P&S News

News from around the
College of Physicians & Surgeons

 New Chairs for Medicine, Microbiology, Neuroscience
 Ron Drusin, M.D., Vice Dean for Education
 CoSMO Fundraiser Celebrates Dominican Community
 AIDS Commemoration in the Heights
 A "Love Letter" to P&S
 News in Brief
New Chairs for Medicine, Microbiology, Neuroscience


Donald W. Landry, M.D., Ph.D.
Donald W. Landry, M.D., Ph.D., a leader in forging organic chemical solutions to intractable medical problems in the fields of kidney disease, addiction, and critical care, has been named chairman of the Department of Medicine after serving as interim chair for a year. A 1983 P&S graduate, Dr. Landry returned to Columbia in 1985 and has served as director of the Department of Medicine’s Division of Nephrology since 2003. In 1998 he became founding director of a new division, Experimental Therapeutics.
    Dr. Landry’s role includes chief of medicine at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia, where the department’s clinical faculty treat half of the hospital site’s patients.
    Dr. Landry has harnessed his expertise to speed the translation of knowledge from bench to bedside. His research accomplishments include the identification of a new hormone deficiency syndrome: vasopressin deficiency in vasodilatory shock. In pioneering the use of vasopressin to treat septic shock and vasodilatory shock after cardiopulmonary bypass, he changed clinical practice for these critical conditions. He also started the sub-subspecialty of ICU nephrology at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia and introduced continuous renal replacement therapy to treat renal failure in patients with shock. His work on cocaine addiction led to his discovery of an artificial enzyme containing anti-cocaine antibodies that destroy cocaine molecules in the blood.
    Dr. Landry is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics, and the New York Academy of Sciences.
    Dr. Landry also holds a doctorate in organic chemistry from Harvard University. He completed his residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, then returned to Columbia for training in nephrology as an NIH Physician-Scientist.


Sankar Ghosh, Ph.D.
The new chair of the Department of Microbiology, effective Dec. 1, 2008, is Sankar Ghosh, Ph.D. Known for its scientific vigor, the Department of Microbiology ranks fourth in scholarly productivity on a national list reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education. The list measures the productivity of faculty members based on publications, federal-grant dollars received, and honors and awards.
    Dr. Ghosh is renowned for his contributions to the understanding of the human immune system. He joined P&S from Yale University School of Medicine, where he spent 17 years, most recently as a professor in the Department of Immunobiology and the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry.
    An immunologist and microbiologist, Dr. Ghosh, who is the Silverstein and Hutt Family Professor of Microbiology, is best known for his work on the role of the Nuclear Factor-kappa B (NF-kappa B/NF-kB) transcription factor family in the mammalian immune response. Because NF-kB plays an important role in regulating the expression of a number of genes involved in inflammation and immune responses, his research has implications for the treatment of arthritis, colitis, dermatitis, asthma, and other inflammatory diseases, as well as diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy.
    In recognition of his many years of focus on illuminating this immune response pathway, Dr. Ghosh was elected in 2007 as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, one of the country’s oldest and most prestigious scientific societies.
    Dr. Ghosh received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Calcutta University in Calcutta, India, and his doctorate from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Before taking a position at Yale, he completed postdoctoral research at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT in Cambridge, Mass.


Steven A. Siegelbaum, Ph.D.
Steven A. Siegelbaum, Ph.D., a P&S faculty member since 1981, was appointed chair of the new Department of Neuroscience, effective Jan. 1, 2009. His research is at the forefront of understanding the role of neural circuitry in learning, behavior, and memory.
    Dr. Siegelbaum, professor of neuroscience and pharmacology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has served as vice chair of the Department of Neuroscience since its formation in July 2007.
    Dr. Siegelbaum’s research focuses on understanding how the electrical properties of individual neurons and their synapses regulate the flow of information through neural circuits during memory storage and recall. His work on ion channels that are directly regulated by cyclic nucleotides led to the discovery of a novel gene family, known as “pacemaker channels,” which contribute to the ability of certain regions of the heart and brain to generate rhythmic, spontaneous electrical impulses that can control muscle activity, certain automatic functions such as breathing, and behavioral states, including arousal from sleep. He is currently researching the unique gating mechanisms of these channels.
    His contributions to scientific discovery have been honored with the Herbert J. Kayden Award in biomedical science from the New York Academy of Sciences. He is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Biophysical Society. He serves as associate editor for the journal Neuron and is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Neurophysiology, the Journal of General Physiology, and Channels.
    Dr. Siegelbaum received his bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences from Harvard and his doctorate from Yale, where he studied the role of calcium in cardiac electrical activity. He completed postdoctoral research with David Colquhoun at University College, London, and with Philippe Ascher at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, studying the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor ion channel.  

