stellar patient care, discovering new treatments and educating future physicians."

Said Glimcher: "I am so proud of all we have accomplished at Weill Cornell Medicine. We have transformed the way that medical research is conducted, by putting patients at the center of everything we do and finding innovative ways to speed the translation of laboratory discoveries to the clinic. While I am excited about returning home to Boston and the opportunities at Dana-Farber, I will dearly miss the faculty, staff and students at this great institution and look forward to hearing about all of Weill Cornell Medicine's future successes."

This story first appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

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Health By Design


Weill Cornell physician-scientists and Cornell University engineers collaborate — and patients benefit

By Beth Saulnier
Illustration by Heidi Schmidt

The triple-negative form of breast cancer is one of the disease's most challenging types, with lower survival rates and a more aggressive course. Pioneering cancer researcher Dr. Lewis Cantley '75, has been studying it from various angles for decades — and now, thanks to Ithaca-based engineers, he has a powerful new way to explore it from New York. "Increasingly, biological science is relying on high levels of technology to improve our ability to visualize what's going on in a tumor, and to be able to physically manipulate events within it and follow in real time what happens," says Dr. Cantley, a professor of cancer biology in medicine and the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center, who has been working with an Upstate colleague, Dr. Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, an associate professor of bio-medical engineering. "The technologies that have been developed in Ithaca are cutting-edge techniques in growing cells and even tumors in a controlled environment, where you can monitor and physically affect a tumor and look at its response. We're able to understand what's going on at a level that has never been possible in the past. It's a very exciting time."

The joint effort between Dr. Cantley — himself a doctoral alumnus of the Ithaca campus — and Dr. Fischbach-Teschl is just one of the many ongoing collaborations between Weill Cornell Medicine researchers and Cornell engineering faculty. Research teams are working together on topics from Alzheimer's to epilepsy, reconstructive surgery to heart disease. "From my perspective, it's absolutely crucial to have collaborations with engineers," says Dr. Jason Spector, a Weill Cornell Medicine professor of surgery. "Even though I have a background in some other disciplines, at heart I'm a clinical physician and my expertise is in taking care of patients. I may have a clinical insight but no way to pursue it because I don't have the technical knowledge in that particular field. The engineers have incredible expertise in diverse areas ranging from polymer chemistry to tissue engineering to the use of lasers and optical imagery, so their insights and perspectives are perfectly complementary to mine."

health by design

Over the past decade, the university has strengthened its commitment to fostering collaborations between the two campuses, including logistical support like the Cornell bus that runs between Ithaca and New York City several times a day, providing reliable Wi-Fi, snacks and a comfortable place to work during the 200-mile journey. Occasional retreats between engineers and their counterparts in Weill Cornell Medicine departments like surgery, neurological surgery, and radiology allow faculty to make matches with colleagues who have complementary research interests. The university has also offered several rounds of seed grant funding to help intercampus projects get off the ground — and according to one initial analysis, the investment has more than paid off.

In 2010, Dr. Lawrence Bonassar, a professor of biomedical engineering and of mechanical and aerospace engineering, studied the outside funding generated by roughly a dozen awards given in the previous five years, finding that the seed support had facilitated substantive results that impressed outside granting agencies. "It had about an eight-fold return on investment," reports Dr. Bonassar, whose collaborative projects with Weill Cornell Medicine surgeons include two types of implants made of living tissue: ears for children born without them, and replacements for degenerated spinal discs that cushion the vertebrae. "About $400,000 in grants had been given out — and they had returned, at that time, more than $3 million from other organizations including the National Institutes of Health, private foundations, and the National Science Foundation. So these tend to be productive collaborations that are well received by the outside world."

In the field of oncology research, intercampus collaborations got a particularly strong boost in 2009 with the awarding of a five-year, $13 million grant from the National Cancer Institute that created the Center on the Microenvironment and Metastasis. Established under the NCI's Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers initiative, it has fostered numerous projects including the ongoing effort by Weill Cornell Medicine's Dr. David Nanus, the Mark W. Pasmantier Professor of Hematology and Oncology in Medicine, and Dr. Evi Giannakakou, an associate professor of pharmacology, to develop a method to detect prostate cancer cells in the blood. They're working with Dr. Brian Kirby, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering who is based in Ithaca but holds a joint appointment in Weill Cornell Medicine's Division of Hematology and Medical Oncology. Says Dr. Kirby: "There's basically no way for me to impact human health directly unless I'm working with clinicians, looking at real samples, and trying to influence actual clinical practice."

Last summer's establishment of the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering also strengthened intercampus research — elevating an existing department that had been founded in 2004. The school was created with a $50 million gift from undergraduate alumni Nancy and Peter Meinig and their children; as Weill Cornell Medicine Dean Dr. Laurie Glimcher, said at the time, their generosity "will enable us to expand our collaborations and advance our critical work translating new discoveries into the best patient care."

Weill Cornell Medicine researchers are also working with Cornell engineers who are based in Manhattan. Not only does the new Cornell Tech campus (temporarily located in Chelsea, but with three buildings currently under construction on Roosevelt Island) have a program devoted to health-related topics, but about 10 percent of students earning doctorates in biomedical engineering at the university are doing their thesis research at Weill Cornell Medicine. "When you look around the country, you'll see that there are no biomedical engineering programs in the top 10 or 20 that aren't strongly tied to a top medical school — and interestingly, there aren't many top medical schools that aren't strongly tied to a bio-medical engineering program," says Dr. Chris Schaffer, an Ithaca-based associate professor and director of graduate studies in biomedical engineering, noting that all of his department's first-year doctoral candidates spend about two months at Weill Cornell Medicine for an immersion program in clinical medicine. "Much of the future of biomedical research, and of improving healthcare, will involve increased reliance on quantitative and engineering approaches to drugs and diagnostics. We do that best when we do it together."

