Michael Boninger, Jennifer Grandis Are Elected to Institute of Medicine

Issue Date: 
October 22, 2012

Two University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine faculty have been elected to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an honor that is considered among the highest in the field.

The IOM, during its 42nd annual meeting on Oct. 15, announced the election of new members, including:

• Michael Boninger, professor and chair, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Pitt School of Medicine, director of the UPMC Rehabilitation Institute, and a physician scientist at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System; and

• Jennifer R. Grandis, Distinguished Professor and vice chair for research, Department of Otolaryngology, Pitt School of Medicine, and leader of the head and neck cancer program at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

“The Institute of Medicine is greatly enriched by the addition of our newly elected colleagues, each of whom has significantly advanced health and medicine," said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg. “Through their research, teaching, clinical work, and other contributions, these distinguished individuals have inspired and served as role models to others. We look forward to drawing on their knowledge and skills to improve health through the work of the IOM.”

Boninger’s research efforts at both Pitt and the VA focus on technologies to improve the lives of individuals with spinal cord injury and other disabilities. His Michael Boningerteam’s wheelchair work—conducted primarily at Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories, where he is medical director—has led to patents for devices used throughout the world. In addition, his team discovered a link between how a person propels a manual wheelchair and his or her risk of injuries, such as rotator cuff tears. This discovery led Boninger, in conjunction with a team of renowned clinicians and with the support of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, to develop clinical practice guidelines that have become the standard of care.

Boninger has made other substantial contributions in the broad area of assistive technology. He is part of a team that is enabling people with spinal cord injury to control devices through thought. He also prides himself in being a teacher and mentor, and he has funding and publications related to teaching research. Boninger was inducted in the National Spinal Cord Injury Association Hall of Fame in 2005 and he has won numerous awards, including the 2011 A. Estin Comarr Award from the Academy of Spinal Cord Professionals. Boninger earned his engineering and medical degrees at Ohio State University before completing his residency at the University of Michigan. He joined Pitt’s faculty in 1993 as an instructor in the then-Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation—now a department that he chairs.

Grandis’ research efforts focus on understanding factors that contribute to the development and spread of squamous cell cancer of the head and neck, and developing targeted therapies to treat the disease. Her laboratory is researching whether the Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3 could be a potential therapeutic target because previous studies have shown its activation enhances growth of squamous cell cancer of the head and neck and contributes to therapy resistance. Her laboratory is also exploring combined molecular targeting approaches for this type of cancer because inhibition of a single pathway alone is unlikely to be beneficial for treatment.

Grandis’ group helped to discover the key genetic alterations in head and neck cancer. It is now trying to identify the targetable genetic defects in individual tumors so Jennifer Grandisthat each patient can receive the appropriate therapy. Grandis was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation in 2002 and the Association of American Physicians in 2010. She received the Chancellor’s Distinguished Research Award in 2009 and the Provost’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh. Grandis was appointed to the Board of Scientific Counselors for the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Disorders in 2012 for a five-year term and she received the 2012 Alton Ochsner Award Relating Smoking and Disease. She was appointed Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012. In 1993, Grandis joined the faculty of the School of Medicine, where she did her fellowship, residency, and internship training after receiving her medical degree from Pitt in 1987. She received a bachelor’s of arts degree in biology and art history from Swarthmore College in 1982.

Current IOM members select new members from the health sciences, medicine, and public health. Election requires a commitment to volunteer on boards and in other activities carried out by IOM in its role as an independent, science-based advisor on health issues. The IOM was established in 1970 as the health branch of the National Academy of Sciences.