A Legacy of Discovery: Robert L. Kroc

reprinted from Issue 22, Spring 2016 of Frontiers of Medicine (PDF)

From left, Jinoos Yazdany, MD, MPH, Julie Zikherman, MD, Anthony Shum, MD, Dean Sheppard, MD, Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD, Lindsey Criswell, MD, MPH, Laura Koth, MD, and Francesco Boin, MD.

Robert L. Kroc, PhD, had a long, distinguished career in private industry as an investigator in endocrinology and therapeutics. He also served as president of the foundation established by his brother, Ray A. Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s Corporation. The Kroc Chair was created in 1985 with a gift from the Kroc Foundation to honor Dr. Kroc, and to support research focused on rheumatic and connective tissue diseases and the related study of immunologic abnormalities. The first holder of the chair was Edward Goetzl, MD, who retired in 2011.

The Kroc Chair grew to have the highest market value of any endowed chair in the Department of Medicine. In 2014, it was decided that dividing the income among multiple faculty members pursuing research in these fields would magnify the impact of this gift. In October 2015, five faculty members were appointed to the Robert L. Kroc Endowed Chairs in Rheumatic and Connective Tissue Diseases I-V:

"Endowments bring donors, a vision, and leading physicians, scientists and educators together to carry out that vision. This synergy of generosity, purpose, and leadership generates a force that ripples out in multiple directions for many years."
— Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine

  • Rheumatologist Francesco Boin, MD, directs the UCSF Sclero- derma Center. Boin received his medical degree from the University of Padova Medical School in Italy, completed his internal medicine residency at the Mayo Clinic, and a postdoctoral fellowship in rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University. He directed the Johns Hopkins Scleroderma Center’s Translational Research Program before his recruitment to UCSF. His research focuses on the genetic basis and biology of immune cells involved with mechanisms of autoimmunity in scleroderma. His goal is to identify novel tools to investigate the causes of scleroderma, effectively measure disease activity, monitor treatments, and predict clinical outcomes.

    "The leading principle I inherited from my mentors is that patients hold the answer to their disease, which means that coupling refined clinical phenotyping with cutting-edge research is the best way to solve this illness," said Boin. "The support from the Kroc Chair will allow us to establish the UCSF Scleroderma Center of Excellence, which will provide outstanding clinical care and build the translational research infrastructure that will allow us to find a cure."

  • Pulmonologist Laura Koth, MD, established the UCSF Sarcoidosis Research Program. She earned her medical degree from Harvard Medical School, then completed internal medicine residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and pulmonary fellowship at UCSF. Koth initiated a longitudinal study of sarcoidosis patients and healthy controls that now includes 200+ patients and is in its fifth year. This study includes studies in genomics, biomarker discoveries, and identification that Th17 largely drives the cells that produce interferon-gamma. Many of these discoveries have challenged traditional thought and are creating new avenues of investigation.

    "I want to thank the Kroc family for this generous opportunity to be a physician-scientist," said Koth. "Sarcoidosis can affect adults of any gender, age, and race, though it disproportionately affects African- Americans. Many patients live with physical or mental disabilities, usually for the rest of their lives, and they are very motivated to participate in our research. ...This award is very meaningful to me, and provides validation that the research direction I’m focused on is significant."

  • Pulmonologist Anthony Shum, MD, is a physician-scientist with a particular interest in understanding how genetically linked autoimmune diseases contribute to interstitial lung disease. Shum directs a translational research lab that intensively studies patients and their families, sequencing their genomes to identify genetic mutations and the molecular pathways underlying disease, and modeling their disease in mice. He earned his medical degree from the University of Chicago, and completed internal residency at Boston University and pulmonary fellowship at UCSF. Shum hopes to discover diagnostic and interventional targets that will ultimately lead to biomarkers and therapies that directly impact patient care.

    "I’m grateful and honored to be named to this chair," said Shum. "As a physician-scientist fighting for ever- shrinking NIH dollars, it’s really meaningful to have support. Having this chair will let us continue the work we’ve been doing at the intersection of pulmonary disease and autoimmunity, particularly working closely with families with rare disorders that affect the lung, figuring out how to solve these disorders, and coming up with new treatments."

  • Rheumatologist Jinoos Yazdany, MD, MPH, co-directs the UCSF Lupus Clinic. She received her medical degree from UCLA, her MPH from Harvard University, and completed her internal medicine residency and rheumatology fellowship at UCSF. Her research focuses on developing tools that increase the quality and safety of health care delivered to patients with rheumatic diseases. She has co-chaired the American College of Rheumatology’s (ACR) Quality Measures Subcommittee, chaired the ACR’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Quality Measures Development Work Group, and currently chairs the Research Committee for the ACR national registry.

    "I’m so grateful for this unexpected honor, and appreciate the generosity of the Kroc family," said Ya zdany. "Rheumatic dise ase s are ex tremely complex, and are difficult to diagnose and manage. I’m interested in ways we can use information science and new tools to make health care safer, deliver it in a more standardized and evidence-based way, and reduce the striking health disparities we see in these conditions. I’m especially excited by the opportunities this endowment will permit – allowing me to pursue this research agenda more aggressively both at UCSF and nationally, and to mentor the increasing number of trainees interested in improving the quality and safety of health care in rheumatology."

  • Rheumatologist and molecular immunologist Julie Zikherman, MD, cares for patients at the UCSF Arthritis Center and runs a basic immunology laboratory. She earned a medical degree at Cornell Medical College and completed internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she began a rheumatology fellowship that she completed at UCSF. Antibodies are a crucial part of our defense against infection. Zikherman’s lab delves into the origin of autoantibodies, which mistakenly target the body’s own tissues with often devastating results. Autoantibodies are characteristic of rheumatic and connective tissue diseases such as lupus, and arise from a type of white blood cell called the B cell. Interestingly, many normal B cells in healthy patients can recognize the body’s own tissues. Zikherman’s group is trying to understand what prevents normal B cells from mounting inappropriate immune responses, what goes wrong in the context of autoimmune disease, and which subsets of B cells are at greatest risk for producing dangerous autoantibodies.

    "I’m so very grateful to have been selected for this honor, and even more grateful to have trained and stayed at such a generous and welcoming institution," said Zikherman. "The support from this chair will be invaluable for pursuing some of our lab’s questions, and I’m excited to do that."

    "Dr. Robert Kroc, the founder of this chair, was a visionary," said Talmadge E. King, Jr., MD, dean of the UCSF School of Medicine. Addressing the newly inducted honorees, King said, "As an endocrinologist, he was in this business, and I think he would not be surprised that we have such wonderful people to be supported by his gift. This is an exciting time in medicine, and you are our future – it’s in really good hands, and I am proud of you."

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