Pitt Dean to Focus on Alzheimer's Research Medical School Leader to Step Down from Post

By Daly, Jill | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), January 24, 2019 | Go to article overview

Pitt Dean to Focus on Alzheimer's Research Medical School Leader to Step Down from Post


Daly, Jill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


One scientific fact came up when Arthur S. Levine spoke Wednesday about his plans to step down as the University of Pittsburgh's senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the medical school.

"The main thing that has taken me on this path is my age," Dr. Levine said. "I'm 82 years old. Not physiologically, but chronologically." He'll continue in his roles until a successor is named and, in the meantime, will set up a lab to focus on Alzheimer's disease research in Pitt's Brain Institute.

"I'm a physician and I know that life becomes more unpredictable," he said. So at 82, it's the right time "to protect my personal legacy and protect the institution, to have a younger person to take my place."

After coming to Pitt in 1998 from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Levine has overseen initiatives that promote research skills in physicians and health science students. They include the Longitudinal Research Project, part of the curriculum in which all medical students complete a research assignment during their time at the school.

"This is a research-based institution; this is a research university," he said. "My aim in particular is to strengthen basic science research. It's different than applied science. Basic science is remote, seemingly abstract."

He cited as an example the discovery more than 50 years ago of the double-helix structure of DNA. Using that basic scientific knowledge, DNA now is used for everything from precision medicine to identifying a serial killer.

"It's the same as the discovery of electromagnetism [in the early 19th century], which led to our ability to watch 'I Love Lucy' in reruns," Dr. Levine said.

"I have invested time and resources in greatly strengthening the basic science that underlies medicine in Pittsburgh."

Incorporating new technologies that support basic science are new departments started at Pitt under his leadership. They include those in critical care medicine, immunology, computational and systems biology, structural biology, biomedical informatics and developmental biology. Multidisciplinary research was begun in the Drug Discovery Institute, the Center for Vaccine Research, the Center for Military Medicine Research, the Institute for Precision Medicine and the Brain Institute.

"I expect a lot from my students," he said. "We expect them to learn everything they need to learn to become excellent practicing physicians."

Research is part of that, he said, adding, "There's a decline in the number of physician-scientists.

"When I came from NIH, I wanted to expose all my students to practicing the scientific methods and feeling good about themselves, discovering this about themselves."

He said he realized that not all of the students would become researchers, but those who graduated would be better physicians, with the ability to treat patients who fall outside of textbook cases.

Dr. Levine said he is particularly proud of the Institute for Precision Medicine.

"It's one of the most powerful genome sequencing centers in the world," he said. Part of what the institute can do is link how a patient's genes might respond to drugs in different ways, helping with patient care.

As an example, he said the institute is studying genes as part of ongoing research on anticoagulants: A patient having a heart attack is given a stent to open up a blood vessel and a blood thinner to prevent the stent from being blocked by coagulated blood. …

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