Medical pioneer, civic volunteer honored at UAB commencement Dec. 13

December 10, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Commencement ceremonies at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13, at Bartow Arena, 617 S. 13th St. About half of the 1,947 December graduates will take part in the ceremonies. Doors open at 12:45 p.m. Anyone with special seating requirements is asked to arrive early.

Basil I. Hirschowitz, M.D., Ph.D., the medical pioneer who invented the first fiberoptic endoscope that became the standard for visualizing and treating virtually every cavity in the body, will receive the President's Medal during commencement. The endoscope prototype now resides in the Smithsonian Institution. Caroline P. Ireland, committed civic volunteer and a long-time benefactor of the Birmingham community, will receive the degree of Doctor of Humanities.

The commencement address will be given by graduating UAB senior Zsu Zsu Chen, who will receive a Bachelor of Science degree in biology with Departmental and University Honors. Chen graduated from Hoover High School in 2005. She is a member of the Early Medical School Acceptance Program and the University Honors Program. She plans to attend medical school. Her parents are Hsiuhuang and Ming-Liang Chen, who now live in Singapore.

During her undergraduate experience at UAB, Chen was part of research projects that included working with Tim Townes, Ph.D., in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics investigating the process that gives stem cells the ability to change into other cells. She worked with Zhixin Zhang, Ph.D., in the Department of Microbiology, where she investigated how the immune system identifies and responds to viral attacks. This past summer, she studied Parkinson's disease during a summer internship at the National Institute of Aging that was funded the National Institutes of Health.

Basil I. Hirschowitz

Dr. Hirschowitz, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, Physiology and Biophysics, joined the UAB faculty in 1959 as associate professor of medicine and founder of the Division of Gastroenterology, a post he held for 29 years. Prior to joining UAB, he was a member of the medical school faculties at the University of Michigan and Temple University. It was at the University of Michigan in 1957 that the young researcher and his team invented the coated glass fiber that made possible the development of the prototype flexible endoscope. He tested the prototype by swallowing it himself.

His major research involved the normal gastric functions and pathophysiology of acid-peptic diseases such as peptic ulcer, reflux and, particularly, Zollinger-Ellison Syndrome. A career that spans six decades also includes leadership in clinical trials that were the forerunners to new pharmaceutical treatments in gastroenterology. Those trials paved the way for widespread use of medications the public knows today by such names as Pepcid, Prilosec and Nexium.

Dr. Hirschowitz retired as professor in the Department of Medicine's Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 1995 after 36 years of service and, until recently, continued to work actively as Professor Emeritus in the School of Medicine, focusing on clinical practice and research. He was named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer in 1988 and Professor Emeritus in 1996.

A native of Bethal, South Africa, Dr. Hirschowitz earned three degrees at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, including the equivalent of the American degrees of M.D. and Ph.D. In 1950, he left South Africa to work in London, first at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and then at the Central Middlesex Hospital. In 1953, he earned admittance as a member of the Royal College of Physicians in both Edinburgh and London. He later was awarded Fellowship in both.

Dr. Hirchowitz's career spanned six decades, five spent at UAB. In addition to being the founder and the first director of the Division of Gastroenterology, his career appointments also included professor of medicine and vice chairman of the Department of Medicine.

Dr. Hirschowitz's leadership in gastroenterology has garnered him several meritorious honors, most notably the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Charles F. Kettering Prize, the Julius Friedenwald Medal from the American Gastroenterological Association, the Schindler Medal from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy, the Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Gastroenterology, and the Laureate Award of the American College of Physicians, of which he also was elected Master.

In 2004, he was presented an honorary Doctor of Medicine by the Sahlgrenska Academy of Goteborg University, Sweden. He was named a Fellow in the Royal Society of Medicine, London, and was elected to the Alabama Academy of Honor. Most recently, the Board of Trustees of The University of Alabama passed a resolution naming the new Endoscopy Unit in UAB Hospital the Basil I. Hirschowitz Endoscopic Center of Excellence.

Caroline P. Ireland

Mrs. Ireland has a long history of sharing her resources, time and talents with the UAB community. Most recently, she established the Caroline P. Ireland Endowed Award for Exceptional Students and Projects in Graduate Studies. This award fosters a commitment to research and discovery by providing up to 10 scholarships annually to master's students.

Mrs. Ireland's support of UAB includes funding a conference room in the Reynolds Historical Library named in her honor, a major portion of the ninth floor in the West Pavilion, as well as contributing to the Alys Robinson Stephens Performing Arts Center, the Department of Art and Art History, the School of Nursing and the Camellia Medical Group. She also volunteered her time as a member of the UAB Campaign Committee of 100 and the Campaign for UAB Feasibility Study for the School of Arts and Humanities.

Mrs. Ireland has held membership in the President's Society of the Junior League of Birmingham for its annual giving campaign that benefits organizations that improve the health, education and well-being of women and children in the community. She and her late husband, Charles W. Ireland, have been strong supporters of the Birmingham Museum of Art, contributing major works of art to its sculpture collection.

Friends of UAB for more than 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. Ireland supported university programs, faculty and students with their gifts totaling more than $2 million. In 1984, Mrs. Ireland funded the establishment of the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Endowment for Scholarly Distinction. The endowment funds two annual Ireland Prizes: the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Distinguished Visiting Scholar Prize, which encourages higher levels of scholarly endeavor at UAB, and the Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland Award for Scholarly Distinction, awarded annually to a UAB faculty member whose scholarly accomplishments have achieved national or international recognition.

Mr. and Mrs. Ireland's benevolence also directly impacted the education of numerous UAB students. The Charles W. Ireland Presidential Honors Scholarship promotes the in-state education of gifted students who demonstrate promise for future positive impact on the state. The Caroline P. and Charles W. Ireland International Students Fund supports the university's international students program.

University of Alabama at Birmingham

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