Dr. Russel E. Kaufman, president and chief executive officer of the Wistar Institute, signs the last steel beam at a topping out ceremony on May 8. Under his leadership, Wistar is constructing a seven–story research tower, the Institute’s first major expansion in over 35 years. (Photo by Tommy Leonardi)

by Carole Verona

Dr. Russel E. Kaufman and his wife Jane share the value of commitment and community service that brought this Chestnut Hill couple together and has continued to guide them throughout their careers. Russ, 67, is president and chief executive officer of the Wistar Institute, a world-class biomedical research facility in West Philadelphia that focuses on cancer research and vaccine development.

Jane, 64, is on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, part-time, where she is a freshman year seminar leader and course director, and clinical instructor for adult-gerontology primary care nurse practitioner students.

The Kaufmans grew up in the same small town of Kenton, Ohio. Russ’ father was a blue-collar worker who, for a while, built school buses. “He was a problem solver,” Russ said. “He was always tinkering with things, trying to make them work better. At home he would go out to the shop, take a piece of metal and bend it, shaping it into something more useful. I watched how he would do things.”

Jane’s father was a farmer who raised beef, cattle, pigs and chickens on a 90-acre spread. “In rural Ohio at that time, your options were somewhat limited,” she said. Her sense of accomplishment came from involvement in 4-H clubs, cooking, sewing church, and taking piano lessons. She also studied hard and became head of her high school’s student council.

Jane knew at an early age that she wanted to be a nurse. She attended Ohio State University, where she received a BS degree in nursing in 1970 and a master’s degree in nursing education in 1971.

Russ was studying at Ohio State at the same time, where he earned a BS degree in zoology and biochemistry in 1968. He went on to receive an MD from the Ohio State University College of Medicine in 1973.

While they were Ohio State undergrads, Jane and Russ accompanied each other to the library almost every night. “I remember telling him that he could explain things really well,” Jane said. After about 3 1/2 years of dating, they were married in 1971.

Russ completed his medical residency at Duke University Medical Center; he went to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, for post-doctoral training and then returned to Duke to focus on research.

As chief medical resident, he quickly got a reputation for recommending and implementing meaningful change. “I was constantly called upon to run things and fix problems,” he said. His positions at Duke included division chief of medical oncology, vice-chair of the department of medicine and vice-dean for education and academic affairs.

Jane began teaching at Ohio State after earning her master’s degree. When the couple moved to North Carolina in 1973, she also worked at Duke. Their son, Jonathan, was born in 1977 and daughter Emily in 1979. “Russ would watch the children while I worked the evening shift two nights a week,” Jane said. In 1984, she joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and in 2011 began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing.

In 2000, Jane completed a post-master’s certificate program at Duke to become a primary care adult nurse practitioner. She explained that nurse practitioners have advanced clinical training and are licensed to diagnose and manage acute episodic and chronic illness with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention.

“Studies have shown that the outcomes with patients treated by nurse practitioners are as good, if not better, than the outcomes of those treated by physicians in similar populations,” she said, admitting that sometimes there’s pushback from physician groups.

“Some physicians may be concerned that nurse practitioners will overstep their bounds or that patients will get inferior care. That’s just not so. You know your scope of practice and consult with other colleagues, including physicians, if you have concerns about a patient. No one wants to risk patient care or your license.”

In 2002, Russ joined Wistar Institute. He maintains an active research program at the Institute, investigating the genetics of blood diseases and cancer. During his Wistar tenure, Dr. Kaufman has significantly raised the international profile of the Institute.

Most recently he guided Wistar toward its first major building project in 35 years, which will ensure its future at the forefront of cancer research and vaccine development. In 2012 Wistar broke ground on a $100 million, seven-story research tower to help Wistar expand its research operations, recruit new scientific faculty and pursue collaborative biomedical research in emerging scientific areas.

The research area in the new tower can best be described as a hub, a big open lab where four to five scientific groups investigating common problems can work together in one space. “You will be able to walk out of your office and talk to a scientist right there,” explained Dr. Kaufman, “an expert who can bring another perspective to what you’re working on. There’s a spirit of exploration and curiosity at Wistar. That’s what I like about this place. It fits nicely into the way I think about the world.”

Dr. Kaufman was recently named Life Sciences CEO of the Year by the Philadelphia Business Journal for his stewardship of Wistar and his impact on the life sciences. He is also chair of the Greater Philadelphia Life Sciences Congress, which works on bringing conventions to the city.

The Kaufmans moved to Philadelphia in 2000, first living in center city, then settling in Chestnut Hill in 2010. During most of this time, Jane continued working in North Carolina, so the Kaufmans commuted back and forth until she relocated to Chestnut Hill in 2011.

The Kaufmans said they love the Chestnut Hill community, its culture and people. Russ enjoys playing golf at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, and they have become members of the Chestnut Hill Historical Society. They regularly attend the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill.

For more information about Wistar Institute, visit www.wistar.org.