Empowered to Heal

Faculty in Brown’s Division of Biology and Medicine are pushing boundaries in the name of patient health.

Faculty are the lifeblood of Brown’s research endeavors. They bring expertise in both exploration of basic science concepts and clinical aspects of disease while collaborating to push the boundaries of their focus areas. They also hold the key to the future of Brown’s contributions to science, as they work to translate their discoveries into action, mentor junior faculty, and train the next generation of innovative physicians and scientists.

The Division of Biology and Medicine is intent on expanding its impact on society, and endowed faculty chairs in targeted disciplines help us achieve that goal. Inspired by Brown’s commitment to accelerating the conversion of research findings into clinical applications that improve people’s lives, multiple donors have established faculty positions to provide support for exceptional teaching and groundbreaking research.

Pursuing cures

Alzheimer’s disease is one of the most devastating diseases we face today, and Brown’s growing body of work in this area has tremendous promise. The anonymous donor of the GLF Translational Professorships knew that bringing additional faculty with expertise in this area to Brown could tip the scales toward better patient care, prevention, and possibly a cure. Now, the donor’s two endowed positions—the GLF Translational Associate Professorship and the GLF Assistant Professorship, both in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry—support the work of Gregorio Valdez and Yu-Wen Alvin Huang, respectively. With experience in preserving or restoring nervous system function, stem cell technologies, and the cellular mechanisms important for brain function in both health and disease, these innovators are well positioned to identify and test possible therapeutics for neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and ALS.

In addition, the establishment of the Mencoff Family University Professorship of Medical Science, by University Chancellor Sam Mencoff ’78, P’11, P’15 and his wife Ann, empowered Brown to recruit Wafik El-Deiry, M.D., Ph.D., an internationally renowned leader in cancer research and treatment. Less than two years after his arrival, Dr. El-Deiry has led the creation of the Cancer Center at Brown University, which brings together more than 150 investigators with more than $40 million in funding to support research and clinical trials.

“I think we have come a long way,” he says. “Our progress is a testament to the collaboration that already happens here. People are interested in the common goal of helping patients, and that moves the whole endeavor forward quickly.”

Meeting community needs

In addition to allowing Brown to bring new talent to campus, endowed professorships are a meaningful way to recognize faculty for their exemplary contributions to our research community and beyond. Below are some examples of faculty whose work drives innovation, forges vital partnerships, and spurs discoveries that have far-reaching impact.

Angela Caliendo, M.D., Ph.D., was named the Warren Alpert Foundation Professor of Medicine earlier this year. Prior to that appointment, she was instrumental in the establishment of Brown Physicians Inc. (BPI), a partnership between six physician practice foundations in Rhode Island and the Medical School. Aimed at achieving greater integration of patient care, research, and education across the state, BPI’s formation in 2017 was an important milestone for Brown, solidifying the research and teaching missions of the Medical School. Caliendo now serves as its inaugural president. With a background in infectious diseases and the development of diagnostic tests, Caliendo has also provided critical leadership to Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Testing and Validation Task Force. She serves as co-chair along with Jonathan D. Kurtis ’89 PhD’95 MD’96, the Stanley M. Aronson Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.

Also this year, Megan Ranney, M.D. MPH’10 RES’08 was named the Warren Alpert Foundation Associate Professor of Medicine. An expert on violence prevention and the design and use of technology to help vulnerable populations, Ranney has led the charge for the recently launched Brown-Lifespan Center for Digital Health. She serves as the center’s inaugural director, and her team is focused on fostering the research and development of digital health tools that support health care providers, patients, and populations. As an emergency medicine physician, Ranney has been featured nationally talking about COVID-19 and shining a spotlight on dire shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) around the country. She is also a founding partner of GetUsPPE.org, which matches donors to health systems in need.

Health care unites us all

Health care is a part of our lives from beginning to end. It is a common thread among all people, touching individuals, families, and communities. We rely on physicians to keep us well, to advocate for our needs, and to support us in difficult times. Endowed professorships help Brown fulfill its commitment to recognize and support these physicians and physician-scientists who work hard to improve our lives. They also are the perfect way for alumni and friends to invest in greater knowledge and prevention of a disease that may have deep personal significance to them and their families.

For the Panton family (Peter J. Panton ’79 MD’82, PMD’15, PMD’21, Robert W. Panton ’83 MMSc’86 MD’86, and Christina E. Panton ’11 MD’15), the events of 2020 have underscored society’s critical need for expanded biomedical research. Their campaign gift to establish the John and Mary Panton Emergency Medicine Professorship in Translational Sciences is incredibly timely. In their words, “Our endowed professorship helps fund the Department of Emergency Medicine—Brown’s front line in the fight against COVID-19. If we are ever going to rid the planet of this horrible scourge, it will only be through the efforts of the clinician-scientists to whom we have pledged our support.”

Biomedical research at Brown is all about collaboration for the greater good, and it has the potential to support—and even save—countless lives. Endowed professors are deeply committed to research and teaching, and their legacy includes the investigators they inspire and train to ensure the growth of Brown’s research enterprise and the pursuit of healthier populations. That has never been more important than it is right now.

(October 2020)