Medical Research Foundation Announces Mentor and Discovery Awards for 2000

12/19/00    Portland, Ore.

Recipients Are Recognized for Outstanding Leadership and Contributions to Biomedical Research

The Oregon Health Sciences Foundation Board of Trustees presented the Medical Research Foundation Mentor and Discovery Awards at its December board dinner. Three Oregon Health Sciences University faculty from the School of Medicine earned the prestigious awards.

The foundation awarded this year's Mentor Awards to John Benson Jr., M.D., professor emeritus of medicine and dean emeritus of OHSU's School of Medicine, and president emeritus of the American Board of Internal Medicine; and Kent Thornburg, Ph.D., director of OHSU's Heart Research Center. Thornburg is a professor of physiology and pharmacology, medicine (cardiology), obstetrics and gynecology, and medical informatics and outcomes research in OHSU's School of Medicine. The awards recognize outstanding leadership and support in improving human health and well-being.

The foundation honored David Lieberman, M.D., head of the Division of Gastroenterology in the school's Department of Medicine and professor of medicine, with the Discovery Award for contributions to new knowledge through biomedical research.

Benson was recognized for his pivotal roles in influencing national health care and education guidelines as a leader in numerous national medical associations. Benson's visionary work during his tenure as president of the American Board of Internal Medicine resulted in dramatic improvement of the structure and content of board examinations, and setting standardized procedures for certification. His work helped the ABIM evolve into one of the most highly respected certification boards anywhere. The American College of Physicians awarded Benson its John Phillips Memorial Award for Outstanding Work in Clinical Medicine this past June.

Thornburg was honored for his work in advancing educational outreach programs in science as well as his significant contributions in enhancing undergraduate education. He is a strong and outspoken proponent of early science education. He is the founder and director of the OHSU's Heart Research Center.

Lieberman's research focuses include defining the characteristics of colon cancer, and zeroing in on factors that contribute to disease --- positively or negative -- such as diet and exercise. Colon cancer screening and medical outcomes research are two of Lieberman's special interests. His recent study on detection and prevention of colon cancer, an example of hypothesis-driven clinical research, recently was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study states that the best way for people at average risk for colon cancer to prevent the disease is to undergo a periodic test in which the entire intestine is screened for pre-cancerous polyps. The findings cast a shadow over the worth of sigmoidoscopy, another test to spot colorectal lesions that only screens the lower intestine.

Physicians have long known that colon cancer incidence increases with age, but at the same time they have known that it is the only malignancy that can be completely prevented through screening. "I think we certainly demonstrated that you can make a case for colonoscopy as a primary screening test," said Lieberman, lead author of the largest study ever conducted on colonoscopic screening. "This may change the practice of medicine and help save thousands of lives."

The Medical Research Foundation of Oregon was started in 1942 by a group of businessmen and physicians for the purpose of stimulating the development of medical research in Oregon. Its primary effort was directed at raising money to award seed grants for new research efforts by biomedical scientists anywhere in Oregon. In 1974 the MRF created the Discovery Award and a year later the Mentor Award.

The MRF's assets are managed by the Oregon Health Sciences Foundation, which also administers its award process. The foundation awards about a million dollars a year for new research projects throughout Oregon.