Annual Report: 2017 Year in Review

The margin of excellence. It’s what makes a vision a reality, grows a strong program into a preeminent one and turns the most promising research ideas into the most effective new treatments. Philanthropy builds that margin, ensuring that the scientific advancement of medicine is limited only by the boundaries of what’s achievable, not by the bottom line of what’s affordable.


Across Rush in 2017, our donors, partners, alumni and friends brought us closer to a future marked by heightened access, quality, prevention and outcomes for our patients and the communities we serve. These are just a few of those stories.

Personalizing Cancer Care

“Tempus can structure clinical data and combine it with molecular data on a scale that’s hard to find. Together with Rush’s novel cancer therapies and research, I believe we can improve patient outcomes in even the most dire of cases.” — Eric Lefkofsky, co-founder and CEO of Tempus, Inc.

More than 1.6 million people were diagnosed with cancer in 2017, and each case is different. If we know which therapies have the best chance to succeed in fighting the disease, then every cancer patient can be treated based on the data in aggregate of all the cancer patients who came before them. Academic medical centers such as Rush have the talented and trained experts to translate genetic data into personalized treatments, but they need help storing and cataloging the vast array of cancer information.

To meet this need, entrepreneur Eric Lefkofsky created Tempus, a biotechnology company that collects, stores and analyzes massive amounts of genetic data, clinical information and tissue samples from top cancer programs across the country. Thanks to a partnership with Tempus, Rush’s cancer team and researchers will be able to make data-informed decisions in real time to better treat a wider range of challenging cancer cases. Additionally, Rush and Tempus are working together to develop 3-D models of individual tumors and cancerous tissue to test how patients could respond to future treatments. This combined effort will lead to better screenings and prevention strategies in addition to individualized treatment plans.

Leveraging Technology to Better Treat, Prevent and Predict Cancer

In partnership with Tempus, Rush will greatly increase its library of information on cancer cases and broadly expand our research capabilities leading to specific advances in individualized cancer care. Learn more

Comforting Veterans With Constant Companionship

“The dogs are always with their veterans. They don’t judge them. They don’t care what happened yesterday. They just want everything to be good for their owner.” — Ryan Brown, outreach coordinator at the Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush

A military veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, could experience nightmares so powerful that they wake in the middle of the night. PTSD can also lead to isolation and withdrawal from the outside world, among other challenges. Traditional weekly therapy might not be intensive enough for the singular traumas of military service, but inpatient hospitalization might be too severe. Together, longtime Rush supporter Susan Regenstein and staff at Rush’s Road Home Program created an unconventional initiative to help meet this specialized need.

Established with the generosity of The Regenstein Foundation, the Regenstein Service Dog Initiative has enabled Road Home to connect veterans with well-trained companions who will assist them at all hours of the day and night at no cost. Service dogs bring warmth and connection, as well as a sense of responsibility for the veterans. The dogs can sense when their veterans’ anxiety is raised and comfort them, even if they are asleep. They encourage social interaction and support veterans in public settings that may be too overwhelming alone. Best of all, the dogs love their veterans unconditionally and without judgment.

Enabling Inventive Care for Veterans

The Regenstein Foundation donated $1.5 million to the Road Home Program: The Center for Veterans and Their Families at Rush. The gift will cover costs for training and pairing of dogs with more than 90 veterans with diagnosed needs during the next three years, as well as ongoing costs for the dogs, including veterinary visits, food and continued training. Learn more.

Understanding Life-altering Injuries

“By understanding movement mechanics of healthy and unhealthy shoulders, we can better anticipate if people are at risk for injury. Thanks to the foresight of Anthony Romeo, MD, and his patients, we may find signs of shoulder problems before they become major difficulties.”  ­— Antonia Zaferiou, PhD, co-director of the Joan and Paul Rubschlager Motion Analysis Laboratory and orthopedic department faculty

Reaching for items high on a shelf. Perfecting your golf swing. Lifting a laughing child into the air. Simple, everyday actions like these could lead to shoulder injuries that drastically reduce quality of life or, even worse, the ability to earn a living. In 2015 more than 12 million Americans went to their doctors because of shoulder pain, and we don’t yet know the signs that someone is at risk for shoulder injury ahead of time. But if we can better understand how the complex shoulder joint works, we can find methods to prevent life-altering injuries and conditions.

To start making that vision a reality, patients of Anthony Romeo, MD, a longtime innovator of shoulder repairs, treatments and replacements at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, were inspired by his efforts to recruit a scientist who could further advance this work. With philanthropic support, Antonia Zaferiou, PhD, joined Rush to study how people use their shoulders during daily life and sports activities to better inform and enhance Romeo’s efforts to help his patients recover and return to an active lifestyle. Using wearable sensors and motion-capture technology, Zaferiou and her colleagues are gaining valuable new insight into how people change their movements when they are injured or when they try to avoid pain. And by detecting electrical signals traveling through muscles, she and her team can better understand how the brain is commanding the body to move.

Discovering Early Signs of Shoulder Injuries

Thanks to support from patients of Anthony Romeo, MD, we are paving a path toward understanding shoulder movement to prevent serious injuries.

Watch Zaferiou’s motion analysis in action.

Bridging the Gap to Success

“Through this integrated support system, I am reminded each day of why I want to be here, why I want to learn and how I am capable of pursuing great things in life.” — Nada McMullen, 18-year-old Simpson Academy student

At Simpson Academy for Young Women, the only Chicago Public School that exclusively serves pregnant and parenting teens, Rush’s school-based health center provides a safe space for young women like Nada McMullen to pursue higher education while receiving necessary health care services for herself and her 1-year-old son. Thanks to this unique integration of education and medical resources, Nada will thrive through the school’s nearly 100 percent graduation rate and college acceptance rate — versus the average 69.4 percent graduation rate at Chicago Public Schools.

