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Presentation of the 2009 Shwachman Award to Ronald J. Sokol, MD

Balistreri, William F

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Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition: February 2010 - Volume 50 - Issue 2 - p 118-119
doi: 10.1097/MPG.0b013e3181d01894
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It is my pleasure and honor to present the 2009 Shwachman Award to Ronald J. Sokol, MD. I want to thank him for his tireless effort on behalf of the North American Society of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN), our field, and our patients; we are all grateful. Ron Sokol is an excellent choice for this prestigious award—he has made major lifelong scientific, clinical, and educational contributions to the field of pediatric gastroenterology, hepatology, and nutrition and to NASPGHAN. He is recognized for his significant accomplishments in all academic areas—he is a consistently productive investigator, an excellent clinician, a highly effective educator and administrator, and an outstanding and energetic advocate of our subspecialty. His vision, enthusiasm, and persistence have had a major impact on our subspeciality and on our society and each of its members. The photo at the end of the article, taken during the 2008 World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition in Brazil, offers the perfect metaphor. It shows a powerful phenomena of nature that generates thunderous, constantly flowing energy, and in the background is Iguazu Falls.

HISTORY

Ronald J. Sokol was born on July 18, 1950, in Chicago, Illinois, to Edith and Max Sokol. His formal education occurred in Illinois—he received his undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana in 1972 and his MD degree from the University of Chicago/Pritzker School of Medicine in 1976. He then traveled west for pediatric residency, training at the University of Colorado at Denver Health Sciences Center (UCDHSC). In 1980, Ron joined us in Cincinnati as a fellow in pediatric gastroenterology, Hepatology, and nutrition at Children's Hospital Medical Center and the University of Cincinnati. During his fellowship Ron clearly demonstrated the traits that have subsequently characterized his career. He was an insightful clinician who was able to thoughtfully analyze “bedside” problems and doggedly pursue a solution. Specifically, during his second and third years he defined the nutritional consequences of cholestatic malabsorption, namely, human vitamin E deficiency. This novel observation, which led to several publications in prestigious journals, has clearly improved the way we manage children (and subsequently adults) with cholestatic liver disease. This project was also the foundation for his highly productive career.

Following his fellowship, Dr Sokol returned to Denver to become a full-time faculty member at UCDHSC. There he continued on the established pathway, combining basic bench-based research with clinically relevant translational studies to improve the lives of children and inspire his colleagues and students.

RESEARCH

Dr Sokol's major scientific interests focus on investigating the genetic, molecular, and infectious causes of biliary atresia; the mechanisms of liver cell injury in cholestatic and fatty liver disease; the role of the mitochondria and oxidative stress in liver injury; and antioxidants in human health and disease. His research program has been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health since 1986. Ron has published more than 180 peer-reviewed articles, more than 100 chapters and review articles, 11 books or monographs, and 284 research abstracts. His outstanding record of productivity has led to his receipt of several awards and honors, including the prestigious Nutrition Award of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition in 2003, the Mead Johnson Award for Nutritional Research, and the American Institute of Nutrition award.

TRAINING AND ADMINISTRATION

Ron Sokol has ensured that his principles of commitment to the field and to NASPGHAN continue. He obtained NIH T32 funding for the UCDHSC Pediatric GI fellowship program. The training program has spawned many successful pediatric gastroenterologists now in academic and/or clinical positions, many of whom have risen to leadership roles in pediatric gastroenterology and in our society. As a reflection of his interest in the care of children with liver disease, he founded the Pediatric Liver Center at UCDSHC and The Children's Hospital (TCH) in 1985, one of the first such centers in the United States. In 2006, Dr Sokol was appointed as Chief, Section of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition at UCDHSC.

