Georgetown University alumnae David Fajgenbaum (NHS ’07) and Eric Oermann (COL ’07, MED ’13) were named to Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, which highlights young entrepreneurs in the healthcare sector. The magazine’s entire list spans 20 categories, recognizing 600 of the nation’s top young entrepreneurs.
“[They are] finally dragging our medical system kicking and screaming into the digital age…changing the healthcare space,” Forbes wrote.
Howard Federoff, Executive Vice President for Health Sciences and Executive Dean of the School of Medicine at the Georgetown University Medical Center, congratulated Fajgenbaum and Oermann for their work.
“I join my colleagues Patricia Cloonan, Ph.D., RN, interim dean of the School of Nursing & Health Studies, and Ray Mitchell, M.D., Dean for Medical Education at the School of Medicine, in congratulating both of these graduates on this impressive accomplishment early on in their careers. I know that the professors who taught and mentored David and Eric during their time at Georgetown will also applaud this achievement,” Federoff said in a press release.
Fajgenbaum, now an adjunct assistant professor of hematology and oncology at the University of Pennsylvania and co-founder and executive director of the Castleman Disease Collaborative Network, is described in the Forbes article as “perhaps the most inspiring” of the young entrepreneurs on the healthcare list. Faigenbaum, who lost his mother to brain cancer, explained that his family history inspired him to study medicine.
“When I was at Georgetown, my mom got diagnosed with brain cancer. That’s what got me really focused on cancer,” he said. “I decided I wanted to become an oncologist and I wanted to study cancer and try to defeat it through research.”
During his time as a Georgetown undergraduate, Fajgenbaum founded a national non-profit organization for grieving college students called National Students of AMF, an acronym inspired by his mother’s name that the organization now calls “Actively Moving Forward.” The student-run organization now has chapters on over 50 campuses and has worked with students from over 250 colleges.
Fajgenbaum himself was also later diagnosed with cancer.
“I was also diagnosed with cancer myself during medical school. First, with a rare cancer in my liver and later on with a rare disease called Castleman disease that behaves like lymphoma. I almost died and had my last rites read to me in my third year of medical school. I realized I needed to dedicate everything towards trying to solve this disease,” he said.
Fajgenbaum was also a member of the global advisory board for the first-ever Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug for Castleman Disease. Through his many roles, he has worked directly with hundreds of Castleman disease patients, physicians, and researchers.
Fajgenbaum recognized the hard work of the global network of volunteers at the CDCN for much as the progress they have made and in contributing to this achievement.
“This accomplishment will certainly make people more aware of what we are doing. It validates the hard work of so many people. The only reason we were able to accomplish so much was because I had the most incredible team of people around me,” Fajgenbaum said. “The big picture goal is determining how we can apply this model to thousands of other diseases where patients are dying because progress isn’t being made quickly enough.”
Oermann, now a resident physician at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, majored in mathematics as an undergraduate and then attended the School of Medicine. He focuses his research on developing individual patient survival and customizing therapies for patients with Stage IV cancer. He also questions how radiation is used to treat cancer, highlighting some of the problems in cancer treatment today. Oermann could not be reached for comment.
“Right now, generally speaking, lots of cancer patients get the same amount of radiation. What if an artificial intelligence could personalize this dose, making it more likely there’d be enough to kill the cancer but not too much? That’s one of the problems Oermann, a physician and mathematician, is working on,” Forbes wrote.
Having spent six months studying the ethical dimensions of health care, Oermann credited Edmund Pellegrino, founding director of the Center for Clinical Bioethics at the GUMC, as one of his greatest influences and inspirations.
“Having the chance to interact with [Dr. Pellegrino] has colored how I approach my clinical work. Medicine was a vocation for him—if you are going into medicine it’s not just something you can do as your day job,” Oermann said in a press release.