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New McDonough chair will support research in rheumatology

Ellen M. Gravallese, MD, named inaugural recipient

By Kristen O’Reilly

UMass Medical School Communications

August 26, 2013
   Ellen M. Gravallese, MD


A gift from the estate of local philanthropist and successful businessman Myles J. McDonough will create a new endowed chair at UMass Medical School in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Rheumatology. Ellen M. Gravallese, MD, professor of medicine and cell & developmental biology, will be the inaugural Myles J. McDonough Chair in Rheumatology.

McDonough, who died in March 2012, was founder and chairman of the board of FLEXcon Company, Inc., a leading manufacturer of pressure-sensitive film and adhesive products. He founded the company in 1956 at the age of 26 and grew it to a multi-million dollar, worldwide operation with 1,500 employees. He was treated at UMass Memorial Medical Center during his long illness with arthritis, and his caregivers noted that his positive approach throughout his illness was inspirational. He was committed to improving the lives of other patients with arthritis and to supporting clinical and research efforts at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care.

“This generous gift will allow one of our most accomplished faculty members to advance the science around this challenging condition and to potentially uncover novel treatments,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins. “Myles McDonough was a wonderful friend of our institution. Creating an endowed chair in his memory is a very personal way to affect the future of medical research and clinical care in a targeted area, and we are grateful for this tremendous demonstration of support.”

McDonough served on the boards of several Worcester institutions including Memorial Hospital, Worcester County National Bank and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he received an award for distinguished service as a trustee. He also received the 2011 Harvey Ball Smile Award, given by the Worcester Historical Society to an individual, group or organization whose actions have improved the community’s quality of life. McDonough devoted particular energy and resources to support arthritis care and research. He founded the annual Arthritis Foundation Walk, and was a generous donor to the American College of Rheumatology Research and Education Foundation’s campaign towards a cure for rheumatoid arthritis. He and his wife, Jean, were involved in many local institutions, including the Worcester Art Museum, the American Antiquarian Society, the Bancroft School, the Ecotarium, the Worcester Historical Museum and the Greater Worcester County Community Foundation.

“Myles left this legacy because he understood the importance of funds to support research for all tough medical issues,” said Jean McDonough. She said that during his treatment, he established a strong relationship over 25 years with his rheumatologist, Katherine Upchurch, MD, clinical professor of medicine. “He was treated with such caring and understanding by Dr. Upchurch, and that made the difference in how he coped with his illness.”

“Over the years that I knew and treated Myles, I was repeatedly impressed by his intellect, his drive and his devotion to UMass Memorial,” said Dr. Upchurch. “His wonderful gift is deeply meaningful because it reflects his confidence in our division to continue his own personal quest to conquer the disease that compromised his body, but never his spirit.”

Dr. Gravallese, the chair’s inaugural recipient, is dedicated to caring for patients with rheumatoid arthritis and to studying the mechanisms by which inflammation in the soft tissue lining joints leads to joint cartilage and bone destruction. She is internationally known for her major discoveries in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis and the joint destruction that ensues. Her research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American College of Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation, among others. She received her medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and did her residency and fellowship at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School. Gravallese, who recently completed the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program, came to UMMS from Harvard Institutes of Medicine and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, where she was a member of the Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“The Rheumatology Division is deeply indebted to the McDonough family for their generosity in establishing this endowed chair in rheumatology. This gift will enhance our research efforts to identify new strategies to prevent joint destruction in arthritis, and will engage clinicians in efforts to translate our research into improved care for our patients,” said Gravallese.

Endowed positions at UMMS allow private donors to support a specific area of academic excellence and scientific pursuit and increase the university’s ability to retain the best faculty. UMMS has 35 endowed positions that further the work of innovative and dedicated faculty members who bring cutting-edge research to bear on some of the most devastating human diseases.