The ‘distinguished’ Dr. Combs

UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences biomedical researcher surprised with latest Chester Fritz professorship award

Colin Combs

Colin Combs, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, accepts congratulations from UND President Mark Kennedy and Dean Joshua Wynne, after Combs was surprised with honor of being UND’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor — the highest academic honor UND can bestow. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

Admiring colleagues filled a room Friday, May 12, to witness a surprise presentation of the Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship to Colin Combs, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences in UND’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

The Chester Fritz Distinguished Professorship is the highest faculty honor bestowed by the University of North Dakota.

Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas DiLorenzo observed, “You’re what we consider a ‘triple threat.’ Not only do you publish a phenomenal amount of incredible work, your grants are unparalleled in this university.” In addition to this, he noted Combs’ numerous recognitions for teaching and his extensive service work on behalf of his colleagues and the University.

Combs is esteemed around the world for his research, noted Joshua Wynne, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and UND vice president for health affairs. He added, “I think that an important component that we often forget has been called ‘citizenship,’ or contributing to the university, the community, and the world. You certainly do that, and one of the ways you do that is by your personality. You are humble, and yet you have very high standards. We are all better for being in your presence.”

President Mark Kennedy said of Combs, “You’re someone we can hold up and say, this is the type of professor that makes the University of North Dakota the wonderful institution it is.”

Cross-disciplinary projects

Colin Combs joined the faculty of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences in 2000. In 2015, he was named chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences.

Combs is noted for his research work on neuroimmune interactions during aging and on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. His research has been supported by the highest-level grant funding awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private foundations such as the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research.

One of Comb’s research goals is to determine the mechanisms by which inflammatory activation of brain glial cells contributes to neurodegeneration. This includes the process by which a specific type of glia, microglia, contributes to the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease.

Combs has also been involved in cross-disciplinary projects in biomedical engineering. He has collaborated with colleagues in the UND College of Engineering and Mines and at North Dakota State University to explore the potential for designing devices that could help physicians better monitor and manage patients, particularly in rural areas.

Medical students have honored Combs several times with Block Instructor Awards in recognition of his teaching and encouragement. He has served on the editorial boards of scientific journals dedicated to research on Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, presented at numerous scientific conferences at all levels, and reviewed grant applications for the NIH, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Departments of Defense and Veteran Affairs, the National Science Foundation, and others.

“You’ve done wonderful things for the University of North Dakota, and we’re confident you will do more in the future,” said President Kennedy.

Colin Combs

Colin Combs, chair of the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UND’s School of Medicine & Health Sciences, accepts congratulations from UND President Mark Kennedy and Dr. Josh Wynne, dean of the medical schools, after Combs was surprised with honor of being UND’s newest Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor — the highest academic honor UND can bestow. Photo by Tyler Ingham.

The Fritz Professorship

Combs is the 77th UND faculty member to be honored as a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor. The Fritz Professorships were established with an endowment gift from the late UND benefactor Chester Fritz (1892-1983). An international trader in precious metals, Fritz made numerous gifts to the University, including support for the library and auditorium that bear his name. He attended UND from 1908 to 1910.

Combs received a B.A. from Berea (Ky.) College and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Case Western Reserve University in the Alzheimer Research Laboratory of the Department of Neuroscience.

–Richard Larson, UND Today staff writer

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