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  March 31, 2003

Health Center Column
The five Health Center faculty to be honored at an upcoming dinner are not only outstanding in their own right but also representative of the entire Health Center workforce.

On April 15, I will have the pleasure of hosting the 19th Annual Trustee and Faculty Dinner. Held on the Storrs campus, the dinner is a wonderful tradition that gives the University's faculty an opportunity to break bread with members of the Board of Trustees. I've truly enjoyed attending in past years and have witnessed the good that comes from partaking in some pleasant conversation over a nice meal. A celebration like this is good for the soul and the mind!

Image: Peter J. Deckers

Peter J. Deckers

Each year the host is asked to make an after-dinner presentation that gives the attendees a better understanding of the host's school or department. I am therefore expected to stand at the podium and, in 15 minutes, tell everyone about many of the outstanding activities taking place at the Health Center.

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, but may be fair warning to those planning to attend: I am definitely going to exceed the allotted time. The explanation for this pre-meditated breach is two-fold.

First, it is my nature to run a bit long when public speaking, especially when the topic at hand is something I enjoy and care deeply about. Few subjects hold more meaning to me than the outstanding work happening at the Health Center. Secondly, I believe I would need the better part of 15 hours, not 15 minutes, to adequately present each and every way we are delivering - in the words of our rallying cry - "Remarkable Care Through Research and Education."

With the goal of saying my piece within a reasonable period of time, I have chosen to celebrate the Health Center's exceptionally broad expertise by providing vignettes of five of our faculty. I could have easily selected many times that number. The five I have chosen, while experts all, are representatives of not just our faculty, but the entire Health Center workforce.

Here is a brief look at the five faculty I will profile on April 15:

Dr. Robert Fuller Along with providing outstanding care as the clinical chief of John Dempsey Hospital's fast growing Emergency Department, Dr. Fuller has been directly involved in two of the Health Center's most noteworthy public health initiatives. He was instrumental in the planning and implementation of our current smallpox vaccination program and, leading by example, was one of the first members of our faculty to roll up his shirtsleeve and volunteer to be vaccinated. Because the Health Center was the first site in the nation to begin smallpox vaccinations, his photo appeared in newspaper reports around the world. And, as we all so tragically remember, on Sept. 11, 2001, just hours after the horrendous attack on the World Trade Center, Dr. Fuller led a specially trained Health Center team at Ground Zero to help in the rescue and recovery effort.

Steven Helfand Studying genetic changes in the fruit fly has led Steven Helfand and his research team to some extraordinary findings. In 2000, his team reported identifying a gene in fruit flies that, when modified, actually doubled the insect's life span. Discovery of the gene, which is also found in humans, was widely recognized as a potential stepping-stone for scientists to develop new life-extending therapies. The team recently made another break-through discovery: by altering the same gene, they found that the mutant flies eat more, reproduce more, live twice as long, and fly as fast as their genetically normal peers. The study, published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, also supports a volume of evidence that longevity, reproduction, and food are closely linked in nature.

Dr. Marja Hurley A professor of medicine and associate dean in the School of Medicine, Dr. Hurley serves as the director of our Office of Health Career Opportunity Programs. She created the Health Professions Partnership Initiative (HPPI), a consortium that offers enrichment and support for minority and disadvantaged students pursuing careers as health professionals. Through her untiring efforts, the HPPI program has successfully responded to the ongoing need to attract talented, under-represented minority men and women into medicine and dentistry. Her accomplishments have not gone unnoticed: in February she was chosen by the New England Board of Higher Education as the recipient of its 2003 Higher Education Excellence Award for Innovation - a recognition of her outstanding work as the founding director of HPPI.

Dr. Ted Rosenkrantz As the clinical director of our acclaimed neonatal intensive care unit, Dr. Rosenkrantz oversees a highly skilled and dedicated team of physicians and nurses who care for critically ill babies. A 24/7/365 operation in every sense of the phrase, the NICU at John Dempsey Hospital has cared for nearly 7,000 premature and low birth weight babies since its inception in 1975. With capacity for 48 infants at any one time, our NICU is the largest in the Greater Hartford area and is recognized as a regional resource. About 500 babies are admitted every year; some stay for as little as a few days, while others may need months of care. Saving the lives of, and nurturing babies that may enter this world at less than two pounds is an awesome challenge. Yet it is one that Dr. Rosenkrantz and his team meet head on every day.

Pramod Srivastava Holder of the Physicians Health Services Chair in Cancer Immunology and director of the Center for Immunotherapy of Cancer and Infectious Diseases, Pramod Srivastava is leading a team of talented researchers that have developed customized human cancer vaccines. His belief that each patient's own cancer cells hold the formula for tumor-destroying vaccines continues to receive international attention. Clinical trials - some already in Phase III - are encouraging, and he is confident that his vaccine will some day become a standard of patient care. To that end, he recently added something extra to his already crowded plate. Seeking more knowledge and the opportunity to become directly involved in the care of patients who are candidates for his novel immunotherapeutic treatments, he recently enrolled as a student in the UConn School of Medicine.

Notice that these leaders owe a great deal to the people with whom they work. They have demonstrated that success - whether in research, clinical care or education - can be achieved only when working in close collaboration with others. By recognizing them, I also recognize every member of the Health Center's faculty and staff.

Be peaceful.

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