Ron Drusin, M.D., Vice Dean for Education

Ron Drusin, M.D.
Ron Drusin, a 1966 graduate of P&S, has been named vice dean for education at P&S after serving as interim senior associate dean for education. He also is a professor of clinical medicine at P&S.
    In this new role, he is responsible for the offices of Curricular Affairs, Diversity Affairs, and Admissions. Dr. Drusin has made valuable contributions as a researcher, clinician, teacher, and administrator, said Lee Goldman, M.D., dean, in announcing his appointment.
    Dr. Drusin led a task force to develop a new P&S curriculum that will help P&S provide its students not only with today’s most up-to-date medical knowledge but also with the tools for a life of continued learning. The new curriculum, which will be introduced starting in the fall of 2009 for the class of 2013, will reduce the two-year pre-clinical block at the beginning of their program to 18 months, to give students more patient contact earlier in their education. The major clinical year, roughly comparable to the current third year, will consist of 12-week blocks of clinical exposure with one-week classroom intersessions, “so our students see right from the beginning how the classroom science and the clinical component intermesh.” In their last year, students will complete a more-focused “major” or academic project in one of five areas: research, medical education, international health or global medicine, social medicine, or community service.
    Dr. Drusin has overseen ongoing renovations to create classrooms and study space in the new education center being constructed on the lower floors of the library in the Hammer Health Sciences Center.
    Dr. Drusin completed his undergraduate work at Union College in Schenectady. After graduating from P&S, he worked at the Columbia Division of Bellevue Hospital, Emory University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. He joined the faculty in 1973 at the completion of a cardiology fellowship at Presbyterian Hospital.
    In his new role, Dr. Drusin will oversee the development and implementation of the new curriculum, LCME accreditation, admissions, and the academic aspects of the Office of Student Affairs, working with P&S colleague Andrew Frantz, M.D., associate dean for admissions; Hilda Hutcherson, M.D., associate dean for diversity; and Lisa Mellman, M.D., senior associate dean for student affairs. He also will oversee the Center for Education Research and Evaluation.

CoSMO Fundraiser Celebrates Dominican Community

Junot Díaz
Photo credit: Sarah Garza
Since opening its doors in March 2004, the student-run primary care clinic — CoSMO, for Columbia Student Medical Outreach — has provided free medical care and prescriptions to uninsured members of the Washington Heights community every Saturday morning. The clinic’s $21,000 operating budget, 95 percent of which pays for patients’ prescriptions, has been covered partially by a grant from the Association of American Medical Colleges, with the remaining portion of operating funds derived from donations from family, friends, and alumni.
    The AAMC grant is ending and since students feel the work of CoSMO has just begun, they turned the obstacle of financing into opportunity by planning a celebration of Dominican culture, with a little help from Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Dominican American Junot Díaz.
    Kathie Huang’10, CoSMO vice chair, had read the author’s short story collection, “Drown,” and an excerpt from his novel, “The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” and asked him to help. “He immediately agreed to help us,” says Magni Hamso’10, an M.D./MPH student, CoSMO co-chair, and former Spanish translator for the clinic.
    The event, “Junot Díaz: A Reading, A Conversation,” held in November, turned into a sold-out benefit in which students and members of the local community gathered to enjoy a talk by Mr. Díaz, authentic Dominican food from the Mamajuana Cafe, and music by the local DJ, Mario Sierra.
    CoSMO faculty adviser Cyrus Boquin, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, says Mr. Díaz was a great choice for the fundraiser: 46 percent of the clinic’s patients are originally from the Dominican Republic, and Junot has humor and the ability to compassionately render the struggles of the immigrant experience in America. “His work is a tremendous journey through Dominican culture, and that’s our patient base,” Dr. Boquin says. “I often tell students that the only way to be the best doctor you can be is to understand the cultural and historical framework through which patients are experiencing an illness.”
    Since he became CoSMO adviser in late 2006, Dr. Boquin has been impressed with its staff, which includes students from P&S, the Mailman School of Public Health, and the School of Nursing.
    “When I was a medical student, I was an active student leader,” Dr. Boquin says, “but even I have to admit that my activity pales in comparison to what these students do. It’s really an internship in clinic administration.”
    CoSMO, which uses space at the UrgiCare Clinic at 21 Audubon Avenue, allows students from across the medical center to work directly with attending physicians to take comprehensive patient histories, run laboratory tests, make referrals, write prescriptions, serve as interpreters, meet with hospital administrators, track patients, and write quality control reports. In addition, the clinic staff is beginning a clinical review of diabetes and cholesterol management, which may be presented at medical conferences.
    “In some ways they outperform more established clinics,” Dr. Boquin says. “They’re a true inspiration to me. Every Saturday morning when I go to CoSMO, it’s an opportunity for me to get reenergized. It’s amazing how much effort they’re putting out.”
    The November fundraiser netted more than $12,000 for CoSMO. “But CoSMO still needs to look for more sustainable sources of funding. We made a presentation at an Alumni Association meeting last fall and, with help from the Development Office at CUMC, we sent out our winter mailing in late November,” says Ms. Hamso. “We have also recently begun a new grant-writing process. Raising money for a program we believe in has been a great way for our volunteers to learn about medicine and non-profit administration — and has given us a sense of pride and satisfaction beyond what we gain from patient care each Saturday.”

