Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

Department of Medicine

Faculty Spotlight: Iasha Sznajder, MD

Iasha Sznajder, MD

Ernest S. Bazley Professor of Asthma and Related Disorders
Professor in Medicine-Pulmonary and Cell and Molecular Biology

Professional Education
MD: Israel Institute of Technology
Internship: Rambam Medical Center, Israel
Residency: Rambam Medical Center, Israel
Fellowship: University of Chicago Hospitals

How did you decide to go in to Medicine?
My father died when I was 15 from an autoimmune disease, and in my dealing with the loss of my father, I decided to understand why diseases occurred and find cures for them. After he passed, my mother told me a story: both of my parents are holocaust survivors, and during the last month of the war, my father was in the market and he bartered his daily ration of food for a white coat from a physician, stating that they should have a son who should be a physician to relief pain and maladies. She gave me the coat, which I still have today.

What did you gain from your mentors?
Dr. Larry Wood, who I met when I was a medical resident in Israel, was a very influential figure in fostering curiosity and love for research.  His major gift was to establish an environment that would promote and encourage the confidence to find in yourself, the passion to formulate questions, to point out missteps and to find answers in a collegial, encouraging and optimistic way. I learned in that environment how to be precise and meticulous but mostly how to create an environment that is critically thinking and also positive and collegial.

Serendipity happens: Larry came to Israel for a sabbatical and stimulated the excitement for research that I still have. I learned that a lot of the things that you believe as truths may not the full truth or wrong, but you will figure that out tomorrow. Thus, how you go about formulating questions and analyzing research findings is crucial, and also engaging everyone in the team to contribute and “own” the project is paramount to what I regard as success.

How is research changing?
Research has become more and more interdisciplinary. It stimulates us to move out of our silos and comfort zones: most progress occurs when researchers from different disciplines focus on a theme to move the field beyond current knowledge.  Like in an orchestra where you see the different instruments practicing, tuning and the individual sounds that come out are dissonant, but when the different musical instruments and sections come together during a concert, with the right musicians and the right conductor, they play together harmoniously, and communicate.  When they are inspired, the music is memorable.  Everyone in the orchestra is important.

My inspiration for research comes from challenges that I have encountered while treating patients with lung diseases. I would like to understand more about biologic processes and mechanisms of organ function and dysfunction through research. I see research as a tool to generate new knowledge, which contributes to progress and may serve as an antidote to ignorance and intolerance. I see us researchers as contributing to society with bricks in a wall of knowledge and the wall needs to be build true and strong to promote innovation and transformation. When I served as the editor of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care (the top pulmonary and critical medicine journal). the philosophy to disseminate fundamental research findings was the agenda that our team promoted.

What kind of environment did you try to foster in your 17 years as chief?
When I became chief, the division was quite small.  We have grown significantly and are now more than 40 faculty members, many graduate students and about 25 post-doctoral fellows and research assistants, in what is a robust, diverse and superb division. Academic environments like ours are competitive, but I have strived to establish a critically thinking environment that is collegial and kind, which promotes individual and collective success.  I am privileged to have wonderful colleagues in the division and department of medicine as well as members of my laboratory especially my long term collaborators (Drs. Dada, Lecuona and Lynn Welch) with whom daily work is stimulating, fun and productive. I am very thankful to have a very supportive family with my wife Elena and two grown children, their spouses who are also healthcare researchers, and two grandchildren whom I am looking forward to teach the wonders of science.

You recently decided to step down as chief; what’s next for you in your career?
I will focus on our research regarding the devastating effects of lung diseases that affect almost one in four people and increasing particularly in older patients.  We are incorporating novel technologies spearheaded by Drs. Alexander Misharin and Scott Budinger and together with our collaborators Drs. Ridge, Chandel, Balch, Morimoto and Vaughan to understand better the mechanisms and how to alleviate cardiopulmonary diseases in aging populations.

Learn More
View Dr. Sznajder’s Faculty Profile>>
Learn more about the Sznajder Lab>>