Although Penn Medicine magazine has often run articles on the work of physicians and researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia who are associated with the Perelman School of Medicine, this issue’s cover story is perhaps the first to look more broadly at the longstanding relationship between the two institutions. Formal affiliation between them came in 1930, but it was only in 1974 that CHOP moved to its present location. The article in this issue focuses on three spectacular advances: in gene therapy and in orthopaedic surgery. In all cases, the new medical and surgical approaches were tested and found successful in adults before they were adapted for children.
All three partnerships were widely covered in the media. A Penn-CHOP team used gene therapy to correct mutations in the eye that would eventually have caused blindness. Another team used personalized cellular therapy to cure chronic lymphocytic leukemia in patients. A Penn-CHOP team of surgeons performed the region’s first bilateral hand transplant on a young adult -- then followed a few years later by performing the first known bilateral transplant on a child.
When Miriam Falco, who wrote our cover story, visited these two grand Philadelphia institutions last fall, she was struck by their proximity. To help her get a fuller sense of the environment, I took her on a brief walking tour. It included a visit to some older buildings, like the John Morgan Building (originally opened as the Medical Laboratories Building in 1904) and newer buildings, like the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine (opened in 2008). From there, it was up a few stories to the Henry Jordan M’62 Medical Education Center, which officially opened last year. From its generously sized windows, we could view the surrounding area and the newest CHOP and Penn Medicine buildings that have dramatically changed the skyline of Civic Center Boulevard. On our walk, too, it did not escape her notice that HUP’s Silverstein Pavilion could shake hands with its close neighbor on 34th Street, the Main Building of Children’s Hospital. The setting for collaborations seems ideal.
Penn Med’s partnership with CHOP is by no means its only one. For many years, the medical school has been part of the University’s Leonard Davis Center of Health Economics and the Abramson Cancer Center. More recent is Penn’s Center for Neuroscience & Society, which draws faculty and students from departments spanning the Schools of Arts and Sciences, Medicine, Law, Wharton, and Engineering and Applied Science. Their work addresses the ethical, legal and social implications of neuroscience. Another newer one is the Center for Public Health Initiatives, whose mission is to educate and train public health leaders and practitioners, foster multi-disciplinary collaboration, and promote excellence in public health research and community partnerships.
Penn Med also looks beyond the walls of the University. For example, in the “Vital Signs” front pages of the new issue, the opening of the Novartis-Penn Center for Cellular Therapeutics is announced. It is poised to become a major site for research and early development of personalized cellular therapies for cancer. In this connection, it’s worth mentioning the recently established Penn Center for Innovation, which helps to translate discoveries and ideas from throughout the University into new products and businesses for the benefit of society. The new issue also reports on Vice President Biden’s visit to Penn Med in connection with President Obama’s “moonshot” to find a cure -- or cures -- for cancer. Given what Penn Med has already accomplished on that front, we can expect Penn Med to be involved in this nationwide endeavor.
Innovations and Impact
Speaking of innovations, another article in the new issue is on Penn’s patient portal, myPennMedicine. An example of cloud computing, mPM allows doctors and their staffs to communicate with patients and their families in a new, efficient way. At last estimate, about 240,000 people actively use the portal, and I count myself as one of its satisfied users. Making an appointment is easier, and e-mail alerts from mPM provide some useful reminders. It can also function as a way to conduct patient surveys.
“A Health Program with IMPaCT” describes a different sort of partnership -- in this case, between Penn Med and the local community. The Penn Center for Community Health Workers works to improve the health of high-risk patients by matching them with community workers who help them navigate the health system. One on one, the community health workers help patients to set realistic goals, provide critical links to specialists or city and state agencies, and offer guidance and support along the way. The center’s work has been covered in, among other places, The New York Times, NPR, and Forbes.
The remaining feature article in the new issue takes us very far from Philadelphia. “Making a Difference in Liberia” reports on a Penn alumna, Venee Tubman, M.D., a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital. She makes periodic visits to Liberia, where she screens newborns for sickle cell disease and offers treatment for the affected children. Dr. Tubman gives credit to Penn for helping her to realize her potential and providing some of her mentors. She is certainly making the Perelman School of Medicine proud.