Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

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A BI-WEEKLY PUBLICATION FROM THE CEDARS-SINAI CHIEF OF STAFF June 28, 2013 | Archived Issues

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Cedars-Sinai Enters New Era With PhD Graduation

Thomas M. Priselac, Cedars-Sinai president and chief executive officer, congratulates Maricel Gozo on receiving her PhD at the inaugural commencement of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine. At right is Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of the medical faculty, and Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Distinguished Chair in Investigative Medicine.

Cedars-Sinai marked its transition to a degree-granting institution June 11 by awarding doctorates to seven students in its Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine. More than 140 faculty members in academic regalia, along with Cedars-Sinai’s top leaders, joined graduates, family members and friends in a festive inaugural commencement in Harvey Morse Auditorium.

Arthur H. Rubenstein, MB BCh, professor of medicine and dean emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, delivered the commencement address at the ceremony, which also included a teaching award for faculty.

Arthur H. Rubenstein, MB BCh, professor of medicine and dean emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine, delivers the commencement address.

"This is both a proud moment for our graduates and also a historic one for our medical center," said Thomas M. Priselac, Cedars-Sinai president and chief executive officer. "Since 1902, this institution has been dedicated to superb patient care and advancing the frontiers of medical knowledge. … In 2013, we remain deeply committed to discoveries that improve the human condition and to educating future generations of medical professionals."

The Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine, founded in 2007, focuses on transforming laboratory discoveries into therapies, treatments and cures that directly benefit patients. In July 2012, it was accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges as meeting the most rigorous standards of higher learning – rare recognition for a program that had yet to graduate its first class.

Mentored by researchers and clinicians, the program's students complete several laboratory rotations, observe patient care and engage in structured workshops and seminars before preparing and defending their research dissertations.

The scientific interests of the 2013 graduates, who have contributed to numerous publications during their studies, are diverse. They include diabetic retinopathy, traumatic brain injury, breast cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome, synthesis of growth hormones, tumor immunology and bacterial infection.

"What you have already accomplished is amazing," Lawrence B. Platt chairman of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Directors, told the graduates in opening remarks. "But what you are about to embark upon will be astonishing: advancing health in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine. … We are so proud to have you represent the future of Cedars-Sinai."

The 2013 graduates are Morgan Clond, PhD, Tamar Eigler, PhD, Maricel Gozo, PhD, Michelle Jones, PhD, Amber Kaplan, PhD, Jane Z. Kuo, PhD, and Akop Seksenyan, PhD.

In the dean's address, Shlomo Melmed, MB ChB, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of the medical faculty, and Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Distinguished Chair in Investigative Medicine, welcomed the graduates to a learned profession that is charged with creating new knowledge, passing it on to the next generation and keeping a code of ethics.

Participants dressed in traditional regalia for the ceremony. Carrying the mace is David Underhill, PhD, professor and director of the graduate program.

Melmed thanked Platt, Priselac and the Board of Directors for their "bold vision" in fostering the graduate program and praised two faculty leaders for shepherding it to success: Leon G. Fine, MB ChB, professor and vice dean, Research and Graduate Research Education, and chair of Biomedical Sciences; and David Underhill, PhD, professor and director of the graduate program and Janis and William Wetsman Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

In his address, Rubenstein, an internationally prominent endocrinologist, reviewed the history of translational medicine, a relatively new discipline that gained traction in the 1980s after the biotechnology industry was established. The launch of the Human Genome Project, an ambitious 13-year effort to map human DNA, provided new impetus and increased federal funding in this area. The genome project was completed in 2003.

Today there are "tremendous opportunities" in translational medicine that Cedars-Sinai's graduate program, by exposing students to both scientists and physicians, is particularly well-suited to capitalize on, Rubenstein said. In reviewing research studies conducted by the 2013 graduating class, he added, "I was most impressed by their quality and potential impact on human disease."

Rubenstein reminded students that translational research is a team sport, requiring good communication across many disciplines. "No one person can succeed alone," he said.

After Rubenstein spoke, the seven graduates were presented with their degrees, to sustained applause. Kaplan, the Class of 2013 speaker, elicited another round of applause when she expressed gratitude for the love and support that friends and family members had shown the students. "For all the late nights, the missed dinners, the missed everything – thank you," she said.

By starting graduate school in a fledgling program, Kaplan added, she and her fellow students had been part of an experiment. "Although it's rare in science to have the first run of an experiment work, this first trial was a success," she said.

The final presentation at the commencement was the inaugural David L. Rimoin Teaching Excellence Award, named after the founder and director of the Cedars-Sinai Medical Genetics Institute who died in May 2012. Nominated by students, the recipients are faculty members regarded as inspirational teachers, Fine explained.

Because this year's voting yielded a tie, two teachers received the award: Lali K. Medina-Kauwe, PhD, associate professor in the departments of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine, and Miklos Peterfy, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Medicine and director of the Laboratory of Murine Models for Metabolic Disease at the Medical Genetics Institute.

The Class of 2013 of the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences and Translational Medicine (from left): Tamar Eigler, PhD, Maricel Gozo, PhD, Morgan Clond, PhD, Michelle Jones, PhD, Amber Kaplan, PhD, Jane Z. Kuo, PhD, and Akop Seksenyan, PhD.

Click the image below to see more photos from the commencement ceremony.