Steven Schwaitzberg and Gil Wolfe.

Steven D. Schwaitzberg, MD, left, and Gil I. Wolfe, MD, have been named SUNY Distinguished Professors, the highest faculty rank in the SUNY system.

Schwaitzberg, Wolfe Receive SUNY’s Highest Honor

Published March 29, 2022

story by dirk hoffman

Two Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences faculty members and department chairs have been granted the rank of State University of New York Distinguished Professor, the highest faculty rank in the SUNY system.

“Drs. Schwaitzberg and Wolfe are transformational leaders in their respective fields. These cutting-edge physician-scientists are representative of the outstanding departmental leadership at the Jacobs School. This prestigious SUNY honor is highly deserved. ”
UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

Steven D. Schwaitzberg, MD, professor and chair of surgery, was named a SUNY Distinguished Service Professor.

Gil I. Wolfe, MD, UB Distinguished Professor and the Irvin and Rosemary Smith Chair of neurology, was named a SUNY Distinguished Professor.

Recognizing International Prominence Within Fields

Schwaitzberg and Wolfe were among just 28 SUNY faculty members statewide appointed to the distinguished professor ranks by the SUNY Board of Trustees at its meeting on March 8.

They were named in recognition of their international prominence and distinguished reputations within their chosen fields.

According to SUNY, “this distinction is attained through significant contributions to the research literature or through artistic performance or achievement in the case of the arts. The candidate’s work must be of such character that the individual’s presence will tend to elevate the standards of scholarship of colleagues both within and beyond these persons’ academic fields.”

“Drs. Schwaitzberg and Wolfe are transformational leaders in their respective fields,” says Allison Brashear, MD, UB’s vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School. “These cutting-edge physician-scientists are representative of the outstanding departmental leadership at the Jacobs School. This prestigious SUNY honor is highly deserved.”

Expert in Minimally Invasive Surgery

An internationally recognized expert in minimally invasive surgery, and past president of the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons, Schwaitzberg has promoted and taught minimally invasive surgical techniques in the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Greece, Japan, Brazil, Poland and France.

In addition to his roles at the Jacobs School, Schwaitzberg serves as medical director of surgical program development for Kaleida Health and Erie County Medical Center. He is president of UBMD Surgery.

“This is an extraordinary honor to be recognized by the State University of New York for one’s accomplishments during their academic career,” Schwaitzberg says. “I hope to be able to pay this forward by serving as a mentor to others.”

Among Schwaitzberg’s most significant research accomplishments is demonstrating the feasibility of using microwaves to warm blood, facilitating transfusions. His work in this area led to the development and federal approval of a practical device.

In addition to device development, his research focuses on preventing intra-abdominal adhesions, hemostasis skill acquisition in minimally invasive surgery, clinical evaluation of antibiotics and clinical outcomes.

Schwaitzberg also has made numerous contributions in the preclinical and clinical use of surgical robots.

In 2021, he was inducted into the American College of Surgeons Academy of Master Surgeon Educators and launched an anti-racism and health care equity initiative to address and mitigate the effects of systemic racism and inequality in health care.

Leader in Development of UB RISE facility

Schwaitzberg received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Faculty Service in 2019. This award acknowledges faculty members who have made sustained and wide-ranging service contributions to a broad array of university constituents.

The same year, he launched a competitive medical device startup boot camp called UB BLAST (Business, Law and Surgical Technology). The program challenges teams of UB students studying medicine, business, law and engineering to develop a new product to address a specific surgical problem and then create a startup to manufacture and market it, in just five days.

He was honored with the Society of American Gastrointestinal and Endoscopic Surgeons (SAGES) Distinguished Service Award for 2016. The award is given to a surgeon who has made a significant, long-term educational, research, clinical or technological contribution to the field of surgical endoscopy and has advanced the mission of SAGES.

Schwaitzberg was one of the leaders who helped develop the new surgical skills suites and robotics suites installed on the seventh floor of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences building.

Known as UB RISE (Research, Innovation, Simulation, Structure, Education and Engineering), the multidisciplinary center is where students and residents are trained in the newest surgical and robotics skills.

His research has been sponsored by the Department of Defense, Johnson and Johnson, Merck, National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation.

