UPMC Physician Resources

Surgical, Other Advances Made at UPMC Improve Graft Survival of Intestinal, Multi-Visceral Transplant Patients

SAN FRANCISCO, July 30, 2014 – Innovations in surgical techniques, drugs and immunosuppression have improved survival after intestinal and multi-visceral transplants, according to a retrospective analysis of more than 500 surgeries done at UPMC over nearly 25 years.

The study was led by Goutham Kumar, M.D., a transplant surgery fellow at UPMC’s Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute. Dr. Kumar was recognized for his work with the Young Investigator Award by the 2014 World Transplant Congress and presented his findings at the group’s July 26 to 31 meeting in San Francisco.

“UPMC has led the way in the development of new surgical techniques and important research involving transplantation, and our analysis shows that our innovations have made a real difference to patients,” Dr. Kumar said.

The researchers examined 541 intestinal and multi-visceral transplants done at UPMC from 1990 to 2013. The total consisted of 228 pediatric transplants and 313 adult transplants; 252 were intestine-only transplants, 157 were liver-intestine, 89 were full multi-visceral, and 43 were modified multi-visceral. A majority of the pediatric patients suffered from gastroschisis, followed by volvulus and necrotizing entercolitis. The adult patients needed transplants because of thrombosis, Crohn’s disease or some kind of obstruction.

Researchers analyzed several outcomes and found that pre-conditioning with certain immunosuppressants, the time the graft is outside of the body, certain blood types and a disparity in the gender of donor and recipient were among the factors predicting graft survival.

Co-authors on the study are George Mazariegos, M.D., Guillerme Costa, M.D., Gaurav Gupta, M.D., Dolly Martin, Geoff Bond, M.D., Kyle Soltys, M.D., Rakesh Sindhi, M.D., Abhinav Humar, M.D., and Hiroshi Sogawa, M.D., all of either the Thomas E. Starzl Transplantation Institute, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC or UPMC.

In addition to Dr. Kumar, six other UPMC and University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences researchers were recognized this year with Young Investigator Awards by the World Transplant Congress. They and their presentations are:

Aravind Cherukuri, M.D., Ph.D.
“Transitional B Cell (TrB) T1/T2 Ratio is a Marker for Graft Dysfunction in Human Kidney Transplant Recipients (KTRs)”

Vinayak Rohan, M.D.
“Outcomes of Liver Transplantation for Unresectable Liver Malignancy in Children”

Qing Ding, Ph.D.
“TIM-1 Signaling is Required for Maintenance and Induction of Regulatory B Cells Through Apoptotic Cell Binding or TIM-1 Ligation”

Kanishka Mohib, Ph.D.
“TIM-4 Expression by C Cells Identifies an Inflammatory B Effector 1 Subset that Promotes Allograft Rejection and Inhibits Tumor Metastases”

Dalia Raich-Regue, Ph.D.
“Myeloid Dendritic Cell-Specific mTORC2 Deficiency Enhances Alloreactive Th1 and Th17 Cell Responses and Skin Graft Rejection”

Tripti Singh, M.D.
“B Cell Depletion of Naïve Recipients Enhances Graft Reactive T Cell Responses”

Naturally Occurring Antibodies May be Treatment for BK Nephropathy in Kidney Transplant Patients

SAN FRANCISCO, July 30, 2014 – A viral infection known as BK that commonly causes kidney transplant dysfunction in patients taking high doses of immunosuppressants may be treated with naturally occurring antibodies that already are widely available, according to UPMC-led research that was presented this week at the World Transplant Congress in San Francisco.

The BK virus infects most healthy children in the U.S., but the infection is usually asymptomatic and readily cleared by the immune system. However, following natural infection, latent virus persists in the kidneys for an indefinite time because antibodies in the plasma and circulating T-cells remain at levels that are high enough to prevent virus reactivation.

