Kawasaki disease is the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children, yet its cause remains largely unknown. It’s a mystery local resident Jane Burns has dedicated more than two decades to help solve. Burns is the director of the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UCSD/Rady Children’s Hospital where she leads a multidisciplinary team that cares for about 80 new Kawasaki disease patients each year and follows more than 1,200 families in the clinic.
Her husband, Dr. John B. Gordon, is an interventional cardiologist who cares for adults with long-term after-effects of Kawasaki disease (KD).
Together, the married couple and a team from UCSD have launched The Adult KD Collaborative, a long-range epidemiologic and clinical study of cardiovascular biomarkers and functional studies in adults who suffered from KD in childhood.
Burns, who is also a mother of two daughters, earned her M.D. degree at the University of North Carolina and completed her pediatric residency and chief residency at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Denver. In 1983, Burns went to Harvard Medical School and the Boston Children’s Hospital for additional training in pediatric infectious diseases and molecular virology. She joined the faculty at Harvard in 1986 and in 1990 moved to San Diego and joined the faculty at the University of California, where she was appointed Chief of the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology in 2000.
- What brought you to this neighborhood?
My husband was recruited to join the San Diego Cardiac Center and I was the tag-along spouse. I am a native Californian and I was eager to move back to California to raise my children. We were living in Boston at the time with two small children so we took turns flying out. John came back from his recruiting trip and said that he wanted to move to San Diego for this job more than anything else in the world. So, I flew out to San Diego by myself and had five days to find a house and a job. I found both and the rest is history. That was in 1989.
- What makes this town special to you?
I grew up in San Francisco on Union Street and, as a child, I could walk down to the shops and say hello to people that I knew. The village in La Jolla has the same small town feel. The views of the ocean are spectacular. Swimming at the Cove followed by breakfast at The Cottage. It doesn't get any better than that!
- If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add, subtract, or improve in the area?
I would make the four tall buildings disappear that were built before the Coastal Commission was created. They are a blight on our beautiful views. Thank goodness zoning protected us from the developers!
- Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by medical mysteries and sick children. I have devoted my career to trying to solve the mystery of Kawasaki disease, the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children. Every year we diagnose and treat about 100 new cases of Kawasaki disease here in San Diego. We just celebrated the 50th anniversary of Dr. Kawasaki's discovery of the disease and yet the cause remains a mystery. You can visit our website at
to learn more.
- If you hosted a dinner party for 8, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?
I would invite my parents and their parents. My parents died when I was in my 30s and I never took the opportunity to really talk to them about their lives and ask the questions that an adult child wants to know. How amazing it would be to sit there with two generations and to get insights into how I came to be the person that I am. Genetics are powerful!
- Tell us about what you are currently reading?
I am working on a grant to fund my research and I am reading about how a master molecule in the body called “transforming growth factor beta” signals cells to behave as they do. My work is my passion and it's exciting to read about the inner workings of cells. Probably wouldn't be most people's first choice, but I'm enjoying it!
- What is your most prized possession?
I don't really prize possessions. I am a people person. My family and friends and colleagues all over the world, that's what is important to me.
- What do you do for fun?
I have lots of energy so tennis, swimming at the Cove, walking the dog with friends, those are all great outlets. I also love to travel and I speak four languages. I love diving into a new culture and soaking up everything I can about a world different from my own.
- Please describe your greatest accomplishment.
Despite my passion about my work, raising two wonderful children definitely tops the list of “greatest accomplishments.” Outside of my family, I am proud of creating the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UCSD and creating an environment where researchers and students can bring their creative talents to bear on solving aspects of the Kawasaki disease mystery.
- What is your motto or philosophy of life?
The way you change the world is one person at a time. I spend my life touching other people's lives through healing my patients and, hopefully, inspiring my students. I think one person can make the world a better place, one person at a time.
Reporter Marlena Chavira-Medford compiled the above Q&A. If you would like to be considered for an upcoming Q&A, or would like to recommend someone for it, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.