Legacies of Legends

December 13, 2013

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Senior vice president and dean Selwyn Vickers speaks at the Distinguished Faculty Lecture award dinner.

On a special evening in November, the School of Medicine, UAB, and Birmingham were witnesses to history. A banquet on November 13 celebrated the 50th anniversary of UAB’s Distinguished Faculty Lecture, our university's most prestigious faculty award.

This year’s recipient is truly deserving of such a high honor. Dr. John F. Kearney, a professor in our Department of Microbiology, is a world-renowned expert in monoclonal antibodies and the B cells that serve as their origin point. Originally from Australia, Dr. Kearney came to UAB in 1973, and five years later, during a collaboration in Germany with immunologist Klaus Rajewsky, Ph.D., he became the first scientist to isolate a line of cells that enabled the production of monoclonal antibodies.

Kearney’s discovery changed the world, to put it mildly. Monoclonal antibodies now form the basis of more than 100 approved therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases and have helped countless patients. Dr. Kearney, who also is a senior scientist in UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and Center for Disaster Preparedness, also has made key contributions to our understanding of juvenile diabetes, allergies, asthma, and the effects of biochemical agents.

In addition, Dr. Kearney is known throughout UAB as a top educator and mentor. Through his guidance and advice, he has prepared generations of students to make their own landmark discoveries and expand our knowledge of immunology and disease.

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Microbiology professor John Kearney delivers the 50th Distinguished Faculty Lecture. Hear him describe his research accomplishments and UAB career in a special interview.

Together Again

Dr. Kearney’s lecture was the highlight of the 50th anniversary celebration, which felt like a reunion. Many previous Distinguished Faculty Lecturers attended the event, and posters featuring all past winners lined the room. On that night, we were in the company of legends—in body or in spirit—including Dr. Tinsley Harrison; Dr. Champ Lyons; Dr. Joseph Volker, UAB's first president; Dr. Claude Bennett and Dr. Scotty McCallum, former presidents; Dr. Bill Koopman; Dr. Suzanne Oparil; Dr. Jim Pittman, dean emeritus; Dr. Wayne Finley and Dr. Sara Finley; Dr. John Kirklin; Dr. Arnold Diethelm; Dr. Gail Cassell; and Dr. Dale Benos, to name just a few.

These pioneers are representatives of the many faculty leaders who built our school and university into an international destination for scientific discovery and medical expertise. Their knowledge, dedication, and compassion have helped to shape the evolution of health care worldwide and touched the lives of patients in Birmingham and beyond.

Past as Prologue

Our past is a source of our current strengths. Consider our renowned commitment to collaboration across disciplines, which multiplies our potential to answer the most difficult questions facing physicians and biomedical scientists. This willingness to work together surely was born from the need to leverage every resource to the fullest extent possible in our early days. Today, collaboration enables us to compete at the national and international level, and it is an irresistible draw for potential students and faculty eager to solve problems in innovative ways. It is one of the many factors that drew me back to UAB.

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UAB President Ray Watts (at far left) welcomes 15 previous Distinguished Faculty Lecturers to the golden anniversary celebration.

Another legacy is our significant emphasis on basic and translational science, which has defined our school from its beginnings. School of Medicine researchers and clinicians continue to expand what we know about the human body and the building blocks of disease—and then transform those breakthroughs into novel therapies for patients. This ability to realize the full potential of our discoveries brought Dr. Kearney and many of our Distinguished Faculty Lecturers to what is now UAB. Today, it remains one of our greatest attractions for the world’s brightest physicians and scientists. They know they can make a difference here.

Then there is our can-do spirit. This quality is somewhat harder to define, but it is embedded in UAB’s DNA. This spirit lies in our willingness to take a risk in the pursuit of discoveries that will make a difference. It’s evident in our enthusiasm for taking on challenges that seem insurmountable—and in our predilection for innovation. You’ll also see it in the passion we have for our work and our colleagues. We know that together, we will find new solutions and new successes for our patients and our students.

Future Vision

How do we ensure that our school and university continue to mold the young investigators and clinicians of today into the visionaries—and Distinguished Faculty Lecturers—of tomorrow? We are making every effort to recruit and retain the most promising faculty as part of our AMC21 strategic plan. You can make certain that we succeed in that crucial task by supporting endowments that both reward key leaders and supply them with the resources and facilities they need to explore the frontiers of medicine. Another way to make a difference is by supporting initiatives such as scholarships to research acceleration funds that meet the current needs of our students, residents, and fellows as they pursue their passions alongside their faculty mentors.

And you can help by mentoring a student, steering the brightest young people you know to us, and by referring patients who need the highly specialized services of a large academic medical center.

In this season of giving, we want to express our gratitude for the generosity you have shown to the school throughout 2013. Your support opens doors for everyone, including the researcher investigating new avenues of discovery, the student realizing his or her dream of becoming a doctor, the patient benefiting from a new treatment, and the citizens of Alabama and beyond whose care is in our hands.

From the School of Medicine family—and from my own family—I send you our best wishes for a happy, healthy, and peaceful 2014.

Sincerely,

Selwyn M. Vickers, M.D., F.A.C.S.
James C. Lee Endowed Chair

Senior Vice President and Dean