Ears for Kids


Of every 10,000 babies born worldwide, between one and four have a congenital birth defect called microtia, in which one or both outer ears is missing or deformed. Unfortunately for these kids and their families, the options for surgical reconstruction have long been limited and imperfect — consisting of either an artificial implant or one crafted from the patient's rib cartilage. But professor of surgery Dr. Jason Spector, and biomedical engineer Dr. Lawrence Bonassar, hope they'll soon be able to offer an alternative: a natural implant created from a patient's own cells that would grow along with the child and never require replacement. For several years, the two have been working together on the ears, which could either be formed through 3D printing or shaped in a mold. Since most cases of microtia occur on only one side of the head, computer imaging can be used to scan a patient's normal ear, so the implants can be custom-made for a perfect fit. While the work began using bovine tissue, it has evolved to comprise human cartilage; microtia patients usually have a small amount of vestigial ear tissue, which can be nurtured with stem cells until there is enough material to form an implant. The results have been highly promising: the growth system is working well, and the resulting ears are durable and have the proper anatomical form. The researchers hope to move into clinical trials in the next two to three years. "As a result of our collaborative efforts, we are poised to revolutionize the treatment of children who have microtia — and as we further develop these cutting-edge tissue engineering strategies, to make much needed 'replacement parts' in many other areas of the body," Dr. Spector says. "It's all very exciting."

Tumor-Cell Detector

water droplet

It's known as a "liquid biopsy": taking a sample of blood from a patient and analyzing it for cancer cells. Potential uses for such technology include allowing oncologists to refine a diagnosis, detecting the spread of cancer from a tumor to elsewhere in the body, and predicting the efficacy of a certain drug — all without an invasive procedure. According to Dr. David Nanus, associate director of clinical services at the Meyer Cancer Center, "it's something that a lot of medical centers and cancer centers are working on that will have utility in the future." Dr. Nanus has been working with pharmacologist Dr. Evi Giannakakou, and engineer Dr. Brian Kirby, on employing liquid biopsies for a particular purpose: they're doing a proof-of-concept study using a microfluidic device to detect prostate cancer circulating tumor cells. An expert in microfluidics, Dr. Kirby devised a silicon chip known as GEDI; pronounced like the Star Wars heroes, it stands for Geometrically Enhanced Differential Immunocapture. "We coat the surface of the microdevice with a substance that will specifically stick to cancer cells and not to blood cells," Dr. Kirby explains. "We designed it to be sort of a maze that tricks the cancer cells into colliding with the surfaces many times over." The multi-institution study, involving about five dozen patients with late-stage prostate cancer, is looking for biomarkers that may predict sensitivity or resistance to a class of chemotherapy drugs known as taxanes. "A major goal is to figure out the mechanism of chemotherapy resistance," Dr. Nanus says. "If a patient progresses, can we look at their circulating tumor cells and — from an analysis of their DNA or RNA expression — determine the molecular reason why they have become resistant to treatment?"

Battling Breast Cancer


The "seed and soil" concept of cancer metastasis holds that tumors require fertile ground in which to grow — which means that making the body inhospitable to them is key to battling the disease. Dr. Andrew Dannenberg, the Henry R. Erle, M.D.- Roberts Family Professor of Medicine, and breast cancer specialist Dr. Linda Vahdat, have ongoing collaborations with biomedical engineer Dr. Claudia Fischbach-Teschl, whose Ithaca lab is devoted to studying the environment in which a tumor exists, including its surrounding blood vessels and other non-tumorous host cells. They have worked together to explore diagnosis, treatment and prevention from two major angles: the effect of obesity on patient outcomes and — a major focus of Dr. Vahdat's work — the promise of copper-depleting drugs in treating triple-negative breast cancer. For the obesity work, for example, Dr. Vahdat provided specimens from lean and obese breast cancer patients; Dr. Fischbach-Teschl was able to show that obese women have increased levels of proteins typically associated with wound-healing, which makes for a "soil" more hospitable to cancer, thus raising the likelihood of its spread. "Claudia's expertise is in physical factors that promote metastasis — getting down to the practical aspects of, 'How does a tumor cell get from point A to point B?' says Dr. Vahdat, a professor of medicine. "It's a totally different way to look at things, but it's highly complementary to what someone like myself does, which is on a very macro level, taking care of patients."

Back Pain Relief


Among the projects sparked during a retreat between Ithaca engineers and Weill Cornell Medicine surgeons is one that could someday provide relief to the millions of Americans suffering from chronic back or neck pain. Spinal surgeon Dr. Roger Härtl, is working with Dr. Bonassar to develop a bioengineered intervertebral disc to replace those lost to degeneration or herniation — be it from natural aging, playing contact sports, or other factors like obesity or years of manual labor. Currently, most patients are treated with pain medication or physical therapy — but 5 to 10 percent require more invasive methods such as injections or surgery. In the latter case, the most common procedure is spinal fusion, in which a damaged disc is removed and bone is fused into the gap; while artificial discs made of metal and plastic are available, they can damage adjacent tissue, and their longevity is unclear. So Dr. Härtl, a professor of neurological surgery and director of spinal surgery and neurotrauma at Weill Cornell Medicine's Brain and Spine Center, teamed up with Dr. Bonassar to design 3D-printed implants made of living tissue. The technology was successfully demonstrated in rats; in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine, it's currently being tested in animals, who can suffer from disk degeneration just as humans do. Ultimately, the implants could be created based on MRI imaging of a patient's spine and comprise cells either taken from a cadaver or — a greater challenge — grown using a person's own tissue. Another project, which Dr. Härtl reports is much closer to clinical implementation, is a technique to repair injured discs using tissue-engineered biological "glues."

