January 15, 2010

Microbiology chair Hawiger to close ‘chapter’

Microbiology chair Hawiger to close ‘chapter’

In the spring of 1990, Jacek Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D., came to Vanderbilt from Harvard University to embark on a journey to rebuild and expand the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the School of Medicine.

Now, after two decades of leadership, he is stepping down as the chair of

Jacek Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D.

Jacek Hawiger, M.D., Ph.D.

“I feel that it is time to close this chapter, which has been very gratifying to me,” said Hawiger, who holds the Oswald T. Avery Distinguished Chair in Microbiology and Immunology. This transition, Hawiger says, will now enable him to devote his efforts to his flourishing research program.

“Being chairman of the department — or holding other academic leadership positions — requires an unconditional love of the university, for us to fully succeed. But it also requires tremendous effort and focus to bring us to higher levels of academic excellence,” Hawiger said.

Under Hawiger's leadership, the department has nurtured 15 new junior faculty members in research fronts newly established at Vanderbilt — molecular immunology, RNA viruses that cause AIDS and leukemia, proteomics and bacterial pathogenesis. These faculty members have gone on to obtain tenure while garnering national and international recognition and external grant funding totaling $130 million.

But of all the department's accomplishments, Hawiger says that he is most proud of the unfettered commitment of departmental faculty to teaching and training.

“Without this commitment, our medical students and graduate students will not benefit from witnessing and participating in the tedious yet exhilarating process of bringing inventions and innovations to fruition,” he said.

“Translating our discoveries to practice requires state-of-the science education and training of our medical and graduate students,” he added.

Hawiger is a founding director of two NIH-supported Training Programs and the recipient of the 2002 Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching for Innovation in Educational Programming That Has Proven Effective.

On top of his success leading the department, Hawiger has maintained a distinguished research career. In 1994, he received the Alfred Jurzykowski Foundation Award followed by the Special Recognition Award of American Heart Association in 1997.

In 2005, Hawiger received the Ernest W. Goodpasture Award for Groundbreaking Research that Addresses the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases or Important Biological Problems in Immunity.

Excited about translating his lab's discoveries of intracellular signaling inhibitors into potential therapies for inflammatory conditions, Hawiger says he will now be “devoting more creative and organizational energy toward the development of a highly innovative Vanderbilt Immunotherapy Program that combines discovery and translation.”

A cell-penetrating nuclear import inhibitor, which his lab reported in 2000, “is emerging as a first-in-class anti-inflammatory agent applied to experimental models of acute lung inflammation, type 1 diabetes, atherosclerosis, and hemolytic-uremic syndrome,” he said.

Another class of cell-penetrating proteins developed in Hawiger's lab, the “suppressors of cytokine signaling 1 and 3” (SOCS1 and SOCS3), look promising for intracellular protein therapy of liver inflammation, and potentially, in sepsis and preterm births. His goals now are to bring these discoveries into clinical trials.

Hawiger will continue to serve as chair until a successor is identified through a nationwide search headed by Samuel Santoro, M.D., Ph.D., chair of Pathology.

“Jacek has led this department with great distinction and personal devotion,” said Jeff Balser, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for Health Affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, and Susan Wente, Ph.D., associate vice chancellor for Research and senior associate dean for Biomedical Sciences, in an announcement about the transition.

“His loyalty and integrity are of greatest value to Vanderbilt, and his leadership will continue to serve as a model for our chairs and academic community.”

At Harvard University, Hawiger was professor of Medicine, founding director of the Division of Experimental Medicine and received an honorary Master of Art degree.