• By Kelly Reller

Mayo Clinic announces 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards

November 13, 2017

artistic lens photo of Gonda Building with blue skies, Damen parking ramp and Founder's Park

ROCHESTER, Minn. – Stephen Challachombe, Ph.D., Donald Greydanus, M.D., Robert Nirschl, M.D., Thomas Spelsberg, Ph.D. and Robert Waller, M.D., recently were named honorees at the 2017 Mayo Clinic Distinguished Alumni Award ceremony. The award acknowledges and shows appreciation for the exceptional contributions of Mayo Clinic alumni to the field of medicine.Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients 2017

Stephen Challachombe, Ph.D.

Dr. Challachombe completed a fellowship in immunology research at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in 1979. He is a professor of oral medicine at King’s College in London. He was the Martin Rushton Professor of Oral Medicine at King’s College London and the University of London; a consultant in diagnostic microbiology and immunology to Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospitals; and dean for external affairs at King’s College London Health Schools.

Dr. Challacombe has made contributions to the clinical specialty of oral medicine and to his research specialty of mucosal immunology. He is a translational scientist in oral medicine and has published more than 250 peer-reviewed papers, 160 other publications and seven books. He has been president of several organizations, including the International Association for Dental Research, British Society for Oral and Dental Research, European Association of Oral Medicine and the British Society for Oral and Dental Research.

Donald Greydanus, M.D.

Dr. Greydanus completed a residency in pediatrics at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in 1976. He is a professor of pediatric and adolescent medicine at Western Michigan University School of Medicine in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He was the founding chair and program director of the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at that institution. He also is a professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University in East Lansing. He was director of the pediatrics residency program at Michigan State for 22 years.

Dr. Greydanus has received numerous awards, including the Adele Dellenbaugh Hofman Award from the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1995 for distinguished contributions to adolescent health. He received the William B. Weil Jr., M.D., Endowed Distinguished Pediatric Faculty Award from the Department of Pediatrics and Human Development at Michigan State University in 2003. The Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine presented him with the 2010 Outstanding Achievement in Adolescent Medicine award. The University of Athens, Greece, awarded him the Doctor Honoris Causa for Distinguished Academic Achievements in Medicine in 2010.

Robert Nirschl, M.D.

Dr. Nirschl completed a residency in orthopedic surgery at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in 1963, and is founding director of the Nirschl Orthopedic Center for Sports Medicine and Joint Reconstruction in Arlington, Virginia. He is an associate clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C.

He founded and, for 26 years, administered the Orthopedic Sports Medicine Fellowship Program in conjunction with the Virginia Hospital Center-Arlington/Georgetown University. He trained and directly influenced hundreds of surgeons. He also was the founding mentor and original faculty director of the Primary Care Sports Medicine Fellowship for the University for Health Science in Bethesda, Maryland. His expertise is in epicondylitis, or tennis elbow, and in 1981, he became a founding member of the U.S. Tennis Association’s Sports Science Committee.

Thomas Spelsberg, Ph.D.

Dr. Spelsberg is an emeritus George M. Eisenberg Professor of Biochemistry at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science and a past professor of cell biology and biochemistry at the University of Minnesota Graduate School. He was a member of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Mayo Clinic for more than four decades and department chair for five years. He also was president of the Mayo Clinic Staff, an endowed Mayo Clinic Distinguished Investigator recipient in medical research, and director of the Mayo Clinic Medical Genomics Education program and Mayo Clinic’s Center for Reproductive Biology.

Dr. Spelsberg’s research program examined the actions of the estrogen and transforming growth factor beta signaling pathways in normal cells and possible defects occurring in cancer cells. Dr. Spelsberg has been a distinguished lecturer at 10 universities, and he presented more than 50 plenary and symposia lectures worldwide.

Robert Waller, M.D.

Dr. Waller is an emeritus president and CEO of Mayo Clinic and emeritus chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic. He completed a residency in ophthalmology at Mayo Clinic School of Graduate Medical Education in 1970. During his 30-year career at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Waller represented Mayo Clinic in patient care, education, research and administration. He joined the staff in ophthalmology in 1970 and was department chair for 10 years. He served as a professor of ophthalmology for 20 years and was the Whitney and Betty MacMillan Professor in Ophthalmology in Honor of Robert Rex Waller. He served on the Mayo Clinic Board of Governors for 15 years, including five years as chair, and on the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees for 21 years, including 11 as president and CEO.

Dr. Waller was chair of Mayo Clinic’s Diversification Committee that developed the plan to transition the institution into a national health care system, resulting in merging Mayo’s two hospitals in Rochester, Minnesota; establishing medical centers in Arizona and Florida; and creating a network of hospitals and physician partners in the Midwest.


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Kelly Reller, Mayo Clinic Public Affairs, 507-284-5005,