A 'Laser Scalpel' for Epilepsy


Of the two main kinds of epilepsy — general and focal — the latter is much harder to treat. While general epilepsy — in which the entire brain spasms with neural activity — can be well controlled with medication, focal epilepsy is more challenging. Often caused by brain trauma or congenital malformation, it involves too much neural activity in specific regions; to control it with drugs, says biomedical engineer Dr. Chris Schaffer, "you end up almost anesthetizing the brain." Instead, the condition is treated with resective brain surgery — an imprecise option that can lead to cognitive and motor deficits. But Dr. Schaffer, an expert in advanced optical techniques, is working with Dr. Theodore Schwartz, the David and Ursel Barnes Professor of Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery, to offer a much better surgical solution. They're collaborating to develop a "laser scalpel" that can cut with precision on the scale of a micron — one-millionth of a meter. They're writing up a paper reporting promising results in a rodent model, in which a targeted cut decreased seizures by 50 percent; they're currently studying whether the improvement is long-lasting. Dr. Schaffer is also working with Dr. Frank Wise '88, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Engineering in Ithaca's Department of Applied and Engineering Physics, to design the device, which pulses at a rate of 100 femtoseconds. "The ratio of 100 femtoseconds to a minute is about the same as the ratio of a minute to the known age of the universe [about 13.8 billion years]," Dr. Schaffer notes. "So it's a really, really short burst of light."

Heart of the Matter


At the Dalio Institute of Cardiovascular Imaging, director Dr. James Min, and colleagues aim to better understand heart disease, in the hope that it will lead to improved treatments and preventive measures. To that end, they use not only familiar tools like MRI, CT and PET — but also novel technologies like 3D printing and computer modeling of blood flow dynamics, drawing on the expertise of Ithaca-based engineers. Dr. Min, a professor of radiology and of medicine who is board certified in cardiology, has been working with Dr. Jonathan Butcher, associate professor of biomedical engineering and associate director of undergraduate studies in biomedical engineering, to study how the particulars of various surgical procedures — say, the shape and placement of a vascular graft — affect patient outcomes. Ultimately, grafts that have been designed for optimum performance in an individual person's heart could be fabricated through tissue engineering, obviating the need to obtain them from elsewhere in a patient's body. The grafts — or even entire heart valves — would be made of a patient's own cardiac cells, harvested by surgeons and grown on a scaffold of water-soluble polymers. In the best-case scenario, Dr. Butcher says, "we could do all of those procedures in the operating room, in one sitting." On the clinical side, the collaboration also involves veteran heart surgeon Dr. Leonard Girardi '89, chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and cardiothoracic surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.


This story first appeared in Weill Cornell Medicine, Vol. 15, No.1.

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State of the Medical College: Weill Cornell Medicine Celebrates Remarkable Growth


Weill Cornell Medicine is ending an extraordinary year, touting a new name that exemplifies the unprecedented clinical growth, scientific advancement, and educational accomplishments that have cemented the institution as a driving force in healthcare.

During her annual State of the Medical College address on Dec. 7, Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, lauded these achievements, which she said underscore the institution's position at the forefront of scientific innovation.

"We are set on a path for truly remarkable growth," Dr. Glimcher said to a crowd of more than 150 faculty, students and staff at Uris Auditorium. "Our trajectory has been impressive over the last several years."

In July, the Association of American Medical Colleges named Weill Cornell Medicine the fastest growing medical school in the country based on its increase in operating revenue over the past five years. The successes that led to this period of growth — which culminated in October with the launch of the new Weill Cornell Medicine name — have set the foundation for the institution's strategic development.

"We all want growth to be sustainable, directed and to lead to excellence across our mission," she said. "We don't want growth for growth's sake; we only want to grow to increase excellence and make sure we're serving all of the needs of our patient population."

Delivering the Finest Care

To that end, Weill Cornell Medicine and its faculty practice, Weill Cornell Physician Organization, have added more than 40 medical practices in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn to connect New Yorkers to a network of exceptional physicians. The institution has added more than 150 physicians to its ranks at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital, and has established five practices nearby to provide patients with top-tier clinical care.

At NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens, all major department chairs and division chiefs, as well as new specialists, will be Weill Cornell Medicine physicians. These new recruits will engage with their counterparts on the Upper East Side to ensure seamless delivery of care.

This expansion of physicians and locations culminated in 1.64 million patient visits this year, an 11.2 percent increase from fiscal 2014 and 42.3 percent from 2010.

In addition to Weill Cornell Medicine's expanded clinical footprint, the institution established the accountable care organization NewYork Quality Care with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. The ACO is dedicated to providing 30,000 Medicare beneficiaries in New York with exemplary patient care coordinated between providers.

"It's very important that we learn how to manage population health," Dr. Glimcher said," because that really is the future."

Making Groundbreaking Discoveries

Dr. Glimcher, State of the Medical College address

Dr. Glimcher during her annual State of the Medical College address.

Excellence in patient care is realized only through a robust biomedical research enterprise that can translate discoveries made in the lab into advanced treatments for the clinic. The Belfer Research Building — which earned LEED Gold Certification from the U.S. Green Building Council earlier this year — is empowering the institution's investigators to do just that. The building, now 80 percent occupied, is an engine for groundbreaking research and "an enabling force in establishing a new baseline for Weill Cornell Medicine-sponsored programs," Dr. Glimcher said.

