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May 29, 2014

Levine installed as med school Petersen dean

Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences and dean of the medical school, was installed May 14 as the John and Gertrude Petersen Dean.

This is the first time that an endowed chair has been established exclusively for the medical school dean.

Provost Patricia E. Beeson and Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg introduced Levine, with Nordenberg presenting him with a medal to formally inaugurate Levine as the newly endowed chair.

“Appointment to an endowed position such as this constitutes one of the highest honors that the University can bestow upon a member of its faculty,” Beeson said.

Levine has recruited renowned scientists to the University, earned a long list of awards and guided the medical school to national prominence, all while maintaining a research laboratory and serving as a professor of medicine and molecular genetics, according to a University press release.

“Art followed another legendary leader, Dr. Thomas Detre, who really brought world-class medicine to Pittsburgh,” Nordenberg said. “That might have intimidated another leader, but Art saw a blessing in that challenge and has been incredibly effective in building on that legacy that he inherited.”

Levine thanked John and Gertrude Petersen for their support in the creation of the newly endowed position, one more example of the Petersens’ ongoing support of Pitt.

“I cannot tell you how grateful I am for what John, an extraordinarily loyal alumnus of this University, and his wife Gertrude and their family have accomplished on our behalf,” Levine said.


As part of his May 14 installation, Levine delivered a lecture entitled “The Evolutionary Biology of a Dean” in which he outlined not only the path that led him to the University, but the progress that the medical school has made during his 15-year tenure.

Levine grew up in Cleveland before attending boarding school at the Windsor Mountain School in Lenox, Mass. It was the first integrated boarding school in the country, Levine said, and provided “an extraordinary experience and immersed me fully in the humanities.”

Levine attended Columbia College in New York, where he majored in comparative literature and wrote for and became editor of the Columbia Review, the college’s quarterly publication.

Upon graduation, Levine said he had a difficult time getting accepted into medical school because he was not on a pre-med track. Eventually he was accepted at the Rosalind Franklin School of Medicine and Science (Chicago Medical School).

“It was not a strong research-focused school, but it was a superb clinical environment and so I had a wonderful clinical education at the hands of seasoned, mature, old-time docs who taught me everything they knew about clinical medicine,” Levine said.

Graduating from medical school in 1964, he went on to complete an internship and residency in pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Hospitals, then a fellowship in hematology and biomedical genetics at the University of Minnesota.

Levine began his 30-plus year career at the National Institutes of Health when he joined the National Cancer Institute in 1967. He noted that he was responsible for the federal government’s research on the types of cancer that occur in young people, work that he detailed in his book, “Cancer in the Young.”

He began work on the simian-virus 40 model, one of the most important early animal models of how viruses lead to cancer. “In my first lab experience, my challenge was to try to find out why this virus causes cancer,” Levine said. He and his colleagues were able to create the first genetic and physical map of the cancer-causing virus.

He also worked on viruses that had RNA as their genome instead of DNA and viruses that cause leukemia in mice. He recalled that in 1981, he conducted research and concluded that it was probable that a retrovirus was causing what is now termed AIDS.

“I mentioned that to a colleague of mine at the NIH, Bob Gallo, a co-discoverer of the AIDS virus, and a year later his paper came out in Science showing that HIV was in fact the cause of AIDS and that it indeed was a retrovirus as I had suggested to him,” Levine said.

While this research was done prior to his 1998 appointment at Pitt, he noted that it shaped the way he has guided the University’s medical school. “It is my own background in clinical science and basic science that have led me to some of the notions that I’ve had about what this institution should harbor,” Levine said.

From 1982-98, Levine served as the scientific director at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “I did that primarily for scientific reasons,” he said. “I became convinced that to really understand what produced a tumor, one had to understand what produced an embryo, because in fact, if you think it through, an embryo and a tumor are very similar.”

But when Pitt needed a new dean of the medical school, Nordenberg turned to Levine. “I think the chancellor was very clever, he brought me through the Fort Pitt Tunnel at dusk … I was instantly charmed,” Levine said of his visit to Pittsburgh. “Dr. (Olivera J.) Finn, the chair of what is now the Department of Immunology, insisted on driving me to the top of Mt. Washington and I think that closed the deal.”

The University combined the positions of medical school dean and senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences, and Levine was appointed to the position in 1998. Levine quoted the school’s first chair of physiology, C.C. Guthrie, by saying, “To achieve national standing, research should be regarded as even more important … than teaching. Without it, general standing among the best medical schools is impossible.”

Pitt’s medical school has “echoed that mantra ever since,” Levine said. He noted that in the last 15 years, the medical school has established 10 new departments, a mixture of clinical and basic science departments. Pitt’s Department of Structural Biology is one of only two in a medical school (Stanford has the other one).

Levine noted that the University also has forged new institutes, such as the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. “I felt, along with my colleagues, that it would be worthwhile to establish new institutes. Institutes transcend departments, and they even transcend schools,” he added.

In addition to research initiatives, the School of Medicine under Levine has instituted educational innovations, including new Ph.D. programs in computational biology, molecular biophysics and structural biology and a program in integrative systems biology. “We haven’t lost sight of education,” he said.

Every two-three weeks, Levine meets a dozen medical students for lunch, discussing issues beyond medicine. “We talk about ethics, we talk about values, we talk about the human dimensions of medicine.”

Levine also cited extraordinary expansion of the medical school during his tenure. He said the school’s operating revenue has tripled from $702 million to $2.132 billion; endowment funds have doubled from $525 million to $1.098 billion; research revenues have tripled, and the school has nearly doubled the size of its funding.

—Alex Oltmanns

Arthur Levine began his lecture in Scaife Hall by outlining his family’s history, including a picture from his early years growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.

Arthur Levine began his lecture in Scaife Hall by outlining his family’s history, including a picture from his early years growing up in Cleveland, Ohio.