Jim Heubi, MD, Remembered as "Giant" of Gastroenterology

The passing of James Heubi, MD, on Aug. 4, following a battle with cancer, prompted an outpouring of tributes and fond remembrances from his colleagues at Cincinnati Children’s, the University of Cincinnati and around the country.

Heubi was a renowned expert in the treatment of children with liver disease and inflammatory bowel disease who dedicated a 46-year career to Cincinnati Children’s and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.

Born in Indianapolis on Nov. 13, 1948, Heubi earned his medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed his residency at Riley Hospital for Children. He joined Cincinnati Children’s in 1975 as a fellow in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition.

He developed a passion for clinical research and became the director of the Clinical Research Center in 1988, as well as the associate dean for Clinical Research at UC. He went on to administer the NIH-funded CIinical Translational Science Award as the director of the Clinical Center for Translational Science and Training (CCTST)—a collaboration between the university, Cincinnati Children’s and the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center.

“As a clinician, he treated many children, restored smiles, and helped them grow well into adulthood. As a scientist, he developed a treatment that saved the livers and lives of children with bile acid defects. As a teacher, he guided many young physicians who now lead successful careers,” says Jorge Bezerra, MD, director, Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.

Heubi was a leading researcher in the field of bile acid defects. He worked for many years in conjunction with Kenneth Setchell, PhD, to develop a treatment that allowed children to avoid the need for a liver transplant to survive their condition. That new drug, called Cholbam, earned U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in 2015.

In 2016, Heubi served as president of the North American Society for Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition (NASPGHAN). He also served as a councilor of the NIH-Center for Research Resources.

In 2011, Heubi received the Daniel Drake Medal, the highest honor awarded by the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He also received Founders Awards from the Midwest Society for Pediatric Research in 2006 and the Cincinnati Pediatric Society in 2010.

Heubi is survived by his wife Margo and two daughters, Elizabeth and Christine; son-in-law, Mike Hazenfield; and three grandchildren. Christine Heubi, MD, is a surgeon at Cincinnati Children’s.

Ken Setchell, PhD, and Jim Heubi, MD, take in an FC Cincinnati game.

Here’s what others had to say about their beloved friend and colleague:

“Jim was one of my closest and dearest of friends. He and I worked together for 37 years in a strong physician/scientist partnership. Very few people can attest to the discovery of a single new disease yet alone several, or in getting a spectacularly successful treatment to market. Jim’s contributions to Cincinnati Children’s and UC have been extraordinary. He will be sorely missed.” -- Ken Setchell, PhD

“Dr. Heubi was a driving force in creating the CCTST, which he served as co-director since its inception in 2005. He was an ardent supporter of translational research, both as a scientist and as an administrator helping to support the work of many others,” -- Andrew Filak Jr, MD, senior vice president for Health Affairs and Dean of the UC College of Medicine.

“I came here in 1974, and Jim arrived in 1975. Our kids went to the same grade school. Jim was interested in research from day one. While most of us were trying to treat the symptoms of disease and keep kids alive, he kept asking why. He spent many years asking why, and now there’s a treatment that’s clinically available.” -- Mike Farrell, MD, former Chief of Staff

“Jim was an exceptional individual with an outstanding ability to teach and to advocate for clinical research. He was an extraordinary academic citizen. Many fellows and faculty have turned to him to care for their children or other relatives. However, his greatest impact may have been on trainees. He was not only the doctor’s doctor but also the mentor’s mentor.” -- Mitchell Cohen, MD, Katharine Reynolds Ireland Chair of Pediatrics, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, via UC College of Medicine

“Jim was a tireless mentor and research leader. His work on leading the General Clinical Research Center, which became the CCTST as the program evolved, was an extraordinary contribution to Cincinnati Children’s, the College of Medicine and our entire academic health center. Many researchers, including myself, benefited from Jim’s kindness and wisdom along with the many opportunities provided through programs like the CCTST. He was a good friend and colleague and will be deeply missed.” -- Brett Kissela, MD, senior associate dean for clinical research and the chair and Albert Barnes Voorheis Professor in the Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine at the College of Medicine, via UC College of Medicine

“Cincinnati Children’s and the pediatric GI community lost a trailblazer, mentor, and friend. Jim Heubi's legacy includes his wonderful family, countless trainees, and the lives of children with bile acid synthetic disorder saved by his discoveries. May his memory be a blessing.” -- Michael J. Rosen, MD, MSCI, former medical director, Schubert-Martin Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center, via Twitter.

“Truly an incredible physician and researcher and even better person: God bless you, Dr. Heubi, for being the ultimate servant leader and role model to so many of us in the Peds GI community.” -- Sandra Kim, MD, co-director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, via Twitter

Jim Heubi in the lab, circa 1980.

“Dr. Heubi’s vision was that the CCTST could amplify that research across the university to dramatically change outcomes, and in later years he became equally passionate about reducing health disparities and engaging the community in our research. He was tireless in his efforts to harness the resources of the CCTST in efforts to improve the health of our community.

"One of the things that people may not appreciate about Dr. Heubi is that he was the quintessential sponsor. He gave me opportunities that I almost certainly didn’t deserve, saw promise in me that I didn’t recognize, and gave me opportunities to lead in the CCTST that I never would have had without him.” -- Jessica Kahn, MD, MPH, director, Adolescent and Transition Medicine

“Pediatric GI has lost another giant in the field—a passionate researcher, clinician, mentor and educator. I never had the good fortune to have Dr. Heubi as a mentor, but I know that I have benefited from his wisdom and guidance passed through many of those who have.” -- Jason Silverman, MD, Stollery Children's Hospital, Alberta, Canada, via Twitter

Jim Heubi, MD, collaborates with Joe Palermo, MD, PhD.

Jim Heubi, MD, with his family and Bill Schubert, MD, former president and CEO, at the 29th Annual Pratt Lecture, May 25, 2010.

“Jim was a very hard worker. It was difficult to keep up with him. But he wasn’t all work. Jim spent a lot of time at his lake house up in Indiana. It was a three-plus-hour drive, but he went there often. This was a place he inherited from his father, but he expanded it into a much bigger place to accommodate his growing family. He doted over his three grandchildren. Most of the family pictures are him and the grandkids. He always found time for them. It was an honor and privilege working with him and getting to know him and his family. He was bigger than life and had a huge impact on the institution and the people who were lucky enough to know him.” -- Jack Kues, PhD, director of the Center for Improvement Science, a CCTST core, via UC College of Medicine

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