Three awarded School of Medicine’s highest honor

Three individuals will be awarded the Dean’s Medal for their contributions to the mission of Stanford Medicine.

One illuminated key principles in brain development. Another enabled new hope for detecting cancer at its earliest stages. And another volunteered years of his time to advance the cause of Stanford Medicine.

Together, they are the 2018 recipients of the highest honor bestowed by the School of Medicine, the Dean’s Medal, which is presented to individuals whose contributions have significantly advanced the mission of Stanford Medicine.

The recipients are Carla Shatz, PhD, the Sapp Family Provostial Professor, the David Starr Jordan Director of Stanford Bio-X and a professor of biology and of neurobiology; Don Listwin, founder and chairman of the Canary Foundation, which supports programs for early cancer detection; and Ron Johnson, founder and CEO of Enjoy, a company that hand-delivers technology products and helps customers set them up.

“The collaborative effort to advance the biomedical revolution in precision health takes many forms,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine. “This year’s medal recipients have used their passions for science, philanthropy and service to help bring about exceptional progress in research and clinical care. I’m proud to honor their work.”

Improving brain plasticity

Carla Shatz

Shatz’s interest in the brain’s visual system began as an undergraduate at Radcliffe College. She went on to study how the eye and brain connect during development, and her lab discovered that, in the earliest stages before the eye can even see, it sends coordinated test patterns of neural activity to the brain. Those test patterns develop the brain circuits needed for vision to emerge from immature circuits; in other words, as Shatz wrote in 1992, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.”

Shatz has gone on to discover that this early neural signaling, which is needed for synapse plasticity and pruning, involves interactions common to both the brain and immune systems. Her discoveries have implications for improving brain plasticity and memory, and for treating neurological disorders such as schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s disease. The Dean’s Medal recognizes Shatz’s groundbreaking research and impact on our understanding of neural development. 

“It’s an immense honor to be recognized with the Dean’s Medal,” Shatz said. “I want to recognize and thank the incredible students and postdocs in my lab. Without them, none of our discoveries would have happened. What’s more, it is a great privilege to be involved in Stanford Bio-X, where transforming, high-risk ideas emanating at the crossroads of disciplines are encouraged.” 

Earliest cancer detection

Don Listwin

Living through his mother’s death from ovarian cancer left an indelible mark on Listwin and inspired him to work toward progress in early cancer detection. Listwin’s role in helping to create today’s global internet infrastructure through multibillion-dollar technology investing and management, including a decade at Cisco Systems, enabled him to step back from his operating roles to build the Canary Foundation. 

Today, 15 years later, the Canary Foundation has grown from a startup nonprofit to a leader in the development of early cancer detection programs, including the Canary Center at Stanford and many others in the United States and abroad. The Canary Foundation is the only nonprofit exclusively dedicated to research in the field of early detection of cancer. The Dean’s Medal honors Listwin for his service in the scientific and philanthropic communities that have advanced precision health.

“My thanks to Dean Minor and the entire School of Medicine organization,” Listwin said. “Over the past decade, a theme of partnership has emerged in my pursuits in the medical field, and none has been stronger than at Stanford. Whether working with Dr. Sam Gambhir to build the first comprehensive early cancer detection center or launching a modest vision clinic in Belize with Dr. Caroline Fisher, there has always been support from the School of Medicine. My current pursuit in the field of stroke also found it roots at Stanford. It is a privilege to be able to engage in a spectrum of work in the field of medicine with the best in the world to help solve these critical problems.”

Designing the ideal hospital

Ron Johnson

Known as the executive team member at Apple who founded its stores and helped create a unique user experience for its customers, Johnson had also transformed merchandising at Target through a focus on design. Johnson now leads Enjoy Technology Inc. He’s been a Stanford volunteer for many years, currently on the university’s Board of Trustees.

Johnson was on the Stanford Health Care board for nine years and served as co-chair of the campaign for Stanford Medicine. He conceived of and led the Stanford Medicine Corporate Partners program, which raised nearly 50 percent of the funds for the new Stanford Hospital. In addition to helping fund the new hospital, Johnson also brought his expertise in retail design to bear on its design, helping to shape a patient-centered care setting that would be welcoming and easy to navigate. 

The Dean’s Medal recognizes Johnson’s years of dedicated service to Stanford Medicine and his influence on its future.

“Volunteering for Stanford Medicine over the past decade has been a gift,” Johnson said. “The opportunity to work with such incredibly talented people to deliver on our vision of precision health has been among the most gratifying experiences of my life. The new Stanford Hospital will be a symbol of excellence for Stanford for decades to come.”



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