Discoveries Magazine


Lifelong Connection

After learning she spent the first three months of her life in the Cedars-Sinai NICU, Shannon Sullivan decided to pursue a career helping infants.
Photograph: Cameron Davidson

Shannon Sullivan has wanted to work in medicine since the age of 12, but the roots of that aspiration took hold at birth. Sullivan spent the first three months of her life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in the Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center at Cedars-Sinai. Born 13 weeks preterm, she weighed less than 2 pounds and required state-of-the-art, life-giving care.

“I want to save babies the way the doctors at Cedars-Sinai saved me,” she remembers telling her parents years later, after learning about the complexities of her birth and the challenging months that followed.

Now 26 and a student at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., Sullivan is well on her way to achieving her dream. She already has co-authored a major study in a prominent neuroscience journal and earned a coveted fellowship. Still, she keeps returning to Cedars-Sinai to further hone her skills.

Ten years ago, she contacted Charles Simmons, MD, professor and chair of the Cedars-Sinai Department of Pediatrics, director of Neonatology, and the Ruth and Harry Roman Chair in Neonatology in honor of Larry Baum. At his suggestion, she joined the Cedars-Sinai Teen Volunteer Program. During her free time over the next three summers, she volunteered in nursing units and in the NICU’s administrative office. “The more I learned, the more I wanted to spend time in the NICU,” Sullivan says.

“I could see that Shannon was driven, patient, and resilient,” Simmons says. “She also was curious and creative.” Noting her interest in helping preemies and her aptitude for science, he suggested she consider biomedical research as a potential career path.

Heeding that advice, she earned a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering from Columbia University. After graduation, Sullivan again turned to Simmons. “I told him how much I’d like to work with him,” she says.

Simmons suggested she apply to the then-new Cedars-Sinai Research Internship Program, which enables budding biomedical scientists to participate in hands-on research. Since its launch in 2014, the program has paired more than 600 interns with faculty mentors. True to her calling, Sullivan served as a pediatrics research intern from October 2014 through July 2015.

She came back to Cedars-Sinai later in 2015 to intern in the laboratory of Ueli Rutishauser, PhD, associate professor of Neurosurgery and director of Human Neurophysiology Research. Sullivan’s efforts there included developing computer programs to process the lab’s data and co-authoring an impactful study on short-term memory. Sullivan returned to Rutishauser’s lab last summer for another internship, this time supported by a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute Summer Medical Research Fellowship, which supports her work in the team’s ongoing investigations into short-term memory.

“Interns change the dynamics of a lab,” Rutishauser observes. “They bring new ideas, fresh eyes, and new points of view.”

Currently a second-year med student, Sullivan hopes to continue her relationship with Cedars-Sinai after she becomes a doctor. “Returning here as a physicianscientist is my long-term goal,” she says. “Neonatology saved my life, and I need to pay it forward.”

Faculty News

Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, has been named director of the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the Phase One Foundation Distinguished Chair. A renowned urologist and cancer investigator who has made major discoveries in cancer biology and therapeutics, Theodorescu joins Cedars-Sinai from the University of Colorado Comprehensive Cancer Center, where he served as director and as a distinguished professor for the past eight years. A leading expert in bladder cancer, he has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine and the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and serves on the National Cancer Policy Forum of the National Academies. He brings a compelling vision to Cedars-Sinai for leading what he sees as three revolutions shaping modern cancer care: using precision medicine strategies to personalize treatments, tapping “big data” to solve difficult research and treatment questions, and employing population health ideas to improve the lot of entire populations while reducing health inequalities among groups. The American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer presented the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute with an Outstanding Achievement Award, making it one of only 32 accredited cancer programs in the U.S.—and one of two in California—to earn this distinction in 2017.

Michael Alexander, MD, has been inducted into the Society of NeuroInterventional Surgery’s first class of society fellows, recognizing his contributions to the treatment of brain aneurysms and innovations in intracranial artery stenting. He is director of the Neurovascular Center and Endovascular Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai.

