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Supporting an Endowed Professorship Can Make ‘Miracles’ Happen

Dr. Wu in his lab

Zhongjun “Jon” Wu, PhD

Sometimes, says Christy Osborne, it’s important “to invest in the professionals who perform miracles every day.”

One of the “professionals” to which Osborne is referring is Zhongjun “Jon” Wu, PhD, the inaugural recipient of the Peter Angelos Distinguished Professorship in Entrepreneurial Surgical Science at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM).

Giving Back to Help Others

In 2016, Osborne and her late husband, Hamish, joined a group of donors — including Thomas and Alice-Marie Hales, The Peter and Georgia Angelos Foundation, and The Abell Foundation — who were banded by a common goal: to make a greater impact by supporting the creation of a professorship. Their gifts were matched through the state of Maryland’s E-Nnovation Initiative Fund program.

Osborne says the couple was motivated to contribute by the “exceptional care” that Hamish received in 2013, when undergoing two transplants to battle idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable form of lung disease. The surgery was successful, and Hamish was “given the gift of life” for 3.5 more years.

“Our family is grateful for the extra years we were able to spend with Hamish, and now it is our turn to give back and help others,” Osborne says.

Osborne is very familiar with the impact an endowed professorship can achieve. She and Hamish previously established The Hamish S. and Christine C. Osborne Professorship in Advanced Pulmonary Care, which is currently held by Aldo Iacono, MD, medical director of the Lung Healing Program at the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center.

Dr. Griffth and Wu

Bartley Griffith, MD and Zhongjun “Jon” Wu, PhD

Thinking ‘Outside the Box’

During their time at the hospital, the Osbornes met with Bartley Griffith, MD, the Thomas E. and Alice Marie Hales Distinguished Professor in Surgery and executive director of the Program in Lung Healing. Griffith told them about his invention, a “portable lung” for a patient to wear while waiting for a lung transplant. Although Hamish was not able to use the device, the meeting was eye-opening.

“This was our first introduction to ‘entrepreneurial science,’ a way of thinking ‘outside the box,’ and we saw the life-saving potential in this kind of thinking,” comments Osborne. “We realized that much more research is needed, [and] it is our hope that, by investing in research and development at the University of Maryland we can find a way to stop the progression of the disease and ultimately, find a cure.”

Inspiring Research That Impacts Care

“Professorships play a critical role in providing support for retention and recruitment efforts of faculty who are dedicated to improving the health of our patients,” Griffith says. Ultimately, they inspire innovative research that can significantly impact patient care.

“A rising tide floats all boats,” he says. “So the extent to which our pre-clinical and clinical faculty can be attracted here, as opposed to elsewhere, because of the presence of these wonderful honorific titles, our clinical programs will improve.”

That is especially true in the case of Wu, with whom he has collaborated, in applied research of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease and the development of artificial and other treatment techniques, for more than two decades.

“He helps me to think about a problem, come up with an engineered solution, and together we've written grants that have [propelled us] down the road far enough to develop a patentable device,” such as the portable blood pump oxygenator. “That would have never happened if I didn't have someone like him with me,” says Griffith about Wu.

A ‘Tremendous Honor’

For Wu, being named the inaugural recipient of the Angelos Distinguished Professorship in Entrepreneurial Surgical Science is a “tremendous honor” in many ways.

Wu joined the Department of Surgery at the UMSOM as an assistant professor in 2003. He later founded the Artificial Organs Laboratory and was promoted to full professor in July 2014. Shortly after, he left to join the University of Louisville, where he served as professor and director of research for the Department of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, before returning to Maryland in 2017.

Wu acknowledges that being offered a professorship played a major role in convincing him to come back from Kentucky. “I'm an engineer, so to be recognized in such a way was really something,” he says. Wu was recruited back to UMSOM as part of a new initiative called STRAP (Special Trans-Disciplinary Recruitment Award Program), which launched in 2016 to attract more talented physicians and scientists to catalyze and accelerate discoveries, cures and therapeutics for the most serious diseases.

An Opportunity to Do More

Wu says the new role has an even deeper meaning for him: It provides an opportunity to do more.

"When I work with physicians [in the OR] I can really see, on a daily basis, what they need, what the patient needs," he says. "My belief is that healthcare can benefit from the unique collaboration between bioengineers and physicians, providing an excellent platform to address many healthcare problems."

Wu is hopeful the professorship will not only bring greater visibility to the work he’s doing with Griffith, but also promote his belief in entrepreneurship and the importance of collaboration.

“Hopefully, as more people join the effort, we can show what I'm doing right now in cardiac surgery,” Wu says, “and we can help more physicians treat patients better, and improve the outcomes.”

Be a Catalyst

You can be a catalyst to bring together the world’s leading experts and the brightest students, and support their collaboration and innovations. For more information on supporting an endowed professorship, contact Mary Pooton, Acting Assistant Dean of Development, at 410-706-3901.