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September 26, 2013

People of the Times

Three national leaders in the research and treatment of sickle cell disease have joined the UPMC adult sickle cell disease program.

Solomon Ofori-Acquah, Laura DeCastro and Gregory J. Kato also will have faculty appointments in the School of Medicine.

Kato, who most recently served as director of the sickle cell vascular disease section at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will serve as director of the UPMC Sickle Cell Disease Research Center of Excellence.

Ofori-Acquah will lead a newly created Center for Translational and International Hematology, which will guide new research programs and partnerships with sickle cell disease programs in Africa.

DeCastro will partner with Enrico Novelli to direct the adult sickle cell clinical programs, lead the efforts to develop novel clinical and translational research programs; she also will serve as clinical director of the benign hematology program at UPMC to expand clinical programs in hemostasis and thrombosis.

In addition, DeCastro will serve as director of benign hematology for the Institute for Transfusion Medicine and UPMC CancerCenter, and director of clinical translational research for the Sickle Cell Disease Research Center of Excellence.

An estimated 2 million Americans carry one of the sickle cell genes. One of every 500 African-American births and one of every 36,000 Spanish-American births carry the trait, and its inherited blood disorders also affect people of Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and South Asian descent. Millions of people worldwide suffer from sickle cell disease, anemia, pain and other symptoms resulting from this disease, for which there is one Food and Drug Administration-approved drug.

Since 2003, Kato has conducted clinical-translational research in adults with sickle cell disease at NIH. His work has advanced the understanding of phenotypic variation in the disease and focuses on biomarkers and mediators of vascular dysfunction in sickle cell disease, particularly those associated with pulmonary hypertension and leg ulceration. He also has led early-phase testing of investigational drugs for sickle cell disease.

Kato earned an undergraduate degree from UCLA and his medical degree from George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

Ofori-Acquah’s recent research, soon to be published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, has provided a paradigm shift in scientific understanding of acute chest syndrome, a devastating lung complication of sickle cell disease.

He has received a five-year grant from NIH to pursue this avenue of research, which promises to deliver a new line of therapy to manage this life-threatening complication.

Ofori-Acquah was an assistant professor at Emory University in the Department of Pediatrics, Division of Hematology/Oncology and was founding director of the Center for Endothelial Biology.

Ofori-Acquah studied medical laboratory sciences, majoring in hematology and blood transfusion at Bromley College of Technology in Kent, England, before earning his master’s degree in biomolecular organization at Birkbeck College, University of London. He earned his doctorate in molecular genetics from King’s College School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of London.

DeCastro, an associate professor of medicine at Duke, was the clinical director of the Duke Adult Sickle Cell Center, where she developed and coordinated the delivery of multidisciplinary clinical care to adult sickle cell patients.

Her major research interests have been in investigating the impact of sickle cell disease on end-organ damage, investigating the psychosocial issues relating to sickle cell disease and developing novel treatments for sickle cell disease.

She earned her medical degree at Autonomous University of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and did her residency in internal medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. She completed a fellowship in hematology oncology at Yale University School of Medicine.


Dietrich A. Stephan has been named chair of the Department of Human Genetics at the  Graduate School of Public Health.

Stephan also will serve as the associate director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine, a collaborative initiative between the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and UPMC, where he will lead the efforts in population genetics and translational acceleration of new discoveries.

Stephan has blazed a trail in “translating” his research findings on the causes of human diseases into a plethora of diagnostic tests that can identify diseases early — often even before they strike — and are used routinely worldwide to help physicians and patients make better decisions.

He is known for inventing and building the infrastructure to allow people to be tested for their genetic risk factors for common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, age-related blindness, diabetes and cancers, and thus enabling them to manage their risks to stay healthy.

In addition to diagnostics developments, Stephan’s therapeutic development programs have resulted in the first human trials for a number of new and effective therapies, including drugs for diseases of the brain such as autism spectrum disorder and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), pediatric and adult cancers. He has others still in development for currently intractable and devastating diseases.

Stephan comes to Pittsburgh from San Francisco, where he most recently was the founder, president and chief executive officer of Silicon Valley Biosystems, a diagnostics company dedicated to helping physicians improve patient health and outcomes through an understanding of the human genome.

Last year, his company entered into an agreement to provide whole-genome diagnostics to the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine and Mayo Medical Laboratories.

Stephan will replace Ilyas Kamboh, faculty member in human genetics, who served as chair for almost a decade.

Stephan received his undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon and his Ph.D. in human genetics from Pitt. He trained as a fellow at NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute.


The People of the Times column features recent news on faculty and staff, including awards and other honors, accomplishments and administrative appointments.

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