"This has been a success story by all accounts," she added. "This the first time in at least the past quarter-century that the rate of growth of our sponsored research is actually greater than the percent growth of our clinical programs."

Dr. Glimcher attributed this to the building's state-of-the-art scientific technology and enhanced research support core services that enable investigators to conduct high-impact studies.

Case in point is the institution's precision medicine program, which received a boost in September with a generous gift from Overseer Israel Englander and his wife, Caryl. The gift, which names the Englander Institute for Precision Medicine, will bolster the work that Drs. Mark Rubin, Himisha Beltran and Olivier Elemento are doing to sequence tumors and pinpoint the most effective treatments for each patient.

"Our dream is that every patient with cancer who crosses the threshold of this institution will have their tumors sequenced,” Dr. Glimcher said, “enabling us to better understand and design the best therapeutics for that individual.”

One of the institution's priorities has been to establish relationships with industry to advance basic science breakthroughs that have commercial potential into viable treatments. The Office of BioPharma Alliances and Research Collaborations, in conjunction with the Center for Technology Licensing at Cornell University, is leading these efforts, forging strategic research alliances with industry and supporting faculty who establish startup companies. The Daedalus Fund for Innovation, now in its second year, provides up to $100,000 in grants to help investigators make their research more attractive to the biopharmaceutical industry.

"The interaction and collaboration between academia and private-sector industry is absolutely a marriage made in heaven," Dr. Glimcher said. "Discovery is best done in an academic setting, but there are many things we can't do here as easily as the private sector. Teaming up with pharmaceutical companies, founding new companies — this is the future."

Teaching Exceptional Doctors and Scientists

While the institution expanded the medical school class size by five students to 106, this year was no less competitive. Culled from nearly 6,200 applicants, the 49 women and 57 men who comprise the Class of 2019 have an average undergraduate GPA of 3.84 — the highest ever at Weill Cornell Medicine — and tied for highest-ever MCAT scores.

Weill Cornell Medicine celebrated the successful launch of its medical curriculum last year, and integrated the feedback from students in the Class of 2018 into version 2.0, unveiled this fall. Academic leaders are continuing their work to enhance the curriculum, with a particular focus on scientific studies during the clerkship years.

"We want students to spend the vast majority of their time in the second two years learning how to take care of patients," Dr. Glimcher said, "but it's also important to continue to expose them to cutting-edge, clinically relevant research topics so we can promote life-long learning approaches."

The Weill Cornell Graduate School is thriving under the leadership of Dr. Gary Koretzky, who has "improved the quality of students, the quality of the curriculum and the attention that we pay to our graduate students over the last couple of years," Dr. Glimcher said. And she extolled the Tri-Institutional M.D. - Ph.D. program as "one of the jewels in our crown," noting that three medical students have transferred into the program this year.

Qatari citizens comprise 30 percent of Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar's inaugural six-year medical-education program, which the location established to augment its goal of building a talented cadre of physicians for the country. WCM-Q’s medical school continues to flourish, attracting an exceptional 27 women and 19 men hailing from Qatar and 13 other nations for the Class of 2019.

Weill Cornell Medicine has the highest percentage of any U.S. medical school of graduates who have obtained full-time faculty positions at academic medical centers, Dr. Glimcher said. She also highlighted the institution's distinguished legacy in preparing a diverse physician workforce, noting that it ranks in the 92nd percentile of medical schools in the number of graduates who are African American and the 82nd percentile in Hispanic graduates. Weill Cornell Medicine is in the 91st percentile of medical schools in the number of women faculty, and in the 81st percentile in the number of faculty from under-represented groups.

"Diversity is essential to developing creative solutions to the challenging problems we are all facing in healthcare, biomedical research, and education,” Dr. Glimcher said.

Forging a Network of Powerful Partners

Many of these solutions are achieved through collaboration. Weill Cornell Medicine's network of powerful partners ensures that the institution can continue to innovate and deliver the finest care to patients.

Collaboration is exemplified in the institution's work with clinical affiliate NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and at the Tri-Institutional Therapeutics Discovery Institute; at Cornell Tech, where the first buildings are expected to open in 2017; and at the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering, which received a $50 million endowment gift from Nancy Meinig '62 and Peter Meinig '61, their daughters and their families, that expanded and elevated it from a department.

These connections extend to Houston Methodist, which has expanded the number of Weill Cornell Medicine students it can teach through clinical clerkships, and to Haiti, where GHESKIO opened a state-of-the-art, open-air hospital to treat patients with drug-resistant tuberculosis.

"We're a medical center that collaborates," Dr. Glimcher said. "We have wonderful partners in New York, across the country and abroad whose valuable support enables us to advance our mission.”

Taking a Strategic Approach to Future Growth

Weill Cornell Medicine’s successes over the past year have enabled it to take a strategic approach to guide its future growth. The tactic has resulted in nine new leadership appointments, including Nobel Prize winner Dr. Harold Varmus as Dr. Glimcher's senior advisor, Dr. Leonard Girardi as chairman of cardiothoracic surgery, Dr. Silvia Formenti as chair of radiation oncology, and Dr. Jane Salmon as associate dean for faculty affairs.

The institution is also examining how best to meet its mission to provide patient care, discover new treatments, and educate future physicians. It is in the process of identifying key priorities and goals for the next five to eight years, in order to ensure that Weill Cornell Medicine retains its status as part of a premier academic medical center.

