Dr. Mary Bunge Among Faculty Recognized for Service, Teaching and Scholarship

Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., the Christine E. Lynn Distinguished Professor of Neuroscience and professor of cell biology, neurological surgery, and neurology, and an internationally recognized authority in central nervous system regeneration, was honored with the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award on April 5. The award, established by the Faculty Senate in 1987, recognizes either a single outstanding achievement or sustained contributions to an area of research or creative activity throughout an individual’s career.

W. Dalton Dietrich, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery and scientific director of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, accepted the award for Bunge, who was not able to attend the ceremony because she is currently on a cruise along the west coast of Africa as part of a long-planned trip. On Bunge’s behalf, Dietrich presented “Spinal Cord Injury: Will Schwann Cells Fix It?” at the ceremony, which also honored Stephen Sapp, Ph.D., with the James W. McLamore Outstanding Service Award, and David L. Wilson, Ph.D., professor of biology, and John Paul Russo, Ph.D., professor of English and classics, with the Outstanding Teaching Award.

Bunge, a pioneer in elucidating the structure and function of cells that form myelin, now focuses on regeneration of axons across and beyond the area of injury in her lab at The Miami Project. Specifically, she conducts research with Schwann cells, which supports cells of the peripheral nervous system, hoping that one day they can be implanted into humans to repair the nervous system—a strategy first proposed some 37 years ago by her late husband, Richard Bunge, M.D., the former scientific director of The Miami Project.

In an email, Bunge, who said she was elated to have been recognized, elaborated on her latest research in using Schwann cells to build bridges across damaged spinal cord sections.

“In addition to working with Schwann cell (SC) bridges, we have studied combining this treatment with other strategies that lead to better repair,” Bunge wrote. “Recently we have found that a more effective treatment is the combination of a SC implant with the addition of a growth factor and an enzyme that affects the scar that builds up around the spinal cord injury. At the moment the complexity of spinal cord injury calls for a combination strategy.”

Bunge has submitted an Investigational New Drug Application and is in talks with the FDA on a potential clinical trial to implant patients’ own Schwann cells in the area of injury. “Once the safety of these cells is assured, then trials using combination therapies can be considered,” Bunge wrote.

Sapp, whose three decades-long career at the University of Miami is steeped in service, has chaired the Department of Religious Studies, served as a master of Eaton Residential College, and participated on several committees. “Faculty service is essential if a university is to function,” he said at the ceremony, which was held on the Coral Gables campus in the School of Business Administration’s Storer Auditorium.

In one of the many student evaluations describing Russo, one student simply wrote, “He is the man,” Pamela Hammons, Ph.D., professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of English, said in her introduction of Russo at the ceremony.

Russo taught at Harvard as a graduate student and on the faculties of the University of Chicago, Rutgers University at Camden, and Magdalene College, Cambridge before coming to UM. He makes use of new media in his course on mythology, whereby Greek gods and goddesses reappear, in all their majesty, on a dozen flat screen monitors. Fulbright Fellowships enabled him to teach at the universities of Palermo, Rome, and Salerno.

Wilson, who said teaching “is not merely an occupation and profession, but a lifelong calling,” has, over an illustrious 40-year career at UM, taught nearly 10,000 students—from undergraduate and graduate to medical and postdoctoral students.

Kathryn Tosney, Ph.D., professor and chair of biology, praised Wilson’s team approach to teaching, saying other instructors in the biology department have adopted his methods. She noted his collaborations with other faculty members, and said that he wins his department’s Outstanding Educator Award so often that the department now disqualifies him in alternate years so that others can win.

Wilson shared his secret to good teaching: “To care deeply about one’s students, their dreams and their futures,” he said, “and to care deeply about one’s subject matter, to share your enthusiasm with your students, to stimulate them, to enjoy the subject as they work all the harder to master it and become lifelong learners.”

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