In the developed world, diarrhea is thought of as an easily treated nuisance. But in the developing world it is a major scourge: according to the World Health Organization, diarrhea, often caused by cholera, is the second leading cause of death among children under 5 years of age, causing nearly 1 million deaths among that population each year.
Gastroenterologist and scientist Henry J. Binder, M.D., has devoted much of his career to systematically investigating the biology of gastrointestinal problems and diarrheal diseases, and exploring ways to curb their incidence. Now professor emeritus and senior research scientist in the Department of Medicine, Binder and his wife, Joan, have recently committed to endowing a professorship for a physician-scientist to pursue research in gastroenterology at the School of Medicine.
The Binders’ commitment establishes the Henry J. and Joan W. Binder Professorship in Gastroenterology.
“Henry Binder has had a long and distinguished career, contributing greatly to our knowledge of intestinal function and disease, to the field of gastroenterology, and to Yale,” says Robert J. Alpern, M.D., dean and Ensign Professor of Medicine. “He and Joan have now chosen to extend these contributions by contributing funds to create a professorship, and I am deeply grateful for their generosity.”
Binder first developed an interest in gastroenterology while a student at New York University School of Medicine, where he stayed on as an internal medicine resident at Bellevue Hospital.
He first came to Yale as a fellow in gastroenterology in 1963. “I have been at Yale for just short of 50 years,” he says. “Having spent my professional career as well as a good deal of my life here, I felt that I wanted to support basic research in gastroenterology at the institution.”
At the School of Medicine, Binder has served in numerous teaching, administrative, research, and clinical roles. He was director of the General Clinical Research Center from 1980 to 2001. He established and for many years directed two National Institutes of Health (NIH)-supported training programs, and had more than 35 years of continuous support from the NIH. His work in the lab focused on understanding the mechanisms by which ions such as sodium and potassium are absorbed and secreted by the large intestine, and how changes in this physiology cause diarrhea.
Though he is a professor emeritus and retired, “you would never know it,” Joan Binder observes. He maintains an active clinical practice with Yale Medical Group, providing care to patients with a variety of gastrointestinal illnesses including unexplained chronic diarrhea.
Binder’s decades of research are now serving as the basis for improving diarrhea treatment in parts of the world where treatment is critically needed. In recent years, with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Binder has worked to reformulate oral rehydration solution (ORS)—a recipe of salt, sugar, and water—in the optimal ratio for the treatment of diarrhea in children. This new formulation evolved from research in his laboratory.
Diarrhea is most prevalent in places where people lack access to clean food and water, and Binder has traveled to India—where diarrhea causes more than 350,000 child deaths per year—over a dozen times, collaborating with investigators at Christian Medical College in South India for the last 20 years to study diarrhea together with the development of this reformulated ORS.
For a lifetime of contributions to the field, Binder was awarded the Distinguished Achievement Award in 2005, and the distinguished Mentor Award in 2007, both from the American Gastroenterological Association. This past year, New York University honored him with the Solomon A. Berson Alumni Achievement Award in Clinical Science.
After nearly 50 years in New Haven, Yale is also “home” for Joan Binder, who has served as a docent at the Center for British Art for three decades. The Binders’ daughter, Sarah, graduated from Yale College in 1986 with a degree in history.
“Yale has given me a collegial environment that has been very beneficial to establish collaborations and interactions with a range of colleagues,” Henry Binder says. “I found it a very nurturing, friendly, collaborative environment.”