ON BEHALF OF PEDIATRIC GASTROENTEROLOGY AND NASPGHAN

Despite an active research program, Ron has dedicated boundless time and energy to the advancement of the mission of our society. His contributions to NASPGHAN are numerous and continuous in the last 23 years, and the impact has been significant and enduring. He served in leadership positions of multiple important committees, and was elected president, serving from 1996 to 1998, a period of outstanding growth in all dimensions of our society. During his tenure as president-elect, president, and past-president he was directly involved in several enduring innovations: he led the effort to initially propose a NASPGHAN “foundation”—which was the nidus for the Children's Digestive Health and Nutrition Foundation (CDHNF); the Young Investigator Award program and NASPGHAN-CDHNF fundraising activities followed; he commissioned the preparation of the Training Guidelines for Pediatric Gastroenterology, which, upon completion, were published in JPGN; and he proposed the concept for a World Congress of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, traveled to other countries to gain support from sister societies, and led the negotiations with the presidents of the 3 other societies (ESPGHAN, LASPGHN, and APPSGHN), which culminated in a written agreement for the first World Congress held in Boston in 2000. In addition, it was Ron Sokol who made the original proposal to Council for the initiation of the Shwachman Award.

Dr Sokol's diligent efforts on behalf of NASPGHAN did not end with his tenure as president; since that time Ron proposed the formation of a Hepatology Committee of NASPGHAN and, in a related move, submitted the formal proposal to the Society that an “H” be added to NASPGN in recognition of major role of hepatology in the society. In addition, he has been an associate editor of our journal—JPGN—from 2000 to 2005, and he served as a member of the NASPGHAN Advocacy Advisory Committee, which has successfully lobbied the US Congress on behalf of NASPGHAN; his work in this area continues today!

ADVOCACY

One of Ron's most passionate goals has been to encourage and guide pediatric gastroenterologists and hepatologists (and NASPGHAN) to “believe in themselves” as a talented, capable group of subspecialists who can independently (and collectively) develop and carry out plans to improve the health of children, and convince others of the value of this process so that funds will be directed toward this effort. Ron Sokol's knowledge of NIH policy and procedures ensured a focus on pediatric liver diseases at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). He has been a strong advocate for the development of NIH-funded pediatric liver disease collaborative research networks, and thus led the efforts to acquire and sustain funding for multicenter studies. He successfully lobbied NIH to develop a Request for Applications for a multicenter study of the most important pediatric liver disease, biliary atresia. This enormous effort resulted in the establishment of the unique and extremely important Biliary Atresia Research Consortium (BARC), funded by NIDDK, NIH. This consortium has, in turn, served as a model for the Cholestatic Liver Disease Consortium (CLiC, now combined as ChiLDREN), a Rare Disease Clinical Research Consortium, funded by NIH-NCRR/ORD/NIDDK. Dr Sokol was an original member of the NIH grant-funded Studies in Pediatric Liver Transplantation (SPLIT), and he is also a member of the Steering Committee of the Pediatric Acute Liver Failure Study Group (PALFG).

As an advocate for our subspecialty Dr Sokol has interacted with other major GI societies and organizations to advance our mission. Ron's credibility as a hepatologist has allowed him to integrate with the leadership of American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) and the American Liver Foundation (ALF), which in turn has allowed him to once again bring pediatric issues to the table. After serving as a member of the ALF National Board of Directors (1996–2002), editor and organizer of the Pediatric Liver Research Agenda (ALF), and Chair, Children's Liver Council (1997–2005), Ron remains actively involved in ALF activities. Ron served as Chair of the taskforce for the development of the Pediatric Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) for Transplantation Hepatology as the liaison with the ABP on behalf of NASPGHAN.

Of broader importance to the field of hepatology, Dr Sokol has worked to promote pediatric hepatology throughout the world. He serves as coeditor of Liver Disease in Children, the major pediatric liver disease text. He is a frequent lecturer on the topics of childhood liver disease and liver transplantation, oxidative stress in liver disease, and the role of antioxidants in biology and human health in the United States and internationally, having delivered more than 250 invited lectures worldwide.

FAMILY

In all of his diverse roles there are 2 that deserve special recognition: those of husband and father. Ron's deep support system is captained by his wife Lori, who has successfully harnessed and focused Ron's frenetic activity for the past 20 years. Their sons Skylar and Jared occupy a prominent place in Ron's thoughts and activities; they are a constant source of pride and joy.

In summation, Ron Sokol is committed to excellence. He is an outstanding investigator, educator, clinician, and relentless advocate who has worked diligently to advance the mission of our society and the field of pediatric hepatology. To return to the waterfall analogy, Ron continues to generate energy for our society and subspecialty via his unabated, thunderous activity, with a rainbow of results. We are proud of your numerous accomplishments. “Long may you flow!”

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