“However, if the immune system is suppressed — for example by kidney transplant medications designed to prevent rejection of the organ — viral infection flares up and damages the kidney. This causes a condition called BK virus nephropathy,” said Parmjeet Randhawa, M.D., a UPMC pathologist and professor of transplant pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, who led the research. “Currently, there are no anti-viral drugs or vaccines specifically designed for BK nephropathy, and none is likely to be licensed for at least the next 10 years.”

Dr. Randhawa and his team found that anti-BK antibodies are present at very high levels in immunoglobulin preparations currently being used to treat other viral infections, as well as immunologic disorders such as antibody mediated rejection of transplanted organs. These antibodies interact with a BK virus surface protein called VP-1 and effectively neutralize the virus. Such neutralized viruses can no longer infect human cells.

“By artificially constructing viruses varying in the composition of the proteins on their surface, we have shown that this neutralizing action is effective against all six common BK virus strains circulating in human populations,” Dr. Randhawa said. “These findings open the way to conduct clinical trials for preventing and treating BK nephropathy in kidney transplant patients.”

As the proposed immunoglobulin preparations are natural products derived from healthy human subjects, associated side effects are expected to be minimal, Dr. Randhawa said.

Collaborators on the study were Diana Pastrana, Ph.D., and Christopher Buck, Ph.D., both of the National Cancer Institute; Gang Zeng, M.D., of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Pathology; Mel Berger, Ph.D., of CSL Behring, in King of Prussia, Pa.; and Sundaram Hariharan, M.D., and Ron Shapiro, M.D., both of UPMC.

Dementia Patients More Likely to Get Implanted Pacemakers, Says Pitt Study

PITTSBURGH, July 28, 2014 – People with dementia are more likely to get implanted pacemakers for heart rhythm irregularities, such as atrial fibrillation, than people who don’t have cognitive difficulties, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In a research letter published online today in JAMA Internal Medicine, the researchers noted the finding runs counter to expectations that less aggressive interventions are the norm for patients with the incurable and disabling illness.

To look at the relationships between cognitive status and implantation of a pacemaker, lead investigator Nicole Fowler, Ph.D., a health services researcher formerly at the Pitt School of Medicine, and her team examined data from 33 Alzheimer Disease Centers (ADCs) entered between September 2005 and December 2011 into the National Alzheimer’s Coordinating Center (NACC) Uniform Data Set.

Data from more than 16,000 people who had a baseline and at least one follow-up visit at an ADC were reviewed. At baseline, 48.5 percent of participants had no cognitive impairment, 21.3 percent had a mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and 32.9 percent had dementia.

The researchers found that participants with cognitive impairment were significantly older and more likely to be male, have ischemic heart disease, and a history of stroke. Rates of atrial fibrillation and congestive heart failure were similar among the groups.

The likelihood of getting a pacemaker, a device that regulates the heart beat, was lowest for those who had no cognitive difficulties and highest for dementia patients.

“Participants who had dementia before assessment for a new pacemaker were 1.6 times more likely to receive a pacemaker compared to participants without cognitive impairment, even after clinical factors were taken into account,” said Dr. Fowler, now at Indiana University. “This was a bit surprising because aggressive interventions might not be appropriate for this population, whose lives are limited by a severely disabling disease. Future research should explore how doctors, patients and families come to make the decision to get a pacemaker.”

There was no difference among the groups in the rates of implantation of cardioverter defibrillators, which deliver a small shock to get the heart to start beating again if it suddenly stops.

Co-authors of the paper include Jie Li, M.S., Charity G. Moore, Ph.D., Samir Saba, M.D., Oscar L. Lopez, M.D., and Amber E. Barnato, M.D., M.P.H., M.S., all of the University of Pittsburgh, and Kim G. Johnson, M.D., of Duke University Medical Center.

The project was funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging grant AG05133. The NACC database is funded by National Institutes of Health, National Institute on Aging grant AG016976.

