Cystic fibrosis researcher Mitch Drumm named inaugural recipient of endowed professorship

headshot of Mitch Drumm CWRU professor
Mitch Drumm

Mitch Drumm’s pioneering academic career began with a pursuit called “chromosome jumping.”

The phrase may evoke images of skiers navigating moguls, but in fact represents an even more daunting challenge: navigating the complexity of human DNA to determine precisely where and how genetic materials contribute to disease.

As a graduate student at the University of Michigan working with esteemed geneticist Francis Collins, Drumm was part of the team that identified the gene responsible for cystic fibrosis, CFTR.

More than a quarter century later, Drumm continues his campaign against the disorder, which can create havoc on patients’ lungs and digestive systems.  In recognition of his commitment and contributions to the field, School of Medicine Dean Pamela B. Davis Wednesday announced that she has recommended the appointment Drumm as the inaugural recipient of the Connie and Jim Brown Professorship in Cystic Fibrosis Research. The appointment will not become official until after review and approval from the university Board of Trustees.

Davis, herself a world-renowned cystic fibrosis researcher, came to know the Browns while treating their granddaughter, KC Bryan White, for the condition. Then 12 years old, KC’s symptoms and the general course of CF made it unlikely she would reach 21. Yet the combination of KC’s determination and Davis’ creativity in developing interventions brought her into adulthood, marriage, and even a family.

The Browns were so moved by the care and treatment KC received that in 2012 they made a substantial commitment to what was then the medical school’s education building project; last year, the effort expanded to include dental medicine and nursing education as well. This year, the couple learned that a chair in pediatric research was more than halfway toward the funding level required for it to be endowed and announced. They did not hesitate.

“Jim and Connie have become incredible champions of the work we do at the School of Medicine,” Davis said. “Once again, they’ve stepped up to the plate to support our efforts to improve pediatric health.”

Drumm, a native of New Philadelphia, Ohio, joined Case Western Reserve’s pediatrics and genetics departments in 1992. Today his lab is working to understand more about the roots of the disease and the reasons its effects vary so widely among patients. Once the sources of cystic fibrosis are better understood, scientists should be able to develop more targeted medications to defeat the disease.

At the Browns’ request, once Drumm steps down from the position or retires, the name of the professorship will be changed to the Mitchell L. Drumm, PhD, Professorship in Cystic Fibrosis Research.