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June 23, 2016

People of the Times

Jose Alain Sahel will be the medical school’s new ophthalmology chair, effective July 1.

Sahel was professor of ophthalmology at the Pierre and Marie Curie University, the medical school of the Sorbonne, Paris. He was the Cumberlege Professor of Biomedical Sciences at University College London Institute of Ophthalmology and was the founding director of The Vision Institute, Paris. The institute has a staff of about 700 including 30-40 primary investigators.

Sahel earned his MD degree at the Paris University Medical School, did his neurology/neurosurgery residency at Louis Pasteur University Hospital in Strasbourg, and completed a research fellowship at Harvard medical school.

He has research interests in cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying retinal degeneration, and has clinical expertise as a retinal surgeon.

His work focuses on the development and evaluation of treatments for retinal diseases using pharmacologic approaches, gene therapy, and stem cells, with emphasis on genetic rod-cone dystrophies.


Thomas Akiva, faculty member in the School of Education’s Department of Psychology in Education, is the recipient of the 2016 Scholar Award from the Out-of-School Time (OST) Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association.

Akiva’s research focuses on understanding and improving OST programs for children and youth.
Akiva spent nearly two decades working as a practitioner and consultant in the education and youth development fields.


Anthony Grace, distinguished professor in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences Department of Neuroscience, is the recipient of the 2016 Gold Medal Award from the Society of Biological Psychiatry. This award recognizes “an internationally distinguished career of outstanding research and advancing knowledge in the field of psychiatric neuroscience.”

A faculty member in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology, Grace’s research interests lie at the interface of neurobiology and psychiatry. One aspect of his research involves the study of the basic physiological properties of neurochemically identified neurons in order to better interpret the processes contributing to their responses to pharmacological agents. Another aspect involves the use of animal models of psychiatric disorders. Ongoing studies into the neurobiology of schizophrenia involve study of the interaction of the prefrontal cortex and antipsychotic drugs with subcortical dopamine systems. Additional studies are aimed at identifying the role of dopamine neurons in the recovery of behavioral function after partial dopamine-depleting brain lesions, which model the pathology seen in Parkinson’s disease in humans.


Bita Moghaddam, a faculty member in neuroscience, has been elected to a three-year term on the Council of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, a professional society dedicated to advancing the scientific understanding of and facilitating communication about disorders of the brain and behavior in order to advance their prevention and treatment.

Moghaddam’s work has led to the discovery of the first non-monoamine targeting compound (targeting metabotropic glutamate receptors) for treatment of schizophrenia.

A researcher known for breakthrough discoveries in genetics that have allowed scientists to efficiently and precisely modify DNA sequences and correct genetic defects in any cell will receive the University of Pittsburgh’s 2016 Dickson Prize in Medicine.

Jennifer A. Doudna will accept the School of Medicine’s most prestigious honor and deliver the Dickson Prize in Medicine Lecture during Science 2016: Game Changers, which will be held Oct. 19-21 on the Pittsburgh campus.

Her talk is titled “CRISPR Systems and the Future of Genome Engineering.”

Doudna holds the Li Ka Shing Chancellor’s Chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences at the University of California-Berkeley, where she is a professor of molecular and cell biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

Doudna and her colleagues investigated clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), which are repeating sequences seen in many bacterial genomes.

CRISPRs represent an adaptive immune system capable of inserting new snippets of viral DNA into a bacterial genome, which then is passed on to ensuing generations to protect them from the same virus.

In addition to Doudna, three other researchers will deliver plenary lectures at Science 2016. The Mellon Lecture will be given by Howard Y. Chang, a pioneering dermatologist and geneticist from Stanford University; the Hofmann Lecture will be given by Lasker Prize-winning neurologist and leading Parkinson’s disease researcher Mahlon DeLong of Emory University; and the Provost Lecture will be given by Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, recognized for her work on microbiology and metagenomics, science education and women and minorities in science.


Edwin J. Hernandez is the new director of the Office of Veterans Services, beginning July 5.

He will be leading the office, which includes providing academic, career and support programs and services for active duty, National Guard, veteran and dependent students, as well as their family members, and will oversee processing veterans’ educational benefits. He has been working in higher education for more than 10 years, including a three-year stint at Pitt as the alumni associate with the Medical and Health Sciences Foundation.

During his six years in the military, he was assigned to the United States Air Force’s primary center for professional military education. At the USAF Air University, he was responsible for enrollment and admissions procedures for military students, and coordinated several high-profile military academic programs. As a staff sergeant he also served in the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing to support the war in Afghanistan, participating in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Over the past four years with the University of South Florida Health’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations, he has developed award-winning initiatives that assisted the creation of successful projects related to university and community engagement; as well as mentorship opportunities for alumni and students.

Hernandez earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Troy University and a master’s degree in industrial-organizational psychology at Kansas State University.

—Compiled by K. Barlow

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