Children’s Brain Care Institute Expert Receives Grant for Mitochondrial Disease Research

PITTSBURGH, July 28, 2014 — The United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation (UMDF) recently awarded nearly $500,000 in grants to researchers investigating potential treatments for mitochondrial disease. The research grant awards were presented at the UMDF’s annual symposium, Mitochondrial Medicine 2014: Pittsburgh.

Michael Bell, MD, of the Brain Care Institute (BCI) at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, received a grant of $25,000 for his project, “Improving CNS delivery of brain antioxidants after acute metabolic decompensation in mitochondrial disease,” which will investigate a combination of two FDA-approved drugs for their effectiveness in treating children and young adults with Leigh’s Syndrome. This work has the potential to improve brain function in patients with a mitochondrial disease for which there are currently no proven treatments. Dr. Bell is working on this project with Amy Goldstein, MD, of the Division of Child Neurology, and Bob Clark, MD, and Hülya Bayir, MD, from the Department of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, who all are part of the Brain Care Institute.

Dr. Bell is also director of Pediatric Neurocritical Care and the Pediatric Neurotrauma Center at Children’s. He is associate director of Pediatric Neurointensive Care and Perinatal Brain Injury at the Safar Center for Resuscitation Research at the University of Pittsburgh, and associate professor of Critical Care Medicine and Neurological Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The UMDF is the largest, non-governmental contributor of grants focused on mitochondrial disease research. Since 1996, the UMDF has funded more than $13 million dollars in research projects.

UPMC Clinicians Win Beckwith Institute Grants to Engage Patients, Improve Care

PITTSBURGH, July 25, 2014 –To experiment with changes big and small that might better engage patients and improve health care, The Beckwith Institute recently awarded 11 new grants to UPMC clinicians and other staff.

The wide-ranging projects include an effort to develop a shared decision-making tool for family members of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) and the creation of an interactive, Web-based “thermometer” to monitor the mood and energy of adolescents with bipolar disorder.

Supported by UPMC Chairman G. Nicholas Beckwith and his wife, Dotty, with matching funds from UPMC, the Beckwith Institute annually provides grants to improve clinical outcomes by empowering both clinicians and patients to explore innovative ways of transforming health care.

“Through the inspiring leadership and generous financial assistance of Nick and Dotty Beckwith, we are able to empower clinicians and other staff to experiment with new methods for transforming care delivery,” said Tami Minnier, UPMC chief quality officer. “At the heart of every project chosen for this program is an emphasis on engaging and educating patients and families so that they can play a meaningful role in the health care decisions that affect them.”

The grants are administered through two complementary efforts: The Frontline Innovation Program, which focuses on improving the patient bedside experience, and the Clinical Transformation Program, which supports comprehensive redesign of processes to put the involvement of the patient and their loved ones at the core.

The projects awarded 2014-2015 grants include:

  • a novel “mood and energy” tracking application for patients with pediatric bipolar disorder
  • a mobile application that allows patients to track and navigate the complex organ transplant process
  • a Web-based communication and decision support tool to improve the quality of shared decision-making in the ICU and to prepare family members for the role of surrogate decision maker
  • use of personal health monitoring devices for elderly patients with heart disease to promote patient engagement and prevent complications
  • an effort to assess patients for readmission risk and to ensure appropriate outreach after hospital discharge
  • resources to engage pediatric patients in diabetes care
  • standardization of sexual assault care at UPMC facilities
  • an asthma education program for children that includes a nurse hotline and online patient portal
  • a decision-making tool to help patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease make informed treatment decisions
  • development of a protocol that can be used to safely identify and discharge blunt trauma patients who have sustained no significant injury
  • a multidisciplinary effort to reduce unnecessary hospital readmissions for patients with complex health needs

UPMC-Developed Test Increases Odds of Correct Surgery for Thyroid Cancer Patients

PITTSBURGH, July 24, 2014 – The routine use of a molecular testing panel developed at UPMC greatly increases the likelihood of performing the correct initial surgery for patients with thyroid nodules and cancer, report researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with UPMC CancerCenter.

