Campus & Community

Three HMS endowed chairs named simultaneously in Sleep Medicine

5 min read

$8M infusion to accelerate critical research

Harvard Medical School (HMS) is taking steps to dramatically advance the field of sleep medicine through the simultaneous establishment of three endowed chairs all devoted to this emerging field of medicine.

“This generous and timely support will greatly accelerate advances in sleep and circadian rhythm research,” said HMS Dean Joseph B. Martin, who hailed the May 11 announcement as a historic moment for the School and in the evolution of the field of sleep medicine.

“At a time when nearly 40 million Americans suffer with sleep disorders, many find numerous barriers to diagnosis and treatment,” he continued. “These gifts will enable HMS to take a leading role in this interdisciplinary field, ensuring the advancement of scientific research and the development of new treatments for sleep disorders.”

The three chairs are named after the founders and chairmen of three publicly listed companies that have been innovators in sleep therapy: Frank Baldino Jr., CEO of Cephalon Inc.; Gerald E. McGinnis, board chairman of Respironics Inc.; and Peter C. Farrell, CEO of ResMed Inc. Each chair was funded by unrestricted gifts from their companies or themselves.

Recognizing the importance of this scientific discipline, Martin established the Division of Sleep Medicine at HMS in 1997. “The goal of the HMS Division of Sleep Medicine has been to establish sleep disorders medicine as a formally recognized medical discipline, and to forge a path of discovery while providing training for the next generation of national leaders in this discipline,” said Martin.

Brigham and Women’s Hospital President Gary Gottlieb concurred. “These three chairs will positively impact research and clinical treatments for dangerous and disabling sleep disorders,” he said.

Martin said that the three men whose names will be on these chairs are leaders of an innovative industry that has a number of developing therapeutic tools and treatments in the pipeline. “There is a huge need for collaboration between industry and academic medicine to understand the relationship between sleep and disease,” said Martin.

Charles A. Czeisler has been named Frank Baldino Jr. Ph.D. Professor of Sleep Medicine, which was the first of these chairs to be fully endowed, through a gift from Cephalon. Czeisler is a Harvard Medical School professor of medicine appointed in the Department of Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He leads the Division of Sleep Medicine.

“We at Cephalon are committed to helping the division continue its work in revolutionizing the field of sleep medicine,” said Frank Baldino Jr., chairman and CEO of Cephalon. “Dr. Czeisler and the team at Harvard Medical School are transforming the ways in which we think about sleep and wakefulness and are influencing the therapies being used to treat sleep disorders.”

Czeisler is energized about the implications of these endowments: “The creation of these three endowed professorships in sleep medicine at HMS represents an important milestone for the field. The endowment of these three professorships serves to establish sleep medicine permanently within the framework of HMS,” he said.

Czeisler’s investigative work, which will be accelerated by the new endowment, focuses on understanding the neurobiology of the human circadian pacemaker and applying that knowledge to clinical medicine and occupational health. The neurobiology of circadian photoreception in humans is a primary area of research. Czeisler and his colleagues, for example, discovered the resetting effect of light on the human circadian pacemaker and have shown that among totally blind people who completely lack conscious visual perception, there are a subset who retain normal circadian responsiveness to light. This response is mediated through the eyes and persists even in some subjects who have severe retinal degeneration.

The Gerald E. McGinnis Professorship of Sleep Medicine was established with a grant from the Respironics Sleep and Respiratory Research Foundation, a private foundation established by Respironics Inc. The professorship was named in honor of Respironics’ founder who has been committed to advancing sleep disorder research and treatments for nearly 30 years.

John L. Miclot, president and CEO of Respironics, said, “Harvard Medical School is taking the first step towards fulfilling a long-held objective to create a permanent place at the highest levels of academic medicine for physicians, educators, and researchers to concentrate on sleep.”

Associate Professor David P. White will fill the Gerald E. McGinnis Professorship of Sleep Medicine. White will also serve in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and as director of the Clinical Sleep Disorders Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Harvard is making a strong statement regarding its commitment to the evolution and development of this young field that hopefully will serve as an example for other medical schools, thereby advancing the entire field,” said White.

The Peter C. Farrell Professorship of Sleep Medicine is established with a gift from Peter C. Farrell, chairman and CEO of ResMed. The first incumbent of this chair has not yet been appointed but an international recruitment is under way to bring a top researcher to HMS. Farrell is a passionate advocate of the discipline.

“From my viewpoint, it is time for the medical profession to wake up to sleep,” Farrell said. “And it seems that the reason that medicine has been slow to take seriously sleep problems, and sleep-disordered breathing in particular, is that traditional medicine has stopped when the lights go out. This is now about to change; the connection between untreated sleep-disordered breathing and hypertension, stroke, diabetes and heart failure, as well as traffic accidents, is now so abundantly clear that it can no longer be ignored,” he added.