Melissa Rayhill, Lawrence Tabak and Allison Brashear.

From left, Melissa L. Rayhill, MD ’10, president of the Medical Alumni Association; Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD ’81, keynote speaker; and Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, Jacobs School dean.

Collaboration Key Theme of 2024 Harrington Lecture

By Dirk Hoffman

Published June 6, 2024

Interprofessional collaboration was the theme during the 2024 Harrington Lecture as part of the University at Buffalo’s Alumni Weekend.

“The bottom line is that team science matters. Team science has the most impact. ”
Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD ’81
Principal deputy director at the National Institutes of Health

Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD ’81, principal deputy director at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave the keynote address titled “Collaborative Frontiers: Exploring Interdisciplinary Science and Leadership.”

Jacobs School Has $51 Million in NIH Research Funding

In her introduction of Tabak, Allison Brashear, MD, MBA, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, made note of his doctoral degree in oral biology and his advanced certificate in endodontics, both from UB’s School of Dental Medicine.

She also noted Tabak served as acting NIH director from December 2021 to November 2023.

Prior to joining the NIH, Tabak was the senior associate dean for research and professor of dentistry, biochemistry and biophysics in the School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester. 

Brashear also took a few moments to share some comments about the Jacobs School with attendees of the Harrington Lecture.

“I am thrilled to be here with you all today as we reconnect with old friends, reflect on our shared journey, and celebrate the future of the Jacobs School,” she said. “That future is one built on the work of our many alumni, faculty and staff, whose accomplishments and contributions to the field of medicine continue to inspire us and elevate the reputation of the Jacobs School.”

Brashear noted the Jacobs School has over 80 faculty members who have funding from the NIH supporting 122 research projects, the combined amount of which is $51 million, making up more than 50 percent of NIH awards across the entire university.

“Thanks to the NIH, our faculty are undertaking groundbreaking research that addresses some of the most critical health care challenges. Their work is shaping the future of medicine,” she said. “Our goal is to have UB be a leader in research that impacts health. Our goal is to improve health and increase the lifespan here in Western New York and across the country.”

Brashear said Tabak, as an alumnus of UB, “embodies the spirit of collaboration that defines our institution.”

“His tireless efforts have fostered interdisciplinary partnerships, bridging the gap between dentistry, medicine and biomedical research,” she said. “His remarkable journey has left an indelible mark on the field of dentistry and the broader health sciences community.”

“Dr. Tabak is a true champion of interprofessional collaboration and a beacon of inspiration for all of us at UB,” Brashear added.

Lawrence A. Tabak.

Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD ’81, talks about the main priorities of the National Institutes of Health, where he serves as principal deputy director.

People Are NIH’s Greatest Resource

In his opening remarks, Tabak said that “UB was very important to my career development, so it is wonderful to be back here.”

He noted that following dental school, he wanted to get a doctoral degree and at that time there were only two programs in the country available to dentists who wanted to get a PhD, one of which was at UB.

Tabak said he was fortunate to be able to work with Michael J. Levine, DDS, PhD, who was a relatively new faculty member at UB at the time, and who was the first DDS/PhD student at UB.

“He taught me how to be a rigorous scientist; lessons I use to this very day,” he said.

Tabak gave a brief view of the NIH and its priorities.

“We support basic research to fuel progress, translational research to move the basic discoveries forward, and clinical research to turn the discoveries into prevention, treatments and cures.”

“The single most important thing we have is our people,” Tabak offered. “Nothing else really matters, it is the people that count. They are our most important resource.”

Tabak then displayed a graphic of the NIH, noting “only the Congress of the United States could create something like this — 27 different institutes and centers.”

“The first one and largest is the National Cancer Institute and the last one was the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences and there is everything in between.”

“We are legally decentralized because each institute gets its own individual appropriation directly from Congress, but notice how siloed this structure is,” Tabak said.

The NIH’s budget for this fiscal year is $47.4 billion.

“Eighty percent of that is spent supporting institutions like this one,” Tabak noted.

Including Public in Research Studies

Monica Bertagnolli, MD, became the 17th director of the NIH in November 2023. She is the first surgeon and second woman to hold the position.

