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The Investiture of Drs. Jayesh Mehta and Seema Singhal as the Chez Family Professors

On June 21, Jayesh Mehta, MD, and Seema Singhal, MD, were invested as the Chez Family Professors of Myeloma Research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine during a formal ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton Chicago. Drs. Mehta and Singhal have been on faculty in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at Feinberg since 2000.

“We are all incredibly grateful to the Chez family for establishing this professorship and delighted that Drs. Mehta and Singhal have been appointed to it,” said Leonidas C. Platanias, MD, PhD, director of the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. “I first met Drs. Mehta and Singhal 16 years ago when I started at Northwestern, and I have the highest opinion of both of them.” Dr. Platanias also serves as Jesse, Sara, Andrew, Abigail, Benjamin, and Elizabeth Lurie Professor of Oncology at Feinberg.

The Chez Family Professorship in Myeloma Research was established with funds given to Feinberg in 2018 by Ronald Chez and Athena Marks. Partners Chez and Marks are longtime Chicago residents and philanthropists. Mr. Chez runs a financial consulting firm and has served as a board member, co-founder, and director of several private and public companies. Ms. Marks worked in media management. She co-founded EXCL Communications with her late husband, Christopher Marks, which they grew into one of the largest Spanish-language radio station groups in the country.

The Chez Family Foundation is involved in multiple philanthropic efforts in Chicago and Illinois, and funds many initiatives related to education and veterans’ services. In the 1990s, Ronald Chez helped start the Chicago Youth Success Foundation, which provides funding to Chicago Public Schools for extracurricular activities that broaden students’ school experiences. For Chicago Public School graduates enrolling at the University of Illinois, the Chez Family Scholarship offers funding to promising students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In 2012, the Chez family again teamed up with the University of Illinois to build the Chez Center for Wounded Veterans in Higher Education. The center provides military veterans with a variety of services, including counseling, academic coaching, and rehabilitative help.

When sharing his remarks, Mr. Chez shared his immense gratitude to Drs. Mehta and Singhal, as well as other healthcare professionals at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Northwestern should be enormously proud of all of these people. Everyone I have talked to has commented favorably on Drs. Mehta and Singhal. I invested in them for the same reason that I invest in the companies that I do—they are the best people to invest in.”

Robust careers and a breakthrough discovery

At Northwestern, Dr. Singhal directs the Multiple Myeloma Program. Dr. Mehta directs the Northwestern Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation Program and serves as deputy director of the Northwestern University Comprehensive Transplant Center. 

Drs. Mehta and Singhal met in medical school and were married in January 1989. Much of their careers thus far have been achieved in tandem—both graduated from Bombay University’s Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College and completed subsequent internships and residencies at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital in Mumbai, India. This training was followed by residencies in bone marrow transplantation at the Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel. They then worked as senior registrars in hematologic malignancies and bone marrow transplantation at the Royal Marsden Hospital in the United Kingdom with Professor Ray Powles in Europe’s largest leukemia, myeloma, and transplant unit. One of their major accomplishments at the Royal Marsden with Professor Powles was the execution of the only randomized, blinded study comparing blood and marrow as sources of stem cells for allogeneic transplantation in hematologic malignancies. This study was published in The Lancet.

Professor Powles served as the extoller for both Drs. Mehta and Singhal, and spoke of how lucky he felt to have had them join him for 4 years at the Royal Marsden Hospital London. “These two, when brought together, make a special team. Drs. Mehta and Singhal are both innovative and have that extraordinary insight that leads them to persevere when something may look initially uninteresting. They delivered for me the most productive period of my entire working career.”

Their first faculty positions were at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, which is the largest myeloma program in the world. They were a part of the team that developed the concept of tandem cycles of high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplantation, a strategy subsequently validated in multiple clinical trials. They also were part of the team that serendipitously discovered the activity of thalidomide in myeloma, the first new drug in myeloma in three decades.

Dr. Singhal spoke of her gratefulness to Professor Powles as a mentor. “Ray gave us a free hand to grow under his generous leadership. His contributions to medicine are pioneering and norm-setting, and he was the perfect mentor to us.”

“With this professorship, we hope to provide exceptional myeloma care—that is the most important thing. This gift and the other support we have received give us fuel to continue this important work,” she continued.

Dr. Mehta echoed Dr. Singhal’s sentiments, adding: “This day and honor would not be possible without members of our team and the incredible contributions they have made and continue to make. We aim to continue our careers here for a long time to come—advancing the field and patient care.”