The test, available at the UPMC/UPCI Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center and other diagnostic testing agencies, improved the chances of patients getting the correct initial surgery by 30 percent, according to the study published this month in the Annals of Surgery.

“Before this test, about one in five potential thyroid cancer cases couldn’t be diagnosed without an operation to remove a portion of the thyroid,” said lead author Linwah Yip, M.D., assistant professor of surgery in Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC surgical oncologist.  Previously, “if the portion removed during the first surgery came back positive for cancer, a second surgery was needed to remove the rest of the thyroid. The molecular testing panel now bypasses that initial surgery, allowing us to go right to fully removing the cancer with one initial surgery. This reduces risk and stress to the patient, as well as recovery time and costs.”

Cancer in the thyroid, which is located in the “Adam’s apple” area of the neck, is now the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in women.  Thyroid cancer is one of the few cancers that continues to increase in incidence, although the five-year survival rate is 97 percent.

Previously, the most accurate form of testing for thyroid cancer was a fine-needle aspiration biopsy, where a doctor guides a thin needle to the thyroid and removes a small tissue sample for testing. However, in 20 percent of these biopsies, cancer cannot be ruled out. A lobectomy, which is a surgical operation to remove half of the thyroid, is then needed to diagnose or rule-out thyroid cancer. In the case of a postoperative cancer diagnosis, a second surgery is required to remove the rest of the thyroid.

Researchers have identified certain gene mutations that are indicative of an increased likelihood of thyroid cancer, and the molecular testing panel developed at UPMC can be run using the sample collected through the initial, minimally invasive biopsy, rather than a lobectomy. When the panel shows these mutations, a total thyroidectomy is advised.

Dr. Yip and her colleagues followed 671 UPMC patients with suspicious thyroid nodes who received biopsies. Approximately half the biopsy samples were run through the panel, and the other half were not. Patients whose tissue samples were not tested with the panel had a 2.5-fold higher statistically significant likelihood of having an initial lobectomy and then requiring a second operation.

“We’re currently refining the panel by adding tests for more genetic mutations, thereby making it even more accurate,” said co-author Yuri Nikiforov, M.D., Ph.D., professor in the Department of Pathology at Pitt and director of thyroid molecular diagnostics at the UPMC/UPCI Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center. “Thyroid cancer is usually very curable, and we are getting closer to quickly and efficiently identifying and treating all cases of thyroid cancer.”

In 2009, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) revised its guidelines to add that doctors may consider the use of molecular markers when the initial biopsy is inconclusive.

“The ATA is currently revising those guidelines to take into account the latest research, including our findings,” said senior author Sally Carty, M.D., Pitt professor of surgery, co-director of the UPMC/UPCI Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center and recent president of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons. “The molecular testing panel holds promise for streamlining and eliminating unnecessary surgery not just here but nationwide.”

A previous study led by Dr. Yip showed the panel to be cost-saving when used to help in the diagnosis of thyroid cancer.

Each year, approximately half of the 25,000 patients assessed at UPMC’s Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center are found to have thyroid conditions, and more than 900 thyroid operations are performed by the center’s surgeons. The center aims to provide patients with one-stop evaluation from thyroid experts in a variety of fields, including surgery and endocrinology.

Additional researchers on this study are Laura I. Wharry, M.D., Michaele J. Armstrong, Ph.D., Ari Silbermann, B.S., Kelly L. McCoy, M.D., and Michael T. Stang, M.D., all of the Pitt Department of Surgery; Nobuyuki P. Ohori, M.D., and Marina N. Nikiforov, M.D., all of the Pitt Department of Pathology; Shane O. LeBeau, M.D., Christopher Coyne, M.D., and Steven P. Hodak, M.D., all of the Pitt Department of Endocrinology; Julie E. Bauman, M.D., of the PItt Department of Hematology/Oncology; Jonas T. Johnson, M.D., of the Pitt Department of Otolaryngology; and Mitch E. Tublin, M.D., of the Pitt Department of Radiology.

