NYU Langone Health announced today it would name the Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in honor of internationally renowned scientist and philanthropist Jan T. Vilcek, MD, PhD, whose transformative influence has led to groundbreaking discoveries and vast improvements in human health. The newly named Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences will continue its long tradition to prepare graduate students for careers in biomedical research.
A professor emeritus in the Department of Microbiology and a Trustee of NYU Langone since 2012, Dr. Vilcek joined the faculty at NYU Langone in 1965 after his wife, Marica F. Vilcek, and he defected from communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. For more than five decades, he has devoted his scientific career to the study of cytokines—hormone-like proteins produced in the body that control the immune system and host defenses. He was among the first scientists to investigate interferon, an important immune system protein. Subsequently, Dr. Vilcek focused his studies on another cytokine, called tumor necrosis factor (TNF).
Dr. Vilcek’s contributions to the understanding of proteins that control the body’s defenses were instrumental in the development of the anti-inflammatory drug Remicade®, the first member of a new class of therapeutics called TNF blockers that are now widely used for the treatment of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriasis, and other chronic inflammatory disorders.
“Throughout his more than 50 years as a faculty member and 8 years as a trustee of our institution, Dr. Vilcek has been a mentor and inspiration to generations of students and colleagues,” says Robert I. Grossman, MD, dean and CEO of NYU Langone Health. “Dr. Vilcek is a true friend and supporter of our institution and has created a lasting legacy. The physicians, researchers, students, and patients across NYU Grossman School of Medicine and NYU Langone Health continue to benefit greatly from his scientific achievements.”
The Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences trains PhD and MD/PhD candidates to study some of today’s most urgent biomedical problems under the mentorship of renowned faculty members. Its open program model, which encourages students to rotate among different laboratories in their first year and follow their curiosity wherever it leads them, inculcates the abiding love of science that has been a touchstone for Dr. Vilcek’s career. Students come from all over the world to study at the institute, which makes the naming all the more appropriate: Dr. Vilcek is an outspoken advocate for immigrants’ contributions to science and society at large.
“Naming our graduate school after Dr. Vilcek reflects our steadfast support for students who come here from across the globe to conduct groundbreaking research,” says Naoko Tanese, PhD, associate dean for biomedical sciences and director of the Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. “Our institution has been the beneficiary of Dr. Vilcek’s scientific discovery and generosity of spirit for more than 50 years, and it seems only fitting to name our graduate program after a man whose life work has been devoted to revolutionizing medicine through research.”
Dr. Vilcek has published more than 350 papers in scholarly journals, and holds 46 U.S. patents. He authored Love and Science: A Memoir, published in 2016. His honors include the Albert Gallatin Medal for “Outstanding Contributions to Society” from NYU, and honorary degrees from Comenius University in Bratislava, the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City, Charles University in Prague, and NYU. He received the J. E. Purkyně Honorary Medal from the Czech Academy of Sciences, and the Outstanding American by Choice Award from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. In 2013, President Barack Obama named Dr. Vilcek a recipient of the National Medal of Technology and Innovation.
In addition to their support of NYU Langone, the Vilceks also established the Vilcek Foundation in 2000 to honor and publicize the enormous contributions immigrants have made to biomedical science and the arts in the United States. The foundation—where Mrs. Vilcek serves as cofounder, vice chair, and secretary—derives its mission in large part from Mrs. Vilcek’s interest and professional work in the arts and as an art historian.