Joseph P. Vacanti, MD, FACS, received the 2015 Jacobson Innovation Award of the American College of Surgeons (ACS) at a dinner on June 5 at the John B. Murphy Memorial Auditorium in Chicago, IL. Dr. Vacanti is the John Homans Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School and is the director of the Laboratory for Tissue Engineering and Organ Fabrication, co-director of the Center for Regenerative Medicine, and chief of pediatric transplantation at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.
The prestigious Jacobson Innovation Award honors living surgeons who have been innovators of a new development or technique in any field of surgery and is made possible through a gift from Julius H. Jacobson II, MD, FACS, and his wife, Joan. Dr. Jacobson is a general vascular surgeon known for his pioneering work in microsurgery.
Honored for tissue engineering
This year’s Jacobson Innovation Award honors Dr. Vacanti for his work in the field of tissue engineering, which began in the early 1980s and stemmed from a long-held interest in addressing organ shortages. Working with Robert Langer, ScD, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Dr. Vacanti developed an approach using tissue-specific cells placed in scaffolds made of biodegradable polymers. The cells, derived from both living tissue or stem cells, are then bathed in growth factors and proceed to multiply, filling the scaffold. The cells then grow into three-dimensional tissue that, once implanted in the body, recreates its proper tissue function. Blood vessels grow into the new tissue, the scaffold degrades, and the lab-grown tissue becomes indistinguishable from its surroundings.
Dr. Vacanti also has been an innovator in pediatric surgery. In 1984, while at Children’s Hospital Boston, Dr. Vacanti instituted New England’s first successful pediatric extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program. In addition, he started the nation’s first liver transplantation program specifically for the pediatric population.
Dr. Vacanti was a founding co-president of the Tissue Engineering Society, now the Tissue Engineering Regenerative Medicine International Society (TERMIS) and which boasts 5,000 active members from 80 countries worldwide. He was also the founding senior editor of the journal Tissue Engineering, which serves the members of TERMIS. The journal can be found in 1,700 libraries in 20 countries and is provided free online to 106 developing countries.
Dr. Vacanti has authored more than 320 original reports, 69 book chapters, 54 reviews, and 473 abstracts. He has 81 patents or patents pending in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Japan.
“As I stand here tonight, I ask myself: ‘How did a Sicilian-American kid from Omaha, Nebraska, end up on this podium?’” Dr. Vacanti said to the approximately 100 guests at the dinner. “My answer is my family, my friends, and my heroes. Just like everyone in this room, we are descendants of immigrants. In my case, my grandparents emigrated from Sicily because of poverty and lack of opportunity. My grandfather could barely speak English but fought in the trenches in France in World War I and gained his American citizenship. He then worked in the boiler shops of the Union Pacific Railroad and taught me the value of hard work, but also the value of using my mind to obtain an education. My father was a professor of oral surgery and endodontics at Creighton University’s dental school, and my mother was a premedical student before marrying my father after World War II. It was that influence that led me to want to become a surgeon at the young age of four.”
Dr. Vacanti also paid tribute to the mentors who encouraged his growth as a surgeon as well as those individuals who have inspired and supported him throughout his career. “My surgical heroes and mentors are Dr. William Hardy Hendren III [MD, FACS, FRCSI(Hon), FRCSEng(Hon), FRCSGlas(Hon)] and Dr. Judah Folkman [MD, FACS], both previous Jacobson Award recipients. Both taught me about surgical innovation and how to think about a problem and its definitive solution,” he said. “Dr. Folkman advised me that if I was going to devote my life to something that I should pick something important. My closest friend, Mr. Walter Smith, has been very important in advising me through the years on many matters both personal and professional, and Dr. Robert Langer [MD, FACS] has been a partner and friend in all of this work through many years.”
Recipient of numerous honors
Dr. Vacanti has received numerous honors and awards. In 2001, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. In 2007, the Board of Directors of City Trusts, acting for the city of Philadelphia, presented him the John Scott Award, which is given to the most deserving men and women whose inventions have contributed significantly to the comfort, welfare, and happiness of human beings. The award has been given in memory of Benjamin Franklin since 1822, and previous recipients include Madame Marie Curie, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Thomas Edison, and Jonas Salk, MD.
