American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

Jacobson Innovation Award (Established 1994)

The Recipient of the 26th Jacobson Innovation Award (JIA) is James L. Cox, MD, FACS of Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Cox will be presented with this Award at a presentation dinner on Friday, June 5, 2020. JIA nominations and letters of support for Dr. Cox were submitted between February and March 2019 from Drs. S. Chris Malaisrie, Nathaniel J. Soper, and Patrick M. McCarthy from Northwestern Medicine’s Feinberg School of Medicine; Dr. Thoralf M. Sundt from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital; and Dr. Ralph J. Damiano, Jr. from Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine. 

Dr. Cox is universally recognized as a superb cardiothoracic surgeon-scientist and is known as the “father of cardiac arrhythmia surgery.” Now in his 70s, Dr. Cox is retired from an active surgical practice but continues to be extremely productive in the clinical research arena at Northwestern Medicine (NW), where he is currently in charge of the rapidly growing NW research program in cardiac surgery with well over 40 papers in press or development.

Dr. Cox is being recognized for this prestigious Award in large part for his development of surgical procedures for multiple cardiac arrhythmias, including the WPW syndrome, AV node reentry tachycardia, automatic atrial tachycardias, atrial flutter, atrial fibrillation, and both ischemic and non-ischemic ventricular tachycardia. While at Duke University Medical Center, and later when he moved to Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine (Wash U), Dr. Cox and his associates developed the "Maze" procedure, an open-heart surgical procedure intended to eliminate atrial fibrillation (AF). He carefully studied the pathophysiology of AF in his Wash U lab, validated concepts with complex mapping in surgical patients, and came up with an ingenious approach for ablation by directing the electrical wavefront down a “maze” of pathways from the SA Node to the AV Node. He was the first surgeon ever to perform this procedure, which took place at St. Louis' Barnes Hospital in 1987. It was during this timeframe, that his research related to surgical management of cardiac arrythmias really began to soar. He left Wash U to join the faculty at Georgetown University and continued to teach and observe a variety of young regional and national cardiac surgeons performing cardiac ablations. All the while, he continued to perfect the “maze” procedure, teaching it to many of these young and enthusiastic surgeons. It was, in fact, one of his young mentees, Dr. Patrick M. McCarthy, who officially went on record to credit and call the procedure “Cox’s maze procedure.” After introduction of the initial procedure, a series of improvements were made, culminating in the 1992 Cox maze III procedure, which is now considered to be the "gold standard" for effective surgical cure of AF.

Dr. Cox left Georgetown after a few years, founding 3F Therapeutics, Inc. – Form Follows Function – a company that developed novel approaches and designs for artificial tissue heart values. The company had much commercial success and was later acquired by Medtronic. Most recently, Dr. Cox co-founded Adagio Medical, Inc. using super cold catheter cryoablation as a treatment for atrial fibrillation. He holds 32 medical-related patents and has been involved with several other companies using novel technologies to perform either surgical or catheter ablation of cardiac arrhythmias.

Dr. Cox continues to serve as a mentor for many medical students and cardiac surgeons of all ages and stages in their professional careers. At the special request of Dr. Patrick M. McCarthy, NW Chief for the Division of Cardiac Surgery (and the second surgeon ever to perform the Cox maze procedure), Dr. Cox was recruited from retirement to design, direct, and launch the Northwestern Comprehensive AF Program bringing basic science, clinical cardiac electrophysiology and surgery programs, and translational research offerings together, continuing his lifelong research related to heart arrhythmia. He and his NW colleagues hosted a large group of visiting surgeons and electrophysiological physicians to their CME course, Catheter and Surgical Ablation for AF (CAST-AF) in August 2019, which was met with great success.

Currently, there are seven (7) candidates under consideration for the JIA. If you wish to renew support for someone previously proposed more than three years ago, please feel free to do so by submitting updated information (two letters of support and the nominee’s current CV). 

The following is a description of the Award and the CRITERIA used in assessing candidates. As additional information, Dr. Jacobson added a sentence to the third paragraph about the ten-year time span, which gives us a bit more flexibility. Although the original intent was to define a period of time in which the original work was presented by setting a ten-year time frame, exceptions may be considered with a bias toward newer innovations. Upon more recent review, Dr. Jacobson also added that nominations of qualified non-Fellows could be accepted and reviewed; however, ACS Fellows will be given primary consideration. The Honors Committee encourages you to think about the most impactful and highly influential surgical innovations developed for the various surgical specialties over the past ten years. Also, nominees considered must be the original and true innovator of a pioneering technique or procedure. Relevant information (letters of support and a current CV) should be submitted to Executive Services as detailed on the Home Page for the Honors Committee. It is the responsibility of the nominating body or person to fully vet each candidate before submitting the nomination even though further due diligence will be performed by a member of the Honors Committee.

You should compare the name of any individual you would like to nominate with those listed as prior JIA recipients. 

Review the award criteria with a complete listing of past Jacobson Innovation Awardees.