$21 Million New Gift Puts Basser Center for BRCA at theForefront of Advancements for Patients At Risk of Inherited Cancers
A $21 million new gift to the Basser Center for BRCA at the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania from alumni Mindy and Jon Gray will cement and propel Penn’s preeminence as a leader in research to improve treatment and prevention strategies for hereditary cancers. The gift brings the Grays’ total commitment to $55 million, following their initial $25 million gift that established the Basser Center in 2012, and subsequent gifts to support the Center, which advances BRCA gene mutation-related science around the world.
“Mindy and Jon have directed their visionary philanthropy to a most critical area in medicine,” said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann. “They have enabled Penn to create a unique model of cancer care that thrives on collaboration and personal engagement. Their support is already saving the lives of patients with—and at risk for —BRCA mutations. The possibility of eliminating genetic diseases increases exponentially because of their generosity and personal commitment. They are an exceptional example of Penn alumni who are making a positive difference in the world.”
Since its establishment as the world’s first center devoted to the study of BRCA-related cancers, the Basser Center has propelled improvements in prevention, screening and treatment for men and women with BRCA gene mutations.
“The advancements we’ve made in understanding, treating and preventing BRCA-related cancers in the past five years are astounding and would not have been possible without the generosity of Mindy and Jon Gray,” said Susan M. Domchek, executive director of the Basser Center. “Their support has fostered unparalleled collaborations that extend far beyond Penn, empowering the brightest minds around the world to take new, multi-disciplinary approaches toward achieving our shared goals of preventing and curing BRCA-related cancers.”
Since 2012, the Basser Center has awarded transformative grants to 26 investigators and researchers at Penn and 12 researchers at institutions around the world, including projects working to prevent the molecular changes in cells that lead to cancer, extend educational resources to at-risk populations, and understand racial disparities in BRCA mutations and associated cancers.
“With their generous gifts and exceptional innovation, Mindy and Jon have created a pioneering approach to accelerating medical research and care,” said J. Larry Jameson, dean of the Perelman School of Medicine of Pennsylvania and executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System. “In today’s climate, where the competition for limited federal funding is on the rise, philanthropy is a critical part of advancing our knowledge in the fight against cancer.”
“We have been awed by the advancements made possible through the research and collaborations at the Basser Center over the last five years, and are more hopeful than ever that our support will lead to the cures for, and ultimately, the prevention of, BRCA-related cancers,” said Mindy and Jon Gray in a statement.
Through the Grays’ continued support, the Basser Center’s vision will:
- Uncover biomarkers for early detection of ovarian cancer. Recent research from Penn investigators has demonstrated that many ovarian cancers actually start in the fallopian tubes, not necessarily the ovaries. This finding has refocused efforts on novel detection and study of precursor lesions in the fallopian tubes, and may bring a new option for removal of the fallopian tubes as a first-step prevention strategy for pre-menopausal women with BRCA mutations.
- Test strategies that use personalized cellular therapies such as chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) T cell therapy or tumor vaccines to re-program the immune system to recognize and attack or, in the case of vaccines, prevent BRCA1/2 associated cancers of all types.
- Study PARP inhibitors in combination with other drugs, including immune checkpoint inhibitors or targeted therapies, for the treatment of BRCA1&2-associated cancer while carefully analyzing predictors of response and resistance.
- Extend the reach of preventive care and educational programs through new avenues for testing and telegenetics. This year, experts from leading institutions and organizations across the country will join forces to launch a pilot study of patients with an increased risk for BRCA mutations, aimed at making the testing process more accessible to the public, and expanding the number of individuals who can be tested.
Mindy and Jon Gray graduated from Penn in 1992. The couple has supported the University throughout the 25 years since their graduation. The Basser Center was established in honor of Mindy’s sister, Faith Basser, who passed away at the age 44 from BRCA-related ovarian cancer. The Grays are also the founders of the Gray Foundation, a private foundation committed to maximizing access to education, healthcare and opportunity for low-income children in New York. The Gray Foundation is focused on funding initiatives to advance the care of individuals living with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations.
