Burke Named Distinguished University Professor, and Billiar, Gronenborn, Klunk, and Strick Named Distinguished Professors

Issue Date: 
June 20, 2011

The University of Pittsburgh is honoring five faculty members this month by naming one a Distinguished University Professor and four Distinguished Professors.

The honorees and their new titles are: Donald Burke, Distinguished University Professor of Health Science and Policy; Timothy R. Billiar, Distinguished Professor of Surgery; Angela Gronenborn, Distinguished Professor of Structural Biology; William E. Klunk, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry; and Peter Strick, Distinguished Professor of Neurobiology.

A Distinguished University Professorship recognizes eminence in several fields of study, transcending accomplishments in and contributions to a single discipline; the rank of Distinguished Professor recognizes extraordinary, internationally recognized scholarly attainment in an individual discipline or field. Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg made the appointments—which become effective July 1— based on the recommendations of Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia E. Beeson.

Brief biographies of the honorees follow.

Donald Burke is the inaugural University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Jonas Salk Professor of Global Health and the dean of the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH). He is one of the world’s foremost experts on the prevention, diagnosis, and control of infectious diseases of global concern, including HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis A, avian influenza, and emerging infectious diseases.

Donald BurkeDonald Burke

In addition to holding a named professorship and serving as dean of GSPH, Burke is director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Vaccine Research and serves in the newly established position of associate vice chancellor for global health, health sciences. In 2009, he was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in health and medicine.

Before joining the University of Pittsburgh, Burke was a professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, where he served as associate chair of the Department of International Health and director of the Center for Immunization Research. He also was principal investigator of National Institutes of Health-supported research projects on HIV vaccines, biodefense, and emerging infectious diseases.

Prior to his tenure at Johns Hopkins, Burke served 23 years on active duty in the U.S. Army, leading military infectious disease research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Washington, D.C., and at the Armed Forces Research Institute of Medical Sciences in Bangkok, Thailand. He retired at the rank of colonel.

Burke’s career-long mission has been prevention and mitigation of the impact of epidemic infectious diseases of global importance. His research activities have spanned a wide range of science “from the bench to the bush,” including development of new diagnostics, population-based field studies, clinical vaccine trials, computational modeling of epidemic control strategies, and policy analysis. He has authored or coauthored more than 200 research reports. Burke earned his MD from Harvard Medical School in 1971 and his BA from Western Reserve University (now Case Western Reserve University) in 1967.

Timothy R. Billiar is the George Vance Foster Professor and Chair in the School of Medicine’s Department of Surgery.

Timothy BilliarTimothy Billiar

The main research focus of Billiar’s laboratory is studying the immune response to injury and shock. His laboratory, which is currently funded by three National Institutes of Health grants, is credited with initially cloning the human inducible nitric oxide synthase gene. Billiar’s work also extends into the areas of liver disease and innate immunity. There are seven U.S. patents associated with his research.

Billiar received his medical degree from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine and completed his surgical residency at the University of Minnesota and the University of Pittsburgh. In 1992, he was named the first Samuel P. Harbison Endowed Assistant Professor of Surgery and in 1997 was named the Watson Professor of Surgery.

Billiar was recognized in 2006 with membership in the Institute of Medicine of  the National Academies. He received the Flance-Karl Award from the American Surgical Association. He previously served as president of the Society of University Surgeons, the Surgical Infection Society, and the International Nitric Oxide Society. He also served on the Surgery Anesthesia Trauma Study Section of the National Institutes of Health and currently serves on the Surgery Residency Review Committee of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.

Angela Gronenborn is the UPMC Rosalind Franklin Professor and Chair in the School of Medicine’s Department of Structural Biology.

Angela GronenbornAngela Gronenborn

Gronenborn has made key contributions in the field of structural biology, which is the study of the 3-dimensional shapes of biological molecules, such as proteins, and how their function is affected by changes in their structure and by their interactions. She has solved solution structures of a large number of medically and biologically important proteins, including cytokines and chemokines, transcription factors and their complexes, and various HIV- and AIDS-related proteins.

Using restrained molecular dynamics/simulated annealing algorithms and multidimensional, heteronuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy methods that she developed, Gronenborn studies the structure, folding, and dynamics of macromolecules. Her extensive bibliography contains more than 400 articles and numerous book chapters.

Elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2007, Gronenborn received her diploma and doctoral degrees in chemistry from the University of Cologne, Germany. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh in 2005, she was a member of the senior biomedical research service and chief of structural biology for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

One of the nation’s leading experts in the early detection of Alzheimer’s disease, William E. Klunk is a professor of psychiatry and neurology in the School of Medicine. He is also codirector of the Alzheimer Disease Research Center at UPMC. He is a pioneer in the field of in vivo amyloid imaging in humans, and his group’s paper on imaging the pathology of Alzheimer’s disease, published in January 2004, is the most frequently cited research paper on this disease.

William F. KlunkWilliam F. Klunk

Klunk also was a member of the Pitt team that invented the groundbreaking Pittsburgh Compound B, a radioactive compound that, when coupled with PET imaging, can be injected into an Alzheimer’s patient’s bloodstream to enable researchers to see the location and distribution of the brain’s beta-amyloid plaque deposits that are associated with Alzheimer’s.

Klunk completed both medical and PhD degrees at Washington University in St. Louis focusing on neuropharmacology and medicinal chemistry. He is a member of the Medical and Scientific Advisory Council of the National Alzheimer’s Association and has published more than 100 journal articles and book chapters.

Klunk shared the 2004 MetLife Foundation Award, the 2008 Potamkin Prize, and the 2009 Ronald and Nancy Reagan Research Institute Awards for research in Alzheimer’s disease with his University of Pittsburgh colleague Chester A. Mathis, a professor of radiology.

Codirector of the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition at Pitt and Carnegie Mellon University, Peter Strick is a professor of neurobiology and psychiatry in the School of Medicine. He studies how the brain’s cerebral cortex controls voluntary movement; he has found that there are six pre-motor areas that play roles, which he is exploring with anatomic, physiologic, and functional imaging.

Peter StrickPeter Strick

Strick is also studying neural circuits between the basal ganglia and the cerebellum that are important in planning, initiating, and regulating volitional movement. His recent research indicates that those same circuits, when dysfunctional, could be partly responsible for symptoms of behavioral illnesses such as schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, and autism.

Using viruses that have an affinity for the central nervous system, Strick’s team has developed a unique approach to trace the circuitry of the central nervous system that also sheds light on how these viruses move through the brain.

Strick received his bachelor’s degree in biology and his PhD in anatomy from the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1999.