It is our great pleasure to introduce you to Scott L. Friedman, the 59th President of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD). Each of us has had the opportunity to work with Scott and know him as an accomplished scientist, faithful mentor, loyal colleague, friend, and visionary leader. Scott truly excels in all of these capacities, but we also know that he takes his greatest joy in continuing to cultivate successful careers for the people he mentors. Therefore, as his mentees, we are honored to highlight for you the attributes that have made him a leader in academic hepatology and our next AASLD president. 1
Scott is a 1979 graduate of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he served as the President of Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society and was an awardee of the Arthur Aufses, Sr. Prize in Surgery. After graduation, he completed his residency in internal medicine at the Beth Israel Hospital in Boston. From there, he traveled west for training in Gastroenterology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), where he would quickly become an important part of a hepatology lineage established by Drs. Rudi Schmid and Montgomery Bissell. Scott is quick to point out that he had no laboratory experience when he began his research career working with Dr. Bissell as a fellow. Even today, he counsels budding physician-scientists: “If you are smart enough to get into medical school, then you are smart enough for research. All you need is an open mind, inquisitive nature, and thick skin.” The value of his prepared mind became evident during these early years as Scott made his first pivotal contribution to the science of hepatology. Together with Dr. Joe Roll and the UCSF Rice Liver Center team, Scott isolated “lipocytes”, now universally known as hepatic stellate cells. Further work helped characterize this cell as a critical mediator of liver fibrosis. This seminal work cemented the foundations for two new fields of inquiry within hepatology: stellate cell biology and the molecular basis of hepatic fibrosis. Simply put, Scott Friedman is synonymous with the study of liver fibrosis, and his penchant for collaboration has propelled the field and inspired new investigators from diverse backgrounds to study liver disease. His efforts have helped this field develop a truly international flavor.
After fellowship, Scott served on the faculty at UCSF from 1986-1997 during which time he published numerous papers and gave invited lectures throughout the world. During a 1995–1996 sabbatical, he was a Fulbright Scholar and Visiting Professor in the laboratory of Dr. Moshe Oren at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. Scott was subsequently recruited back to his alma mater, Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, to serve as Director of Liver Research (1997) and then shortly followed by his appointment as Chief of the Division of Liver Diseases (2001). This had special importance for him, as it was the same post once held by his medical school mentor and the founding Division Chief, Dr. Fenton Schaffner. Considering himself a hybrid of both UCSF and Mount Sinai, it is fitting that Scott will be the sixth AASLD President both from UCSF (Rudi Schmid, Bob Ockner, Monty Bissell, Tom Boyer, and Terry Wright) and Mount Sinai (Hans Popper, Fenton Schaffner, Thomas Chalmers, Paul Berk, Fred Suchy). As such, he is also among the last generation to have known many of the founding fathers of hepatology.
As a scientist, Scott has seen the study of hepatic stellate cells blossom in unforeseen ways. And most importantly, he has had the patience and courage to “follow the science where it leads”, even when that meant moving into unfamiliar territory. While trying to understand the process of stellate cell activation, Scott's research team cloned a novel gene, KLF6, that emerged as an important tumor suppressor often mutated in human prostate, colon, and hepatocellular carcinomas. At one Friday morning lab meeting when the tumor suppressor data were first presented, he prophetically and happily remarked, “We just became a cancer lab!” Because of his innate ability to bring people with diverse expertise together, there are now at least six laboratories at Mount Sinai working to unravel the biology of KLF6. His research accomplishments have rightly been recognized by election to the American Society of Clinical Investigation and the Association of American Physicians. In 2003, he received the International Hans Popper Award, given only once every 3 years to an outstanding researcher in hepatology worldwide under the age of 50. This award held particular meaning for Scott because he once worked alongside Hans Popper as a medical student. In addition, Scott has nurtured many international collaborations in Great Britain, Europe, Asia, and Australia. He also maintains close ties to Israel through participation on the US Israel Binational Science Foundation Board and through his connections to the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Although Scott's contributions to the scientific community have been truly seminal, his legacy of mentoring and imparting wisdom will be his most enduring and beloved scientific contribution. Mentoring provides him with the greatest personal and professional satisfaction, and he has certainly been prolific: more than 50 students, postdocs, visiting scientists, and clinical faculty can count themselves in that lucky cohort. When a trainee leaves his laboratory they are presented with a commemorative plaque of “Ten Rules for the Clinical Investigator”, adapted from the wisdom of another great physician-scientist, Fuller Albright, and following a tradition started by Monty Bissell, Scott's mentor. Every time we look at these pearls of wisdom on our own walls, we are reminded that it is his warm and encouraging style that has attracted so many mentees to Scott over the years.
Under Scott's leadership, both the clinical and research programs of the liver division at Mount Sinai have flourished. During his tenure, the division's National Institutes of Health funding has continued to grow and is currently at the highest level of extramural funding in its history. This is truly a testimony to Scott's organizational skills, grantsmanship, and his ability to convince others of the importance of our field. Despite running a large basic research program and division, Scott remains a respected clinician and teacher, having recently been awarded the Mount Sinai Department of Medicine's Solomon Berson Housestaff Teaching Award. This award, among his many others, applauds his innovative leadership style. He is never heavy-handed or dogmatic, but leads by being able to identify and capitalize on the strengths of his faculty, postdocs, students, and staff. Through encouragement and guidance, he helps others achieve their personal goals rather than his own. The AASLD will undoubtedly benefit from his cooperative and integrative leadership skills.
Just as Scott has graciously included many of his mentees and colleagues in his professional family, we know his own family—Ruti, Leor, and Yael—have reason to be extraordinarily proud of him as well. We also know that their enthusiastic support of his career over the years has been instrumental to his success and happiness. Like Scott, his children now prepare for their own careers. His 23-year-old son, Leor, recently graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles and is fulfilling his lifelong dream as a marine mammal trainer at The New York Aquarium. His daughter, Yael, age 20, is a passionate advocate for global human rights and international conflict resolution and will soon be graduating from Scripps College in Claremont, California. There is no doubt that Scott will support their careers as they have his.
It is clear that Scott has been a steadfast supporter of all those around him and he will likewise be a champion advocate for the AASLD as its 59th president during a critical time. All of us will benefit from his strong leadership, vision, intellect, and most of all, his generosity of time and spirit.