Dean hired for medical school

The UCSD School of Medicine named Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D. as its new chair Jan. 10. Kaushansky’s appointment ends a long search to replace interim chair Roger Spragg, who has headed the department since former chair Stephen Wasserman left in June 2000.

Kaushansky will begin as Chair and Professor of Medicine on Feb. 1. He now serves as professor of medicine and adjunct professor of biochemistry at the University of Washington, and chief of the hematology section at the University of Washington Medical Center. He is also editor in chief of the scientific journal Blood.

Kaushansky says that “”the reputation of the school and Department of Medicine for outstanding science applied to medicine”” brought him to UCSD. He has high ambitions for his term as chair.

“”I want the department to be thought of nationally as the place to go if you want to be an outstanding physician-scientist, a person skilled in both the clinical and research worlds,”” he said.

The department, he asserts, is “”clearly on the right track.””

Kaushansky says that the medical school is known for outstanding science and the well-rounded clinical education its students receive, but that it still has room to improve.

“”By making certain that our students and residents are exposed to both types of teachers, outstanding clinicians and outstanding scientists who understand the molecular basis of disease, we can do better,”” he said.

He hopes to make the clinical experience “”one in which the student or resident comes away from interviewing and examining a patient and thinks, ‘I wonder why that person’s pancreas failed to produce insulin. Why did my patient develop leukemia? What gene is defective in the blood vessels causing the high blood pressure? How can I design a new molecule to shut off that defective gene?'””

Kaushansky is deeply involved in most aspects of medicine.

“”I very much enjoy clinical medicine,”” he said.

His passion for working with patients was evident as he talked about a recent patient.

“”The last patient I saw in my last clinic at UW was a 29-year-old man who I diagnosed about 18 months ago with acute leukemia,”” Kaushansky said. “”We treated him with chemotherapy, and then recommended he undergo bone marrow transplantation to make certain the leukemia didn’t return. He came to me on Thursday for his one-year checkup after the transplant, having gone for a three-hour bike ride that morning, and his complete evaluation revealed no evidence of the disease.””

While he may miss dealing directly with patients, Kaushansky sees a lot of good in becoming the dean of a medical school.

“”There is more to medicine, ways to make an even bigger impact than one patient at a time,”” he said. “”By helping to teach the next cohort of physicians, to help advance the science of medicine, all will reap the benefits.””

Kaushansky completed his doctorate at UCLA and joined the University of Washington faculty in 1987.

“”When I entered medicine I was most intrigued by the biochemistry of it, and thought that it held a key to understanding human disease,”” Kaushansky said.

“”At the time, there were no other disciplines of medicine that knew more about their disorders at a molecular level than hematology. Some might say this is still true today, we can diagnose anemias, leukemias, deficiencies of blood cell production at the single gene level, at the nucleotide level, more frequently than in any other aspect of medicine,”” he said.

His laboratory’s work has focused on the production of platelets, the small anucleate cells responsible for the first wave of blood clotting.

“”Many of our patients fail to produce sufficient numbers of platelets, and they bleed,”” he said. “”We were involved in the initial cloning and characterization of the primary hormone responsible for this process, a hormone called thrombopoietin. We hope that by understanding how it drives platelet production we will be smarter about how to diagnose and treat disorders of blood cell production.””

Faculty are pleased that his expertise will now be put to work at UCSD.

“”Dr. Kaushansky is one of the leading authorities in the world on the formation and growth of blood elements, such as platelets,”” said Edward Holmes, vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine.

“”He has been a pioneer in identifying the genes which regulate these processes,”” Holmes said. “”His accomplishments have been recognized by his peers across the nation. He is also a dedicated educator and leading spokesperson for the training of physician scientists, a field in which the United States faces a critical shortage. UCSD is fortunate to have attracted such an outstanding academician and physician, and I am looking forward to working with Dr. Kaushansky.””

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