Three DTMI Faculty Receive Distinguished Professorships

Danny Benjamin, Monica Kraft and Chris O'Connor honored at black-tie celebration

May 5, 2014

The highest honor that Duke faculty can receive at the university is the distinguished professorship, and on May 1, Danny Benjamin, M.D., Ph.D., Monica Kraft, M.D., and Christopher O’Connor, M.D., were honored with this designation.

Duke University recognized this year’s distinguished professorships at a black-tie celebration at the Washington Duke Inn. Appointments are based on the recommendation of the provost and approval by the Board of Trustees. Recipients are faculty members who have achieved distinction as a creative scholar in their field.

Effective July 1, 2014, Dr. Benjamin will be the Kiser-Arena Professor of Pediatrics, Dr. Kraft will be the Charles Johnson, M.D., Professor of Medicine, and Dr. O’Connor will be the Richard Sean Stack, M.D./Guidant Foundation Professor of Cardiology.

Dr. Rob Califf, director of the DTMI, wrote about the celebration in his blog on May 2. "It is great to be able to celebrate leaders and especially fun to honor people I have had a chance to work with as their careers developed," he said.

Read on to learn more about each of these special faculty members.


Kiser-Arena Professorship of Pediatrics

Daniel K. Benjamin, M.D., Ph.D., is a Kiser-Arena Professor of Pediatrics and faculty associate director of the Duke Clinical Research Institute. He joined the Duke faculty in 2001 as an associate in pediatrics after completing a pediatric fellowship in infectious diseases at Duke from 1998 to 2001.

Dr. Benjamin is national leader in the field of pediatric drug development and evaluation. In 2010, the National Institutes of Health named him the principal investigator of the Pediatric Trials Network, a $95 million clinical trials initiative to establish dosing guidelines for children. His research, which initially focused on the management and assessment of neonatal candidiasis, has dramatically advanced the understanding and application of safe and effective anti-infective therapies in infants and has redefined the methods of conducting neonatal clinical drug trials.

Dr. Benjamin is a member in professional societies including the American Academy of Pediatrics; the Society for Pediatric Research; the American Society for Clinical Investigation; The European Society for Developmental, Perinatal & Paediatric Pharmacology; and the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics. He has served in leadership positions at organizations including the NIH, the Food and Drug Administration, the International Alliance for Better Medicines for Children, the Thrasher Research Foundation, and the Infectious Disease Society of America.  He has published more than 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as numerous book chapters, case reports, and other works.

Among the research honors Dr. Benjamin has received are the Ruth and A. Morris Williams Jr. Faculty Research Prize; recognition by the American Society of Clinical Investigation; and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society’s Young Investigator Award. He has been honored numerous times for his teaching, including the R.M. Califf Mentorship Award; the Teaching Award for Resident Education; and the Duke University Fellow Teaching Award.

Dr. Benjamin earned his undergraduate degree and an M.D., and completed a residency in pediatrics at the University Virginia. He received a master of public health degree and a Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina.


Charles Johnson, M.D., Professor of Medicine

Monica Kraft, M.D., is the Charles Johnson, M.D., Professor of Medicine and chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care. She created and currently directs the Duke Asthma, Allergy, and Airway Center. She previously served as vice chair for research in the Department of Medicine. Prior to joining Duke in 2004, Dr. Kraft was an associate professor of medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and director of the Carl and Hazel Felt Laboratory in Adult Asthma Research National Jewish Medical and Research Center in Denver.

Dr. Kraft is one of the nation’s leading clinical and translational researchers in pulmonary medicine. Her research has led not only to important insights into the pathobiology of pulmonary diseases, but also to new pharmacological and therapeutic avenues for the treatment of asthma. Among her discoveries, Dr. Kraft found that patients with chronic, stable asthma have evidence of the bacterium, Mycoplasma pneumoniae (which causes the illness sometimes referred to as "walking pneumonia") in their airways and demonstrated that treatment with an antibiotic against M. pneumonia improved lung function in these patients. This work was expanded in a study that is now part of the National Institutes of Health clinical trials group, AsthmaNet. Her research on the role of inflammation in the distal lung resulted in new pharmacologic and therapeutic approaches to asthma, and because of this work, President William J. Clinton presented her with a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2000. Dr. Kraft has been an active member of the Cellular and Molecular Immunology Study Section for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and has held leadership roles in many professional organizations, including the American Thoracic Society, of which she served as president from 2012-2013.

Dr. Kraft earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Davis, and a medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco. She completed a residency and chief residency in internal medicine at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. She also completed a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.


Richard Sean Stack, M.D./Guidant Foundation Professor of Cardiology

Christopher M. O’Connor, M.D., is the Richard Sean Stack, M.D./Guidant Foundation Professor of Cardiology, professor of medicine, and associate professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences. He also serves as chief of the Division of Cardiology and director of the Duke Heart Center.

Dr. O’Connor, who first joined the Duke faculty in 1989, is an internationally recognized cardiologist and authority on heart failure. His clinical investigations have dramatically expanded the understanding of numerous aspects of cardiac function and dysfunction, including the influence of depression and stress on heart failure patients. His research has led to profound insights into both pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic therapies to treat heart failure and has had a direct impact on the lives of thousands of patients. Dr. O’Connor was one of the first investigators to lead initiatives to study therapies in acute decompensated heart failure, and this work has led to novel therapeutic interventions. His landmark clinical trial, the HF-ACTION study, investigated exercise training in more than 2,000 heart failure patients, and led to validation of two novel biomarkers that were later approved by the FDA.

Dr. O’Connor is an editor of the textbook, Managing Acute Decompensated Heart Failure, the first one published on the topic. He is also editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and serves on the editorial boards for several journals, including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Journal of Cardiac Failure. His commitment to mentoring students, residents, and fellows at Duke has been recognized with the Joseph C. Greenfield Research Mentoring Award in 2006 and the 2013 Research Mentoring Award for clinical science research by the Schools of Medicine and Nursing.

Dr. O’Connor earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a medical degree from the University of Maryland, Baltimore. He then completed an internship, residency, chief residency, and cardiology fellowship at Duke.