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

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$25 Million Gift from Gale and Ira Drukier Creates the Drukier Institute for Children's Health at Weill Cornell Medical College


NEW YORK (December 4, 2014) — Weill Cornell Medical College announced today that it has received a $25 million gift from Gale and Ira Drukier to establish a premier, cross-disciplinary institute dedicated to understanding the underlying causes of diseases that are devastating to children. Its goal will be to rapidly translate basic research breakthroughs into the most advanced therapies for patients.

The extraordinary gift names the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children's Health and will enable the medical college to recruit a team of leading scientists, including a renowned expert who will serve as the Gale and Ira Drukier Director, to pursue innovative research that improves treatments and therapies for the littlest patients. The Drukier Institute, a marquee program that will be headquartered on the 12th floor of Weill Cornell's new Belfer Research Building, will also expand and enhance the medical college's already-distinguished research and clinical care programs that strive to end diseases and disorders that affect children and adolescents, including asthma, autism, cancer, cardiovascular disease, infectious diseases and schizophrenia."We couldn't be more grateful to Gale and Ira, whose generous gift exemplifies their commitment to advancing human health and their steadfast support of Weill Cornell Medical College," said Sanford I. Weill, chairman of the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers. "The Drukiers' investment will better the lives of children in New York and beyond, and will leave a lasting mark on our next generation."

"We are greatly appreciative of Gale and Ira Drukier, whose remarkable gift will enable Weill Cornell to expand its world-class research and clinical care programs for children, who can't be treated like little adults," said Dr. Laurie H. Glimcher, the Stephen and Suzanne Weiss Dean of Weill Cornell Medical College. "The Drukiers' generosity is critical in allowing us to attract the best and brightest minds in pediatric research, who will lead the way as we pursue innovative treatments and therapies that will ensure the health of children now and in the future."

"As parents and grandparents, Gale and I appreciate the tremendous impact medicine can have on growing children," said Dr. Ira Drukier, a member of the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers. "When you cure children, you give them their entire life back. It's with immense pride that we are able to make this investment, which will empower Weill Cornell Medical College to focus and direct all of its outstanding pediatric research under the auspices of one institute and provide vital resources to develop tomorrow's treatments and cures."

"It gives us great joy to be able to support Weill Cornell Medical College and make such a tremendous difference in children's lives," Dr. Gale Drukier said. "This gift also continues our enduring relationship with Cornell University, with which we have been connected for 40 years."

The Drukiers have a legacy of philanthropy at Cornell University, having provided generous support to its Herbert F. Johnson Art Museum and College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

"We at Cornell are immensely grateful to Gale and Ira Drukier for their extraordinary leadership and generosity, which has already been felt across the university," President David Skorton said. "With this spectacular new gift, the Drukiers are enabling us to achieve an unprecedented level of excellence in pediatric research. The bench-to-bedside approach of the Drukier Institute will have a lasting impact on children and their families, giving hope when they need it most."

"The gift from Gale and Ira Drukier establishing the Drukier Institute for Children's Health makes a powerful statement about the importance of focusing the energies of a major research institution on improving the health and wellbeing of children," said Dr. Gerald M. Loughlin, the Nancy C. Paduano Professor of Pediatrics and chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medical College and pediatrician-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. "It is a wonderful legacy for these visionary philanthropists."

Caring for children is particularly challenging because their bodies are constantly changing as they grow, and their metabolisms and immune systems are vastly different than those of adults. Understanding the factors that spur growth in children can present possible lines of inquiry into other diseases, such as cancer, because tumors are also programmed to grow. There are also many genetic and developmental diseases that arise in childhood and pose serious health risks during adulthood. But treating these conditions can be arduous for pediatric patients. Many of the common treatments and therapies available to adults have toxic effects on children, making it critical to devise new and better interventions.

Using genomics and other cutting-edge research approaches, the cross-disciplinary Drukier Institute will drive excellence and innovation in pediatrics, seeking to rapidly and seamlessly catalyze research breakthroughs into the most advanced, safe and effective patient care. The Drukiers' generosity will empower the medical college to recruit five top-flight investigators — including a faculty member who conducts clinical research in pediatric genetics — to augment the distinguished team of physician-scientists already at Weill Cornell, as well as train the next generation of researchers in the field.

