Dr. Mary Bartlett Bunge Elected to Institute of Medicine

Bunge is Institute of Medicine Honoree

October 2013 – The Institute of Medicine (IOM) today announced that Mary Bartlett Bunge, Ph.D., Professor, Cell Biology, Neurological Surgery and Neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine’s Miami Project to Cure Paralysis was elected as a member.  Election to the IOM is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service.

“Dr. Bunge’s distinguished scientific career has spanned more than 50 years, a period during which she not only made numerous seminal discoveries but also helped advance the careers of many other distinguished scientists,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School. “We are delighted that the Institute of Medicine values her accomplishments, expertise, and service as much as we do. We are all extremely proud of Dr. Bunge.”

Dr. Bunge’s distinguished scientific career has spanned more than 50 years with the last 24 at the University of Miami.  She has worked for nearly four decades on a specific cell, the Schwann cell, found in the peripheral nervous system that she and her late husband, Richard Bunge, M.D. judged to be an important component to repairing the damaged spinal cord.  Her work with Schwann cells has led to numerous discoveries, and is now central to a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approved phase one clinical trial using autologous Schwann cells in sub-acutely spinal cord injured individuals.  This work will serve as a foundation for future cell replacement and regeneration trials at The Miami Project.

“I am very surprised but very deeply honored to have been selected to be a member of the Institute of Medicine.  Ever since childhood I have wanted to make a difference and do something worthwhile – I hope that this honor helps confirm that I have achieved this goal.  Throughout my career I have had very exceptional mentors so have been very fortunate in being able to fly on the wings of eagles,” said Bunge, the Christine E. Lynn Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience.

True to her selfless style, Dr. Bunge shares this distinction with her deceased husband Dr. Richard Bunge, with whom she worked for nearly 40 years, and also Dr. Patrick Wood and numerous outstanding students and fellows who were trained in their laboratory.

Some of Dr. Bunge’s numerous honors include receiving the prestigious Wakeman Award in 1996 for her seminal contributions to the understanding of SCI repair, the Javits Neuroscience Investigator Award from 1998-2005 from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (where she served on its Council).  She served on the National Academy of Science’s Institute of Medicine Committee on Spinal Cord Injury from 2003-2005, and received an honorary doctoral degree in Humane Science from her undergraduate alma mater, Simmons College, in 2006.  Dr. Bunge’s 39-year old National Institutes of Health (NIH) individual research grant recently was renewed for years 40-45, and she has also been honored for her leadership in advancing women’s careers in neuroscience.  She was the inaugural recipient of the Mika Salpeter Women in Neuroscience Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.  She became the Christine E. Lynn Distinguished Professor in Neuroscience in 2003 and received the Lois Pope LIFE International Research Award, in 2005 and became a Member of the University of Miami’s Iron Arrow, and she received the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, UM, 2012.

“It is an honor to welcome our highly distinguished colleagues to the Institute of Medicine,” said IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg.  “These individuals have inspired us through their achievements in research, teaching, clinical work, and other contributions to the medical field.  Their knowledge and skills will deeply enrich the IOM.”

At its 43rd annual IOM meeting 70 new members and 10 foreign associates were added.  New members are elected by current active members through a selective process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care, and public health.  IOM’s charter ensures diversity of talent among the Institute’s membership by requiring at least one-quarter of the members to be selected from fields outside the health professions, such as engineering, social sciences, law, and the humanities.  The newly elected members raise IOM’s total active membership to 1753 and the number of foreign associates to 120. With an additional 93 members holding emeritus status, IOM’s total membership is 1966.

The Institute of Medicine is unique in its structure as both an honorific membership organization and an advisory organization.  Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences, IOM has become recognized as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues.  With their election, members make a commitment to volunteer their service on IOM committees, boards, and other activities.  Projects during the past year include studies of environmental factors in breast cancer, health information technology (IT) and patient safety, nutrition rating systems and graphics on food packaging, the scientific necessity of chimpanzees in research, establishing crisis standards of care during catastrophic disasters, improving care for epilepsy, and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.