Published on in Children's View
Let’s say you would like to be Chief Scientific Officer and Executive Vice President at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Here are just a few things you will need: a keen intellect, a sterling CV distinguished by the highest levels of clinical and research achievement, a vision for how CHOP can lead the next great advances in pediatric science, and stamina. Lots of it.
Susan Furth, MD, PhD, took on the role of CSO in July 2021, after serving as Chief of CHOP’s Division of Nephrology for 11 years and Vice Chair of the Department of Pediatrics for four. She also holds the Edmond F. Notebaert Endowed Chair in Pediatric Research. What follows are scenes from a day in her fascinating life.
Has breakfast while perusing general and science news — today a story about gene editing in opossums piques her interest. Then it’s off to her office in the Roberts Center for Pediatric Research.
Meets with CHOP’s Executive Director of Informatics and the Scientific Director for Core Facilities. Today’s conversation is about envisioning the future of CHOP’s Biorepository. As a referral center for rare and complex diseases attracting patients from across the globe, CHOP has amassed one of the largest and most diverse collections of pediatric bio-specimens — de-identified samples of blood, tissue, body fluids, living cells and DNA — in the world.
This treasure trove of data offers scientists the potential to study patterns of disease progression, identify possible genetic causes, evaluate patient care approaches and outcomes — and make new discoveries.
SAFETY and EQUITY
Meets with CHOP’s Vice President for Research Compliance and Regulatory Affairs to review metrics for the Research Institute’s safety program. Safety of both scientists and patient subjects is paramount in CHOP’s studies. They also discuss recruitment practices and pay scale in an effort to ensure equity and diversity among research staff.
Along with colleagues from CHOP Government Affairs, Furth conducts video calls with staff of several Pennsylvania legislators to enlist support for the Pediatricians’ Accelerated Therapies (PACT) Act. The bill will create new grants to support pediatric researchers in the early stages of their careers, a subject close to Furth’s heart.
She explains that training for scientists is long and competition for funding fierce. The nation is seeing a dwindling pipeline of pediatric researchers at a time when they are needed more than ever. Talented scientists who are driven to solve the diseases of childhood will make discoveries that benefit all of society.
The congressional staffers listen carefully and speak of their respect for CHOP’s scientific stature. Regarding the PACT Act, they are encouraging: “I really think we can get this down the field this year,” says one.
Meets with a young physician-scientist in the Division of Nephrology. As the former chief of that division, Furth was the physician’s research mentor, a role she has continued — and enjoys — in her new position.
The doctor’s research, which focuses on innovative new imaging techniques to detect injury to kidneys after transplant, is funded by a grateful patient family as well as CHOP subsidies. Today, she and Furth discuss her application for a National Institutes of Health Award for Patient-Oriented Research to further support her work.
The quest for funding is a constant in the lives of researchers, and Furth wants to make sure CHOP scientists petition effectively.
Furth’s mentee comments: “At CHOP, we are so lucky to have focused time with mentors.”
A quick lunch while huddling with her assistant to plan/revise the next week’s schedule.
Attends a monthly work session with CHOP researchers and an external tech company. The team is working to bring a breakthrough pioneered at CHOP in the care of premature infants — an artificial womb-like device — from the lab to clinical application. The path is a long one, and expertise across many disciplines is necessary to help a brilliant scientific advance become an accepted care protocol for children.
Attends a weekly meeting with CHOP’s Vice President of Research Administration. Together, they brainstorm short- and long-term issues spanning the Research Institute: strategy, budget, incentive goals and more. The VP sees one of her roles as a “sounding board” for Furth.
Meets with another physician-scientist to discuss a project to provide support for researchers dealing with special circumstances. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a toll on junior research faculty who also have caregiving responsibilities — for children or other family — outside of work.
Furth and her colleague’s idea is to provide small grants to deserving faculty members to recruit “extra hands” for their labs — support that can jump-start key research studies. Applicants must make a persuasive case for both their research activities and their COVID-related care responsibilities. Furth is offering up funds from her own Edmond F. Notebaert Endowed Chair in Pediatric Research to make the project possible.
Home for dinner with her husband — leftovers from a party for Nephrology trainees — followed by a walk and an episode of The Kominsky Method.
Reflecting on her day and her career: “It is a huge privilege to work here — to help children and families realize the hope of science.”
— Helen Corning