To help realize this vision, the Drukiers' gift will enable Weill Cornell to secure the latest research equipment, such as sequencing and informatics technology, as well as develop an infrastructure to establish a biobank. Investigators at the institute will work in close collaboration with clinicians in Weill Cornell's Department of Pediatrics to ensure that children immediately benefit from the latest research advances.

To encourage and support faculty development, research and education, the gift will endow the Drukier Lectureship, an annual lecture at Weill Cornell on a research or clinical topic in the field of children's health. It will also establish the Drukier Prize, which will be awarded once a year to a junior faculty member in the United States or abroad for excellence and achievement in advancing research on childhood diseases or disorders.

About Gale and Ira Drukier

A Cornell University graduate, Ira Drukier is co-owner of BD Hotels, LLC, a real estate development company that owns and operates more than two-dozen hotel properties in New York City, including the Mercer, Hotel Elysee and the Maritime.

Dr. Drukier graduated from Cornell in 1966 with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering with a focus on solid-state physics and in 1967 with a Master in Engineering, earning a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1973 from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Upon graduation, he joined RCA Corporation's David Sarnoff Research Center, conducting research in the field of microwave semiconductors, which culminated in his development of the first high-power compound semiconductor field effect transistor. In 1976, he joined Microwave Semiconductor Corporation (MSC) and established a division to develop and manufacture high-power microwave transistors for commercial and military use. Siemens Corporation acquired MSC in 1981, and Dr. Drukier stayed on as corporate vice president until 1983, when he ventured into a career in real estate.

Dr. Drukier has served on the Weill Cornell Board of Overseers since 2012, sat on Cornell University's Board of Trustees for eight years and was a member of the Cornell Tech Task Force to help develop the Cornell NYC Tech campus on Roosevelt Island. He is chair of the council for the Johnson Art Museum at Cornell, chair of the board of trustees building committee of the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y., and serves on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's President's Council. Dr. Drukier is vice-chair of the American Society for Yad Vashem and is a member of the Museum of Jewish Heritage's Board of Overseers. He has also published numerous papers and given lectures in the field of microwave electronics and has contributed a chapter to a book on Gallium Arsenide Field Effect Transistors.

Gale Drukier graduated from New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development in 1972 with a degree in speech pathology and audiology, later earning a Master of Science ('73) and a Doctor of Education degree ('79) in audiology from Teacher's College at Columbia University. Dr. Drukier began her career as an audiologist at Bellevue Hospital and at Veterans Affairs hospitals in metropolitan New York, later joining Trenton State University — now the College of New Jersey — as a professor. During her 17-year tenure there, Dr. Drukier conducted research, taught and developed the college's nationally accredited graduate program in audiology. She was consistently recognized by her students as the "Best Teacher." After retiring from teaching, Dr. Drukier joined her family's business, BD Hotels, and has managed and renovated properties on Manhattan's West Side for more than 12 years.

Dr. Drukier has continued to serve NYU since her graduation. She has been a member of the Steinhardt Dean's Council since 2005 as a supporter of the educational and fundraising initiatives of the school. In 2007, Dr. Drukier joined the NYU Board of Trustees and presently chairs its Academic Affairs Committee. In 2010, Dr. Drukier endowed and named the deanship of NYU's Steinhardt School of Education. She was awarded the Meritorious Service Award by NYU in 2013.

Dr. Drukier has also been active at Cornell University, chairing the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art's Program Committee and is a member of the Plantations Council. Dr. Drukier and her husband endowed the deanship at Cornell's College of Architecture, Art and Planning, endowed the curator of prints and drawings at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum and created a garden at Plantations at Cornell University. The couple is also active in the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, N.Y., and serves on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's President's Council. Dr. Drukier is an animal lover, particularly of felines, and is on the board of directors of the Animal Rescue Fund of the Hamptons. The Drukiers have one daughter and four grandchildren.

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

This release was updated on Dec. 16, 2014.

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