CORAL GABLES, Fla. (April 12, 2016)—The Faculty Senate last week bestowed its highest honors on Laurence R. Sands and Eugene R. Schiff, two pioneering physicians at the Miller School of Medicine, and Richard L. Williamson, Jr., a professor of law known for his pro bono service and international collaborations. For the first time, the Senate also conferred a Special Senate Award posthumously, recognizing Eckhard Podack, the late researcher at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, for his life-saving discoveries.
The annual Faculty Senate Awards ceremony took place April 11 in Storer Auditorium at the School of Business Administration. Senate Chair Tomás A. Salerno, chair gave remarks before a welcome video message from UM President Julio Frenk was broadcast.
“While I regret I cannot be with you in person today,” Frenk said, “I’m deeply honored to send this message recognizing four distinguished faculty members who have made a significant and enduring impact on our students, the University, and the creation of new knowledge as our most valuable product.”
Podack, a distinguished cancer researcher and educator at Sylvester, died October 8. His widow, Kristin, accepted the Special Senate Award, presented by Miller School of Medicine Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, in behalf of her husband. As Frenk noted in his video message, Podack was “a valued colleague and friend as well as a pioneer in the field of cancer research. His discoveries have translated into clinical treatments that will continue to restore hope and extend life for many individuals.”
The chair of the Miller School’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology for 21 years, Podack was honored for his dedication to teaching and the huge impact his discoveries have had on improving treatment for cancer patients. Perhaps the most significant were the discoveries of Perforin-1 and, more recently, Perforin-2 — antibacterial proteins that help the body’s immune system defend against infectious disease.
A native of Germany and a fellow in the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy who became interested in cancer research at an early age, Podack joined the Miller School in 1987 and became department chair in 1994. In the early 1990s, he created a monoclonal antibody to seek out and attach to CD-30, a receptor on lymphoma cells. He later sold the technology to Seattle Genetics, which developed SGN-35, a therapy designed to target only cancer cells, leaving healthy tissue alone.
He also developed a novel lung cancer vaccine using gp-96, a heat shock protein, to treat non-small cell lung cancer, which accounts for most lung cancers, as well as tumor necrosis factor receptor (TNFR) 25 agonists and antagonists that allow the immune system to attack cancer cells more effectively.
Williamson received the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award, presented by Senate Vice Chair Linda L. Neider and named for the cofounder of Burger King, for “service above and beyond the call of duty”–a hallmark of Williamson’s life. He is known for his gift for mentoring and his devotion to pro bono and community service.
Thanking Williamson for his “exceptional dedication to our University and beyond,” Frenk said, “In addition to your stellar 28 years of teaching and scholarship at the U, you have served in numerous leadership roles, including chair of the Faculty Senate for the second longest term in UM history.”
Serving as chair of the Faculty Senate from 2009-2014, Williamson also has served as associate dean of the School of Law, interim chair of the Department of International Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, and faculty advisor to the School of Law’s Honor Council.
As a former foreign service officer and division chief of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, he has used his extensive international experience to establish international liaisons between Miami Law and numerous international universities. Intended to be short-term, the initial intensive exchange seminar he organized between Leipzig University and UM is in its 14th year, and has led to the establishment of 17 semester-long exchange programs on four continents.
A treasured mentor to students here and abroad, Williamson also has employed his legal skills to advance the environment and international understanding. He drafted the founding documents and policy statements for UM’s Jayne and Leonard Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, and has hosted foreign high school students through Rotary International, for which he is a frequent speaker. The Rotary Club has recognized his selfless contributions by naming him a Paul Harris Fellow, an honor usually reserved for members.
As a member of the Opa-locka Brownfields Advisory Committee and chair of its Legal Sub-Committee, Williamson drafted policy documents and recommendations to help the community more efficiently utilize abandoned and contaminated property holdings. Through his efforts, Opa-locka was selected as one of the EPA’s showcase cities and received additional funding for assessing the use of brownfields to be used for green space purposes.
Williamson earned an A.B. in 1967 from the University of Southern California, an M.A. in 1977 from American University, and a J.D. magna cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1984. He received an honorary Doctorate of Laws (Doktor der Rechte (h.c.)) from the University of Leipzig in 2013. Prior to coming to Miami Law, he spent four years as an attorney with the law firm of Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton.
Sands, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center professor of clinical surgery, chief of the Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery, and vice chair of medical education in the Department of Surgery at the Miller School of Medicine, received the Outstanding Teaching Award, presented by Laurence B. Gardner.
Sands has a distinguished record and commitment to providing students with the highest quality education and for inspiring them to strive for success. A leader in the use of minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery for colon cancer, he is involved in every element of surgical education for medical students and post-graduate trainees and is known for using his energy and talent to provide students with the best education at every opportunity. For example, in response to a major concern of residents and students about the balance of clinical service and educational opportunities, he reorganized clinical/surgical rotations to increase educational opportunities.
Demonstrating their gratitude for his inspiration and dedication to their education, the Miller School’s 2011 graduating class selected Sands for the 2010 George Paff Teaching Award.
Describing Sands as a “brilliant surgeon” and an “inspirational teacher,” Frenk also praised him for establishing the Laurence R. Sands, M.D. Endowed Research Chair at the Miller School. “You have provided much-needed support for advances in colon and rectal surgery, particularly using noninvasive techniques, to continue in perpetuity.”
Schiff, Leonard Miller Professor of Medicine, Dr. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid chair in the Division of Hepatology, the director of the Schiff Center for Liver Diseases, and the director of the Hepatology Research Laboratory at the Miller School of Medicine, received the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, presented by Emmanuel Thomas, an assistant professor at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
A renowned gastroenterologist and of the world’s leading authorities on liver diseases, Schiff was honored for his outstanding scholarly achievements and presented a short lecture on his research, titled “The Eradication of Hepatitis C.”
For decades, Schiff has led the University’s clinical research aimed at developing improved treatments and cures for hepatitis B, C and D, cirrhosis, and the entire spectrum of liver and biliary tract disorders.
In 2011, he became the first holder of the Dr. Nasser Ibrahim Al-Rashid Chair in the Schiff Center for Liver Diseases, the successor to the informal Center for Liver Diseases he and his late father, Leon, established in 1982.
Co-editor of the Eleventh Edition of Schiff’s Diseases of the Liver, Schiff has authored and co-authored more than 400 articles, books, and book chapters concerning liver diseases and related topics. He is a former president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (his father was the first president), past chairman of the Biliary Section of the American Gastroenterological Association and past governor of the American College of Physicians for the state of Florida, a post he held for four years. He was a member of the Gastroenterology Subspecialty Board of the American Board of Internal Medicine and former Chair of the FDA Advisory Committee on gastrointestinal drugs. He is also the recipient of numerous honors and awards.
Frenk congratulated Schiff on being honored for his “47 years of remarkable energy, insight, and productivity.”