Three faculty members in Pritzker, BSD receive named appointments

June 9, 2011

Three members of the faculty in the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine have received named faculty appointments.

Vinay Kumar, the Alice Hogge and Arthur A. Baer Professor in Pathology, has been named the Donald N. Pritzker Professor; Michelle Le Beau, professor of Medicine and Human Genetics, has been named the Arthur and Marian Edelstein Professor; and Kenneth Polonsky, Dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, has been named the Richard T. Crane Distinguished Service Professor.

Kumar, chairman of pathology since 2000, is an authority on the cellular and molecular biology of natural killer cells. He has been a leader in understanding the origin and differentiation of these cells and their role in the rejection of transplanted bone marrow. In 1974, he and a collaborator proposed the existence of a novel subset of lymphoid cells with antileukemic activity in vivo. These cells were subsequently identified as NK cells by his group and others. In 1999, his laboratory discovered that mutations in the human perforin gene give rise to severe and fatal disorders of immune dysregulation.

Born in India in 1944, Kumar graduated with honors, at the age of 17, from Poona University. He earned his MBBS, (the equivalent of the MD degree) in 1967, at the age of 22, from Punjab University Medical College, in Amritsar, where he was named "Best Medical Graduate" for that year, winning the Pfizer Award and the Gold Medal for highest achievement as a medical student. He completed both his PhD in experimental pathology and his residency in anatomic pathology and hematology in 1972 at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, where he was awarded the Khanolkar Prize for outstanding research in pathology. He came to the United States in 1972 to join the pathology faculty at Boston University, where he was honored for his teaching and research in both the basic and clinical sciences. In 1982, he moved to the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas, where he was later named the Vernie A. Stembridge distinguished professor of pathology and associate dean for medical education.

Kumar is the senior editor and co-author of five pathology textbooks--including Robbins and Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease, which has been translated into more than 13 languages and is the most widely used pathology text in the world. He also has published more than 160 original articles in scientific journals, a dozen book chapters, and nearly 20 review articles. He has lectured throughout the United States, Australia, India and Europe, served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Immunology, and recently completed his term as president of the American Society of Investigative Pathology. He has received many honors for his research, including election as a fellow of the American Association for Advancement of Sciences in 2004 for "pioneering studies on the discovery of NK cells."

Le Beau has been a leader in working with therapy-related cancers. She has identified recurring genetic abnormalities in blood cancers, research that led to the recognition of distinct genetic subtypes of therapy-related myelodysplastic syndrome, a precursor to leukemia, and acute myeloid leukemia.

Le Beau has published more than 400 papers on genetic abnormalities in human leukemia. She also has extensive experience building interdisciplinary research programs, and has fostered the careers and training of young scientists. As a longtime faculty member, she has administered large peer-reviewed grants, and successfully overseen large academic research programs aimed at discovering mechanisms that trigger cancer, as well as prevention and treatment strategies.

Since 1984, she has directed the Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory at UChicago. The diagnostic laboratory analyzes leukemias, lymphomas and solid tumors to better understand how they evolve and act in the body so targeted therapies can be developed.

Aside from her administrative roles, Le Beau also is devoted to hands-on research, teaching and fundraising. Since she became director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center in 2004, she has overseen reorganization of research programs and shared resources, and obtained "Comprehensiveness" designation from the National Cancer Institute. She also developed a strategic plan for the center for optimal use of its talent and resources.

Le Beau was appointed assistant professor at UChicago in 1986 and became a full professor in 1997. She completed fellowship training at the University of Chicago. She holds a PhD and MS in pathology from the University of Illinois, and a BS degree in genetics from Purdue University.

Polonsky, a prominent diabetes researcher, physician and educator, oversees research and education programs in the biological sciences and medicine as well as the University of Chicago Medical Center. He came to UChicago in 1978 for a fellowship in endocrinology, joined the faculty in 1981, and became the Louis Block Professor of Medicine in 1995. He left to become chair of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis in 1999. He returned to Chicago to serve as dean in October 2010.

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. His recent studies focus 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.

A member since 2006 of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 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.

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