This study was funded by a grant from UPMC.

Pitt Innovation Challenge Poses New Health Care Questions, Looks for Promising Solutions

PITTSBURGH, July 23, 2014 – In the second competition of its kind, the University of Pittsburgh will award up to $375,000 to teams of creative thinkers who have fresh ideas to solve tough, health-related problems.

As in the previous Pitt Innovation Challenge (PInCh), the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), in collaboration with the university’s Office of the Provost and the Innovation Institute, also will provide winning teams with project managers to implement their plans.

The next challenge seeks answers to the question, “From cell to community:  How can we individualize solutions for better health(care)?” Solutions could involve personalizing the medical experience; tailoring treatments for a specific disease using genetic information; leveraging family history or other individually unique data; and developing patient-focused interventions.

“The success of the first PInCh showed that scientists and other community members can come up with creative approaches to tackle difficult problems,” said CTSI director Steven Reis, M.D., who also is associate vice chancellor for clinical research, health sciences, and a professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “The competition provides a way of making good ideas a reality.”

Since their selection at a public judging event in May, the funded teams from the first PInCh have been making great progress with their projects, Dr. Reis noted. “We’re delighted to support these kinds of efforts and are eager to see the impact they will have on the health of our community.”

The first step in the competition requires submitting a two-minute video by Sept. 15 that introduces the team, defines the health problem that is being tackled and briefly outlines the creative solution. Early round winners will be invited to a final round of judging on Nov. 12 at a public event in which teams will make short presentations to a panel of judges.

“We look at PInCh as a new way to leverage the talent and drive here at the University of Pittsburgh in collaboration with partners outside the university,” said John Maier, M.D., Ph.D., PInCH program director. “We want to ask hard questions that traditional academic efforts have struggled to solve and give anyone who is interested and enthusiastic a chance to come up with better solutions.”

Teams that bring together collaborators from different perspectives, institutions and disciplines are encouraged, but at least one member of the team must be a Pitt faculty member. If needed, PInCh organizers will help community members connect with a member of the faculty. The solution could be a device, a software application, an intervention strategy or any other approach the team identifies.

For more information and to register a team, go to www.pinch.pitt.edu.

Telemedicine Effective in Delivering International Cardiac Care, Children’s Hospital Study Shows

PITTSBURGH, July 22, 2014 – After studying more than 1,000 pediatric consultations offered in Latin America through telemedicine, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC found that physicians in those countries were highly satisfied with Children’s service and believed telemedicine had improved patient outcomes.

The study, led by Ricardo A. Muñoz, M.D., FAAP, FCCM, FACC, chief, Cardiac Intensive Care Division, at Children’s, was published online in the July issue of Telemedicine and e-Health.

“Lack of skilled physicians is a widespread problem, particularly those with expertise in patients with complex medical problems, such as congenital heart disease,” said Dr. Muñoz, also medical director, Global Business and Telemedicine, at Children’s. “The use of telemedicine services within pediatric cardiac intensive care units (CICUs) can be used as an assisting technology, allowing more expertise and knowledge to be shared with remote centers in need.”

Although a growing body of evidence suggests that telemedicine is associated with improved patient outcomes, the technology remains a relatively new tool in health care, particularly in pediatric critical care. In surveying the Latin American centers, the Children’s researchers hope to design a common approach for future tele-consultations.

“Little is known about the optimal method of telemedicine service delivery in the international setting,” said Dr. Muñoz. “Ideally, a consistent approach should be used for centers with similar organizations, skill level and patient populations. One size does not fit all.”

The study showcased Children’s unusual multicenter experience in telemedicine at three hospitals in Colombia and one in Mexico from July 2011 to June 2013. Children’s physicians provided 1,040 consultations for 476 patients, with a real-time intervention taking place in 23 percent of those encounters, including echocardiography, adjustment of pacemaker settings and pharmacologic therapy. In 6 percent of the tele-consultations, a different diagnosis was suggested based on the interpretation of cardiac or imaging studies.