Jon Gray is the global head of real estate at Blackstone, and the chairman of the board of Hilton Hotels. Mindy Gray is the board chair of the Basser Leadership Council and sits on the Leadership Council of Peer Health Exchange, an organization dedicated to giving teens a comprehensive health education.
Konrad Kording: Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor
President Amy Gutmann and Provost Vincent Price are pleased to announce the appointment of Konrad Kording as the Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor, effective July 1, 2017. Dr. Kording, a pioneer of computational neuroscience, will hold joint appointments in the department of neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine and the department of bioengineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Science.
“Konrad Kording’s work perfectly exemplifies our Penn Compact vision of harnessing the tools of multiple disciplines to drive innovation and understanding with the goal of improving human life around the world,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “Brain science, big data, robotic technologies: Konrad’s research crosses the professions and involves the most dynamic scholarly fields and tools. It also has tremendous potential to improve the diagnosis and treatment for patients with movement disorders. The Penn community-and our society overall-will benefit tremendously from his path-setting teaching and scholarship.”
Dr. Kording’s groundbreaking interdisciplinary research uses data science to advance a broad range of topics that include understanding brain function, improving personalized medicine, collaborating with clinicians to diagnose diseases based on mobile phone data, and even understanding the careers of professors. Across many areas of biomedical research, his group analyzes large datasets to test new models and thus get closer to an understanding of complex problems in bioengineering, neuroscience and beyond.
This innovative and influential work has been published in such leading journals as Nature, Nature Neuroscience, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and supported by major grants from the National Science Foundation and others. Currently professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, Dr. Kording earned a PhD in physics (2001) from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, followed by postdoctoral appointments at the Collegium Helveticum in Zurich and at University College London and as a Heisenberg Fellow at MIT.
“Konrad Kording will be an invaluable mentor and colleague in advancing our eminence in neuroscience,” said Provost Price. More broadly, he is a pioneer in developing innovative interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems. He will be an effective campus leader in bringing together some of our most exciting initiatives in medicine, data science, and bioengineering.”
The Penn Integrates Knowledge program was launched by President Gutmann in 2005 as a University-wide initiative to recruit exceptional faculty members whose research and teaching exemplify the integration of knowledge across disciplines and who are appointed in at least two Schools at Penn.
Vet Medicine Teaching Awards
Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award
This year’s Zoetis Distinguished Teacher Award was presented to Rose Nolen-Walston. This is the most prestigious teaching award in veterinary medicine. It is presented annually to a faculty member at each college of veterinary medicine in the United States. Its purpose is “to improve veterinary medicine education by recognizing outstanding instructors who, through their ability, dedication, character and leadership, contribute significantly to the advancement of the profession.” The entire Penn Vet student body votes on the recipient.
Dr. Nolen-Walston was a professional dressage rider and riding teacher before she graduated with her DVM from the University of Georgia in 2001. She did an internship and residency in large animal internal medicine at Tufts University. She spent a subsequent year there doing research in adult stem cell biology in mice, then joined the faculty at Penn Vet, where she has been teaching and practicing internal medicine for the last 11 years.
A student said, “Dr. Nolen-Walston keeps the class consistently engaged by creating relevant scenarios and case studies about the information, calling on students in the class to participate and, for the less intriguing lectures, including videos every few slides. Her humor as well as her clear organization helps elucidate and drive home main concepts. She has also helped judge student club bake-offs, emceed our auction fundraiser and helped the SCAVMA (student chapter of the American Veterinary Medical Association) board as an advisor.”
V’20 Lecture Teaching Award
Dr. Nolen-Walston is also the recipient of this award. A student said, “Thrilling, riveting, mind-blowing, action-packed and on-the-edge-of-your-seat comedy, Dr. Nolen-Walston’s lectures are like the most exciting movie release of the year, and you just happen to have a ticket. She fills the room and brings to life the mechanics of pulmonary disease. With crackle and wheezing impersonations to the in-class activities there is never a dull moment.”
