Dr. Donald Kohn, distinguished professor of microbiology, immunology & molecular genetics and of pediatrics at UCLA, has received the Maureen Andrew Mentor Award from the Society for Pediatric Research.
The award is given each year to a pediatrician with an outstanding record of mentor leadership that generates excitement, creativity and scholarships leading to outstanding research and teaching. Kohn was presented with the award at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting on April 29, 2023 in Washington, DC.
As a physician-scientist, Kohn has balanced caring for patients in pediatric hematology/oncology and developing stem cell gene therapies for genetic blood disorders for over 35 years. He is credited with the development of one of the first successful blood stem cell gene therapies, targeting adenosine deaminase–deficient severe combined immunodeficiency, or ADA-deficient SCID. He is now applying similar blood stem cell gene therapy techniques in clinical trials for other conditions, including sickle cell disease, X-linked chronic granulomatous disease and leukocyte adhesion deficiency-1.
Kohn is a professor of pediatrics and molecular and medical pharmacology, and a member of the Eli and Edythe Broad Center of Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at UCLA, the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA and the UCLA Children’s Discovery and Innovation Institute.
To capture what makes Kohn such an extraordinary mentor, here are excerpts from letters of support submitted by his former trainees.
“Throughout my graduate training, [Don] taught me keys to success in the field of medicine and now that I am myself a mentor, I find myself repeating these 'pearls' to my own trainees. Clear in my memory was a moment on the stem cell transplant unit when a patient passed. He turned to me with tears in his eyes and told me, 'This is why we work so hard in the lab, so this doesn’t happen. Take this sadness and let it inspire you.' I will never forget that statement, and to this day when I lose a patient, I hear those words in my head. In that moment I learned that is okay to be vulnerable as a physician and to let the feelings invoked by patients motivate you.”
- Dr. Tanja Andrea Gruber, Division Chief – Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, Stem Cell Transplantation & Regenerative Medicine, Stanford School of Medicine
“In 1990, Don accepted me into his laboratory as a hematology-oncology fellow with no research experience. His infectious enthusiasm for research and his generosity and patience with a novice trainee led me to persevere in the lab despite a slow start. Throughout my career as a physician-scientist he has continued to provide me with intellectual guidance, directly helped me establish scientific collaborations and networking, and generously shared resources with my laboratory.
Despite our close scientific associations, Don scrupulously avoided co-authorship on my papers when I started my lab, realizing the potential difficulties that can arise when junior faculty try to establish an independent career in the institution where they were trained. The generosity of relinquishing parts of his own scientific dominion to his protégés has been one of the most notable and consistent features of Don’s mentoring to junior faculty. I have watched with awe the energy and unselfishness Don shows in the interest of advancing the career of junior faculty.”
- Dr. Gay Crooks, Professor and Rebecca Smith Endowed Chair – Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and Pediatrics, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
“Since departing the Kohn lab, Don has remained a constant source of support and sponsorship for my career. In fact, Don was instrumental in my acceptance into the Bauer lab for my post-doctoral research. In the final year of my doctoral work, Don had me travel with him to a key conference in our field that was typically only attended by faculty. It was there that Don kindly alerted the audience that the data he presented were a part of my thesis work and that I was actively looking for post-doctoral opportunities. That led to my meeting Dr. Bauer and later joining his lab.”
- Megan Hoban, Director, Translational Sciences, Magenta Therapeutics
“I believe Dr. Kohn’s positive and powerful impact on his trainees is a testament to his passion for teaching and unique ability to meet every person exactly where they are: empathizing, guiding, and molding mentees to be outstanding and successful human beings. The grand production of medical and scientific work generated by the Kohn Lab is a hallmark of the excellence Dr. Kohn has engrained in his students and it has been an honor of a lifetime to be a part of the show.
I know I will have numerous mentors throughout my career, but Dr. Kohn has set the standard for what I will look for in a mentor and he will always be the first person I turn to for advice. His impact, not only on my life, but on the lives of all his trainees is inspiring, and I can only hope to be half the mentor and physician he is some day.”
- Grace McAuley, M.D.-Ph.D. candidate, UC San Diego School of Medicine
Kohn has been a recipient of a career achievement award from the International Society for Cell & Gene Therapy, an Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award from the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, a Distinguished Clinical Scientist Award from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and a lifetime achievement award from the Pediatric Blood & Marrow Transplant Consortium. He has also served as president of the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy and the Clinical Immunology Society, and he was a member and chair of the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee for the National Institutes of Health Office of Biotechnology.