The number and type of patients seen by Children’s e-CICU were selected by local physicians at each hospital. Although Children’s physicians in Pittsburgh did not have remote access to the children’s electronic medical records, relevant patient data was provided in a secure database and telemedicine hardware was used for real-time consultations. A CICU physician from Children’s participated in all the encounters, with some being joined by other specialists, including cardiac surgeons and neonatal intensivists.

Based on anonymous surveys of physicians participating at the international centers, 96 percent of respondents reported being satisfied or highly satisfied with the telemedicine service, while 58 percent rated the promptness and time dedicated by the tele-intensivist as very high. Physicians reported that they changed their clinical practice sometimes in relation to the telemedicine encounters, with changes in surgical management noted most frequently.

“We know that telemedicine-assisted pediatric cardiac critical care is technologically and logistically feasible in the international arena,” said Dr. Muñoz. “And now we know that the physicians we assist internationally consider this technology to be useful for patient outcomes and education. With continuing improvements in telemedicine technology and our own practices, we will continue to expand access to the world’s best health care for children around the world.”

Children’s Hospital is leading the way in the development of telemedicine services to meet the needs of young patients regionally and around the world. The state-of-the-art video conferencing technologies provide complex pediatric cardiac care through remote and virtual examinations — whenever and wherever expertise is needed. Experts from Children’s CICUs currently oversee international programs and provide consultations and care management in Cali, Bucaramanga and Medellin, all in Colombia, as well as in Mexico City, Mexico.

For more information on telemedicine services, please visit www.chp.edu/CHP/international+services+telemedicine.

Pitt-led Study Suggests Cystic Fibrosis is Two Diseases, One Doesn’t Affect Lungs

PITTSBURGH, July 17, 2014 – Cystic fibrosis (CF) could be considered two diseases, one that affects multiple organs including the lungs, and one that doesn’t affect the lungs at all, according to a multicenter team led by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The research, published online today in PLOS Genetics, showed that nine variants in the gene associated with cystic fibrosis can lead to pancreatitis, sinusitis and male infertility, but leave the lungs unharmed.

People with CF inherit from each parent a severely mutated copy of a gene called CFTR, which makes a protein that forms a channel for the movement of chloride molecules in and out of cells that produce sweat, mucus, tears, semen and digestive enzymes, said co-senior investigator David Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D., chief of gastroenterology, hepatology and nutrition, Pitt School of Medicine. Without functional CFTR channels, secretions become thick and sticky, causing problems such as the chronic lung congestion associated with CF.

“There are other kinds of mutations of CFTR, but these were deemed to be harmless because they didn’t cause lung problems,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “We examined whether these variants could be related to disorders of the pancreas and other organs that use CFTR channels.”

Co-senior author Min Goo Lee, M.D., Ph.D., of Yonsei University College of Medicine in Seoul, Korea, conducted careful tests of CFTR in pancreatic cell models and determined that a molecular switch inside the cell called WINK1 made CFTR channels secrete bicarbonate rather than chloride molecules.

“Pancreas cells use CFTR to secrete bicarbonate to neutralize gastric acids,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “When that doesn’t happen, the acids cause the inflammation, cyst formation and scarring of severe pancreatitis.”

The research team found nine CFTR gene variants associated with pancreatitis after testing nearly 1,000 patients with the disease and a comparable number of healthy volunteers. They also learned that each variant could impair the WINK1 switch to prevent CFTR from becoming a bicarbonate-secreting channel.

Co-senior author Ivet Bahar, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and John K. Vries Chair of Computational Biology, Pitt School of Medicine, built a computer model of the CFTR protein’s structure and determined that all the nine variants alter the area that forms the bicarbonate transport channel, thus impairing secretion of the molecule.

“It turns out that CFTR-mediated bicarbonate transport is critical to thin mucus in the sinuses and for proper sperm function,” Dr. Whitcomb said. “When we surveyed pancreatitis patients, there was a subset who said they had problems with chronic sinusitis. Of men over 30 who said they had tried to have children and were infertile, nearly all had one of these nine CFTR mutations.”

