Miller School Leaders Pay Tribute to Dr. Richard Bookman

An innovative leader in biomedical research, academic programs, and health policy for the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, Richard J. Bookman, Ph.D., died October 3 from complications from pneumonia. He was an associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, senior advisor for program development and policy, and director of the UHealth Care Lab for the University of Miami Health System.

“Dr. Bookman was a wonderful colleague renowned for his far-sighted vision and deep commitment to our university,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer for the Miller School. “His passing is truly a loss for our medical school.”

In his 33 years at the medical school, Dr. Bookman conducted leading-edge research, invigorated the M.D./Ph.D. program, mentored faculty members and students, and was an active leader in civic and professional organizations. He won the George Paff Award for Teaching Excellence three times in the 1990s, and later received the Glaser Foundation Research Award.

“Richard was a brilliant thinker who was very generous with his wisdom,” said Kerry Burnstein, Ph.D., professor and chair, Department of Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology; associate director for education and training, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; and VA research health scientist. “He also had an enduring loyalty to our university.”

Vance Lemmon, Ph.D., professor of neurological surgery and the Walter G. Ross Distinguished Chair in Developmental Neuroscience, said Dr. Bookman had the unusual gift of seeing into the future.

“He would read something or go to a talk and realize the idea would change the way things happened in science,” he said. “And then he would work to make sure that thing happened at the university, and the sooner, the better.”

Along with his multifaceted roles at the medical school, Dr. Bookman was a whitewater canoeist, photographer, and long-distance cyclist, and shared these passions with his friends.

“I remember his boundless optimism in all aspects of life, even in the face of daunting obstacles,” said John L. Bixby, Ph.D., emeritus professor of pharmacology and neurological surgery. “Despite all the energy he spent at work, it was clear to me that the most important thing in his life was his family.”

Dr. Bookman is survived by Milica, his wife of 46 years, and their daughters, Karla and Aleksandra. A family service is planned in New York.

A Distinguished Researcher

Dr. Bookman earned his undergraduate degree with honors from Brown University in computational neuroscience, and his Ph.D. in physiology, studying ion channel biophysics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. As a graduate student, Dr. Bookman founded a scientific instrumentation company that he later sold.

During his postdoctoral training in Basel, Switzerland, Dr. Bookman studied synaptic transmission and developed biophysical and optical methods to measure the kinetics of exocytosis from single cells, work which he further developed as a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Pennsylvania and continued after his move to Miami in 1991. At the medical school, Dr. Bookman’s laboratory developed instrumentation and software to support imaging, neuroscience research, and education, which have been broadly disseminated through open source or commercial channels.

Dr. Bookman was dedicated to advancing research. During the late 1990s, Dr. Bookman founded the DNA Microarray Facility, dramatically scaling up the laboratory’s ability to do gene expression profiling, said Dr. Burnstein.

“Richard was a big data scientist before that term was in vogue,” she said. “Although microarrays have been supplanted by newer technologies, Richard continued to be an early adapter of advanced technologies for our school.”

Dr. Bookman saw the power of phenotypic screening in drug discovery, one of his many creative and far-seeing ideas in neuroscience research.

“He was a great friend who taught me an enormous amount, and constantly reminded me that the most work gets done when you don’t care who gets the credit,” added Dr. Bixby

More recently, Dr. Bookman led the informatics component of the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), and worked with a small team to develop an application to manage the COVID-19 pandemic within a semi-closed environment, such as a college campus. He was the lead author of an article, “Research Informatics and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Challenges, Innovations, Lessons Learned, and Recommendations,” in 2021 in the Journal of Clinical and Translational Science.

“The first time I met Dr. Bookman, I was overwhelmed by his enthusiasm for innovative thinking and for his support of my nascent research program,” said Daniel G. Isom, Ph.D., associate professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology. “He kept his finger on the pulse and was always looking for the next big breakthrough to share with me. He was deeply interested in the potential of artificial intelligence and the new Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health funding programs. His exuberance, positive energy, and love for science will be missed.” 

Academic Leadership

Along with his research, Dr. Bookman served the Miller School in a variety of leadership roles, including directing the M.D./Ph.D. program for 12 years. Sandra Lemmon, Ph.D., emeritus professor of molecular and cellular pharmacology, and emeritus director of the Medical Scientist Training Program, recalls his deep commitment to research training.

“When Richard assumed a new leadership role in 2006, he nominated me to be take his place as director of the M.D./Ph.D. program,” said Lemmon. “He advised me on how to get the resources we needed to continue to grow and was very proud when we received our first training grant from the National Institutes of Health.” 

From 1997 to 2011, Dr. Bookman served as associate dean for graduate studies, associate dean for research and graduate studies and executive dean for research and research training at the medical school. As the university’s vice provost for research, he unified the research administration group and launched units dedicated to research reporting, research strategic planning, research space planning, and initiation of clinical trials.

“Richard Bookman was a big thinker who helped teach me the ability to see the forest and the trees, and the power of connecting people across different disciplines and departments for mutual benefit and enhanced scientific impact,” said Erin Kobetz, Ph.D., M.P.H., vice provost for research and scholarship; co-director, CTRI; associate director, community outreach and engagement, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center; and the John K. and Judy H. Schulte Senior Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

Advancing Health Policies

In addition to his university roles, Dr. Bookman worked at the state level for decades through his championing of the Florida Biomedical Research Program and Biomedical Research Advisory Council, for which he drafted the original legislation and served as chair.

In 2013, Dr. Bookman brought the Council of Florida Medical School Deans together to create the Florida Medical Schools Quality Network. As vice president of the network, he worked to bring the medical schools’ research capacity to bear on problems facing the state’s Medicaid program and patients.

“Dr. Bookman always challenged the council to think ahead and into the future,” said health care attorney Jan Gorrie, managing partner, Ballard Partners in Tampa. “He was curious, insightful and passionate about serving Florida’s Medicaid population. We will all miss his collegiality and his brains.”   

“Having spent a full career as a bench scientist seeking to advance the frontiers of biomedical knowledge, I’ve now shifted to make sure that these latest advances are made available first, rather than last, to the neediest among us,” Dr. Bookman said when joining the expert council of HT4M (Health Tech for Medicaid). “The Medicaid program provides a golden opportunity to work collaboratively with patients in need and to support their efforts to lead healthy, fulfilling lives, unencumbered by illness or disability.”

Nationally, Dr. Bookman was a long-time member of various panels for the NIH and the National Science Foundation (NSF), including The Human Brain Project, the joint NIH/NSF Computational Neuroscience Program and the Biophysics of Neural Systems. He was a member and chair of professional development groups at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and was elected to the board of the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. He also served on the international Linux Foundation Public Health’s COVID Credentials Initiative.

In the community, Dr. Bookman chaired the Miami-Dade Beacon Council Life Sciences and Healthcare Committee from 2019-2022.

“This role provides me a unique opportunity to ensure that the focus of innovation in health care serves our entire community,” he said at the time. “Collaboration and shared purpose are key for better health and economic growth in Miami-Dade County.”

Dr. Sandra Lemmon recalls Dr. Bookman as “selfless in whatever he did, always driven to make the University a better place. We should all appreciate what he contributed to our institution, and for being our dear friend along the way.”

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