New PhDs Urged to Build World of Hope

(From left) Thomas M. Priselac, Cedars-Sinai's president and CEO, congratulates graduate Shabnam Ziaee, PhD, on her diploma, presented by Shlomo Melmed, MB ChB, senior vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the medical faculty, at the 2014 commencement ceremony for the Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine.

Newly minted PhDs from the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine were exhorted to take risks, defy dogma and relentlessly pursue excellence on June 12 at a festive commencement attended by top institutional leaders, donors, faculty, family and friends.

"Go out there and make the discoveries that will help build a better, safer, cleaner and healthier world — a world of hope," said keynote speaker David D. Ho, MD, the Irene Diamond Professor at The Rockefeller University and founding scientific director and chief executive officer of the world-renowned Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York. "Any one of you can cast a giant shadow on our planet."

Nearly 100 faculty members in academic regalia, joined by more than 150 other invited guests, gathered in Harvey Morse Auditorium for the commencement, the second in the program's history. Six students graduated, and more than 30 are enrolled in the program. Mentored by Cedars-Sinai scientists and physicians, they are trained to translate scientific discoveries into understanding disease causes and therapies.

Research studies completed by this year's graduates carry the potential to impact inflammatory bowel disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, heart disease, cancer and bacterial infections.

"We are so proud of you today and thrilled with what you've accomplished," Vera Guerin, chair of the Cedars-Sinai Board of Directors, told the graduates. "Bright and disciplined scholars of your caliber make all the difference. You are the ones who inspire our faculty and our institution to support this program so wholeheartedly."

Thomas M. Priselac, Cedars-Sinai's president and CEO, praised the "hard work and innovative thinking" of the program's second graduating class, which he called "emblematic of Cedars-Sinai's commitment to advancing medical science."

Keynote speaker David D. Ho, MD, the Irene Diamond Professor at The Rockefeller University and CEO of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York.

In the dean's address, Shlomo Melmed, MB ChB, senior vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of the medical faculty and Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Distinguished Chair in Investigative Medicine, focused on the power of curiosity. All of science, he said, "begins with a burning desire to know."

It was curiosity that inspired Ho, then a member of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Medicine, to publish a paper in 1984 describing the mysterious appearance of fever, lymph node abnormalities and high white blood cell counts in three gay men, Melmed said. This paper contained one of the earliest clinical descriptions of acquired immune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS.

Ho went on to become a pioneer in AIDS research, laying the scientific foundation for the "cocktails" of protease inhibitors and other antiviral drugs that have transformed the disease, once a death sentence, into a manageable condition. He now is investigating ways to prevent AIDS.

In his address, Ho said successful scientists take chances, make bold decisions, question authority and insist on excellence. "Never write a bad paper," he told the graduates. "Never give a bad talk." He urged them to seize scientific opportunities and run with them.

Recalling his first encounters with AIDS patients in 1981, he said, "No one could have predicted that, only a few decades later, we would face a global epidemic of HIV infection that is arguably the worst plague in human history."

Turning to his visit to Cedars-Sinai, where he once "roamed the wards as a young intern," Ho said, "I am most impressed with how this institution has evolved. What an incredible honor it is for me to return to Cedars-Sinai." He noted that all three of his children were born at the medical center.

Class of 2014 Speaker Jun Ma, PhD, receives his diploma from Melmed.

The ceremony had its lighter moments. Class of 2014 Speaker Jun Ma, PhD, drew laughs when, using scientific terminology, he called graduates' accomplishments "significantly awesome."

For the second year in a row, a tie vote resulted in the David L. Rimoin Teaching Excellence Award going to two faculty members: Lali Medina-Kauwe, PhD, associate professor of Biomedical Sciences and associate director of the graduate program; and Sandra Orsulic, PhD, associate professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Winners of the award, named for the late Cedars-Sinai scientist, teacher and physician, are selected by the doctoral candidates.

As she stepped up to claim the honor, Medina-Kauwe, who also won the award last year, blew a kiss to the students and mouthed "Thank you."

Besides Ma, the other graduates this year are Melanie Das, PhD; Ahmed Ibrahim, PhD; Mitra Mastali, PhD; Marisel Sanchez, PhD; and Shabnam Ziaee, PhD.

The Graduate Program in Biomedical Science and Translational Medicine is directed by Leon Fine, MD, vice dean for Research, and the program director is David Underhill, PhD, professor of Biomedical Sciences and Medicine and the Janis and William Wetsman Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
 

To view more pictures taken from the graduation, click on the video below.