Dr. Jim Heubi: ‘The mentor’s mentor’

UC professor is remembered as expert educator, clinician and translational research leader

Jim Heubi, MD, was at the forefront of translational research at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine for more than three decades. Not only did he bring his research in pediatric gastroenterology at Cincinnati Children’s from the bench to the bedside, he worked diligently to help other researchers—especially young faculty—transform their innovative ideas into approved therapies.

Heubi, a professor in the UC Department of Pediatrics and, since 2005, associate dean for clinical and translational research, died Aug. 4 after a battle with cancer. He was 72.

“Dr. Heubi was a driving force in creating the UC Center for Clinical and Translational Science and Training (CCTST), which he served as director since its inception in 2005. He was an ardent supporter of translational research, both as a scientist and as an administrator helping to support the work of many others,” says Andrew T. Filak Jr., MD, senior vice president for health affairs and Christian R. Holmes Professor and Dean at the College of Medicine.

Heubi was the principal investigator of the $23 million Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) the university received in 2009 from the National Institutes of Health to support the CCTST and making UC the 39th CTSA program in the country. He led the effort to get the award renewed in 2015, bringing in another $18.7 million, and shepherding the renewal a third time in 2020, this time receiving $22.1 million.

“Through his efforts, researchers at the College of Medicine, Cincinnati Children’s and the Cincinnati Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, have had significantly enhanced opportunities to produce translational research that has gone on to improve the lives of many,” Filak added.

The mission of the CCTST is to accelerate the development, dissemination and implementation of innovative biomedical research discoveries that drive improvements in health and health care delivery. The overarching goal is to maximize the impact of clinical and translational research and training to improve individual and population health locally and nationally.

The CCTST consults with investigators on research design and implementation; provides support for young investigators in clinical and translational research through career development awards; assists faculty prepare large multidisciplinary, multi-school and multi-institutional grants; spearheads efforts to write institutional training grants; coordinates clinical and translational research; and coordinates the College of Medicine’s master’s program in Clinical and Translational Research Training and the certificate program in Clinical and Translational Research.

“His vision was that the CCTST could amplify research across the university to dramatically change outcomes, and in later years he became equally passionate about reducing health disparities and engaging the community in our research. He was tireless in his efforts to harness the resources of the CCTST in efforts to improve the health of our community,” says Jessica Kahn, MD, professor, director of adolescent and transition medicine and associate chair of academic affairs and career development in the Department of Pediatrics. She also is the KL2 Scholars Program principal investigator and program director, an NIH-funded program supporting young faculty.

Dr James Heubi in Cincinnati Children's building

James Heubi, MD, in November 2018.

In June, Heubi announced that the Executive Committee of the CCTST had selected Kahn to partner with Jareen Meinzen-Derr, PhD, professor in the Department of Pediatrics, and Brett Kissela, MD, senior associate dean for clinical research and the chair and Albert Barnes Voorheis Professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the College of Medicine, to co-lead the CCTST beginning April 1, 2022, as he transitioned out of leadership.

“He understood deeply the importance of training the next generation of biomedical researchers, and was tremendously supportive of the KL2 Scholars Program. He joined almost every KL2 Scholars meeting, offering his encouragement, invaluable advice and wisdom,” Kahn says about Heubi.

Kahn added that Heubi was the “quintessential sponsor” providing faculty with assistance and new opportunities to advance their careers.

“I remember being incredulous about his confidence in me. This is the kind of support that is critical for women to succeed in an academic health center, and I feel so blessed to have known him and benefitted from his mentorship, support and friendship,” she says.

Kissela echoed Kahn’s praise for Heubi’s desire to mentor faculty.

“He was a tireless mentor and research leader. His work on leading the General Clinical Research Center, which became the CCTST as the program evolved, was an extraordinary contribution to Cincinnati Children’s, the College of Medicine and our entire academic health center. Many researchers, including myself, benefited from Jim’s kindness and wisdom along with the many opportunities provided through programs like the CCTST. He was a good friend and colleague and will be deeply missed,” Kissela says.

Mitchell Cohen, MD, Katharine Reynolds Ireland Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, was a pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition fellow trained by Heubi in the early 1980s. He says Heubi was a favorite of fellows because he always made time for trainees.

