September 6, 2011 - By Ruthann Richter
Three outstanding individuals who have had a significant impact on the Stanford University School of Medicine will be recognized Sept. 10 with the Dean’s Medal, one of the highest honors bestowed by the school.
The 2011 recipients of the medal are C.J. Huang, a longtime supporter of the school; Stanley N. Cohen, MD, a Stanford geneticist whose work spawned the field of genetic engineering; and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., a veteran legislator with a long record of health and science advocacy.
The Dean’s Medal, officially inaugurated in 2008, honors individuals whose scientific, medical, humanitarian, public service or other contributions have greatly advanced the mission of the school.
“Each of the recipients of the 2011 Dean’s Medal has made individual contributions of excellence to Stanford and our community and together they help Stanford to improve the health of our nation and world,” said Dean Philip Pizzo, MD.
“Dr. C.J. Huang has provided philanthropic contributions that have permitted important new research to be conducted in the School of Medicine, and the C.J. Huang building will foster a community of excellence long into the future,” Pizzo added. “Professor Stan Cohen’s work provides fundamental insights in how genes work, and has also spawned programs that directly impact the health of people in our community and worldwide. Representative Eshoo is an advocate for scientific research and support that enables outstanding research to be conducted that helps our local community and well beyond.”
A native of China, Huang has carried on his family’s tradition of charitable giving, providing millions to support educational and medical programs in China and the United States. At Stanford, he is a founding member of the Asian Liver Center and has provided support for a new home for the center to be built on Welch Road. With his help, the group also will open the Stanford-Beijing Center in China’s capital city to reach out to people in East Asia, where chronic hepatitis and liver cancer have had a staggering impact.
“Many organizations overlook the importance of preventing hepatitis B virus from spreading,” said Huang, who lives in Atherton, Calif. “This disease has caused epidemics in Asia, as billions have been infected. We want to bring as much awareness and prevention as possible in the Asian community. Dr. Samuel So (director of the Asian Liver Center) continues to do a magnificent job of providing awareness and setting up prevention measures in Asia and in the United States. We appreciate all his hard work and effort.”
Huang and his wife, Ha Lin Huang, also have provided significant support to the medical school’s new Li Ka Shing Center for Learning and Knowledge, as well as to cardiovascular research programs at Stanford. An engineer by training, Huang has had a long career in industry, serving as general manager of the Summit Industrial Corp. from 1957 to 1984 and later as an executive in the oil industry. He is currently chairman of H&W Enterprises. He said he feels “very honored” to be a recipient of the Dean’s Medal.
“We are extremely happy to receive this award. It is our pleasure to help people, and we are grateful for the opportunity to do good deeds,” Huang said.
Cohen, the Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in the medical school, is being recognized for his leadership in Stanford’s academic community and his research that spawned the revolution in genetic engineering, a field he literally invented. Cohen said he never set out to create a new technology but was just interested in understanding how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics — still a major question in medicine today. He was experimenting with plasmids (small circles of DNA) in bacteria, when he discovered it was possible to use plasmids to reproduce foreign genes that have been attached to them, causing the bacteria to churn out new gene products.
Until that point, scientists did not believe it possible to take a piece of DNA out of one organism and put it into another, where it would propagate and thrive. The technology, which led to the birth of the biotechnology industry, has many practical applications, making it possible to produce valuable therapies such as insulin and human growth hormone.
“His invention is so fundamental and so powerful that it has really transformed science and medicine,” said Michael Snyder, MD, the Stanford Ascherman Professor and chair of genetics.
Apart from the practical applications, “What I’m most proud of is the knowledge that it has contributed toward an understanding of how genes work in health and disease,” Cohen said. “It’s made it possible to study genes and gene function in ways that weren’t possible previously.”
Cohen also has said he’s proud of having mentored many young students who have gone on to distinguished careers in science. He has won numerous awards in his career, including the Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research, the Shaw Prize and the National Medal of Science. But the Dean’s Medal is particularly meaningful to him, he said.
“No matter what other recognition one receives in the course of a career, there is something special about being honored by one’s colleagues at home,” Cohen said. “I am greatly honored to be receiving the Dean’s Medal, and especially so to be receiving the medal this year along with Congresswoman Eshoo and Dr. Huang.”
Eshoo is being honored for her distinguished career in public service, which spans nearly two decades, and her longstanding advocacy in improving the nation’s health and well-being. Eshoo, a Menlo Park resident who was first elected to Congress in 1992, has always been a strong supporter of funding for the National Institutes of Health and has introduced legislation to increase funding for pancreatic cancer research and education, and to expand research into the causes of pre-term birth and promote care for pregnant women.
She has been active in efforts to protect funding for graduate medical education, recently under threat in Congress, and has been a champion of health-care reform. Among other initiatives, she introduced legislation to encourage and fund electronic medical records, approved as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“It is a high honor to receive the Dean’s Medal and a privilege to join the distinguished honorees of the past, as well as this year’s recipients Dr. Stanley Cohen and Dr. C.J. Huang,” Eshoo said. “The Stanford School of Medicine is a jewel in the crown of our Congressional district, as well as a national treasure. How blessed I am to represent the school and help advance its needs for the betterment of our country.”
About Stanford Medicine
Stanford Medicine is an integrated academic health system comprising the Stanford School of Medicine and adult and pediatric health care delivery systems. Together, they harness the full potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education and clinical care for patients. For more information, please visit med.stanford.edu.