Donald S. Burke Elected to Institute of Medicine

Issue Date: 
October 19, 2009
Donald S. BurkeDonald S. Burke

Donald S. Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, has been elected to the prestigious Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies, one of the highest honors in health and medicine.

The selection of Burke, an expert in the prevention, diagnosis, and control of infectious diseases, was announced Oct. 12 during IOM’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

“Election to the Institute of Medicine is highly selective, bestowed only on those physician-scientists who have made remarkable contributions to the fields of health and medicine,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Given Dr. Burke’s groundbreaking work in the mitigation of infectious diseases of global concern and his commitment to improving the lives of others around the world, his selection is a great honor not only for him, but for the University of Pittsburgh.”

Burke also is the associate vice chancellor for global health at the University, director of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health. He has focused his research on HIV/AIDS, tropical viruses, hepatitis, influenza, and emerging infectious diseases. His lifelong mission has been to prevent and lessen the impact of epidemic infectious diseases around the world.

“I can think of no one more deserving of this high honor than Dr. Burke,” said Arthur S. Levine, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine. “His career-long dedication to improving our understanding of infectious diseases has had a far-reaching impact on public health, giving us insight into the best methods to predict and prevent diseases that affect people around the globe. The vision and commitment he has displayed over the years secure his legacy as one of the world’s foremost scientists.”

Burke’s expertise spans the proverbial “from the bench to the bush,” including laboratory research, field studies, vaccine trials, and implementation and evaluation of programs to control infectious diseases. He has led major vaccine research and development efforts for Japanese encephalitis, dengue, hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and biodefense threats. The diagnostic assays he developed for epidemic viral encephalitis and for HIV/AIDS have become worldwide standards.

Burke’s epidemiological studies of HIV among incoming military recruits first revealed the magnitude of the epidemic in the United States, and his international molecular epidemiology studies of HIV unraveled its emergence, evolution, and global spread. He was instrumental in launching HIV/AIDS vaccine trials in Thailand, leading to the recent first-ever successful vaccine trial in that country.  Additional studies he led in the Congo basin in Africa demonstrated the key role of “bushmeat hunting”—the hunting of wild animals for their meat—in the emergence of new epidemic viruses.

Before coming to 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.

Prior to his tenure at Johns Hopkins, Burke had a distinguished 23-year career 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. He retired at the rank of colonel.

At Pitt, Burke assembled and is leading an international team of epidemiologists and computer scientists who are evaluating pandemic influenza control strategies.

Burke also has served on World Health Organization expert steering committees for HIV/AIDS vaccines and dengue vaccines, and as president of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. While at Johns Hopkins, he won the Golden Apple public health teaching award, and throughout his career, he has mentored students who have gone on to become leaders in infectious disease research and development worldwide.

The IOM was established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues. It provides unbiased, evidence-based information and advice concerning health and science policy to policy-makers, professionals, leaders in every sector of society, and the public at large.