A prolific researcher, Schwaitzberg has been the site principal investigator for numerous industry-sponsored clinical trials and co-PI on NIH and Department of Defense grants. Recently, he served as a co-investigator on an NIH grant to explore the use of virtual simulators in laparoscopy surgery training and credentialing. He also shares his expertise in endoscopic surgery as a collaborator on numerous grants. He holds four patents for his technical device development.

Schwaitzberg has authored 120 original research papers, 58 clinical reviews, 30 clinical case reports and 27 book chapters, many as first or senior author. In addition to his journal publications, he has edited four books and published educational programs on digital and visual media.

Landmark Study On Benefits of Thymectomy

An internationally renowned leader in neuromuscular disorders, with a primary focus on myasthenia gravis (MG), Wolfe has made significant contributions to the field of neurology.

His landmark study examining the benefits of surgical removal of the thymus (thymectomy) — a mainstay in the treatment of MG — showed definitively, and for the first time, that patients with MG experience a clear benefit from thymectomy.

The study was named one of neurology’s “Top Stories of 2016” by the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch.

“As I have progressed through my career and have met some elements of success, I have realized to an even greater degree that honors such as this do not recognize me individually,” Wolfe says.

“Instead they recognize all the mentors and supportive colleagues I have had the luck to work with over the years.  I could name colleagues, division chiefs, chairs and deans who all put their faith in me and helped drive my career,” he adds. “This honor is in many ways a recognition of their effort, and I am just grateful that in most cases I did not let them down.” 

Wolfe, who serves as chief of service for neurology with Kaleida Health, received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities in 2018, and the Certificate of Recognition for Distinguished Service from the State of NY Governor’s Executive Chamber in 2020. He sees patients at UBMD Neurology.

In 2022, Wolfe was appointed to the Food and Drug Administration Cellular, Tissue and Gene Therapies Advisory Committee.

Wolfe was elected president of the New York State Neurological Society (NYSNS) in 2019 and served in that role for two years. The NYSNS promotes and advances the practice of neurology and quality of care for patients with neurological diseases in New York State. During his tenure as president, he increased the diversity of the society’s board, and for the first time a woman neurologist was elected to its executive committee.

The rank of UB Distinguished Professor was bestowed upon Wolfe in 2017. The designation honors professors who have achieved national or international recognition in their fields of study.

Highly Sought-After Expert in His Field

A highly sought-after expert in his field, Wolfe has been invited to present more than 220 lectures, workshops and seminars at national or international conferences and meetings, including the 2016 and 2018 International Congress on Neuromuscular Diseases.

Wolfe co-directed an expert panel in 2016 and 2020 that published the first international treatment recommendations for patients with MG in 2016.

Published in 2016 in Neurology, the “International Consensus Guidance for Management of Myasthenia Gravis” offers clinicians up-to-date recommendations for a multifaceted approach to caring for patients with MG, a chronic autoimmune neuromuscular disease that affects some 700,000 people around the world. The panel’s updated guidance was published in Neurology in 2021.

The Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America recognized him in 2015 with its Doctor of the Year Award.

A fellow of the American Neurological Association and the American Academy of Neurology, he is actively involved in establishing national and international consensus guidelines for the management of MG and trial outcome measures for the condition.

His research has been sponsored by the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America, Food and Drug Administration and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Wolfe served as clinical chair on a landmark $8 million multicenter international study, funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, that confirmed the benefits of surgically removing the thymus gland over medical intervention alone in patients with generalized myasthenia gravis.

Throughout his career, he has served as a principal investigator or co-investigator on more than 45 clinical trials. Currently, he is conducting clinical trials funded by NeuroNEXT — a multicenter consortium supported by the NIH — and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, in addition to four industry-sponsored trials evaluating new pharmaceutical treatments for myasthenia gravis.

In addition to publishing the thymectomy trial in the New England Journal of Medicine, Wolfe has 148 publications in such high-impact journals as Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet Neurology, Neurology, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Annals of Neurology and Muscle & Nerve. He been senior or first-author of 25 book chapters and he is co-author on more than eight major clinical trial publications that have been cited more than 300 times.