Sanfilippo at Hopkins Out with Tradition, In with Success

As Baxley professor and chair of pathology at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and pathologist-in-chief to The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Fred Sanfilippo, PhD'75, MD'76, HS'76-'79, FACP, FAC'79-'93, has spent the last five years building a new kind of pathology department.

By integrating pathology's diagnostic and basic research areas, traditionally kept separate in medical centers, Sanfilippo has achieved phenomenal success. Clinical practice fees have tripled, research funding has tripled, the number of fellows has more than tripled, and the number of faculty has nearly doubled.

He says the new, non-traditional alignment at Hopkins allows for quick translation of basic research findings into clinical practice and streamlines hospital business practices. Since leaving the Duke faculty in 1993, Sanfilippo has presided over the merging of the Hopkins Hospital Department of Laboratory Medicine into the University Department of Pathology.

Today, Sanfilippo has a demanding schedule, with line authority for more than 800 hospital and university employees, including 85 full-time primary faculty, 55 secondary and part-time faculty, and 100 residents and fellows.

"The emphasis is on the physician-scientist," Sanfilippo says of his department's success. "Bridging the gap between the clinical and the experimental, one can take advantage of synergies that exist within these disciplines."

Sanfilippo began his medical training at Duke in 1970 as an NIH Medical Scientist Training Program fellow. Remembering Sanfilippo's student days, Chancellor Emeritus William G. Anylan says, "Early in Fred's career as an MD/PhD student, I could see that he was an outstanding individual. He was the elected president of his student class during an era of rapid social change and I worked with him closely. Later, I was proud to watch him grow professionally in pathology. Since his wife, Janet, worked with me as a senior staff person, I got to know Fred and Janet and their children as a family. They are an asset to any leading institution."

Sanfilippo started his career as a physics major at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned his bachelor's and master's degrees. He went on to receive his PhD in immunology at Duke in 1975 and his medical degree in 1976.

Asked why he chose Duke, he says, "I looked at the eight existing MD/PhD programs, and Duke's was simply the best." As for biologically applied physics, he says, "Physicists were just joking about that at the time, quite frankly." But a spirited discussion with Dan Tosteson, MD, then Duke chair of physiology and pharmacology, intrigued him about possible applications in signaling across cell membranes. Later, he benefitted from the help and insight of Tom Kinney, MD, then dean of medical education, and Bernard Amos, MD, who was chief of immunology. Kinney, who was also director of the MD/PhD program, allowed him to return to the University of Pennsylvania for a semester to pursue additional work in graduate school physics. Of Amos, Sanfilippo says, "His approach just made immunology very enticing to me. He was very out of the box. He would propose incredible hypotheses-from the ridiculous to the incredibly insightful. It was a thought-provoking and stimulating environment at Duke."

In the end, Sanfilippo chose pathology as his medical specialty, because he wanted to focus on both research and clinical work. He finished his pathology residency at Duke and taught at the school for 14 years. Looking back on his Duke days, he remembers the strong sense of collegiality-"It facilitates achievement and productivity. It makes it nice to work and creates real opportunity for scientific collaboration."

At Hopkins, Sanfilippo serves as director of research for the Johns Hopkins Comprehensive Transplant Center. He is also scientific founder of a Hopkins' spin-off venture, Vivex Therapies, Inc., a biotechnology start-up company dedicated to improving outcomes for organ-transplant patients. In addition, he and colleagues have five inventions with issued and pending patents. His other research focuses on xenotransplantation.

Despite two demanding academic careers, Sanfilippo and his wife, Janet Thompson Sanfilippo, who is assistant provost at Hopkins, believe in spending as much time as possible at home with their children, Lisa, 13, and Joe, 9. He coaches his children in sports, plays guitar with his son, enjoys family trips, and is perfecting his skills at Tae Kwon Do. His wife and son, he says, have earned their Tae Kwon Do black belts, and his daughter is quite advanced. Of his own performance, he admits, "I'm not quite there."

1999 Duke University Medical Center Development and Alumni Affairs