The William B. Boucher Award
The Boucher Award honors a house officer for excellent teaching at New Bolton Center. The award is made in honor of Dr. William Boucher, a distinguished educator at Penn Vet for over four decades.
This year’s winner is Michael Pesato. Dr. Pesato graduated from Mississippi State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. He is currently a food animal resident in field service.
A student said, “Dr. Pesato loves teaching students in field service. He goes out of his way to make sure every student riding in his truck learns something that will make them a better veterinarian, regardless of whether they are a small- or large-animal student.”
V’17 Philadelphia Teaching Award
Michael Mison is a clinical associate professor of surgery, as well as director and chief medical officer of Ryan Hospital. Prior to joining Penn Vet in 2015, Dr. Mison founded Seattle Veterinary Specialists as a managing partner in 2007. Earlier in his career, he served on the faculty of Washington State University, where he received the Carl Norden-Pfizer Distinguished Teacher Award as a second-year assistant professor in 2004. Dr. Mison received his veterinary degree from the University of Florida in 1998 and completed a rotating internship and surgical residency at Michigan State University. He is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS).
A student said, “Dr. Mison challenges students in and out of the operating room to actively participate in the care, procedures and treatments of our patients. He guides us through hands-on surgical experience from placing a screw to closing incisions. He values our input just as he would any doctor’s. Despite his busy schedule, he always makes it a point to know all of his students on his rotation. It is an honor to call Dr. Mison a mentor and friend.”
V’17 New Bolton Center Teaching Award
Kyla Ortved is an assistant professor of large animal surgery. Prior to starting at New Bolton Center, Dr. Ortved was a clinical assistant professor at Cornell Ruffian Equine Specialists. She completed her PhD at Cornell University in comparative biomedical science in 2014. She was board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (ACVS) in 2011, after completing her residency in large animal surgery at Cornell, from 2007 to 2010. Dr. Ortved was also recently board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (ACVSMR). Her internship in large animal medicine and surgery was at the University of Georgia. She received her veterinary degree from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada in 2006 and her undergraduate degree in animal biology from the University of British Columbia in 2001.
A student said, “It is incredibly impressive for Dr. Ortved to win this award as she is a new faculty member and a clinician on the service most students consider the most challenging rotation of vet school. She takes the time to thoroughly discuss cases with students and makes barn-side rounds a highlight of the day. When a student does not understand a concept or procedure, Dr. Ortved never asks them why they don’t know it, but rather what can she do to help teach you better.”
V’18 Lecture Teaching Award
Mark Oyama graduated in 1994 from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine. After an internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York and a residency at UC Davis, he entered private specialty practice for two years. He then served for five years on the faculty of the University of Illinois before coming to Penn Vet in 2005. He is currently a professor in cardiology. He earned his master of science in clinical epidemiology from Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine in 2015.
A student said, “Dr. Oyama has been a constant favorite of V’18. He seamlessly translates complex processes and material into lecture so that each student is able to comprehend exactly what is happening. He understands how students learn and his enthusiasm for teaching is evident each time he lectures. Congratulations to Dr. Oyama and we are so excited to work closer with you in clinics!”
V’18 Lab Teaching Award and V’19 Lecture Teaching Award
Jeffrey J. Runge graduated from Dickinson College and then received his DVM from Ross University. Following his internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York, Dr. Runge went on to do his surgical training at Penn Vet, which included a one-year fellowship and a three-year small animal surgical residency. Dr. Runge is currently assistant professor of minimally invasive surgery at Penn Vet. He focuses primarily on laparoscopic and thoracoscopic minimally invasive surgery, and has lectured on single port and multiport laparoscopic surgery alike. Through ongoing collaboration with leading human laparoscopic surgeons, Dr. Runge and Penn Vet have become leaders in veterinary reduced port surgery.