"We have a very, very bright future," Dr. Glimcher said. "We have to be very thoughtful about how we take our next steps."

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Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher gives her annual State of the Medical College address on Dec. 7 in Uris Auditorium.  All photos: Studio Brooke
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Awards and Honors Across Weill Cornell Medicine - Week of Nov. 20 - Dec. 4


Drs. Matthew Greenblatt and Dylan Gee receive the 2015 NIH Director's Early Independence Award

Dr. Matthew Greenblatt

Dr. Matthew Greenblatt, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and Dr. Dylan Gee, an assistant professor of psychology in psychiatry, have won 2015 NIH Director's Early Independence Awards.

The Early Independence Award supports exemplary early-career investigators across the biomedical sciences who have recently completed their doctorate or medical residency. The prestigious award provides winners with as much as $1.25 million over five years to lead their own laboratories and conduct independent research as principal investigators without the need for traditional post-doctoral training. Drs. Greenblatt and Gee are two of 16 scientists from around the country to be selected for the honor, which is part of the NIH's High-Risk, High-Reward program. This is the first time Weill Cornell Medicine has had a winner — let alone two.

"It's a wonderful award that gives me freedom to pursue important and potentially high-risk questions in my field," Dr. Greenblatt said. "Everyone who pursues a career in research dreams about being able to open and sustain your own lab. This award really made me feel like this dream has been realized, and will help me keep my focus on science over the next few years."

Dr. Dylan Gee

Dr. Greenblatt recently completed his doctorate working with mentor Dr. Laurie Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Greenblatt seeks to find new ways to offset the deterioration of bone density — and the resulting fractures — that occur in patients who have osteoporosis. These fractures kill as many women as breast cancer, Dr. Greenblatt said, making it a pressing issue for our aging population.

Drs. Glimcher and Greenblatt had previously found a molecular pathway called Schnurri-3 that can potentially be targeted for the treatment of osteoporosis. Dr. Greenblatt will use the award to explore this molecular pathway further to determine how exactly it blocks the function of bone-building cells, and how it can be targeted in future treatments.

Dr. Gee's project will examine the biological state of the developing brain to optimize treatments for anxiety disorders, particularly during adolescence. Anxiety disorders are the most common psychiatric disorders, affecting one in 10 youth. While there are effective treatments available, they may not be optimized for everyone, Dr. Gee said. This is particularly true for adolescents, who are undergoing dynamic changes in neurodevelopment. The award will enable Dr. Gee to build off the work she did with mentors Drs. BJ Casey and Francis Lee at the Sackler Institute for Developmental Psychobiology and investigate alternative neural circuits that may contribute to precision medicine and more effective pediatric treatments.

"I'm thrilled and incredibly honored to receive this award, and also very grateful to the many mentors who have helped me get to this place," Dr. Gee said. "This award is a major step in launching my independent career, my own lab. It really helps to propel that process and accelerate the pace of innovative research that I conduct. I hope this maximizes the impact I will be able to have on alleviating the burden of mental health disorders in youth, especially at this early stage of my career."

Dr. Oliver Fein Wins Award for Excellence in Public Health

Dr. Oliver Fein, associate dean (affiliations) and a professor of clinical medicine and of clinical healthcare policy and research, has won the 2015 Award for Excellence from the American Public Health Association.

The award honors public health professionals who have made exceptional contributions to the field through innovative organizational work for the improvement of community health. Dr. Fein, who was recognized for lifetime achievements in healthcare advocacy and activism, received his award at the association's 143rd annual meeting on Nov. 3 in Chicago.

Dr. Oliver Fein

"It was wonderful, a really significant recognition by my peers," said Dr. Fein, who is a past vice president of the association and has also served on its executive board. "It really causes one to reflect on what one has done and on all those who made it possible to do the things that I did."

"For five decades, Dr. Fein's innovative work has embodied excellence and has improved community health," said Dr. Barry Levy '71, chair of the association's awards committee. "I am deeply honored to recognize Dr. Fein with the 2015 American Public Health Association Award for Excellence."

Dr. Fein has distinguished himself in the field of public health through a lifetime of advocacy for health reform and greater community access. In the 1980's, as director of general medicine outpatient services at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, he helped open and staff five community health centers in the Washington Heights community. In 2009, as president of Physicians for a National Health Program, he was invited to the White House Health Care Summit, where he advocated for single-payer national health reform. In 2010, he helped a small group of medical students found the Weill Cornell Center for Human Rights, the first student-run asylum clinic at a U.S. medical school. Volunteer clinicians assist survivors of torture and other physical abuses who have fled from countries across the globe due to persecution based upon race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or political affiliation. As of 2014, the center has trained more than 150 medical students and professionals at Weill Cornell Medicine on how to conduct medical evaluations and provide affidavits to survivors of human rights violations.

As associate dean (affiliations), Dr. Fein works to expand Weill Cornell Medicine's affiliations with institutions, both domestically and internationally, to facilitate more diverse learning opportunities for medical students. When Dr. Fein first joined the institution, his priority was to provide medical students with clinical experience off of the island of Manhattan. He established a relationship with what is now NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens, and in 2000 forged Weill Cornell Medicine's first public hospital affiliation since 1968 with Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx. Dr. Fein then expanded his vision beyond New York City and helped establish the Office of Global Health Education, which oversees and coordinates the global health educational electives program for Weill Cornell Medical College students.

