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MU Dedicates Medical Research Center to Honor Dr. and Mrs. Thomas W. Burns

April 27, 2007

Story Contact:  Katharine Kostiuk, 573-882-3346,

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns, who have served the University of Missouri-Columbia for more than 50 years, were recognized today at the MU School of Medicine for their leadership and philanthropy. The School dedicated its Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research during a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The Center focuses on the deadly link between cardiovascular disease and diabetes, which together claim the lives of more than 15,000 Missourians each year. The linked diseases constitute one of the most pressing health problems for Missouri and the nation.

“MU is grateful for the many contributions Dr. and Mrs. Burns have made to advance patient care, education and research at our University,” said MU Chancellor Brady Deaton. “We predict that research conducted at the Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Center will result in potentially lifesaving advances for the many patients with diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

The newly named Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Center for Diabetes and Cardiovascular Research contains laboratories recently constructed with a competitive construction grant from the National Institutes of Health. The Center's leader is Dr. James Sowers, one of the nation's leading endocrinologists and the Thomas W. and Joan F. Burns Missouri Chair in Diabetology.

The Burnses are among the most generous supporters of MU and have provided significant gifts to the University's School of Medicine, Ellis Fischel Cancer Center and other programs. They have specifically created three endowments to support faculty members focused on diabetes and cardiovascular research at the MU School of Medicine.

“The Burnses' amazing generosity is accompanied by decades of devoted service to the MU School of Medicine,” said Dr. William Crist, who is the Hugh E. and Sarah D. Stephenson Dean and a 1969 graduate of the medical school. “Like thousands of other medical students, I was privileged to be trained by Dr. Burns. Many of those students also followed Dr. Burns' example by pursuing careers at academic medical centers.”

Other MU alumni mentored by Dr. Burns include Dr. Irl Hirsch, a 1984 graduate of MU's School of Medicine who serves as an endocrinology professor and director of the University of Washington Diabetes Care Center in Seattle, and Dr. Kenneth Burman, a 1970 graduate of MU's School of Medicine who has served as an adviser to the U.S. Surgeon General and chief of the endocrine section at Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.

“Dr. Burns is one of the most competent and compassionate physicians I've ever met. He displayed these qualities to his patients, his students and his colleagues,” Hirsch said. “His lessons transcended medicine. We were all very fortunate to have Dr. Burns at MU for so many years.”

Dr. Burns was one of the founding faculty members of MU's medical center, which opened in 1956. He also was one of the founding faculty members of MU's medical degree program, which graduated its first class in 1957. As a result, thousands of patients and physicians in training have benefited from his expertise and leadership.

“Dr. Burns served as a mentor, friend and the most influential clinician in my career,” Burman said. “His personality attributes of dedication, team play, intelligence, friendliness, respect and excellence in research and clinical care have influenced the manner in which I have worked for more than 30 years.”

A pioneer in endocrinology, Dr. Burns contributed greatly to MU's national reputation in diabetes care, prevention, education and research. The American College of Physicians (ACP), the largest internal medicine organization in the country, bestowed on him the title of Master, which is the ACP's highest academic honor, and presented him with the Laureate Award. Dr. Burns also received the University of Missouri Faculty-Alumni Award in 1986 and the University of Missouri Distinguished Faculty Award in 1992.

Dr. Burns was a key architect in establishing MU's Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center and served for many years as the Center's founding director. As Missouri's only diabetes center outside of St. Louis and Kansas City, the Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center has provided treatment to thousands of patients much closer to home.

“The Cosmopolitan International Diabetes and Endocrinology Center was MU's first private-public partnership. It is a model of interaction between a state organization and a philanthropic civic organization, which together are able to accomplish something neither could do alone,” Dr. Burns said. “I believe further philanthropic support for diabetes and cardiovascular research will allow MU to make even greater contributions to patient care, prevention and education.”

The Burnses reside in Columbia and have four children. Their son Dr. Richard Burns graduated from MU's School of Medicine in 1990 and serves as an assistant professor of internal medicine at MU.