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U of M’s got talent, and the Institute of Medicine knows it

As a native Minnesotan, I wish to highlight wonderful news from the University of Minnesota Medical School. The annual election of 65 new members to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies was just announced, and four of those elected are faculty members at the University of Minnesota.

This is an incredible achievement for the U of M, since IOM members represent the most outstanding medical scholars in the country.

To put it in perspective, the U of M scored in the top five U.S. medical schools along with Harvard, Stanford, the University of California at San Francisco, and the University of Pennsylvania. Moreover, the U of M polled ahead of Columbia, Cornell, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Chicago, the University of Michigan, Yale, Duke, Johns Hopkins, and even the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The IOM is an arm of the National Academies — the scholarly organization chartered in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln to “investigate, examine, experiment, and report upon any subject of science or art” whenever called upon to do so by any department of the government. As a nongovernmental organization, the IOM provides objective and nonpartisan information on issues of health and medical biology.

For example, it was an IOM study that established the guidelines for protection against the H1N1 influenza. The IOM defined specific risks associated with secondhand tobacco smoke. Another IOM study calculated the increased number of annual deaths for Americans lacking health-care insurance (20,000).

IOM members include such luminaries as former and current directors of NIH: Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, Elias Zerhouni, and human genome pioneer Francis Collins. Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner David Kessler, former Surgeons General Antonia Novello and David Satcher, and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan are IOM members.

In Minnesota, Mayo Clinic President Dennis Cortese and former U of M Dean Deborah Powell are IOM members.

The people of Minnesota should be proud to know that the following new IOM members are intellectual giants working at their university and living in their communities. I am certain that any university in the land would love to have such talent.

• Karen Hsiao Ashe, M.D., Ph.D. — leading investigator in Alzheimer’s research.

• Michelle Biros, M.D., M.S. — national authority on emergency medicine.

• Selwyn Vickers, M.D. — chairman of surgery, pre-eminent cancer surgeon and researcher.

• Susan Wolf, J.D. — legal expert on law, health, and life sciences.

Why should the people of Minnesota take notice? Because the public debate about health-care reform will revolve around the IOM and its analysis of health-care policies and statistics. Indeed, Minnesota’s elected representatives in Washington, D.C., would be well-advised to consult their own constituent members of the Institute of Medicine before taking rigid positions during the forthcoming Health Care Reform floor fight in Congress.

Dr. Peter Agre, M.D., Ph.D., received the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He directs the Malaria Research Institute at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and is  president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific society.

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