Donors such as the Polk Bros. Foundation, Allstate Insurance, Epic and The Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center enable Simpson Academy, along with Rush’s two other school-based health centers, to provide primary, preventive and mental health services where youth frequently struggle to access quality health care. With many of these students residing in neighborhoods of prevalent poverty and violence, the clinics equip them with the tools and skills needed to effectively cope with traumatic experiences and health conditions — ensuring they can stay healthy and on track academically to successfully transition into college and their careers. 

Advancing Diversity and Disparities

Rush’s three school-based health centers are just one example of how the organization’s health equity efforts and programs are breaking barriers across Chicago.

These efforts to reduce health care disparities and advance diversity and inclusion were nationally honored last year when the American Hospital Association once again chose Rush University Medical Center as an honoree for its annual Equity of Care Award.

Leading the Future of Health Care

“I want to be not only a stable presence for my patients, but a face that younger people can see themselves in — someone who looks like them, in a career they never thought was possible for themselves.” — Camille Johnson, Rush Medical College student

Witnessing widespread racial and health disparities in her own neighborhood, Camille Johnson knew that a career in medicine meant she could be a leading voice for communities so desperately needing to be heard. When applying to medical schools, she sought out an institution that would amplify this voice. After learning of Rush’s longtime health equity programs in Chicago’s most underserved communities, Camille’s choice was clear — although almost financially unattainable.

The Ariel Investments Endowed Scholarship for African-American Students, however, provided Camille the assistance she needed to attend Rush University. Designed to support the best and brightest medical students, the scholarship attracts and retains aspiring physicians at Rush who exhibit leadership and passion for health care. While underrepresented minorities still account for only 6 percent of U.S. physicians, this fund has helped pave the way for 14 African-American students to join the ranks of leading physicians, educators and administrators in greater numbers. 

On the Flip Side of Medical Education

Camille Johnson was one of the first Rush Medical College students to learn from the newly implemented “flipped" classroom model, through which students study lecture content on their own and use classroom time to interact with peers and apply their newly gained knowledge to real-life scenarios.

Mentoring Investigative Minds

“Thanks to guidance from Deborah Hall and the movement disorders faculty, I am pursuing multiple avenues of Parkinson’s research that will lead to new and improved treatments with the ultimate goal of stopping this disease.” — Gian D. Pal, MD, MS, assistant professor in the Department of Neurological Sciences at Rush and former Cohn Research Fellow

New health care researchers face an unexpected challenge: Without proper funding, even the most revolutionary idea might not reach people in need. In the last five years, only 18 percent of National Institutes of Health, or NIH, grant applicants received funding. Gian Pal, MD, MS, encountered this daunting challenge while entering Rush’s Cohn Fellowship Program, established with a generous gift from the Cohn family. His mentor Deborah A. Hall, MD, PhD, an accomplished Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders researcher and clinician at Rush, guided Pal through the process of gathering initial data and making a compelling case for seed funding. As a result of Hall’s guidance and Pal’s resilient efforts, he has now received support from NIH in addition to private donations from individuals such Christine and John Bakalar to take his Parkinson’s disease research ideas even further.

Many Parkinson’s patients, but not all, find relief from their symptoms through deep brain stimulation, or DBS — a surgical procedure in which a device is implanted into the brain to help control movements. Pal was awarded NIH funding in 2017 with the vision that genetic information could be used to identify patients who will fare best with DBS. This is among 46 different Parkinson’s research studies happening now at Rush, and Pal has become an integral part of this internationally recognized program. Today Pal is a faculty member with an office right next to Hall's office at Rush, where they continue to collaborate for the benefit of current and future movement disorder patients.

Continuing Excellence in Solving Parkinson’s Puzzles

One of the largest and oldest programs of its kind in the country, the Rush Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Program is a longstanding Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, based on decades of clinical and research excellence. 

Now Rush is recognized as a National Parkinson Foundation Center of Excellence as well.

Improving Quality of Life

“Palliative care improves quality of life for patients facing life-threatening illnesses and provides much-needed relief for families, but not enough people know about it. We need more educated providers to make this connection for their patients.” Masako Mayahara, palliative care nurse and former Coleman Foundation fellow

Every day Masako Mayahara sees families in crisis as they care for terminally ill loved ones. As a palliative care nurse, though, she steps in to manage the patient’s medical care and reduce any pain, allowing family members to become emotionally present in an often fragile moment. However, there are only 200 palliative medicine training fellowships in the U.S. each year. This has undoubtedly led to a shortage of care providers trained in palliative care — the front-line champions who must educate patients on their options when a life-threatening diagnosis is made.

Funding cancer care and supportive oncology for more than three decades, the Coleman Foundation set out to address the critical workforce shortage through The Coleman Palliative Medicine Training Program. With Rush as the administrative home for the grants awarded, nearly 25 local institutions participate in training palliative care physicians, nurses, social workers and chaplains to implement palliative care best practices at their sites, and improve access to services in Chicago and its surrounding areas. Since the program’s inception, 52 fellows including physicians, nurses, social workers, chaplains and other clinicians have been trained using didactics, online learning and one-on-one mentoring by a palliative care expert. With the Coleman Foundation’s continued support of palliative medicine training, more health care professionals are bringing vital support and improved quality of life to greater numbers of patients facing a life-limiting illness and their families.

Treating the Whole Person

The Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Cancer Clinics at Rush bring together multidisciplinary teams that design personalized cancer treatment plans to meet each patient’s unique needs. With Rush’s thriving clinical research program, doubling in enrollment in the past year, the clinics offer the latest diagnostic capabilities and leading-edge treatment options.

These successes, among others, have ultimately led to Rush’s cancer program being named one of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report