Skip to Navigation
University of Pittsburgh
Print This Page Print this pages

March 16, 2006

Public health school dean named

Pitt has named an internationally recognized expert in the prevention, diagnosis and control of infectious diseases of global concern as dean of the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH).

A Cleveland native, Donald S. Burke, who was recruited from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, also will direct Pitt’s new Center for Vaccine Research; serve as associate vice chancellor for global health, a newly created position within the Office of the Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences, and become the inaugural holder of the UPMC-Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health. His appointments become effective July 1. Burke said he will assume the GSPH deanship on Sept. 1.

In a phone interview this week Burke said had some concern about holding multiple positions. “But the reason I think I can do this is there is substantial overlap in global health efforts, and to have one person overseeing those efforts is beneficial,” he said. “I am a good fit with the positions because of my background in vaccine research and development. I’m very excited about this extraordinary opportunity at an excellent school of public health.”

GSPH is situated similarly to the Bloomberg school in that it is a public health school embedded in a major medical center, he said. “I look forward to working within that model. I don’t see the school as a free-standing institution, but rather one that coordinates efforts with other schools at the University and the medical center.”

Among the factors that attracted Burke to Pitt, he said, is the University’s commitment to modernize GSPH’s facilities, most of which are housed in 50-year-old Parran Hall. “I’ve learned of the University’s commitment to the physical plant, to put $40 million in a major renovation of the building, although, as I understand it, that budget still needs final approvals,” he said.

Burke added that part of his job will be to raise money for GSPH. “I have moderate experience with fundraising, working with our development office and with the advisory board for the [Bloomberg] school,” he noted. “I’m actually looking forward to that important part of the job, because it means getting out and meeting people — alumni, friends of the school, people in the community.”

Whether his will be a voice to address health concerns in the public arena is yet to be determined, Burke said. “I want to see how that role evolves. Because of my work, I’ve frequently been asked for comments by the media, and I’ve addressed Congress on public health issues and had speaking engagements and so forth, so I’m comfortable in that role if it should develop,” he said. “I am committed to making the process of public health — the results and recommendations from research and education — available to the broader public.”

At the Bloomberg school, Burke is professor of international health and epidemiology, associate chair for disease prevention and control in the Department of International Health and director of the Center for Immunization Research.

He also is principal investigator at the Johns Hopkins HIV vaccine trials unit, a consortium based at the Center for Immunization Research and involving clinical trial sites in China, India and Thailand; co-principal investigator at the Mid-Atlantic Regional Center of Excellence for Biodefense, and principal investigator of MIDAS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)-funded Modeling of Infectious Disease Agents Study.

In addition, Burke is a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Burke joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 1997 after 23 years of active-duty service in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, where he achieved the rank of colonel. He said his military background does not betoken his management style. “I’m not particularly authoritarian as you might suspect from my military service,” Burke said. “In a fact I’m the opposite. When I first got to Johns Hopkins I told everybody I met — faculty, researchers, students — to call me Don.”

Burke does not anticipate making major changes at GSPH, he said. “Pitt’s public health school already has very strong programs in a number of important areas, and I’m not going to come in to try to change that. I want to do all I can to support that, even as the school will be adding focus — not replacing it — in the direction of global health.”

His years working in medical research and development in the military taught him to value long-term commitments, he said. “I learned an appreciation for having a clear goal in mind and being committed to it for a long time — in some cases 10-15 years — before having a result, like a vaccine, that has an impact on public health,” Burke said.

While in military service, Burke received numerous honors in recognition of his leadership and contributions to research, including the Military Legion of Merit, the Meritorious Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.

As GSPH dean, Burke will have academic oversight of the school’s more than 475 students, 130-plus full-time faculty members and some 500 staff members in seven departments.

As director of the Center for Vaccine Research, Burke will oversee a regional biocontainment laboratory and be responsible for building a program that will develop, test, evaluate and produce vaccines against existing and emerging agents that have potential to cause harm to large populations as well as those that could be weaponized.

In the newly created role of associate vice chancellor for global health, he will coordinate the University’s varied global health activities and develop and foster research and education programs outside the United States, with an emphasis on programs targeted to improve the health of poor and underserved populations.

Much of Burke’s research on epidemiology of infectious diseases has been conducted in the field. He established and directs a project on cross-species transmission of infectious diseases in rain forest populations in Cameroon, Central Africa, and is principal investigator of a multi-center effort that is developing computational simulations and predictive models of infectious disease epidemiology and evolution, focusing on influenza, dengue, measles and bioterrorist attacks.

Before retiring from the U.S. Army Medical Corps, Burke was associate director for emerging threats and biotechnology at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and professor of medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Md.

During the course of his military career, he served as director of the U.S. military HIV/AIDS research program, and director of the Division of Retrovirology and chief of virology at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangkok. He was founder and director of the U.S. military HIV/AIDS laboratory complex.

In addition to his military service honors, Burke has been recognized by the scientific community. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Academy of Microbiology, Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, American College of Physicians and the Infectious Disease Society of America.

Burke was awarded the Thomas Francis Jr. Medal (named for the University of Michigan virologist who led the national field trial that proved the Salk polio vaccine to be safe and effective), the Nathaniel A. Young Memorial Award of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, the Kimble Methodology Award of the Conference of Public Health Laboratorians and the Bailey K. Ashford Medal of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. In 1999, he received the Golden Apple Award for “best teacher” at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.

In addition, he has been named to several influential panels and boards, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation HIV/AIDS vaccines technical review panel, the Department of Defense SARS Task Force and four Institute of Medicine committees. He has served as chair of the virology section of the Department of Homeland Security’s working group on threat polarization and the National Research Council panel on climate, ecology, infectious diseases and health.

In 1994, Burke co-founded the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative and is a member of its policy advisory board.

After graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in 1967 with a B.A. in chemistry and biology, Burke earned his medical degree at Harvard Medical School in 1971. He stayed on at Harvard to complete residency training in medicine at Boston City Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital. Between 1976 and 1978, Burke was a research fellow in infectious diseases at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

In announcing Burke’s appointments at GSPH, Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for Health Sciences, said, “Don Burke’s career-long interest has been on diseases that harm, or have the potential to harm, the largest number of persons,” including HIV/AIDS, avian flu and emerging infectious diseases.

“Pandemic and epidemic infections, whether naturally occurring or man-made, are the greatest threat to human survival. I cannot imagine a more profound direction for our institution to take than the one reflected in Don Burke’s interests, experience and expertise. I can think of no other individual more qualified than he to lead our efforts focused on today’s profound public health concerns,” Levine stated.

Burke, 60, will be GSPH’s seventh dean, succeeding Bernard Goldstein who stepped down as dean in December to return to the faculty in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health.

Roberta Ness, chair of the Department of Epidemiology, is serving as interim dean until September.

—Peter Hart

Leave a Reply