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University of Maryland School of Medicine Appoints Renowned Scientists Director and Associate Director of Medical Scientist Training Program

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Michael S. Donnenberg, M.D.
 Michael S. Donnenberg, M.D

New Director Michael S. Donnenberg, M.D., and Associate Director Achsah D. Keegan, Ph.D., to Lead MD/PhD Program

University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., has appointed Michael S. Donnenberg, M.D., as the new director of the Medical Scientist Training Program and Achsah D. Keegan, Ph.D., as the program’s associate director. 

In their new roles, Dr. Donnenberg, professor of medicine and microbiology and immunology, and Dr. Keegan, professor of microbiology and immunology, will oversee the Medical Scientist Training Program. The program guides medical students in earning their medical degree at the same time that they earn their Ph.D. in a field of biomedical science. In this joint program, the M.D. is combined with the Ph.D. degree offered by the Graduate Program in Life Sciences in the fields of biochemistry, molecular medicine, molecular biology and immunology, neuroscience, epidemiology and public health.

“The National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) is an integral part of the School of Medicine, producing the world’s next generation of outstanding physician-scientists,” says Dean Reece, an active NIH-funded physician-scientist, and also vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor at the School of Medicine. “Science is advancing at lightning speed, and modern medicine relies increasingly upon basic scientific discoveries to bring new treatments and diagnostic techniques to patients. To remain at the cutting edge of scientific discovery and medical education, we need to offer students an exceptional M.D./Ph.D. program, and educating exceptional trainees.”

Dr. Donnenberg replaces Terry B. Rogers, Ph.D., who has served as director of the program since 1996. Dr. Rogers will continue to serve as professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in the School of Medicine.

“We are deeply grateful to Dr. Rogers for his many years of distinguished service at the helm of the Medical Scientist Training Program,” says Dean Reece. “He has built a world-class program, and I have confidence that Dr. Donnenberg and Dr. Keegan will strengthen and build upon our already robust initiatives. Dr. Donnenberg has built an excellent career as an infectious disease physician-scientist, and he maintains an NIH-funded laboratory to research bacteria on the molecular level. Dr. Keegan is a renowned scientist whose discoveries in the basic science of immunology have changed her field. Together, they are excellent examples for our trainees, and I believe that our program will flourish under their watch.”

The Medical Scientist Training Program, established in 1985, is a seven-year training program that began with small groups of just two to three students per year. It has grown to include 37 students, and has graduated 94 physician-scientists over the years. The program’s participants generally enter the program as medical students and complete the normal two years of preclinical, classroom training in the medical school. Students then enter the formal training of the Ph.D. years, then pursue the specialty of their choice. They complete their thesis work in three to four years, during which they are required to complete a longitudinal clinical experience in an area related to their thesis work. The students are expected to write fellowship applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) or other funding agencies, and successfully compete for grants from the NIH, the American Heart Association and other agencies.

“I am honored to be chosen to help train the next generation of physician-scientists,” says Dr. Donnenberg. “The University of Maryland School of Medicine offers an ideal environment to foster this process by providing an outstanding clinical foundation and a multitude of exceptional research opportunities. In the coming years, Dr. Keegan and I plan to build on Dr. Rogers’s accomplishments, attract additional students of the highest caliber, strengthen the connection between clinical and research activities, and expand NIH support for the program.”


Dr. Donnenberg will collaborate closely with Dr. Keegan to strengthen and expand the program to keep it flourishing and competitive.


“I am very much looking forward to working with Dr. Donnenberg, our program director Jane Bacon, and our outstanding cadre of MSTP students to take this program to the next level of excellence,” says Dr. Keegan. “My hope is that our program will continue to be an absolute destination for the best and the brightest, and be at the top of the list for MD/PhD applicants nationwide.”


Dr. Donnenberg’s NIH-funded research focuses on bacterial pathogenesis, with emphasis on enteric pathogens E. coli and Clostridium difficile. Dr. Donnenberg uses molecular biology, biochemistry and cell biology to study the processes by which these bacteria cause disease. His research seeks to identify and characterize bacterial factors involved in the interactions between the pathogens and the host cells, and cellular responses to these interactions. A greater understanding of these processes accelerates the development of novel vaccines and therapeutics.


He earned his B.S. degree from the State University of New York, Albany, in 1979 and his medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1983, and he trained in internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center from 1983 to 1986. He continued his clinical training, and began his research career as a fellow in infectious diseases at Tufts/New England Medical Center from 1986 to 1989, and as a fellow in geographic medicine at the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


Dr. Donnenberg is a highly regarded infectious disease physician and scientist who has received many awards and honors and has served in many distinguished committees and societies. In 2008, he was named an inaugural member of the Pass & Susel Academy of Education Excellence at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He has served as a member of the Bacterial Pathogenesis Study Section of the NIH since 2009, is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2007. In 2000, Dr. Donnenberg was honored with the Oswald Avery Award (formerly the Squibb Award) by the Infectious Diseases Society of America. His publications include 89 peer-reviewed journal articles and 23 book chapters. 


Achsah D. Keegan, Ph.D., Dr. Keegan is also a renowned scientist whose laboratory studies immune regulation at the molecular and cellular level. She specifically studies Interleukin-4 (IL-4) and Interleukin-13 (IL-13), cytokines that play an integral role in Type II immune responses. She examines the molecular mechanisms of IL-4 and IL-13 signaling, including the regulation of innate immune cell development and function, and the pathogenesis of allergic asthma.  Furthermore, she examines the contribution of these cytokines to tumor cell survival.


Dr. Keegan earned her B.S. degree in zoology from Duke University in 1983, and she earned her Ph.D. in immunology from the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1989. She then joined the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease at the NIH as a National Research Council Associate for her post-doctoral training. In 1994, she joined the Immunology Department at the Holland Laboratory of the American Red Cross as a Staff Scientist (Assistant Professor equivalent), and rose through the ranks to Senior Scientist (Professor equivalent). During this tenure, Dr. Keegan was also on the faculty of the George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, where she served as the Director of the Graduate Program in Immunology from 2001-2004.


For her contribution to the mission of the American Red Cross, Dr. Keegan was awarded the Tiffany Award for Excellence in Research Management. She moved to the University of Maryland School of Medicine in 2004 with a team of research scientists from the Red Cross and subsequently became a member of the Center for Vascular and Inflammatory Diseases and the Program in Oncology of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center. Dr. Keegan has served as a standing member of the Cellular and Molecular Immunology-A study section of the NIH (1999-2003) and is currently a standing member of the Cellular and Immunology-B study section. Dr. Keegan has been supported by continuous NIH funding since 1996. Her publications include 78 peer-reviewed journal articles and 29 invited reviews and book chapters.


“I am excited about the future of the MSTP program under Dr. Donnenberg and Dr. Keegan,” says Dean Reece. “I feel confident that their strong leadership will elevate our program to the next level of excellence.”

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