A student said, “Dr. Runge is an absolutely amazing clinician to work with. My classmates rave about how he makes them feel less like students and more like colleagues whenever he works with them one-on-one, further enhancing his already thorough and educational surgery course. Congratulations to Dr. Runge for winning the lab teaching award and on behalf of V’18 we would like to thank him for his time and efforts he puts into organizing such a wonderful surgical course.”
“Dr. Runge has won the hearts of many V’19 students with his engaging teaching style, using not only demonstrations, but also asking for volunteers to help illustrate important concepts. He is passionate in lectures and his high energy is contagious, keeping us on the edge of our seats to the point we don’t realize when lecture goes overtime.”
V’19 Lab Teaching Award
A national of Trinidad and Tobago, Falon Gray earned her undergraduate degree from Howard University in 2008, followed by a DVM from Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in 2013. She entered residency training at Penn Vet in anatomic pathology, and is board certified by the American College of Veterinary Pathologists. As a research fellow, Dr. Gray currently shares responsibilities on the anatomic pathology service, and comparative pathology core, and is involved in collaborative research at the Perelman School of Medicine, Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. Here, she and others are interested in methods that harness the immune system to fight canine and human cancers, specifically through the genetic modification of T-cells.
Following completion of her fellowship in June 2017, Dr. Gray will be relocating to Boston, where she will pursue a career in cancer research and drug development.
A student said, “On the first day of class Dr. Gray humbly told us about how nervous she was right before her boards, and as second year vet students we knew exactly how it felt to be nervous for an exam so we immediately related to her. She is one of the most consistently enthusiastic instructors we had and she’s always incredibly excited to see us during labs and lecture. It’s clear she is passionate about what she does, passing on her knowledge to us and inspiring us to push ourselves. She challenges us with her questions and encourages us to not just memorize facts and pathways, but instead to truly understand the processes we are learning. Even after she finished her board exams, she immediately came back and responded to all of our questions about conjugated vs unconjugated bilirubin.”
V’20 Lab Teaching Award
Peter Hand received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University, then graduated from Penn Vet in 1961. He earned his PhD from Penn in 1964. Dr. Hand is currently emeritus professor of anatomy after a 35-year career at Penn Vet and continues to help out during anatomy labs.
A student said, “Dr. Hand is a rare commodity, giving lectures in anatomy and neuroscience, helping in histology, anatomy and neuroscience laboratories and taking the time to make special appearances in students’ skits. He helped students realize the importance of the Linea alba. Whenever I encounter Arrector pili, he is the teacher that comes to mind. Dr. Hand is a quintessential part of the Penn Vet community.”
Standing Faculty Award
Amy Castro Baker is the recipient of the 2017 Excellence in Teaching Award, Standing Faculty, School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). Dr. Castro Baker is an assistant professor at SP2 and teaches in the MSSP and MSW programs. Dr. Castro Baker’s research explores how economic and social policies contribute to gender and race disparities, particularly within housing and lending markets. She was awarded the GADE Research Award, the Society for Social Work and Research Outstanding Dissertation Award and the Nina Fortin Memorial Dissertation Award for her work on women and risky lending in the foreclosure crisis. In 2016 she and Amy Hillier co-founded the SexGen policy lab at Penn, which aims to build and disseminate knowledge at the intersection of critical theory, gender, and sexuality with a distinct focus on policy, economic and housing research. The SexGen lab provides mentorship and methodological scaffolding for students to engage with faculty on gender, sexuality and applied policy research. Her current projects include community-based research focused on housing policy, asset accumulation, and LGBTQ youth experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness. Lab members are also collaborating with faculty and students across SP2, nursing and education to develop curriculum that prepares graduates to work with LGBTQ communities.
Non-Standing Faculty Award
This year there are two recipients of the Excellence in Teaching Award for non-Standing Faculty at SP2, Jacqueline Strait and Meredith Myers.
