A Physician Battling to Find a Cure for His Own Disease

A Physician Battling to Find a Cure for His Own Disease

Science Journal Article Profiles David Fajgenbaum's Epic Research Efforts

Penn Medicine Research Assistant Professor and LDI Senior Fellow David Fajgenbaum's extraordinary story is the subject of an extensive article in the July edition of the journal Science.

The piece entitled "A Young Doctor Fights to Cure His Own Rare, Deadly Disease" chronicles the Penn physician-scientist's quest to find the cure for idiopathic multicentric Castleman Disease -- the rare immunologic disease that he himself suffers.

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Photo: Hoag Levins
David Fajgenbaum on a recent Wharton School radio show discussing the international research network he organized.

Orphan diseases
At the same time, Fajgenbaum, MD, MBA, is a subject of an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times written by a surgeon at Seattle Children's Hospital about individual clinicians like Fajgenbaum -- rather than the pharmaceutical companies -- that are leading research efforts for various orphan diseases.

Fajgenbaum, who received the Catholic Church's last rites when he was near death from Castleman's in 2010, has reached that same brink four more times since then. Meanwhile, he has also organized the globe-spanning Castleman Disease Collaborative Network of researchers and immunology specialists to conduct coordinated research aimed at identifying the biomechanics and potential cure for the deadly disease.

'Tragedy-fueled achievement'
Interviewed in the Science article, LDI Senior Fellow and Associate Director of the Penn Wharton School Health Care Management department, June Kinney, remembered when Fajgenbaum applied to the MBA program with such "tragedy-fueled achievement in his past." 

Prior to being diagnosed with Castleman, Fajgenbaum's mother died of brain cancer -- an event that motivated him to launch a national organization for grieving college students who has experienced similar family death traumas.

'A lot of innate talent'
Kinney remembered thinking that Frajgenbaum's success in creating that organization "was the ultimate training ground" for what he would soon do with Castleman's on a world scale. "Obviously there's a lot of innate talent there in terms of motivating and inspiring people to build an organization," she told Science.