AIDS Commemoration in the Heights

In honor of the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, P&S and Mailman School of Public Health students collaborated to host “AIDS in the Heights,” the first student-hosted commemoration of the day at CUMC. Ramon Millan’11, president of the International Health Organization, a P&S student club, suggested the event. “AIDS in the Heights” brought together patients, advocates, and health care professionals in the Washington Heights neighborhood who are working to address HIV/AIDS on a local level.
    The Dec. 1 event was coordinated by Sayuri Jinadasa’12, Elise Schuster MPH’09, Max Ritzenberg’12, Bryan McColgan’11, Hannah Goldstein’12, Jen Heinen’12, Eric Tang’12, and Jordan VanLare’12.
    “As a first-year student, this event was important to make other first-year students aware of the issues facing the neighborhood around P&S, since we’re all new to the neighborhood,” says Ms. Jinadasa. “This is especially important since Washington Heights is largely a Hispanic community, and more Hispanics and African-Americans are affected by AIDS than any other community.”
    “AIDS is so global now it’s easy to think about what’s happening in other parts of world and to forget that NYC has the highest prevalence of all cities in the United States and that Washington Heights is one of the areas where rates of HIV/AIDS are growing,” says Elise Schuster MPH’09. “It’s an issue we still need to work on at home. Focusing on Washington Heights was important, because even though it was World AIDS Day, we focused on what’s happening locally.”
    The students lined up five speakers for the event: Jay Dobkin, M.D., the Arnold P. Gold Foundation Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at P&S and director of the AIDS program at CUMC; Jorge Benitez, a researcher in Columbia’s ACTION Study, a social network-based risk reduction intervention aimed at reducing sexual risk among non-injection drug users in Harlem and South Bronx, co-directed by Crystal Fuller, Ph.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Mailman; Aundaray Guess, an African-American man who has lived with HIV for 22 years; Wanda Cuello-Pritchett, director of the HOPE program at Alianza Dominicana, a non-profit community development organization that partners with youth, families, and public and private institutions to revitalize economically distressed neighborhoods; and Jamie Favaro, founder and executive director of the Washington Heights CORNER Project (Community Outreach and Resources, Needle Exchange and Harm Reduction). In addition to speakers, the event featured rapid HIV-testing, sponsored by Alianza Dominicana.
    Funds from HIV/AIDS ribbons and pins sold at the event were given to the CORNER Project that Ms. Favaro began as the first licensed needle exchange program in Washington Heights and the only organization north of Harlem designed specifically to address drug-user health. The project will use the funds to purchase needles and to support outreach.
    Next year the students hope to have a day-long symposium to give the epidemic more attention.

A "Love Letter" to P&S

By Matthew Harrison
film poster
When the documentary, “Naturally Obsessed: the Making of a Scientist,” debuted at a premiere held for a Columbia University Medical Center audience in October, it capped a three-year effort by the filmmakers to capture the personal journey of scientists and graduate students toward discovery in science and discovery of themselves as scientists.
    The film, produced by Carole and Richard Rifkind’55, is set in the P&S lab of Lawrence S. Shapiro, Ph.D., associate professor of ophthalmology and biochemistry & molecular biophysics. The film documents how X-ray crystallography revealed the molecular structure of the AMPK protein, considered prime for targeted drug development because of its relevance to diabetes and obesity, a finding that grew out of one graduate student’s thesis.
    Both Rifkinds are Columbia alumni. Richard Rifkind, M.D., was a professor of medicine and human genetics at P&S for many years, before becoming chairman and chief scientific officer of the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research. He has served on the boards of several New York organizations for scientific education. A writer, educator, and filmmaker, Carole Rifkind attended Barnard College and received a master’s degree from Columbia’s Graduate School for Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (she also has an M.S. from the NYU Graduate School of Education). She has held leadership roles in non-profit organizations, ranging from the Film Forum to the Preservation League of New York.
    The Rifkinds answered questions for P&S about “Naturally Obsessed,” their second film.

P&S: Tell us what the film is about.
Carole Rifkind: We wanted to give people a dramatic experience of what it takes to become a scientist, what it’s like to be a scientist, what it means to make a discovery.
Richard Rifkind: And it deals with the role of a professor mentoring his students.

