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Foundation endows directorship of the MD-PhD program

Medicine@Yale, 2019 - Feb March


A new gift from the Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Research Foundation will create an endowed directorship for Yale School of Medicine’s MD-PhD Program. The foundation has a longstanding relationship with Yale, having generously supported the Yale Combined Program in the Biological and Biomedical Sciences and made grants to bolster research ranging from cancer to prosthetics to psychiatry.

The new gift builds on a $1 million endowed gift made by the foundation in 2015 that provides long-term support to current students in the program, especially those with an interest in neurological and psychiatric diseases.

The inaugural Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Research Foundation MD-PhD Program Director is Barbara Kazmierczak, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (infectious diseases) and of microbial pathogenesis, a School of Medicine faculty member since 2001 who has led the program since 2014.

Kazmierczak strongly embodies the program’s dual-degree ethos. She is an accomplished physician-scientist who works on infectious diseases in clinical settings and also studies host-pathogen interactions in her lab. “The most obvious reason to have both degrees is to carry out the practice of medicine and through that, to see what the limitations of our current practice are,” Kazmierczak says. “A person trained in this way can see what we actually don’t know, what we can’t treat—and then has the skills to turn those questions into opportunities to do basic fundamental research that leads to new ways of treating patients and understanding disease.”

“We are honored to endow the directorship of Yale’s MD-PhD Program and to support Yale’s work in training a new generation of physician-scientists under the leadership of Barbara Kazmierczak,” says Kimberly Alvarez, president of the foundation. “We are confident that graduates of the program will continue to be leaders in medicine and biological research and to make the most of the unique preparation that the MD-PhD Program offers them.”

The Yale MD-PhD program trains students to be both versatile physicians treating human disease and adept basic scientists who conduct research at the cellular and molecular levels. Brian R. Smith, MD, deputy dean for scientific affairs (clinical departments), chair and professor of laboratory medicine, and professor of biomedical engineering, of medicine (hematology), and of pediatrics, says that equipping tomorrow’s leading investigators with both an MD and a PhD unlocks tremendous potential. “It is particularly powerful when you can invest the knowledge of the bench and the knowledge of the bedside in the same person,” Smith explains. “Today’s physician-scientists are helping define diseases with new diagnostics and developing targeted therapeutics against cancer and other diseases. We are grateful to the Gustavus and Louise Pfeiffer Research Foundation for its investment in this vital program.”

“We desperately need physician-scientists for the advancement of medicine,” adds Pietro De Camilli, MD, chair and the John Klingenstein Professor of Neuroscience and professor of cell biology, who works routinely with MD-PhD students in his lab. “They are some of the best students we have at Yale.”