February 11, 2022—(BRONX, NY)—Elizabeth McNally, M.D., Ph.D., Einstein Class of ’90, has been elected editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI). A pre-eminent peer-reviewed medical journal aimed at defining disease pathways and treatments, JCI is widely recognized for its broad readership and impact. Dr. McNally will be the first woman to hold the title of editor in the journal’s nearly 100-year history. Her five-year term begins on March 1, 2022.
Dr. McNally is director of the Center for Genetic Medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, where she studies inherited disorders that affect cardiac and skeletal muscle function. After graduating from Einstein’s Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) with both M.D. and Ph.D. degrees, she completed her residency and fellowship in cardiovascular medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and her postdoctoral fellowship in genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital. Dr. McNally was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) in 2003 and served as president from 2011 to 2012. She was elected to the Association of American Physicians in 2006 and is serving as its 2021-2022 president. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine in 2021.
Several members of the Einstein community have played important roles at JCI in recent years. The current editor, Rexford Ahima, M.D., Ph.D., director of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, completed his residency and fellowship in endocrinology at Einstein. The preceding editor was Gordon F. Tomaselli, M.D., Einstein Class of ’82, the Marilyn and Stanley Katz Dean at Einstein and the executive vice president and chief academic officer at Montefiore Medicine. Dr. Tomaselli is currently a deputy editor at JCI, along with Arturo Casadevall, M.D., Ph.D., who was a faculty member at Einstein from 1992 to 2015, including chair of the department of microbiology & immunology from 2006 to 2015.
JCI is owned and published by the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI), one of the nation’s oldest and most respected associations for physician-scientists. Eighteen members of Einstein’s faculty, including Dr. Tomaselli, are current members of ASCI.
Q&A With Dr. McNally
We caught up with Dr. McNally recently to ask her a few questions about her new role. Here, she talks about her priorities, the challenges ahead, and memories of her time at Einstein.
You are the first woman to hold the title of editor in the journal’s nearly 100-year history. What are a few of your priorities as you begin your five-year term?
I am keenly interested to see more clinical investigation in the JCI. There has never been a better time to be conducting human studies because we can approach disorders through increasingly clever and accessible technology that gives us real-time feedback. Having this data allows investigators to formulate new hypotheses that can be answered using human cell modeling, pharmacological, and even genetic interventions. Model organisms will remain highly useful for testing hypotheses, but there is so much we can also learn from people simply by asking the right questions. As a cardiac geneticist, I’m impressed by how much we can learn from a single patient.
I am also strongly interested in ensuring fairness and equity for all of our authors, especially for those who may come from marginalized or diverse backgrounds. At this point, biomedical publishing has only recently been tracking race/ethnicity and other metrics. We will be following this area very closely and reaching out to authors and reviewers to solicit opinions as to how to better manage this.
I also will be looking at the review process and seeking to shorten the timelines for revisions and re-revisions. I’ve been really struck by the lengthy revision process across all of biomedical science, and I find this counterproductive, especially for trainees. We know the JCI accepts only a small percentage of manuscripts, but we hope to provide clearer answers during the initial phases of the review process.
I really loved being an M.D./Ph.D. student at Einstein… I was surrounded by great physician-scientists who served as role models and taught me so much.
Elizabeth McNally, M.D., Ph.D.
Assuming the mantle of the leading translational science journal in the world and the flagship of the American Society for Clinical Investigation during a pandemic will no doubt present challenges. What do you expect those to be?
Pushing forward with scientific investigation, especially laboratory-based investigation, has been very challenging for the past two years. We’ve experienced everything from a complete halt of laboratory-based research to trying to work in a socially distanced and masked manner. We’ve experienced supply chain issues and a great deal of social and political instability, which has impacted the world, including laboratories. I worry about the pipeline of laboratory discovery since it has been so unsettled, and so much energy and effort has been channeled to pandemic-related research. These interruptions and redirection are likely to have an impact for years to come, not just on publishing, but also on scientific training and career development.
Einstein’s dean, Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, is a current JCI deputy editor. Two other members of the Einstein community have played important roles at JCI in recent years, including the current editor, Dr. Ahima, and a deputy editor, Dr. Casadevall. Did you know them during your time at Einstein?
Dr. Tomaselli and I are both cardiologists and scientists, so we know each other. Though I did not know Drs. Ahima and Casadevall while at Einstein, I know them through their involvement in the American Society of Clinical Investigation, the society that oversees the JCI. It really shows how many great physician scientists have been at Einstein for medical school or other parts of their training or academic careers. I feel very fortunate to have gone to Einstein, and maybe there is a future JCI editor attending medical school at Einstein now.
When you were an M.D./Ph.D. student at Einstein in the 1980s, what were your career goals? Do you have any special memories of your time in the Bronx?
I really loved being an M.D./Ph.D. student at Einstein. I became familiar with Einstein when I worked there while I was still an undergraduate student at Barnard College. I would make the trip to the Bronx on the subway so I could work in the lab. I gained so much exposure to great science and medicine—I was hooked. I applied to the Medical Scientist Training Program, and I remained there for my medical and graduate school training. I was surrounded by great physician-scientists who served as role models and taught me so much. I had amazing colleagues in my class, all of whom have gone on to do great things.
Did you have any mentors at Einstein who inspired you?
Drs. Ora Rosen, Lucy Shapiro, Leslie Leinwand, Susan Horowitz and, on the clinical side, Dr. Joan Casey, were all mentors to me. There were many others who also provided guidance, but what is so special about these mentors is that they were all such successful women. Having so many women achieving at such high levels was inspirational for me.
Why did you choose cardiovascular medicine and then genetics as specialties?
In my graduate work, I developed a strong interest in human genetics. We had rudimentary genomic tools when I was a graduate student, and so much was done manually and without adequate computational support. Nonetheless, with well-framed, targeted questions focused on specific genes and proteins, it was clear there was so much to be learned from structure-function relationships. It is truly amazing that we now can order gene panel sequencing to predict patient risk and that we use this information to manage patients. Polygenic risk scores are now making their way into clinical practice, and this again will transform how we identify risk.
There is so much we can do to mitigate risk; it brings an entirely new meaning to preventive medicine. At the same time, these genetic signals are mechanistically so informative because these findings can drive drug development or even therapeutic genome editing.