ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Awarded to Vinay Kumar

ASIP Gold-Headed Cane Awarded to Vinay Kumar, MBBS, MD, FRCPath

Dr. Kumar honored for his leadership, commitment to academic pathology, and pioneering discoveries in science.

Dr. Vinay Kumar is a physician-scientist and the Alice Hogge and Arthur A. Baer Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago. The Gold-Headed Cane Award, a mahogany and 14-karat gold cane, is the highest honor granted by American Society for Investigative Pathology to a member and recognizes exemplary long-term contributions to pathology in the areas of scientific research, teaching, and leadership.

Dr. Kumar was born and raised in India, where he excelled at his studies, completing his undergraduate degree (BSc) in 1962 at age 17 from Fergusson College, Poona University, India, and his medical degree (MBBS) in 1967 at age 22 from Punjab University Medical College, Amritsar, India. Upon completing an internship in surgery and medicine, he entered the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi and began work on a doctoral degree (MD, equivalent to PhD) in experimental pathology, while simultaneously training as a resident in anatomic pathology and hematology. He successfully completed both programs in 1972. Throughout his studies, he was recognized and honored for his achievements, including but not limited to Best Medical Graduate, the Pfizer Award, and Gold Medal for highest achievement as a medical student, and the Khanolkar Prize, awarded by the Indian Association of Pathologists to young investigators.

Shortly after completing his residency and receiving his doctorate, Dr. Kumar immigrated to the US to pursue his interest in [cancer] research. He accepted a position at the Mallory Institute of Pathology at Boston University School of Medicine. It was in Boston that Dr. Kumar met fellow pathologists Michael Bennett, Stanley Robbins, and Ramzi Cotran, who served as role models, collaborators, and life-long friends to Dr. Kumar. Their close association helped shape Dr. Kumar’s career, providing him with opportunities to develop and hone his interest and enthusiasm for research, teaching, and writing. 

In 1982, Dr. Kumar accepted a position as Associate Professor of Pathology at the University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School in Dallas. Within a year and a half, he was made full Professor of Pathology. His subsequent positions demonstrate his commitment to education, first as Vice Chairman for Educational Affairs, then as Associate Dean for Medical Education. According to former UT colleague Mary Lipscomb, Professor Emeritus of Pathology at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Kumar created one of the most exciting and innovative pathology programs in the country. He achieved this at UT and at his subsequent institution by challenging staff, students and himself to strive for optimal performance and results. For example, he refocused the basic pathology course from a passive learning format, based upon lectures, to one that emphasized active learning, based upon interactive teaching through small-group learning and case-based exploration of pathologic mechanisms of disease.

In early 2000, Dr. Kumar accepted a position as Chairman of the Department of Pathology at the University of Chicago, where he has spent the remainder of his distinguished career. In 2006, he was named Vice Dean of Biologic Sciences Division and Pritzker Medical School, then promoted the following year to Executive Vice Dean of Biologic Sciences Division and Pritzker Medical School, a post he held for several years. Dr. Kumar remains at the University of Chicago as the Alice Hogge and Arthur A. Baer Distinguished Service Professor. 

With regard to research, Dr. Kumar has achieved an outstanding reputation in the field of immunology, beginning with the discovery of NK cells and the elucidation of their functional mechanisms and roles in disease. His close study of NK cells established new paradigms in immunology and led to discoveries, such as perforin gene mutations in hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, the first causative mutation identified in this disease. According to colleague Dr. Abul K. Abbas, Chair of Pathology at UCSF, “For his discoveries and key contributions, Dr. Kumar is rightly recognized as one of the world’s leaders in the field of NK cells.”

Dr. Kumar’s greatest contribution is perhaps in medical education. At Boston University, Stanley Robbins asked Dr. Kumar to coauthor two of his textbooks. In the words of Mary Lipscomb, not only did Dr. Kumar prove to be a dedicated and knowledgeable coauthor, he also displayed a talent for making the text comprehensible and interesting. His curiosity, enthusiasm, and willingness to exhaustively research subjects have been central to making Robbins & Cotran Pathologic Basis of Disease (now in its 9th edition) and Robbins’ Basic Pathology (now in its 10th edition) perennial best sellers in the US and abroad; together, the two texts have been translated into more than 13 languages and remain essential reading for anyone training (or interested) in pathology, due in no small part to Dr. Kumar’s ongoing contributions as senior author and editor of both texts. His commitment to teaching extends to India and various other countries like Ethiopia, where a basic science curriculum has been implemented for first year medical students, who complete their next three years of clinical training in India. Dr. Kumar also participates in international symposia and lectures widely in medical schools around the world.

Jerrold Turner, Professor of Pathology and Medicine at Harvard, was a mentee and colleague of Dr. Kumar’s at the University of Chicago; he extols the leadership qualities he has observed in Dr. Kumar through the years, noting his “dedication to core values and honesty,” which he credits as reasons Dr. Kumar was able to maintain extremely strong support of his faculty throughout his tenure as Chair.  Dr. Turner adds, “Vinay always met his commitments, generally delivered more than he promised, and routinely recognized and rewarded accomplishments. These principled actions created an environment in which faculty members could focus on their unique missions and know that they would always have the support of their Chair.”

Dr. Kumar has also been active in various pathology organizations throughout his career. For example, he is a past president of ASIP and lifetime emeritus member, and a past member of the Association of Pathology Chairs (APC) Council. More recently, he developed pathology competencies for medical students in conjunction with the APC, a project now available to medical schools and departments of pathology.

In summary, Dr. Vinay Kumar has been selected for the Gold-Headed Cane Award not only because of his pioneering work on NK cells and contributions to academic pathology and medical education but also because of his enthusiasm, curiosity, diligence, and commitment to excellence that have inspired countless students, faculty and administrators, and others to follow in his path.

Dr. Kumar will receive the Gold-Headed Cane Award in 2019 at the ASIP Annual Meeting at Experimental Biology in Orlando, Florida.