At the screening you called this Richard’s “love letter to Columbia.” What did you mean?
RR: I spent half my scientific life at Columbia, and all my training, and it was a wonderful time. I grew there, I learned what it means to be taught and to teach. I was able to use all that in my own life. The film revisits where I was as I started, but not a biographical revisiting. I revisited through the eyes of other people, to see again the process of becoming a scientist. The challenge to us was that despite the fact that I’ve had a fantastic life in science, I still get the sense that a lot of young people these days are avoiding this field. It looks too hard. The finances are not secure. There’s so many other things to do, opportunities to make money. But I think they’re missing a great opportunity, so I wanted to see if this great opportunity was still being realized.
CR: All his life Richard has been concerned with the issue of communicating science to the public. Besides his work at Sloan-Kettering, he had a leadership role in the New York Academy of Medicine, the New York Academy of Sciences, the New York Hall of Science. You often come up against the statistic that most scientists think it’s important that the public know about science but they personally don’t have the skills to get out there and engage the public.

How did you pick Dr. Shapiro’s lab?
RR: I met Larry when I tried to recruit him away from Columbia to Sloan-Kettering. I studied his work, I knew how he worked, I knew his personality. We looked at several labs, in other institutions, guys I knew from Sloan-Kettering and Columbia. I was looking for somebody who I thought was an ideal teacher and a cutting-edge scientist. He was all that. And when we discussed the project with him, he was so willing to make the lab and himself available to us. We met his students, who were very diverse, and they seemed willing to participate.

Did you know how the discovery story line that’s part of the film was going to play out?
RR: No way. We started the film on the blind hope that something would happen. If we were there, we’d be lucky to be there when something happened.
CR: The hypothesis going in was that if we stayed long enough something would happen in front of the camera, because we knew we had a situation that was fertile for results. We had a strong professor and good students, so we had the hunch that something was going to happen. But then it was trial and error.

How has P&S changed since you were here?
RR: I’m very impressed with the kind of work that’s going on at P&S now. What has changed — not just at P&S but every place — [is] the distance between basic work that goes on in Larry’s lab and the clinical application of that work has gotten much closer. When I started, nobody talked about it. It wasn’t doing science so you can use it; it was doing science so you know something. And now the students are immediately confronted with the fact that the work they’re doing might have real implications for how medicine is practiced and it drives them. It’s a very powerful force, if they really feel they can have an impact on health, well-being, and people’s lives.

What’s next for the film?
CR: We have a year-long launch of the film before broadcast. We are submitting to festivals, developing a Web site (www.naturallyobsessed.com), and arranging screenings for both science and cultural organizations.
RR: Our long-range goal for the film — what would really make us feel we did something worthwhile — is to get a copy of this film into the hands of every biology school teacher.
CR: We found that it has a very powerful effect on young people. We’ve watched it at numerous screenings with young people, and it’s a world they don’t know. We’ve been so encouraged to see their reactions. Even young kids: “Wow, it’s cool to be the first one to know something.”

 News in Brief
Wafaa El-Sadr
, M.D., professor of medicine and professor of clinical epidemiology at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, where she directs the International Center for AIDS Care and Treatment Programs, was named one of 25 2008 MacArthur Fellows by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The foundation selects individuals for the honor, known as a MacArthur “Genius Award,” for creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions. … Three P&S students were elected to the executive council of the National Boricua Latino Health Organization: Felicia Rosario, a third-year student, as co-chair elect; Christina Cruz, a second-year student, as treasurer; and Hector Perez, a third-year student, as webmaster. The organization, formed in 1970, represents health professions students from the northeast region of the United States. Its mission includes the recruitment of Latinos into higher education, and it serves as a support network for Latino students. … Robert Lewy, M.D., senior associate dean for health affairs at P&S, has been named director of continuing medical education, succeeding Donald Kornfeld, M.D., who oversaw continuing education programs for many years. Columbia’s CME began after former P&S Dean Willard C. Rappleye directed a study in the 1930s for the Association of American Medical Colleges on continuing education for practicing physicians. Based on the conclusions of that study, P&S recognized its obligation to help physicians with lifelong learning. CME at P&S includes programs hosted in New York City, conferences around the country, and online review courses. … Herbert Pardes, M.D., who served as dean of P&S and vice president for Columbia’s four health sciences schools from 1989 to 1999, has been honored by the New York State Office of Mental Health, which decided in December to name the main building of the New York State Psychiatric Institute on the CUMC campus in his honor. Dr. Pardes, who has been president and CEO of NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital since 2000, is former director of the Psychiatric Institute and chairman of psychiatry at P&S. Before joining Columbia, he was director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health. He remains on the P&S faculty as a professor of psychiatry.


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