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June 23, 2011

5 faculty earn distinguished professorships

Pitt has honored five faculty members with Distinguished Professorships, one as a Distinguished University Professor and four as Distinguished Professors.

The honorees and their new titles are: Donald Burke, Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy; Timothy R. Billiar, Distinguished Professor of Surgery; Angela Gronenborn, Distinguished Professor of Structural Biology; William E. Klunk, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, and Peter Strick, Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology.

A Distinguished University Professorship recognizes eminence in several fields of study, transcending accomplishments in and contributions to a single discipline; the rank of Distinguished Professor recognizes extraordinary, internationally recognized scholarly attainment in an individual discipline or field. (See related story this issue.)

Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg last week announced the appointments, which become effective July 1.

burke• Burke is the inaugural University of Pittsburgh Medical Center- Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health and the dean of the Graduate School of Public Health.

He is recognized as one of the world’s foremost experts on the prevention, diagnosis and control of infectious diseases of global concern, including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis A, avian influenza and emerging infectious diseases.

He also is director of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research and serves in the newly established position of associate vice chancellor for global health, Health Sciences.

Burke’s career-long mission has been prevention and mitigation of the impact of epidemic infectious diseases of global importance. His research activities have spanned a wide range of science “from the bench to the bush,” including development of new diagnostics, population-based field studies, clinical vaccine trials, computational modeling of epidemic control strategies and policy analysis.

Billiar_Timothy• Billiar is the George Vance Foster Professor and Chair in the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery.

The main research focus of Billiar’s laboratory is studying the immune response to injury and shock. His laboratory, which currently is funded by three National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants, is credited with initially cloning the human inducible nitric oxide synthase gene.

Billiar’s work also extends into the areas of liver disease and innate immunity. There are seven U.S. patents associated with his research.

Gronenborn• Gronenborn is the UPMC Rosalind Franklin Professor and Chair in the School of Medicine’s Department of Structural Biology.

She has made key contributions in the field of structural biology, which is the study of the three-dimensional shapes of biological molecules, such as proteins, and how their function is affected by changes in their structure and by their interactions.

Gronenborn has solved solution structures of a large number of medically and biologically important proteins, including cytokines and chemokines, transcription factors and their complexes and various HIV- and AIDS-related proteins.

Using restrained molecular dynamics/simulated annealing algorithms and multidimensional, heteronuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy methods that she developed, Gronenborn studies the structure, folding and dynamics of macromolecules.

klunk• One of the nation’s leading experts in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, Klunk is a professor of psychiatry and neurology in the School of Medicine. He also is co-director of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at UPMC. He is a pioneer in the field of in vivo amyloid imaging in humans, and his group’s paper on imaging the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, published in January 2004, is the most frequently cited research paper on this disease.

Klunk also was a member of the Pitt team that invented Pittsburgh Compound B, a radioactive compound that, when coupled with PET imaging, can be injected into an Alzheimer’s patient’s bloodstream to enable researchers to see the location and distribution of the brain’s beta-amyloid plaque deposits associated with Alzheimer’s.

Strick• Co-director of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, Strick is a professor of neurobiology and psychiatry in the School of Medicine. He studies how the brain’s cerebral cortex controls voluntary movement; he has shown that there are six pre-motor areas that play roles, which he is exploring with anatomic, physiologic and functional imaging.

Strick also is studying neural circuits between the basal ganglia and the cerebellum that are important in planning, initiating and regulating volitional movement. His recent research indicates that those same circuits, when dysfunctional, partly could be responsible for symptoms of behavioral illnesses such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression and autism.

Studying viruses that have an affinity for the central nervous system, Strick’s team has developed an approach to tracing the circuitry of the central nervous system that also sheds light on how these viruses move through the brain.

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