"The idea, for me, was to give students exposure to the variety of health care systems in the world and a sense of the diversity of experiences that people have with healthcare systems," Dr. Fein said. "Probably close to 50 percent of Weill Cornell graduates have an international medical educational experience by the time they graduate. That's pretty fabulous, I think."

Additional Awards and Honors

Dr. Arash Salemi, an associate professor of cardiothoracic surgery, was in July named vice president of the New York Society for Thoracic Surgery Council for the 2015-2016 academic year. The society's members are attending physicians, as well as physicians training in or non-physicians who are studying physiology, pathology and treatment of diseases affecting the thorax.

Dr. Steve Markowitz, a professor of medicine, was appointed associate editor of the Journal of Interventional Cardiac Electrophysiology in July. The journal is an international publication devoted to fostering research in and the development of interventional techniques and therapies for the management of cardiac arrhythmias.

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Weill Cornell Medicine to Help Plan Outpatient Clinic in China


NEW YORK (November 11, 2015) — A global healthcare leader dedicated to enhancing human health around the world, Weill Cornell Medicine has entered into an agreement with Top Spring Huaxia Medical Investment Co. Ltd. to help it develop a modern outpatient diagnostic clinic in China, the institution announced today.

Under the agreement, Weill Cornell Medicine will collaborate with Top Spring Huaxia Medical, a diversified enterprise with expertise in property development, healthcare, and finance, to help it create the clinic located in Shenzhen, China's fourth-largest city. One of the few American academic medical institutions to engage in Chinese healthcare, Weill Cornell Medicine will leverage its expertise in clinical care and continuing medical education to provide critical insights that will inform the planning process for the clinic. A ceremony on Nov. 4 in Beijing, attended by officials from Weill Cornell Medicine and Top Spring Huaxia Medical, celebrated the agreement's signing.

Working with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, one of the nation's most comprehensive healthcare delivery networks, Weill Cornell Medicine will help lead a feasibility study that will determine how to best structure the clinic and what medical specialties and diagnostic capabilities to deliver. As currently envisioned, the clinic will be able to provide advanced patient care by incorporating Western medical standards, practice guidelines, and innovations, and Weill Cornell Medicine will provide leadership in the standards and protocols used. Weill Cornell Medicine will also help establish a continuing medical education center for practicing physicians, which will encompass an entire floor of the facility. There, doctors practicing in Shenzhen and in other regions of China will learn about the latest Western practice techniques and standards across multiple specialties.

"Weill Cornell Medicine has a proud history of leading the way in medicine, providing our patients with the finest care," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. "This commitment extends beyond our national doorstep; it is our responsibility as doctors and scientists to share the latest medical innovations globally. We are proud to collaborate with Top Spring Huaxia Medical to realize this vision, which will benefit many patients in Shenzhen."

"Weill Cornell Medicine has established a successful model for delivering exemplary care — from primary and specialty care to imaging — to our patients throughout New York City," said Dr. Michael G. Stewart, vice dean of Weill Cornell Medicine, and professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. "We are deeply committed to extending this vital work around the world. By offering our medical expertise and technology to our new partners at Top Spring Huaxia Medical, we will bring a new model of healthcare to the people of Shenzhen."

"Our cooperation with Weill Cornell Medicine will be very constructive to the development of medical technology, management and medical education in China," said Shao Chunwei, chairman of Top Spring Huaxia Medical Investment Co. Ltd. "We welcome Weill Cornell Medicine's presence in China, and we are confident that the cooperation we have with Weill Cornell Medicine will be a fruitful one."

Weill Cornell Medicine's collaboration with Top Spring Huaxia Medical in Shenzhen is the latest example of the institution's commitment to global health. It has established clinical and research programs on every continent except Antarctica, and through Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Cornell University is the first in the United States to offer a medical degree oversees. Weill Cornell Medicine forged an affiliation with Bugando Medical Centre and the Weill Bugando University College of Health Sciences in Mwanza, Tanzania. And through a partnership with The Open Medical Institute, Weill Cornell Medicine faculty teach Western medical knowledge and train top foreign doctors during seminars hosted in Salzburg, Austria.

Weill Cornell Medicine

Weill Cornell Medicine is committed to excellence in patient care, scientific discovery and the education of future physicians in New York City and around the world. The doctors and scientists of Weill Cornell Medicine — faculty from Weill Cornell Medical College, Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, and Weill Cornell Physician Organization — are engaged in world-class clinical care and cutting-edge research that connect patients to the latest treatment innovations and prevention strategies. Located in the heart of the Upper East Side's scientific corridor, Weill Cornell Medicine's powerful network of collaborators extends to its parent university Cornell University; to Qatar, where Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar offers a Cornell University medical degree; and to programs in Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Weill Cornell Medicine faculty provide comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens. Weill Cornell Medicine is also affiliated with Houston Methodist. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

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$50 Million Gift Creates Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering


Gift Will Help Expand Collaborations Between Weill Cornell Medicine and Meinig School

A decade after its creation, Cornell's Department of Biomedical Engineering has received a $50 million endowment gift that will expand and elevate it as the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. In addition to providing resources to hire leading engineers and support the recently launched undergraduate major in biomedical engineering, the Meinig family's gift will maintain and enhance research partnerships between biomedical engineers in Ithaca and scientists at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The gift, from Nancy Meinig '62 and Peter Meinig '61, along with daughters Anne '87, Kathryn, MBA '93, and Sarah and their own families, represents the largest single philanthropic commitment by individual donors to one of the university's colleges in Ithaca.

"Together we are focused on improving the diagnosis and treatment of complex conditions like cancer, Alzheimer's, diabetes and cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medicine. "We are deeply grateful to the Meinig family, whose generosity will enable us to expand our collaborations and advance our critical work translating new discoveries into the best patient care."

