The Chairman And The Judge

The Chairman And The Judge


Leonard Zwelling

I am not at all sure that either Dr. Kleinerman (the Beautiful Wife, BW) or I really found our life purpose completely until we got to Houston and to MD Anderson in 1984.

Genie had been a tenured faculty member at the NCI’s Biologic Response Modifier Program in Frederick, Maryland. That’s where she started her collaboration with the late, great Josh Fidler. They both knew that the immune-stimulant therapy he developed in mice and which she examined in human systems, liposome encapsulated muramyl tripeptide, was ready for clinical testing, but the leaders at the NCI would not allow her to do the trials there. No problem at MD Anderson. Come on down! And to make a thirty-year story short, she, Dr. Fidler and Norman Jaffe did exactly that and proved that this new adjuvant in combination with conventional chemotherapy could prolong the lives of adolescents with osteosarcoma, actually curing some. One of the “kids” Genie cured is an oncologic orthopedic surgeon in Pittsburgh with kids of his own. Genie had accomplished the measure of clinical excellence determined to be the gold standard by none other than J Freireich. She had developed a cancer treatment.

Genie knew she was destined to make an impact on cancer, but could not see the path there until she came to MD Anderson where everyone wanted her to succeed. And she did, leading the Pediatrics Division for fifteen years and overseeing its rapid growth in faculty and impact. Genie brought the division to national prominence.

I too was a tenured member of the NCI faculty, but I had outgrown the lab I was in and was ready to strike out on my own. I could not have found a better place to do so than at MD Anderson. And when I was burned out on lab work and found leading an academic oncology unit at the UT medical school was not my cup of tea, I was supported in my quest for an MBA which led to my administrative career and eventually a vice presidency. That was the best job I ever had. But when it was time to set that aside, that same institution supported me on a year-long sabbatical on Capitol Hill. What other academic center could be as generous as MD Anderson?

So, we both found our career purpose at MD Anderson.

But that’s water under the bridge. What have you done for me lately?

Genie is back in the lab full time as research faculty and I retired over seven years ago. Why then is Genie stepping into the role of Chair-elect of the Faculty Senate and I am writing this blog that I began while still a faculty member, serving on the board of a non-profit health care clinic and judging documentary films for the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival?

We just don’t feel that we are done trying to contribute. Why? That goes back to Duke Medical School, the place where we met.

The Dean of Admissions at Duke Syd Osterhout used to say “we don’t make cookies, we make cookie cutters.”

We have spent our careers believing what we were taught fifty years ago. It was our duty given the education we received to always give back, always honor clinical care and research and believe in education, but more than anything, to support those who shared our vision of academic excellence and the care of cancer patients—the MD Anderson faculty. Whatever it takes to do that, we will continue to do it.

I think in Genie’s new role, she can really lift the faculty at a time when that lift is most needed. The current and immediate previous administrations of MD Anderson undermined the faculty esprit de corps that so attracted us in 1984. That needs to be restored.

I will continue to hammer out this blog as my small voice calls to account those who would undermine the things that I hold most dear and the MD Anderson faculty is among those things.

We won’t quit. Ever. We believe that MD Anderson’s greatest assets are its name and its faculty. What will we do to promote our beliefs? Whatever it takes!

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