Dr. Strait graduated summa cum laude from Georgetown University with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and earned her MSW and DSW degrees from SP2 at Penn. Dr. Strait has a great passion for clinical social work practice and specializes in helping young adults heal from trauma. Her research and writing focuses on dissociative phenomena in clinical practice, particularly as it manifests in the therapist-client dyad. She teaches courses on Mental Health Diagnostics and Anxiety and Depression in the MSW program. She is inspired by her students, the brave hearts and brilliant minds she feels fortunate to think and learn with.
Dr. Myers has been a lecturer at Penn since 2009 and teaches Interpersonal Dynamics in Nonprofits that Thrive in SP2’s Nonprofit Leadership program. In addition, she teaches in the Wharton School, including in Executive Education programs and in the Master’s Program in Applied Psychology. She runs training programs within the Leadership Division for the Lipman Family Prize around strengths-based leadership, emotional intelligence and team building, and the Nonprofit Board Fellows around facilitation, optimal entry onto a board of directors, and entry onto teams in general. In recent years she has helped develop and execute training programs to build problem-solving methods and collaboration capacity within mission critical teams at both NYC Fire Department and Navy Special Warfare. Her training in negotiation, conflict resolution and mediation allows her to help people navigating complex and often contentious situations involving diverse groups, work that has taken her across the US, Latin America and India. In her research and consulting around cross-sector partnerships, she has coached international leaders, executives and board members in industry, non-profits and foundations on how to forge healthier relationships for more sustainable business results and community outcomes. Dr. Myers holds a PhD in organizational behavior from Case Western Reserve University. She graduated from Penn with a BA in international studies and a BS in economics.
John McInerney: Inaugural Executive Director, Sachs Program for Arts Innovation
Provost Vincent Price and Vice Provost for Faculty Anita Allen announce the appointment of John McInerney, vice president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, as inaugural executive director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Sachs Program for Arts Innovation.
In his 13 years at the Cultural Alliance —the research and advocacy organization representing more than 450 cultural nonprofit groups in Greater Philadelphia—Mr. McInerney has worked closely with arts organizations in every discipline, as well as with Penn, the City of Philadelphia, and arts alliances across the country. He launched and runs the highly successful Phillyfunguide events calendar and its Funsavers ticket discount program, which has become one of the largest nonprofit ticket discount programs in the US, generating annual revenues of up to $1 million for the 250 participating arts organizations. He has led the Alliance’s strategic research, advocacy, and communications campaigns, including Engage 2020, a long-term initiative to increase cultural engagement in Greater Philadelphia supported by the Pew Charitable Trust and Wallace Foundation, and successful efforts to defeat a statewide “arts tax” and restore funding to the Philadelphia Cultural Fund.
Before the Cultural Alliance, Mr. McInerney was director of communications and marketing at Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art and a production manager at the Grand Opera House Theater in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a longtime board member of the Vox Populi Gallery, the largest and oldest independent nonprofit visual arts collective in Greater Philadelphia, serving as vice chair for community engagement and most recently as interim executive director and chair of the Executive Director Search Committee. He currently serves on the boards of the Eastern State Penitentiary and Penn’s Arthur Ross Gallery and has also been a board member of Dance USA/Philadelphia (Dance/UP) and Weathervane Music. He earned an MS in arts administration from Drexel and a BA in business administration from Loyola University in New Orleans and has recently participated in the Shannon Leadership Institute, Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange and Leadership Philadelphia Program.
“John McInerney is the ideal leader to launch our exciting new Sachs Program,” said Provost Price. “He is a highly respected innovator, collaborator, and mentor across every part of the arts, widely admired not only at Penn and in Philadelphia but also in the arts community across the country. I am enormously grateful to the consultative committee, chaired by Anita Allen, that helped us arrive at this great result—and above all to Keith and Kathy Sachs, whose vision and longstanding commitment to Penn will transform arts innovation for generations to come.”