“He was an exceptional individual with an outstanding ability to teach and to advocate for clinical research. He was an extraordinary academic citizen. Many fellows and faculty have turned to him to care for their children or other relatives. However, his greatest impact may have been on trainees. He was not only the doctor’s doctor but also the mentor’s mentor,” Cohen says.

“As a clinician, he treated many children, restored smiles, and helped them grow well into adulthood. As a scientist, he developed a treatment that saved livers and lives of children with bile acid defects. As a teacher, he guided many young physicians who now lead successful careers,” wrote Jorge Bezerra, MD, professor of pediatrics and director of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at Cincinnati Children’s, in a Cincinnati Children’s announcement of Heubi’s death. “Above all, Dr. Heubi was an amazing human being and beloved and respected faculty member. He was an inspirational colleague and a friend.”

Jack Kues, PhD, worked closely with Heubi since the inception of the CCTST. Kues is director of the Center for Improvement Science, a CCTST core, and also an associate dean for continuous professional development and an emeritus professor.

“His energy and enthusiasm were contagious. He loved new ideas and innovations. If he heard something that sounded interesting, either here or at another institution, he would push us all to try it out. He was always willing to support something that might make the CCTST better. Jim was a very hard worker. It was difficult to keep up with him,” Kues says.

“But he wasn’t all work,” Kues quickly added. “Jim spent a lot of time at his lake house up in Indiana. It was a three-plus-hour drive, but he went there often. This was a place he inherited from his father, but he expanded it into a much bigger place to accommodate his growing family. He doted over his three grandchildren. Most of the family pictures are him and the grandkids. He always found time for them. It was an honor and privilege working with him and getting to know him and his family. He was bigger than life and had a huge impact on the institution and the people who were lucky enough to know him.”

Dr James Heubi working in a aboratory

James Heubi, MD, in the late 1970s.

Heubi was a part of the UC and Cincinnati Children’s community since 1975 when he came to Cincinnati for his pediatric gastroenterology fellowship after completing his pediatric residency at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. He joined the College of Medicine faculty in 1979 following a path similar to his father, a pediatrician and faculty member at Indiana University School of Medicine, where Heubi received his medical degree in 1973 in just three years.

In 2011, when Heubi received his Daniel Drake Medal, the highest honor the College of Medicine bestows on faculty and alumni, he praised the College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s community for its nurturing environment.

“I am a somewhat unique academic, having spent my entire career at a single institution. Although I have been modestly successful in research and as a clinician, I believe my strength has been in mentoring and supporting the careers of hundreds of fellows and faculty through the direction of the General Clinical Research Center, now the Clinical and Translational Research Center. These programs have leveraged millions of dollars of research support for Cincinnati Children’s and the College of Medicine and have provided an opportunity to foster the clinical and translational research careers of young as well as established faculty.”

In addition to his CCTST and associate dean roles, Heubi also served as director of the Cincinnati Children’s General Clinical Research Center since 1988, associate dean for clinical research at the college from 2002 until 2004, associate chair for clinical investigation in the Department of Pediatrics from 2006 until 2015, and interim director of the Cincinnati Children’s Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in 2014 and 2015.

On a national level, Heubi served as president of the General Clinical Research Center Program Directors Association in 2007 and was active with the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition, serving as councilor, secretary-treasurer and, from 2016 until 2018, as president.

In addition to receiving the Drake Medal, Heubi also was honored with the UC Faculty Achievement Award (1997), the Founders Award from the Midwest Society for Pediatric Research (2006) and the Founders Award from the Cincinnati Pediatric Society (2010).

Heubi is survived by his wife, Margo; daughters, Elizabeth Heubi, and Christine Heubi, MD, Class of 2009, assistant professor, Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery; and three grandchildren.

A funeral service for Heubi will be held at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug 14 at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church, 2501 Riverside Drive, with a burial service to follow at Spring Grove Cemetery. Visitation will be from 4 until 8 p.m., Friday, Aug. 13 at Spring Grove Funeral Home Elden Good, 2620 Erie Ave. Masks are required. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the James Heubi Fund at Cincinnati Children’s. Please direct funds to “other” and type “James Heubi Fund.”

 

Photos courtesy of Cincinnati Children's.