Renowned diabetes specialist to head biosciences, medical school and Medical Center at the University of Chicago

July 29, 2010

Kenneth Polonsky, MD

Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, a prominent diabetes researcher, physician and educator, has been appointed Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Chicago, effective October 1, 2010.

Polonsky has served as the Adolphus Busch Professor and chair of the Department of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis and physician-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital since 1999. Before that he was a professor of medicine and section chief of endocrinology at the University of Chicago, where he joined the faculty in 1981.

» View a video of the ceremony welcoming Dr. Kenneth S. Polonsky

? View a video of the ceremony welcoming Dr. Kenneth S. Polonsky

"Kenneth Polonsky is an ideal leader for us," said Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago. "The opportunities and challenges confronting the Biological Sciences Division, the Pritzker School of Medicine, and the Medical Center today demand an unwavering commitment to the quality of research, education and clinical care. Kenneth brings to this task a strong record in each of those realms and deep roots at the University."

"Kenneth Polonsky's deep knowledge and embrace of the intellectual values of the University make him a perfect partner as we strive to attract the most talented research scientists, clinicians, and educators to Chicago," said Thomas Rosenbaum, provost of the University. "We are excited to have him back."

In his role as dean, Polonsky will oversee the University's research and education programs in the biological sciences and medicine. As executive vice president, he will report directly to the University president and serve as an officer of the University, overseeing the University of Chicago Medical Center. The president of the Medical Center will report to him.

"The University of Chicago Medical Center has high ambitions in conducting groundbreaking research, educating the next generation of medical leaders, and providing superior medical care to the many communities of which it is a part," said Rodney Goldstein, chairman of the Medical Center Board of Trustees. "Kenneth is the right person to lead the Medical Center in this next chapter of its proud history, and the Medical Center board looks forward to supporting and working with him in service of that mission."

"It's a great honor to return to Chicago, where I began my academic career and where I have maintained strong professional and personal connections," Polonsky said. "I know the place well: the extraordinary quality of the faculty and staff, the commitment to scholarship and discovery, the passion for teaching, and the growing partnerships throughout the community."

Born and educated in Johannesburg, South Africa, Polonsky graduated cum laude in 1973 from the University of Witwatersrand Medical School. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago, then came to the University of Chicago in 1978 for a fellowship in endocrinology. He joined the University's faculty in 1981, was promoted to professor in 1990 and became the Louis Block Professor of Medicine in 1995. He became section chief of endocrinology in 1987 and also directed the University's Diabetes Research and Training Center.

As a scientist, Polonsky studies factors that influence the health and function of pancreatic beta cells, which produce and secrete insulin. Defects in insulin production and action are hallmarks of noninsulin dependent (type 2) diabetes. Polonsky was part of a team at the University of Chicago in the 1980s that developed and tested ways to measure insulin-secretion rates.

His more recent studies have focused on novel, sensitive and accurate methods of evaluating beta-cell function in people with mild diabetes or who have not yet developed diabetes, and on forms of diabetes that result from genetic causes. He currently is studying genes that increase the risk for type 2 diabetes and is evaluating drugs that stimulate insulin secretion--a project that he began with colleagues at the University of Chicago.

A member since 2006 of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors medical scientists in the United States can receive, Polonsky has won multiple awards, including the Young Investigator Award from the American Federation of Clinical Research in 1993, the Outstanding Scientific Achievement Award of the American Diabetes Association in 1994, and a highly selective National Institutes of Health MERIT Award in 1997. In 2007, he was named director of the five-year, $50-million NIH-funded Institute of Clinical and Translational Sciences at Washington University. In 2009 he was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland.

He has published more than 250 papers, has served on the editorial boards of several journals and on national and regional committees of a number of organizations including the American Diabetes Association and Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. He was a member of the board of directors of the American Board of Internal Medicine.

"During his time at the University I had the privilege of working with Kenneth as a research colleague and administrator," said Godfrey Getz, MD, PhD, Donald N. Pritzker Distinguished Service Professor and faculty co-chair of the search committee along with Michelle Le Beau, PhD, director of the University of Chicago's Comprehensive Cancer Center. "I have the highest regard for his scholarship, his talents and wisdom and his sensitivity to the views of his colleagues."

Zimmer thanked the search committee and offered special thanks to Dr. Everett Vokes, the interim dean and leader of the Medical Center. Vokes will return to his role as Chair of the Department of Medicine on Oct. 1.

"Under Everett's leadership, the Medical Center reorganized its executive team to better fulfill its commitment to the core missions of research, education and patient care. He guided the launch of a research and clinical strategy process in advance of the opening of the New Hospital Pavilion. And he has expanded our community health care partnerships," said Zimmer. "I am immensely grateful for his outstanding service."

Polonsky is married to Lydia Polonsky, who was a popular mathematics teacher for many years at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and an author and editor for the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project.

They have three children, all of whom graduated from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. Their daughter, Tamar Polonsky, MD, graduated from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in 2002, completed a cardiology fellowship at the Medical Center, and is now a post-doctoral fellow in cardiovascular epidemiology and prevention at Northwestern University. Their son Daniel teaches children with learning disabilities at the Cove School in Northbrook. Their son Jonathan, a graduate of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, works for Compass Lexecon, a consulting firm in Chicago.

The University of Chicago Medical Center is a leader in patient care, research and education, with a worldwide reputation in many clinical specialties and as one of the nation's foremost producers of academic physicians. Scientists and physicians at the University have made fundamental contributions to all fields of medical science including the first use of hormone therapy for cancer, development of the field of sleep research, performing the first organ transplants in animal models, and understanding insulin production.

With an annual budget of $1.5 billion, the Biological Sciences Division and Medical Center have more than 800 faculty and academic personnel, 8,000 staff members, and 5.8 million square feet of clinical, research and teaching space.

Based at the University's campus in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago, the University of Chicago Medical Center includes the Bernard Mitchell Hospital, Comer Children's Hospital, Chicago Lying-in Hospital, and the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine. The Medical Center, biological sciences and medical school are routinely selected as one of the best in the United States by U.S.News & World Report in its annual surveys of America's hospitals and graduate and professional schools.

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