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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

It's official: Flier is new Harvard medical dean

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff

It's official.

Harvard just announced that Dr. Jeffrey S. Flier, a prominent diabetes and obesity researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, has been named dean of Harvard Medical School.

Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust said in a telephone interview that Flier has wide ranging experience across the university, developed during his nearly 30 years there. She said she was impressed that Harvard leaders and faculty in vastly different roles -- basic science researchers, academic leaders, and physicians -- all spoke highly of him.

"All brought the same sense of deep respect," she said this afternoon.

Flier succeeds Dr. Joseph Martin, who stepped down as dean last month.

Flier was selected after the head of the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, a cardiologist, withdrew as a finalist, two Harvard officials said, citing a desire to stay in Washington where her husband works. Just as Faust is the first female president of Harvard, Nabel could have been the first female dean of the medical school.

"The timing was not right for her family, but Dr. Nabel congratulates Dr. Flier and wishes him great success in his new position as dean," said NHLBI spokeswoman Susan Dambrauskas.

Flier, 59, lives in Newton; his wife, Dr. Eleftheria Maratos-Flier, also is a leading diabetes researcher at Beth Israel Deaconess.

Flier, who is known for his research into the molecular mechanisms of insulin action and insulin resistance, has served for the past five years as chief academic officer of Beth Israel Deaconess. He has been closely involved in recent discussions of the future of Harvard-wide science, as a founding member of the Harvard University Science and Engineering Committee.

"It's pretty clear we're starting from a very high base line," said Flier, who begins as dean Sept. 1. "The challenge is finding areas where this incredible institution can be strengthened," he said in an interview.

He said that his areas of focus will include implementing Harvard Medical School's new curriculum, which pushes students to better understand patients' experiences in the health care system; helping plan the university's new Allston campus and the future of science at Harvard; and increasing collaboration among researchers across the system, particularly in the area of translating basic research into treatments for patients.

Asked how he pitched himself for the job, considering the dozens of candidates, Flier recounted, "I said that I've been in this system my whole career. I've seen the system on the patient care end, the researcher end, the teaching and the academic leadership end. I know I've been successful in those areas."

Dr. James Thrall, head of radiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a member of the search committee, said "it was very clear in the proceedings that all of the people in the Harvard community who had worked with him (Flier) held him in very high regard. Given the nature of the academic world that is refreshing. People are pretty tough and judgmental. Having the right personality is important; trust and respect become very important when (people) have legitimate disagreements."

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