Dr. Vacanti became a 2011 Thomson Reuters Citation Laureate in the field of physiology or medicine. Thomson Reuters Citation Laureates are an elite group of highly cited, high-impact researchers, who are likely contenders for other awards in the future, including the Nobel Prize.
Dr. Vacanti also received the William E. Ladd Medal in 2013, which is the highest honor awarded by the surgical section of the American Academy of Pediatrics and considered by many to be the most prestigious award in the field of pediatric surgery.
Jacobson Innovation Award recipients
1994—Prof. Francois Dubois, MD, Paris, France: Laparoscopic cholecystectomy
1995—Thomas Starzl, MD, FACS, Pittsburgh, PA: Liver transplantation
1996—Joel D. Cooper, MD, FACS, St. Louis, MO: Lung transplantation and lung volume reduction surgery
1998—Juan Carlos Parodi, MD, Buenos Aires, Argentina: Treatment of arterial aneurysms, occlusive disease, and vascular injuries by using endovascular stent grafts
1999—John F. Burke, MD, FACS, Boston, MA: Development and implementation of a number of innovative techniques in burn care, including the co-development of an artificial skin
2000—Paul L. Tessier, MD, FACS(Hon), Boulogne, France: Development and establishment of the surgical specialty of craniofacial surgery
2001—Thomas J. Fogarty, MD, FACS, Portola Valley, CA: Design and development of industry standard minimally invasive surgical instrumentation, especially for cardiovascular surgery
2002—Michael R. Harrison, MD, FACS, San Francisco, CA: Creator of the specialty of fetal surgery and developing techniques of fetoscopy for minimally invasive fetal technology
2003—Robert H. Bartlett, MD, FACS, Ann Arbor, MI: Pioneer in the development and establishment of the first extracorporeal membrane oxygenation program
2004—Harry J. Buncke, MD, FACS, San Francisco, CA: Pioneer in the field of microsurgery and replantation
2005—Stanley J. Dudrick, MD, FACS, Waterbury, CT: Innovator of specialized nutrition support and a pioneer in the field of clinical nutrition
2006—Judah Folkman, MD, FACS, Boston, MA: Pioneer in the field of angiogenesis
2007—William S. Pierce, MD, FACS, Hershey, PA: Pioneer in the conception and development of mechanical circulatory support and the total artificial mechanical heart
2008—Donald L. Morton, MD, FACS, Santa Monica, CA: Pioneer in research efforts toward the development and clinical application of sentinel lymph node biopsy
2009—Bernard Fisher, MD, FACS, Pittsburgh, PA: Development and implementation of a new course for the treatment of breast cancer by proposing that it is a systemic disease that metastasizes unpredictably and would best be treated with lumpectomy combined with adjuvant chemotherapy
2010—Lazar J. Greenfield, MD, FACS, Ann Arbor, MI: Development of the Greenfield filter, a vena cava filter implanted under fluoroscopic guidance to prevent pulmonary embolism in susceptible surgical patients
2011—George Berci, MD, FACS, FRCSEd(Hon), Los Angeles, CA: Pioneering contributor to the art and science of endoscopy and laparoscopy, resulting in the high level of technology used to perform many endoscopic and laparoscopic surgical procedures
2012—W. Hardy Hendren III, MD, FACS, FRCSI(Hon), FRCSEng(Hon), FRCSGlas(Hon), Boston, MA: Developed novel reconstruction procedures for children with severe urogenital abnormalities
2013—Susan E. Mackinnon, MD, FACS, FRCSC, St. Louis, MO: Leader in the innovative use of nerve transfer procedures for treatment of patients with devastating peripheral nerve injuries
2014—Robin T. Cotton, MD, FACS, FRCSC, Cincinnati, OH: Pioneered techniques used worldwide in the reconstruction of the larynx and trachea in children