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April 30, 2009

Husband-wife team to head two new med school programs

The School of Medicine last week announced two new components that will be headed respectively by a husband and wife recruited to the University.

The medical school has established a new Department of Developmental Biology and appointed as its founding chair Cecilia Lo, whose research focuses on understanding the causes of congenital heart disease.

In addition, the school has established a new Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and appointed as its founding director Lo’s husband, Rocky S. Tuan, an expert in stem cell biology and tissue engineering.

A developmental biology department is still uncommon, but timely and appropriate, noted Arthur S. Levine, dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences. Such a research concentration will take advantage of powerful new technologies for manipulating the genes of sperm, eggs and their union to examine the impact on development.

“Dr. Lo is ideally suited to lead this promising new department,” Levine said. “Her work is taking significant steps toward discovering the genetic basis for congenital heart disease, and her approach and technologies easily lend themselves to similar analyses for birth defects in other organs.”

Using a variety of genetically modified mouse models, Lo has been able to identify novel mutations that cause congenital heart defects such as atrial and ventricular septal defects, transposition of the great arteries and pulmonary stenosis.

Lo will join the faculty this summer, leaving positions as director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Center, since 2004, and chief of the Laboratory of Developmental Biology, since 2001, at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Lo received her doctorate in 1979 from Rockefeller University and her Bachelor of Science in 1974 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her adviser was Nobel laureate David Baltimore. Prior to working at NHLBI, she was professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Also this summer, Tuan will join the orthopaedic surgery department to direct its new Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering.

The purpose of the new center is to use the knowledge base and technical know-how toward the restoration of organ functions by applying principles of cellular and molecular biology as well as the physical sciences and engineering. Novel approaches such as stem cells, biomaterials, nanotechnology and bioreactors will be utilized to advance skeletal tissue engineering and regeneration.

For more than 30 years, Tuan has studied the workings of the musculoskeletal system and its diseases, including cartilage development and repair, cell signaling and matrix biochemistry, stem cell biology, nanotechnology and other relevant topics in orthopaedics.

“Dr. Tuan will be an absolutely outstanding addition to our department’s research base,” said Freddie H. Fu, the David Silver Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and department chair. “He has been exploring ways to repair damaged muscle and cartilage using regenerative medicine approaches that will greatly complement the technologies we too have been developing.”

Since 2001, Tuan has been chief of the Cartilage Biology and Orthopaedics branch at the National Institute of Arthritis, and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

He received his undergraduate education at Swarthmore College and Berea College, and his doctorate from Rockefeller University.

Prior to his appointment at NIH, he held professorships in orthopaedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania and at Thomas Jefferson University, where he also was vice chair and director of research in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

He currently holds adjunct appointments at George Washington University School of Medicine and Georgetown University School of Medicine.

“Research has the greatest impact when it is based on real-world needs, developed by means of integrated scientific principles and delivered using translational approaches,” said Tuan, who also will serve as the executive vice chair for orthopaedic research. “My goal is to establish a national and international center of excellence built on research innovation, a strong education program and an entrepreneurial culture that fosters local and regional collaborations among the academic, industrial and business communities.”

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