university of massachusetts medical school

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Public Pay: UMass Med School Chief Now Earning Nearly $900K

Infographic by Reuben Fischer-Baum at Deadspin.com, reposted with permission.

Infographic by Reuben Fischer-Baum at Deadspin.com, reposted with permission.

This time around, I’m feeling about a hundred grand more like an appalled taxpayer than a proud Bay Stater.

A couple of years ago, we posted the map above under the headline, “Highest Public Pay: Coaches In Most States, Med School Chief In Mass.” The map — which we re-posted with permission from Deadspin.com — had earlier been titled “”Everything Wrong With America In One Simple Image.” I expressed my pride that I live in a blue state where the highest-paid public employee is not a football coach but a medical school chancellor.

At that point, the Boston Globe reported, “At $784,468, the top 2012 salary ­belonged to Michael F. Collins, who holds dual roles in the University [of Massachusetts], as chancellor of the medical school and ­senior vice president for health sciences at the university. He was also the state’s highest paid employee in 2011.”

Now, according to a post by David Art of MASSterList, the latest numbers are in on salaries in Massachusetts state higher ed, and the top spot holder is once again Michael F. Collins, but with, by my count, $113,010 more a year:

“Michael F. Collins, Chancellor of UMass Medical School, with salary of $897,478, topped the list of the highest-paid educators in the state higher education system in 2014.”

I can only repeat the plaintive question I asked in 2013, with $113,000 more emphasis:

“Of course, public employees’ salaries need to be comparable to private-sector salaries if we want to attract good people to public service. But is there not also something called ‘enough’? At what point does a taxpayer-paid or nonprofit salary become unseemly?”

First Human Gene Therapy Trial Planned For Deadly Tay-Sachs Disease

A child who died of Tay-Sachs Disease

Imagine you have an adorable baby who’s oddly slow to start sitting up. You get the child tested and to your horror, the verdict is a genetic death sentence: Tay-Sachs Disease. Exceedingly rare, but inexorably fatal. You now know that your baby likely won’t live to kindergarten age, and instead of growing up will slide down into blindness, seizures, paralysis. No cure. No hope.

That is how Tay-Sachs Disease has tended to unfold, since it was first described in the late 19th century. But now, for the first time, scientists say, there is a chance — though it is far from certain — that in the foreseeable future, that merciless course could be altered.

If all goes as planned, in the second half of next year researchers from the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital and elsewhere will launch a clinical trial of a new gene therapy treatment in up to 12 children with Tay-Sachs Disease.

The treatment involves infusing, deep into the brain, engineered viruses that can effectively turn cells in the brain into “micro-factories” of the enzyme that is so lethally absent in people with the disease. Cats with a feline version of Tay-Sachs normally die by about age four months. The gene therapy treatment has kept them going strong beyond 18 months.

A cat with an untreated feline version of Tay-Sachs Disease

“This is the first time there’s a real prospect for a possible treatment for Tay-Sachs and similar genetic diseases that affect the brain,” said Susan Kahn, executive director of the National Tay-Sachs & Allied Diseases Association (NTSAD), a driving force behind the research along with other family foundations. “Parents who had affected children as far back as the 1950s are saying, ‘Wow, I never thought I would see this day.'”

Now for the inevitable cautions, from UMass researcher Miguel Sena-Esteves:

“Usually, in my first breath, I tell people about the great results we’re observing in the cats,” he said. “In the second breath, I tell them there’s absolutely no guarantee that because we’re getting these results in animals, we’ll see the same in a human. We know from experiments in many, many fields that what works in another species doesn’t necessarily work in a human. If it did, we would have cured cancer by now.”

Also, gene therapy, in particular, has a past marked by some major disappointments. Touted as a potential cure for just about anything in the 1990s, it all but crashed after an 18-year-old patient died of a massive immune reaction in 1999 and it turned out that the viruses used as “vectors” to carry the genes sometimes induced leukemia.

Lately, however, gene therapy has begun to rack up successes, said Dr. Terence Flotte, dean of the UMass School of Medicine and himself a gene therapy researcher. It helped restore some vision in blind people with a rare genetic disease of the retina, he noted, and seems to show particular promise for diseases of the brain and central nervous system.

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