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An offer to scan someone’s liver isn’t the typical introduction you hear about between new colleagues, but it is part of how Arun J. Sanyal, M.D. first welcomed Michael Rao, Ph.D. to Virginia Commonwealth University in 2009. 

“I said I’d be delighted,” said Rao, smiling out at a crowd of VCU faculty, staff and students in Snead Hall at the VCU School of Business on Wednesday, September 28, 2022. Rao, president of VCU and VCU Health System, introduced Sanyal during a forum about the new Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health (SSLI), of which Sanyal will serve as director. The forum sparked a discussion about the institute’s business benefits and needs — economics, finance, insurance, marketing, supply chain and more — and how cross-industry collaboration with the VCU School of Business is critical to success on both campuses. 


Following Rao’s introduction and a welcome from School of Business Dean Naomi E. Boyd, Ph.D., Sanyal delivered an inspiring presentation where he detailed his vision for the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease and Metabolic Health, “the leading center for liver-learning and liver-related health care worldwide.” A researcher and liver disease specialist at VCU Health and a professor in the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition in the VCU School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, Sanyal is known internationally for his work in the development of therapeutics for reducing liver disease. 

“Arun has dedicated his entire life to the liver and metabolic disorder research, prevention, education and treatment of liver disease,” said Rao. “The institute is an important part of VCU. We’re delighted to come together and help bring the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute to the next level.”

First announced in December 2021, the SSLI will build upon the success of VCU’s already nationally recognized hepatology and liver transplant programs to become a global leader in research, education and care for patients living with liver diseases and metabolically driven disorders. 

“The liver provides fuel to every other organ in the body,” says Sanyal. “It gives every organ a supply of energy that allows it to meet its vital functions, and thus allows every organ and every cell — the entire body — to stay alive.”

Liver disease today is a global killer, leading to 1.3-1.4 million deaths annually. As Sanyal puts it: no liver, no life. The SSLI aims to intercept metabolic care early on, making an enormous impact both in care and cost.

“We currently attack the problem when it is clinically obvious,” said Sanyal. “Imagine if we went one stream up and we captured the disease when it was silent and reduced the cost and burden of the clinically obvious. There are incredible opportunities here.”

Following the announcement of the institute in 2021, an incredible gift of $104 million dollars was given to Virginia Commonwealth University — and, more specifically, the SSLI — by R. Todd Stravitz, M.D. and his family’s Barbara Brunckhorst Foundation. The gift is the largest ever received in VCU history, the second-largest publicly shared gift to a university in Virginia and the largest publicly shared gift to support liver research in U.S. history. It jumpstarted the institute’s creation and has brought it closer to its mission of revolutionizing liver care, improving overall health and saving lives. 


During the School of Business forum, Sanyal outlined the strong economic argument for the cutting-edge work being done at the SSLI, including major cost savings associated with proactive healthcare. According to the CDC, the U.S. spends $229 billion annually on heart/vascular disease; $327 billion on beta cell failure (type 2 diabetes); $32 billion on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; $87.2 billion on chronic kidney disease. Given the liver’s impact on other organs, taking a holistic, proactive approach to its care and treatment could save billions.

“Herein lies the opportunity to take what we’re doing on the medical side and create the business story around it,” said Sanyal. “We need to create those economic arguments that will create policy change. One thing I’ve learned is that the only thing that gets congressmen and senators to change what they do is when you can provide the economic argument.” 

Art Kellermann, M.D., M.P.H., senior vice president for health sciences at VCU and CEO of VCU Health System joined Dr. Sanyal at the forum and participated in an upbeat question-and-answer period.

“In healthcare, it’s always been, ‘how can I invent something bright, shiny, or new, that is four times more expensive and then force the industry to pay for it,’” said Kellermann. “This has driven our healthcare costs to the highest in the world. We can flip that business model on its head. We can be an incubator for changing the world in health. Arun is a key early architect in that transformation.”

Naomi E. Boyd, Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Business, welcomed Rao, Sanyal and Kellermann to Snead Hall with excitement, sharing how the business partnership with SSLI partnership is an opportunity to break down silos and welcome collaboration from across campus, thus reinforcing the ‘ONE VCU’ mindset

“The more we can sit down in the same room and discuss the issues that plague all of us, the more we can come together and move forward as an institution,” says Boyd. “We all have the same mission, and it’s a lofty one: to change the world. It begins here. It begins with this institute; it begins with these conversations. I am thrilled we had this opportunity to come together in this meaningful and intentional way. We are all better collectively than we are individually. ”Kellermann echoed this sentiment, calling the School of Business and cross-industry collaboration a secret weapon.

“We really are so excited to be here and appreciate the invitation from Dean Boyd and everyone in the School of Business,” said Kellermann. “This is our secret weapon. If we can get Monroe Park schools and MCV schools working together? Nobody and nothing can stop us. The sky’s the limit for the partnerships we can create, and when we leverage our strengths, we can do the things no one else can do.”

For more information about the Stravitz-Sanyal Institute for Liver Disease & Metabolic Health, visit To learn about the VCU School of Business, visit


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