College of Medicine dean: 'I would drop anything to join this effort'

College of Medicine dean: 'I would drop anything to join this effort'

PODCAST: Dr. Matthew Gibb chatted with Jim Turpin this morning. Listen here

CHAMPAIGN — The first dean of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine called the job “the opportunity of a lifetime,” one he couldn’t pass up.

King Li, the senior associate dean for clinical and translational research at Wake Forest University and the deputy director of that university’s comprehensive cancer center, was selected to take over that position at the UI effective Oct. 1.

“This job is clearly one of the most exciting, if not the most exciting, opportunity in really making huge impacts on health-care delivery, education and research,” Dr. King Li said in an interview with The News-Gazette. “I would drop anything to join this effort.”

Li will earn $650,000 a year.

The appointment will be considered by the UI Board of Trustees at its Sept. 8 meeting.

UI officials said last week four finalists selected out of about a dozen semifinalists for the position.
Li was recommended by Carle Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Gibb and UI Interim Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost Edward Feser.

Feser described Li as a renowned researcher, educator, inventor and clinician in molecular imaging and radiology.

“Dr. Li has a deep knowledge of all facets of the Carle Illinois College of Medicine concept, particularly its engineering-based foundation and public-private structure,” Feser said in a statement. “He is a highly regarded scholar who commands respect in his discipline and in the medical profession. And he is excited about engaging faculty, disciplines and colleges across the campus to help this new college succeed.”

The UI listed Li’s background to lead the new medical school, which is expected to accept its first class of 32 students in 2018, as research, clinical, educational and entrepreneurial roles at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center and Stanford University, as well as Wake Forest and Houston Methodist Hospital. He also holds 16 patents, with another six pending, and is the Wells Fargo Faculty Scholar at Wake Forest.

Li said he was notified that he’d been selected for the job about two weeks ago.

First on his to-do list is working with the curriculum committee to ensure they can file for accreditation for the new engineering-based medical school by Dec. 1.

He also wants to establish relationships with departments across campus and make sure health-care providers are kept informed, “to make them understand why this is impactful to what they do every day in the future,” he said. He also pledged to be open with the community about the project so people understand the potential health and economic development benefits.

“We were fortunate to consider the applications of a number of outstanding candidates, and Dr. Li possesses the academic, clinical and technical skills, along with the personal attributes, to lead the Carle Illinois College of Medicine and to galvanize public support,” Gibb said in a statement.

Li said starting up a new medical school, especially one focused on engineering and data, poses unique challenges — at several levels.

The medical school curriculum has to integrate engineering and technology, and students will have to have a background in engineering, physics, math or other quantitative field so they can handle the coursework in mathematical modeling and other areas, he said.

The curriculum has to be modified so “they will be thinking in more engineering and technology terms and be able to actually translate a lot of the cutting-edge engineering and technology concepts into what they’d do in the future,” he said.

“That’s clearly a challenge. No one has ever done this before,” he said.

Other medical schools may have engineering tracks for students, but they draw students from a broader range of backgrounds, he said.

He also has to recruit faculty who buy into that concept. He said many classes will be team taught.

“A lot of these classes cannot be taught by a single individual. You’re really combining different concepts,” he said. “You almost have to train the trainers, teach the faculty how to teach these types of classes. Luckily we have a lot of talented people who have spent a lot of time thinking about it already.”

The college also has to relate its activities to the actual health-care delivery at Carle, he said, “to benefit the community, both in improving the population’s health and also in increasing economic activities” through the development of new medical technology.

Li studied physiology and biochemistry at the University of Toronto, earned a medical degree from Toronto and an MBA from San Jose State University.

He will be transferring about 1$ million from a National Institutes of Health grant for his research to the UI.

Li said he hopes to collaborate with researchers at the Beckman Institute.

“It’s a really fantastic campus packed with talent,” he said.

His research involves blending engineering technology with biology to treat difficult cancers and other diseases in the brain with “remote-control” cells or drugs.

He uses image-guided ultrasound energy to try to control stem cells that attach to the diseased sites in the brain. Specialized genes transferred to the stem cells can then release drugs or other treatments. In one example, they can penetrate the lining of the brain, known as the blood-brain barrier, which ordinarily prevents drugs from going into the brain.

“Very few drugs can cross this barrier. If we can actually use the stem cells to localize the places of disease, and then use a trigger from the outside, ultrasound that penetrates the skull, to activate those stem cells, we can open up the lining of the brain, just in those microscopic areas, and allow drugs to treat diseases in those sites,” he said.

Li is a native of Hong Kong, emigrating to Canada with his family when he was 17, and speaks fluent Cantonese. He is married to Rosina Li, a retired pharmacist. They have two grown sons who both work in Silicon Valley.



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andrewscheinman wrote on August 30, 2016 at 10:08 am gives a bit of an overview, he's a radiologoist but looks to have a broader scientific interest.

Could be wonderful for UIUC, Carle is apparently most strong in imaging, which would fit what Li knows, but Li seems to have a lot of experience with commercialization, which is what UIUC really needs.

Smart man, looks to be a very smart pick, and a sign that UIUC is going back to its earlier roots of real scientists.

Lostinspace wrote on August 30, 2016 at 11:08 am

"its earlier roots of real scientists."

As opposed to...?

Just curious.

andrewscheinman wrote on August 30, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Okay, so this is catty, but there was a lot of criticism of Wise's scientific work.  Whether or not that's fair, certainly my unscientific sense is that research faculty at UIUC weren't all that thrilled with her scientific skills, although again that's a sweeping generalization and I'm sure there will be many who disagree with me, which is fine.  The accusations of plagerism didn't look good, that was certainly a factor.

My more coherent point would be that Li's research record seems to be vigorous, and really does seem to target the intersection of medicine and engineering that the COM is supposed to aim towards.  It's a hard sell in that UIUC isn't even REMOTELY the first to have the idea of "physician engineers," and I think it was nonsense to even suggest that we'd be able to develop some curriculum no one else (like MIT or Harvard) wouldn't already have thought of.

On the other hand, UIUC is consistently the highest NSF recipient in the country or one of the two few, we're a huge big data source, and we already have good collaborations with Mayo, and our sequencing center with apparently MANY other institutions.  So there's definitely a huge opportunity here.

What that requires in terms of the head of the COM is someone who really does good science, and that's what Li seems to be.  Wise always appeared much more an administrator, I don't know how Li manages to obtain a better mix of admin/science, but his resume seems to suggest he does.

So that's a better explanation.  I certainly don't know all the ins-and-outs on the selection, would love to hear comments from those who know more.  I myself am excited he wants to do commercialization, which is my speciality.  I hope it's a stimulus for, say, Urbana to get up and try to attract some of that commercialization, which means trying to figure out how to deal with Carle other than by multi-year suits.

Not that Carle is even remotely a *victim*, but opportunity requires cooperation by all parties, including Urbana.

Lostinspace wrote on August 30, 2016 at 3:08 pm

Thanks for the clarification. You and the Widow Clicquot seems to have a good idea of what a university should be and do, along with a sense of how things work here.  Appreciated.

I wonder why more faculty members don't comment here (or maybe they do and I don't recognize it).