Anonymous Giving

Spira, AvrumAlexander Graham Bell Professor of Health Care Entrepreneurship

Since it was anonymously established in 1996, the Alexander Graham Bell Professor of Health Care Entrepreneurship at BU has been held by Richard Egdahl, MD. Egdahl served as a professor and chair of surgery at BUSM before stepping down in 1973 to become director of the Boston University Medical Center, the entity formed by centralizing the administration of the School of Medicine and Massachusetts Memorial Hospital. In 1975, he founded BU’s Health Policy Institute and the Health Care Entrepreneurship Program (HCEP) and held professorships in the Schools of Management and Public Health, in addition to being a University Professor.

He is being succeeded by Professor of Medicine Avrum Spira, MD, MSc, an internationally recognized leader in cancer-based genomics and pulmonary bioinformatics. His group has characterized the genome of the airway epithelium and how gene expression activity in these cells serves as a clinically relevant biomarker for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In explaining Spira’s achievements, his mentor, Jerome S. Brody, MD, professor of medicine and former director of the Pulmonary Center, referred to one of Spira’s principles for academic success: don’t let simple technical problems stand in the way of progress. “When Avi (Spira) was finishing his bioinformatics training, he decided to contrast global gene expression of tumors and normal uninvolved lung tissue in the two sets of patients, but at the time BU didn’t have the equipment to measure global gene expression,” said Brody. “Somehow—and to this day I don’t know how—Avi took our samples over to the Harvard genomics laboratory and talked them into running the samples on arrays at night after all of their Harvard work was finished. The results of these midnight studies led to two papers.”

Spira was named BU Innovator of the Year in 2011, which recognizes a faculty member “whose cutting-edge research and ideas lead to the formation of companies that benefit society at large.” He is co-inventor of five patents using airway gene expression for early detection of lung cancer, and co-founder of Allegro Diagnostics, a molecular diagnostics company in Maynard, Mass. He is also founding chief of the Section of Computational Biomedicine in the Department of Medicine, director of the Translational Bioinformatics Program in the BU Clinical & Translational Science Institute, a member of the NIH Cancer Biomarker Study Section, senior editor of Cancer Prevention Research, and co-chair of the lung collaborative group of the NCI’s Early Detection Research Network. He serves on NHLBI and NCI advisory committees and recently received the Caine Halter Hope Now Award from the Uniting Against Lung Cancer foundation.

“This is a great honor, to be named the Alexander Graham Bell Professor of Health Care Entrepreneurship,” said Spira. “I would like to thank the anonymous donor and the many mentors and guides at Boston University who have brought me to this day.”