One current collaboration involves developing a laser-based surgical therapy for a debilitating condition called focal epilepsy, a seizure disorder characterized by over-activity in one area of the brain. Anticonvulsive medications don't work for patients with this disease; the current therapy is surgically removing the affected part of the brain. While the procedure often leads to fewer and less severe seizures, it can also produce a loss of brain function.

"The patient is basically trading epilepsy for the functional equivalent of a stroke," said Dr. Chris Schaffer, an associate professor in biomedical engineering and the director of graduate studies at Cornell University. "Our goal is to develop a surgical procedure that results in far less collateral damage while still controlling the number and intensity of seizures."

Dr. Schaffer developed an extremely precise laser scalpel that can cut deep inside tissue without affecting the functionality and structure of the unaffected areas of the brain. Dr. Theodore H. Schwartz, the David and Ursel Barnes Professor of Minimally Invasive Neurosurgery in the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, envisioned using this scalpel during brain surgery to cut some of the neural connections that cause seizures while leaving the brain intact, a technique that might result in fewer complications and side effects and better overall outcomes. The two investigators and their labs have been working together on this project for nearly five years.

"We simply could not do this work without each other," Dr. Schaffer said.

Other collaborations between physicians and biomedical engineers, including tissue-engineered ears, spinal discs, and 3D-printed synthetic arteries, have shown promise in early testing and have the potential to dramatically improve patient outcomes for a variety of conditions.

"The Meinig family's gift is a game changer, in terms of both its size and the effect it will have on engineering at Cornell," said Dr. Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering at Cornell University. "The health field is extraordinarily important to Cornell Engineering and Weill Cornell Medicine, and our work and collaborations are focused in this area. Biomedical engineering is a critically important bridge between Weill Cornell Medicine and the Ithaca campus, and it's a relationship that we only want to strengthen."

"The Meinigs — individually, as a couple and as a family — have made a tremendous difference in so many areas for Cornell," said Cornell President Elizabeth Garrett. "Their new gift sets us on a course for increased impact in biomedical engineering and the convergent biosciences, an interdisciplinary effort that will drive advances in health and wellbeing over the next decades. The Meinig School will be a powerhouse of teaching and research with consequence for generations to come."

The gift was borne out of the Meinigs' long and close relationship with Cornell. Peter Meinig is chairman emeritus of the Cornell Board of Trustees, and he and Nancy Meinig are both presidential councilors and co-chairs of the university's sesquicentennial committee. Peter Meinig has also become increasingly involved with the engineering school, where he has been partnering with the dean to help guide and articulate the college's future strategic direction.

"A big part of why we made this gift is to motivate other people to make gifts to BME, the College of Engineering and Cornell, large or small," he said in a story published in the Cornell Chronicle. "There are many great opportunities to support and engage with the university."

Dr. Marjolein van der Meulen, the James M. and Marsha McCormick Director of Biomedical Engineering and the Swanson Professor of Biomedical Engineering, is committed to ensuring that Cornell's future strategic direction is realized with this gift. For her part, that means supporting existing collaborations between investigators at the Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering and Weill Cornell Medicine, while also helping to establish new ones. The Meinig gift will allow biomedical engineering to hire additional faculty, recruit outstanding students, and drive excellence in teaching and research.

"There's a natural marriage between the life sciences, the physical sciences and engineering, with the medical sciences as a sub-section of that," she said. "I see biomedical engineering as the center point between these research interests." Maintaining strong relationships and collaborations despite the physical distance that separates New York City from Ithaca is vital to both parties. "Our shared intellectual interests can trump the distance."

Dr. Jason Spector, a professor of surgery and of plastic surgery in otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medicine, an adjunct professor in the Meinig School at Cornell, and a plastic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, said that he collaborates with his biomedical engineering counterparts on at least a half-dozen research projects.

"It's an absolutely wonderful relationship and a great example of bringing together complimentary skills," he said, noting that one of his most high-profile projects with Dr. Lawrence Bonasser, a professor of biomedical engineering, involves 3D printing artificial ears. "Whether it's lasers, polymer chemistry or another specialty, the faculty in Ithaca have expertise in a phenomenal range of sciences. This means that when I have a clinical or translational project, they can bring it to fruition and vice versa."

Dr. Roger Härtl, a professor of neurological surgery at Weill Cornell Medicine and the director of spinal surgery at the Weill Cornell Brain and Spine Center, has also benefitted from these collaborations. "Biomedical engineers have the ability to develop tools, like tissue-engineered spinal discs that I need for my patients. With the input from us clinical scientists, they understand better what the needs are for our patients," he said. "We inspire each other and now we have many fruitful collaborations in the works resulting from clinical need."

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Dr. Leonard Girardi Appointed Chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and Cardiothoracic Surgeon-in-Chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center


New York (October 2, 2015) — Renowned heart surgeon Dr. Leonard Girardi has been named chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Weill Cornell Medical College and cardiothoracic surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center.

In his new role, Dr. Girardi will maintain and enhance the department's distinguished clinical care and biomedical research programs, championing minimally invasive techniques for cardiovascular surgery by recruiting surgeons who will augment the exceptional team already at the medical college. Dr. Girardi, who is also the O. Wayne Isom Professor of Cardiothoracic Surgery, is a Weill Cornell alumnus who has achieved a near 30-year career at the medical college and NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell. He is recognized for performing complex heart surgeries at the highest level of care.