He added that identification of the mechanisms that cause the conditions make it possible to develop treatments, as well as to launch trials to determine if medications that are used by CF patients might have some benefit for those who do not have lung disease, but who carry the other mutations.

The team includes researchers from the University of Pittsburgh, the Mayo Clinic, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and many other institutions that are part of the North American Pancreatitis Study Group.

The study was supported by National Institutes of Health grants DK061451, DK062420, GM086238, DK063922, CA047904 and RR024153; the Ministry for Health & Welfare, Republic of Korea; and Brain Korea 21 Project for Medical Sciences, Seoul.

Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., Will Receive Pitt’s Dickson Prize at Science 2014—Sustain It!

PITTSBURGH, July 17, 2014 – A scientist who has explored how the tens of trillions of microbes that live in the gastrointestinal tract and their genes influence human physiology, metabolism and nutritional status will receive the University of Pittsburgh’s 2014 Dickson Prize in Medicine.

Jeffrey I. Gordon, M.D., will accept the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s most prestigious honor during Science 2014—Sustain It!, a showcase of the region’s latest research in science, engineering, medicine and computation that will be held from Oct. 1 to 3 at Alumni Hall in Oakland. Dr. Gordon is the Dr. Robert J. Glaser Distinguished University Professor and director of the Center for Genome Sciences and Systems Biology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“Dr. Gordon’s work describes our species as a rich and meaningful ecosystem of interactions between human and microbial components,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine. “His fascinating work has broadened our understanding of obesity in the western world and malnutrition in developing countries and has the potential to stimulate new therapies directed at the microbiome.”

In the body, microbes, primarily bacteria, but also fungi and archaeons, and the viruses that infect them, outnumber an individual’s human cells by a factor of 10. The number of genes in the body’s indigenous microbial communities far exceeds the number of genes in the human genome. Most of these microorganisms reside in the gut. Through innovative experimental and computational methods, including studies of twins of different ages, geographic locales and cultural traditions, and the use of germ-free animal models colonized with gut microbial communities (microbiota) harvested from healthy and unhealthy humans, Dr. Gordon and his students have provided new insights about how the gut microbiota contribute to obesity and metabolic abnormalities, as well as to childhood undernutrition.

Their interdisciplinary studies have helped create a new field of research, altering ways to define the health benefits of foods being produced or that could be produced in response to the global challenges of population growth and sustainable agriculture. Also, Dr. Gordon’s lab is providing a microbial view of human development, including how functional maturation of the gut microbiota is related to healthy growth of infants and children, and helping to usher in a new era of microbiota-directed therapeutics.

At 11 a.m., Thursday, Oct. 2, Dr. Gordon will deliver the Dickson Prize in Medicine Lecture. His talk is titled “A Microbial View of Human Development: The Gut Microbiota and Childhood Undernutrition.”

Dr. Gordon earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Oberlin College in 1969 and his medical degree at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine in 1973. He completed a residency in medicine at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, a postdoctoral fellowship in biochemistry and molecular biology at the National Institutes of Health, and a fellowship in gastroenterology at Washington University in St. Louis. He is the recipient of the Danone International Prize for Nutrition, the Selman A. Waksman Award in Microbiology from the National Academy of Sciences, the Robert Koch Award, and many other honors. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

In addition to Dr. Gordon, other renowned researchers also will deliver plenary lectures at Science 2014. The Mellon Lecture will be given by Stuart Orkin, M.D., of Harvard Medical School; the Hofmann Lecture will be given by Jeannie T. Lee, M.D., Ph.D., also of Harvard Medical School; and the Provost Lecture will be given by Jonathan Rothberg, Ph.D., founder of Ion Torrent Systems, Inc., and a pioneer in the field of next-generation DNA sequencing.

Nominations for the 2015 Dickson Prize in Medicine are now being accepted.

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