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Ohio State mourns the loss of physician scientist Rebecca Jackson

Dr. Rebecca Jackson

Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a longtime physician scientist at The Ohio State University, will be remembered by so many people, for so many things, that it’s futile to try to name them all – but her impact on understanding and improving women’s health would likely top an impressive list of accomplishments.

Jackson died Oct. 11 at age 67. A holder of bachelor’s and medical degrees from Ohio State who joined the College of Medicine faculty in 1983, she was a professor of internal medicine in the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, associate dean for clinical research, and the director of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS).

Over more than three decades as an endocrinologist at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, Jackson focused on conditions that disproportionately affect women’s health. She was vice chair of the Women’s Health Initiative, a long-term federal study focused on strategies to prevent the major causes of death, disability and frailty in older women – namely, cardiovascular disease, cancers and osteoporosis-related fractures. Though the original study ended in 2005, the initiative continues to follow tens of thousands of women enrolled in extension studies. Jackson remained connected to the initiative for over 25 years, most recently as a member of the WHI Steering Committee.

“Becky was an incredible force for good,” the WHI wrote in a remembrance. “Her sound scientific judgment, remarkable energy and profound humanity made her an inspiration to all who had the privilege of working with her. She was a creative, knowledgeable and insightful scientist and physician who saw opportunities, exuded optimism, and promoted collaborations.”

As the founding director of the CCTS, Jackson led the programmatic functions, operations and strategic planning for the center. The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences awarded Jackson $25 million in 2018 in the third five-year cycle of funding for the CCTS.

“We’re thrilled with this award because it allows us to continue to contribute to the national conversation on translational research. The goal of studies supported by this award will be to bring transformational care to our patients. This care will begin with our patients right here in the Columbus community,” she said of the 2018 grant. “I’m grateful for the large and passionate team of researchers that assisted with our grant application.”

Jackson was also leading work as principal investigator on the HEALing Communities Study, a $65.9 million federal research grant aimed at reducing opioid deaths by 40% within three years. She told Columbus CEO in 2020 that she felt compelled to respond to the federal call for research applications for the national effort, and she built a collaborative team that included communities highly affected by the opioid crisis to apply for the grant.

“From a personal perspective, I felt so strongly that we have a moral imperative to address the opioid crisis,” she told the magazine. “As a land-grant institution, there is a social sacred compact to ensure that we study health issues that create the greatest burden on human health and then disseminate the knowledge gained through our scientific studies to communities and others for the betterment of us all.”

As part of its Healthcare Achievement Awards program in 2020, Columbus CEO named Jackson the recipient of the Trailblazer Award-Individual in recognition of her work on the HEALing Communities initiative.

Among her many other awards and recognition for her extensive body of work, she was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008 and was a 2015 recipient of The Ohio State University Distinguished Scholar Award, one of the university’s highest honors. The nomination for this award noted she had enjoyed consistent research funding for more than 30 years totaling more than $110 million. 

Jackson served as multi-principal investigator on a $5 million NIH grant to support projects designed to rapidly implement COVID-19 testing strategies in populations disproportionately affected by the pandemic. And she was co-PI with Professor of Surgery Dr. Ginny Bumgardner on a $550,000 Doris Duke Charitable Foundation initiative supporting early-career physician scientists whose research and careers were impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We have lost one of the best scientists Ohio State has ever known, an incredible leader, a tireless mentor, a compassionate physician with a heart for vulnerable populations and a fierce advocate for physician-scientists around the world,” College of Medicine Dean Dr. Carol Bradford wrote in a memo to the university community. “Through her transformative work, Dr. Jackson improved the lives of countless people. She will be dearly missed.”

In addition to her professional dedication, Jackson was a devoted Buckeye football fan. A 2011 profile in The Lantern noted that even while she was completing her residency training at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, she flew back to Columbus for every home football game. The friendship she struck up with former coach Woody Hayes during her undergraduate days on the Ohio Union Activities Board continued until his death in 1987.

Dr. Martha Gulati, a former Ohio State cardiologist now at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, remembered Jackson as “a wonderful role model for all of us” who welcomed her upon her arrival to Ohio State in 2010.

“She was a pioneer in so many ways,” Gulati said on Twitter. “There was nothing she could not do.”

Jackson is survived by her husband of 34 years, Dr. Jerry Mysiw; children Alexander (Rachel Fenton) Mysiw and Natalie Mysiw; and brother William Jackson. Family will receive friends from 4-7 p.m. today at Schoedinger Northwest, 1740 Zollinger Road. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Ohio State University Foundation designated to the Dr. Becky Jackson Memorial Fund.

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