Richard Bergman, PhD, received the Distinguished Leader in Insulin Resistance Award from the Metabolic Institute of America for his groundbreaking efforts to predict, prevent, treat, and ultimately cure diabetes. Bergman is director of the Sports Spectacular Diabetes and Obesity Wellness and Research Center at Cedars-Sinai as well as the Alfred Jay Firestein Chair in Diabetes Research.

Beth Karlan, MD, has been named a fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. She is director of the Women’s Cancer Program at Cedars-Sinai and the Board of Governors Chair in Gynecologic Oncology.

Dechen Lin, PhD, received a grant from the Price Family Foundation and the DeGregorio Family Foundation for Gastric & Esophageal Cancer Research and Education to support his research on esophageal adenocarcinoma, the most common esophageal cancer in the U.S. Lin is a research scientist in the Division of Hematology and Oncology in the Cedars-Sinai Department of Medicine.

Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, received the 2017 Pioneer in Medicine award at Cedars-Sinai’s medical staff annual meeting. The award recognizes the clinical and research contributions of a medical staff member. Marbán is founding director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the Mark Siegel Family Foundation Distinguished Chair. The Heart Institute received a $50 million naming gift from philanthropists Eric and Susan Smidt and the Smidt Foundation to establish the Smidt Heart Institute. The gift is the largest in Cedars- Sinai’s 116-year history and will enable the medical center to expand research and treatment of heart conditions by pursuing the most innovative science, advancing clinical trials and emerging treatments, and training the next generation of heart specialists.

Shlomo Melmed, MD, received the 2017 Hospital Physician Leadership Award from the Los Angeles County Medical Association for leading world-class programs at Cedars- Sinai in heart disease, cancer, regenerative medicine, neurosciences, surgical specialties, gastroenterology, transplantation, women’s health, and metabolic and pulmonary disorders, as well as founding the Cedars-Sinai Graduate Program. Melmed is executive vice president of Academic Affairs, dean of the Cedars-Sinai medical faculty, and the Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Distinguished Chair in Investigative Medicine.

Barry D. Pressman, MD, was honored with the American College of Radiology (ACR) Gold Medal. Pressman, chair of the Department of Imaging, is a former ACR president and board member. He also received the Alumni Council Career Achievement Award of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, his alma mater.

Basil Rapoport, MD, endocrinologist and co-director of the Thyroid Autoimmunity Lab, received this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from Cedars- Sinai. Rapoport has made significant contributions to the field of thyroid pathophysiology pathophysiology throughout his 40-year career, including harnessing the power of molecular biology to expand the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease.

Stephan R. Targan, MD, director of the F. Widjaja Foundation Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Immunobiology Research Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the Feintech Family Chair in Inflammatory Bowel Disease, has been awarded the Sherman Prize for groundbreaking work in the understanding and treatment of debilitating inflammatory bowel disease. The prize was established by the Bruce and Cynthia Sherman Charitable Foundation to recognize and reward outstanding medical professionals, educators, and advocates who are advancing research and improving patient care in the field of Crohn’s syndrome and colitis.

Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD, received the Molecular & Cellular Proteomics Lectureship Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for her leadership in proteomics. Proteomics is a biotechnology field devoted to applying the techniques of molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics to analyzing the structures and functions of proteins. Van Eyk is director of Basic Science Research in the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Smidt Heart Institute, director of the Advanced Clinical Biosystems Research Institute, and the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Heart Health.

Ronald Victor, MD, associate director of the Smidt Heart Institute, received the 2018 Prize for Research in Scientific Medicine (PRISM). The annual PRISM award recognizes a Cedars- Sinai faculty member who has made a significant discovery in the past five years. Victor received the honor for his work on a pioneering study on the management of hypertension in African-American men, who are disproportionately affected by the treatable condition.

Daniel J. Wallace, MD, received the 2017 Innovation Award for Community Service from the Los Angeles County Medical Association for his novel treatment of patients diagnosed with lupus and for founding Lupus LA, a nonprofit funding medical research, rheumatology fellowships, and support services for lupus patients. Wallace, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Rheumatology Fellowship Program, has been practicing clinical rheumatology for more than 40 years.

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