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Major League Medical Scientist Named 'Pioneer'

In accepting the Pioneer in Medicine Award, Stephan R. Targan, MD, acknowledged the many patients who have played a pivotal role in his translational research. "My patients inspired me early on to get them better and to do long-lasting things that would change their lives forever," he said.

Targan Earns Medical Staff Award for Transforming the Field of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Stephan R. Targan, MD, had two boyhood dreams: to play for the New York Yankees and to become a doctor.

Patients worldwide are lucky his talent led him to the field where he would wear a white coat instead of a pinstriped jersey.

Targan, who joined Cedars-Sinai in 1992 as the Feintech Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, has made paradigm-shifting discoveries in the field of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) — contributions so significant that his colleagues say there's hardly an individual with IBD whose treatment has not been influenced by his work.

Director of the F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel and Immunobiology Research Institute and associate chair of the Department of Medicine Research, Targan was honored with the prestigious Pioneer in Medicine Award during the annual meeting of the Cedars-Sinai medical staff on Oct. 20 in Harvey Morse Auditorium. Rekha Murthy, MD, medical director of the Department of Hospital Epidemiology, was honored with the Chief of Staff Award during an event that filled the auditorium.

Words of Wisdom From Stephan R. Targan, MD

  • "It's more fun to be daring, progressive, outspoken — but be sure to prove your ideas. Don't just talk about them."
  • "Define your passion, stay focused and persevere. Don't be knocked off your direction by one or two failures."
  • "Be kind, generous and collaborative in everything you do in life — not just science. And have some fun."

Before the awards were presented, President and CEO Thomas M. Priselac welcomed the medical staff and briefly discussed recent accomplishments as well as the importance of continuing to be prepared for change. Scott Weingarten, MD, MPH, senior vice president and chief clinical transformation officer, followed with a summary of initiatives introduced at Cedars-Sinai to improve quality while safely reducing costs.

In his report, Chief of Staff Christopher Ng, MD, reinforced the messages from Priselac and Weingarten as he stressed the importance of making value as much a priority as quality, safety and service. He said the entire medical staff needs to be engaged in efforts to deliver quality care more efficiently.

"The future is now, and we need to embrace it," Ng said. "We all need to do our part."

Among those in the audience were Targan's wife, Jan, and grown children, seated with him at a table in front. The praise for a pioneer in medicine who made family dinners a priority while making medical history began with an introduction by Gil Melmed, MD, director of clinical trials at the Cedars-Sinai Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center.

He noted that Targan proved decades of clinical teaching wrong with his discovery that IBD isn't just one disease but a condition with many different subtypes. A leader in recognizing the potential of personalized medicine, Targan was the first to stratify the disease biologically using molecular or genetic methods. His futuristic thinking early in his career set the agenda for IBD research — to identify biomarkers for various subtypes of IBD in order to make more accurate diagnoses and develop targeted therapies.

Targan made it possible to distinguish between the two most common forms of IBD — Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis — and to predict the severity of the disease in each patient by analyzing serum antibody levels in the blood. His discoveries led to the development of the first blood-based biomarker test to identify subtypes of IBD.

"He built an integrated basic, translational and clinical unit, literally taking observations from the bedside to the bench and back to the bedside," Melmed said. "He is a master teacher of clinical medicine, a stalwart professional with the highest moral integrity, and a brilliant basic, translational and clinical scientist who has garnered international respect with innovative ideas that have changed the way IBD is diagnosed and managed."

Targan was welcomed to the podium with a standing ovation. He had a long list of people to thank — "These kinds of things are not ever accomplished in a vacuum by a single individual," he said — but he especially wanted to acknowledge the many patients who have played a pivotal role in his translational research.

"Everything emanates from the bedside," he said. "My patients inspired me early on to get them better and to do long-lasting things that would change their lives forever and abate their concerns about what's going to happen to their children, given that they have a disease that's genetically determined."

The desire to improve lives continues to drive him to pursue advances in targeted therapy: getting the right treatment to the right patient earlier to prevent debilitating symptoms, complications and hospital visits.

In a video presented after Targan spoke, there was a wistful moment when he reflected on the road not taken. He said he didn't have what it took to play for the Yankees, "so I went into something I had a little bit of talent for."

The understatement sent a ripple of warm laughter through the auditorium as the meeting was adjourned.

Related story in this issue:

Chief of Staff Award Goes to Epidemiology Director