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Samuel T. Byrne has a long record of philanthropic giving to many educational and health care institutions in Massachusetts, and now UMass Medical School is fortunate to call itself one of them. This past spring, Mr. Byrne endowed a chair here in honor of his father, Joseph J. Byrne, PhD.
Chancellor Michael F. Collins said the donation is a wonderful display of support and generosity for the state’s public medical school, as well as a terrific tribute to Mr. Byrne’s father, who served as an associate provost for research at Tufts University and an associate dean for medical and governmental affairs at Tufts University School of Medicine before retiring in 1998.
The purpose of the Joseph J. Byrne Chair in Biomedical Research is to support the research activities of an accomplished faculty member whose work is advancing the fundamental understanding of human biological systems and offering new and innovative pathways to treat human disease.
Job Dekker, PhD, one of UMass Medical School’s most dynamic and cutting-edge researchers, was appointed to the Byrne Chair. He is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology and co-director of the Program in Systems Biology.
The second chair—the Herman G. Berkman Chair in Diabetes Care Innovation—was established through a bequest from Herman G. Berkman, PhD, who passed away in January 2015 at the age of 91. As a longtime supporter of diabetes work here, Dr. Berkman came to believe so much in the mission and care model that he directed his estate to support the Diabetes Center of Excellence.
Dr. Berkman, who earned his PhD in economics from the University of Wisconsin, had an extensive teaching career there and at New York University.
Michael J. Thompson, MD, clinical professor of medicine and chief of adult diabetes clinical research, is the inaugural recipient of the Herman G. Berkman Chair in Diabetes Care Innovation.
“We are fortunate to have the support of so many philanthropic leaders who believe in our mission and our limitless potential to improve the health and well-being of the commonwealth, the nation and the global community,” Chancellor Collins said on July 17, 2017, when the UMass Board of Trustees approved these two chairs, which brings to 48 the number of endowed chairs at UMass Medical School.
Dr. Dekker joined the UMass Medical School community in 2003 as an assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology. He was promoted to professor in 2011, the same year that he, together with collaborator Marian Walhout, PhD, established the Program in Systems Biology and was named a co-director of this research unit at UMMS. In 2015, Dekker was appointed an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
He is a pioneer in the study of the three-dimensional structure of the genome. He developed the chromosome conformation capture technologies that are the heart of the “3C,” “5C,” “Hi-C” and “Micro-C” biochemical techniques used to determine how DNA segments interact and are linked to one another. These techniques are now used by researchers worldwide to map the structure and organization of chromosomes inside cells. He is principal investigator of the Center for 3D Structure and Physics of the Genome, funded by a five-year, $15 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Common Fund.
Dekker has received numerous honors and awards, including receipt of the EMBO Long Term Fellowship (1998), the Charles King Trust Fellowship (2000), the W.M. Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholar Award (2007), and the ASBMB Young Investigator Award (2011); election as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2014); selection for the Dean’s Award for Outstanding Faculty Contribution to Graduate Education here at UMMS; and, most recently, receipt of the Biochemical Society International Award (to be awarded in 2018).
An accomplished physician-investigator, Dr. Thompson is a 1986 graduate of UMMS. He remained at UMMS for his residency training in internal medicine before completing a fellowship in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at the Duke University Medical Center.
From 1995 to 2009, Thompson was on the faculty at UMMS. He was recruited to George Washington University School of Medicine and the Health Sciences, but returned to UMMS in 2013 to head the diabetes clinical research organization and outpatient clinic for the Diabetes Center of Excellence.
Since that time, he has worked progressively to expand and improve the care of patients with diabetes throughout Central Massachusetts. Under his leadership and in partnership with Diabetes Center co-directors David Harlan, MD, and Dale Greiner, PhD, clinical trial activity at UMMS has greatly expanded for patients—currently there are 16 active trials for both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, including early phase testing of the artificial or “bionic” pancreas, a closed loop system for blood glucose monitoring with real-time on-demand insulin and glucagon infusion.
He has served as a principal investigator or co-investigator on a number of peer-reviewed grants from the National Institutes of Health, as well as industry-sponsored clinical trials. His work has been published in top tier clinical research journals, including the Lancet, Circulation, Clinical Immunology and Diabetologia.
Drs. Dekker and Thompson will be officially invested in fall 2017.