Tabak said that Bertagnolli has gone on the record as saying “our work is not finished when we deliver scientific discoveries. Our work is finished when all people are living longer, healthy lives.”

“It is not enough to just publish the paper. You have to actually deliver something that improves health,” Tabak said.

Bertagnolli has also stated that NIH research encompasses laboratories and clinics — and the community.

“That latter piece is somewhat newer to NIH and we are going to do even more going forward,” he said. “What we have designed is to connect research to primary care, optimizing outcomes for all of our patients, not just the ones who live near primary and tertiary medical centers.”

Tabak also said that artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) hold a lot of promise, but also present a few challenges.

The challenges include a lack of access to clinical and health care data with careful annotations that are representative of the full diversity of the American people, and a lack of diversity in the AI workforce and the challenge of disseminating AI technologies to diverse populations.

“These are all things you need to be thinking about when you are creating new programs in AI and ML so that it matters,” Tabak said.

Panel discussion.

Panelists discuss innovative ways to encourage interprofessional collaboration.

‘Team Science Has the Most Impact’

Tabak concluded his talk by pointing out the NIH continues to fund more and more multi-authored team science.

“The more authors you have, the more impact the publication has, as measured by something we call the relative citation ratio,” he said. “We have done some experiments on our own intramural program and we find that if we look at that impact factor, when more institutes are collaborating on the research, the impact factor goes up.”

“The bottom line is that team science matters. Team science has the most impact.”

The June 1 event was made possible by the D.W. Harrington Lecture Endowment. The Harrington is UB’s longest-running lecture series, established in 1896.

The event is a collaboration between partners in the Jacobs School, the Medical Alumni AssociationOffice of Medical Advancement and the Office of Graduate Medical Education.

Following Tabak’s lecture, he was invited to sit on a panel to further discuss interprofessional collaboration, which was moderated by Nicholas M. Fusco, PharmD, interim executive director of interprofessional education at UB.

Other panelists were:

Melissa Rayhill, Lillian Vitanza Ney and Allison Brashear.

Honoree Lillian Vitanza Ney, MD ’64; with Melissa L. Rayhill, MD, ’10; left, and Allison Brashear, MD, MBA.

Distinguished Alumni Awards Presented

The Jacobs School Distinguished Alumni Awards were also presented to:

  • Lawrence A. Tabak, DDS, PhD ’81, who is the first to receive the new, “Distinguished Health Sciences Alumnus” award.

    Tabak is the principal deputy director of the National Institutes of Health.

    Tabak continues to lead an active research laboratory within the NIH intramural program studying glycoprotein biosynthesis and function in addition to his administrative duties.

  • Lillian Vitanza Ney, MD ’64, who received the “Distinguished Medical Alumna” award.

    Vitanza Ney is a retired cardiologist and former medical director and vice-president of WCA Hospital. She also was the coordinator of Jamestown Area Medical Association, and was an interim acting medical director of Heritage Park Health Care Center.

    She also stepped in to serve a short term as acting county health commissioner for the Chautauqua County Health Department in 1975.

  • Andrew I. Soiefer, PhD ’84, who received the “Distinguished Biomedical Alumnus” award.

    As an expert in chemical risk, Soiefer is one of a small group of occupational toxicologists setting safe exposure levels for chemicals in the workplace.

    He was board certified in toxicology in 1990 and maintained certification for 30 years. He is a full member of the Society of Toxicology and the American Chemical Society.

    In 1999, he started North Jersey Toxicology Associates, LLC, a consulting firm providing environmental, health and safety services to the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.  For the next 18 years until his retirement, Soiefer was chief scientist at NJTA.

  • Daniel Alexander, MD ’99, who received the “Distinguished Volunteer of the Year” award.

    Alexander, along with his spouse, Gail Alexander, served as UB’s Boldly Buffalo campaign co-chairs, leading the way to helping the university surpass its billion dollar campaign goal – the largest in SUNY history.

    The Alexanders are the founders of Finger Lakes Bone and Joint Center. Dan worked as an orthopedic surgeon and Gail served as practice administrator until they sold the business to Rochester Regional Health in 2016.