The Sachs Arts Innovation Program-founded with a $15 million gift from alumni Keith and Katherine Sachs, the largest gift ever made across the arts at Penn—aims to visibly energize the arts and arts innovation at Penn. It will integrate research, teaching and practice, working collaboratively with faculty, students, arts and culture leaders and the Provost’s Arts Advisory Council and establishing a dedicated Arts Innovation Hub in the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
“We could not be more excited about Penn’s selection of John McInerney to be the first executive director of the Sachs Arts Innovation Program,” said Keith and Katherine Sachs. “His extensive professional experience in the arts, combined with his knowledge of Penn, represent exactly what we envisioned in making this gift and will make a powerful impact on the University and the City of Philadelphia in the years ahead.”
Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Grant to Expand Collaboration between Penn and the Philadelphia Museum of Art
The University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) have been jointly awarded $500,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to fund an ongoing collaboration over the next three years that provides Penn graduate students in art history an opportunity to extend their study beyond the classroom through a direct, hands-on engagement with the Museum’s renowned collection. The project allows students to examine individual works of art in detail working alongside Penn professors, Museum curators, conservators and educators. It is a multi-faceted program that combines scholarship, critical theory and object-based learning.
“Our faculty and students are delighted by news of the renewed funding for this program,” said Karen Redrobe, the Elliot and Roslyn Jaffe Professor in Film Studies, and chair of the University’s history of art department in the School of Arts & Sciences. “This grant gives us the opportunity to deepen and expand our conversations with conservators, curators and museum educators about how to approach different kinds of art objects as material creations.”
Timothy Rub, the George D. Widener Director and CEO of the PMA, said, “We are especially grateful to the Mellon Foundation for its strong support of this type of learning at the graduate level. This rich collaboration takes Penn students behind the scenes with Penn’s faculty and our staff to study original works of art in detail and develop an understanding of how this is essential to the training of art historians today. I am pleased that the Museum and Penn can continue the important work that we’ve started together in educating the next generation of curators, conservators and scholars.”
Mellon has allocated $276,000 to Penn and $224,000 to the Museum over the next three years. This is the second of two grants from the Mellon Foundation to fund this joint initiative. Since the first grant was awarded in 2012, Penn graduate students have engaged in research, writing and the study of art via Museum workshops that focus on important works in the collection, including Titian’s painting Portrait of Archbishop Filippo Archinto (1558), a rare Renaissance sculpture by Bartolomeo of David with the Head of Goliath (1490s), and a suite of nineteenth-century furniture by Benjamin Henry Latrobe recently featured in the Museum exhibition, Classical Splendor: Painted Furniture for a Grand Philadelphia House.
Renewed funding will support the presentation of additional workshops for Penn graduate students at the PMA and regular seminars led by Penn faculty and PMA staff. The workshops include about 15 students. They examine sculpture, paintings and furniture using various analytical tools to help them better understand materials, techniques and the working processes of artists.
Jack Hinton, associate curator of European decorative arts and sculpture at the PMA, who led one of the workshops, said, “The importance of the workshop collaboration is about being able to share our treasures with a future generation of scholars. I feel it is a duty of the Museum and of art history professionals to educate students in that way, directly in front of an object.”
This bridge between Penn and the PMA provides students with “a rich and varied toolbox for their own explorations of art’s history and meaning,” Dr. Redrobe said. “This grant allows faculty and students to learn and teach in new ways.”
The Mellon grant also supports Penn’s ongoing effort to attract a diverse group of students, including underrepresented minorities and low-income and first-generation graduate students to the field of art history, and to careers as curators, conservators and scholars.
Support for Penn will also fund stipends for graduate research fellowships and mentorships, as well as instructors for the seminars and workshops, a staff planning retreat and travel fellowships.
For the PMA, the renewed grant will cover positions such as a project coordinator, program director, and will underwrite the costs for the workshops.
Through the Mellon collaboration, the PMA will integrate student writing into its digital publication that coincides with the upcoming exhibition, Old Masters Now: Celebrating the Johnson Collection. The grant will also support digital initiatives closely aligned with Penn’s new Price Lab for Digital Humanities.