"Dr. Girardi is an esteemed surgeon, researcher and leader, and we are thrilled that he will serve as chair of cardiothoracic surgery at Weill Cornell," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "I have no doubt that he will continue to drive excellence at our already outstanding cardiothoracic program, advancing innovative research and pioneering new procedures to provide the very best in patient care."

"The Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery has an accomplished history of pioneering highly specialized, complex and innovative procedures," said Dr. Steven J. Corwin, CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. "As an outstanding member of the Department for many years, Dr. Girardi is ideally suited to further this legacy of high-quality, patient-centered care."

"We have a proud legacy of providing high-quality, exemplary patient care," Dr. Girardi said. "To confidently take on the most difficult cardiothoracic cases, you need the support of the entire institution, and this is where Weill Cornell and NewYork-Presbyterian really shine. I'm honored to lead this department and continue to make innovations in this field."

The Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, a recognized leader in adult and pediatric heart, lung and esophageal surgery, is dedicated to providing patients with compassionate, quality-driven, comprehensive care in three boroughs of New York City. Its surgeons have expertise in complex procedures, including aortic aneurysm repair and bypass, and they are developing new surgical techniques that lessen recovery time and pain for patients, many of whom are older, sicker and have other illnesses. The department is pioneering minimally invasive robotic techniques for valve surgery and, for the sickest, offers a procedure that enables surgeons to replace patients' unhealthy valves without requiring heart-lung bypass machines to manage the heart's pumping action.

Thoracic surgeons at the department are also using robotic surgeries to remove lung tumors; patients treated this way typically see improved breathing function earlier than they would from open surgery and require less pain medication. Surgeons treating patients with esophageal cancer also utilize minimally invasive techniques. This highly specialized approach has elevated the department to the level of quaternary care — a step above the more common tertiary care — which means that it offers the most advanced treatment options.

In addition, physician-scientists are driving critical discoveries in heart and lung diseases and translating them into new surgical techniques and clinical trials. They are developing and testing minimally invasive surgical approaches to correct an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation; leading clinical trials that use immunotherapy to reduce the risk of recurrence in patients with lung and esophageal cancer; and conducting comprehensive genomic studies of cancer tumors to better understand how and why the disease spreads to the lungs. Researchers are also investigating ways to prevent stroke in patients who require aortic repair.

The Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery is also dedicated to training the next generation of surgeons. All of the department's surgeons are full-time members of Weill Cornell's teaching faculty.

Dr. Girardi is a fellow of the American Heart Association and the American College of Surgeons. He has won numerous awards, including an early-career NIH Research Fellowship and a 2004 Stephen Gold Award for Humanitarianism in Medicine. He has published more than 100 research articles in journals; presented at national and international meetings; and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiothoracic Surgery, Aorta, and the Journal of Cardiac Surgery. He was section editor for certification materials for surgeons specializing in adult cardiac surgery, and has written numerous book chapters.

Dr. Girardi received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry with honors from Harvard University and his medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College in 1989 as a member of its honor society, Alpha Omega Alpha. He completed residencies in general surgery and cardiothoracic surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell, as well as a one-year fellowship in cardiothoracic surgery under Dr. Michael DeBakey at Baylor College of Medicine. He returned to Weill Cornell and NewYork-Presbyterian in 1997 as a faculty member and attending surgeon.

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center

NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, located in New York City, is one of the leading academic medical centers in the world, comprising the teaching hospital NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medical College, the medical school of Cornell University. NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell provides state-of-the-art inpatient, ambulatory and preventive care in all areas of medicine, and is committed to excellence in patient care, education, research and community service. Weill Cornell physician-scientists have been responsible for many medical advances — including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer; the synthesis of penicillin; the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S.; the first clinical trial for gene therapy for Parkinson's disease; the first indication of bone marrow's critical role in tumor growth; and, most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital also comprises NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children's Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Westchester Division, NewYork-Presbyterian/The Allen Hospital, and NewYork-Presbyterian/Lower Manhattan Hospital. The hospital is also closely affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian/Hudson Valley Hospital, NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital and NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens. NewYork-Presbyterian is the #1 hospital in the New York metropolitan area, according to U.S. News & World Report, and consistently named to the magazine's Honor Roll of best hospitals in the nation. Weill Cornell Medical College is the first U.S. medical college to offer a medical degree overseas and maintains a strong global presence in Austria, Brazil, Haiti, Tanzania, Turkey and Qatar. For more information, visit www.nyp.org and weill.cornell.edu.

Weill Cornell Medical College

Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University's medical school located in New York City, is committed to excellence in research, teaching, patient care and the advancement of the art and science of medicine, locally, nationally and globally. Physicians and scientists of Weill Cornell Medical College are engaged in cutting-edge research from bench to bedside aimed at unlocking mysteries of the human body in health and sickness and toward developing new treatments and prevention strategies. In its commitment to global health and education, Weill Cornell has a strong presence in places such as Qatar, Tanzania, Haiti, Brazil, Austria and Turkey. Through the historic Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar, Cornell University is the first in the U.S. to offer a M.D. degree overseas. Weill Cornell is the birthplace of many medical advances — including the development of the Pap test for cervical cancer, the synthesis of penicillin, the first successful embryo-biopsy pregnancy and birth in the U.S., the first clinical trial of gene therapy for Parkinson's disease, and most recently, the world's first successful use of deep brain stimulation to treat a minimally conscious brain-injured patient. Weill Cornell Medical College is affiliated with NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, where its faculty provides comprehensive patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. The Medical College is also affiliated with Houston Methodist. For more information, visit weill.cornell.edu.

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