Medical School Names Lo Founding Chair of New Developmental Biology Department

Issue Date: 
May 11, 2009

A new Department of Developmental Biology, which will take advantage of sophisticated technologies to explore the workings of egg, sperm, and their union, has been established at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Its founding chair will be Cecilia Lo, who has long studied the causes of congenital heart disease as director of the Genetics and Developmental Biology Center and chief of the Laboratory of Developmental Biology at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI)in the National Institutes of Health.

“Dr. Lo is ideally suited to lead this promising new department,” said Arthur S. Levine, dean of the medical school and senior vice chancellor for the health sciences at the University. “Her work is taking significant steps toward discovering the genetic basis for congenital heart disease, and her approach and technologies easily lend themselves to similar analyses for birth defects in other organs.”

Developmental biology departments are not common, he noted, but such a research concentration holds great potential for not only finding new ways to treat birth defects and other congenital problems, but also understanding biological pathways at the beginning of life.

Using a variety of genetically modified mouse models, Lo is able to identify novel mutations that cause congenital heart defects such as atrial and ventricular septal defects, transposition of the great arteries, and pulmonary stenosis.

“I am delighted to continue my work at the University of Pittsburgh and look forward to taking on exciting research challenges with my new colleagues in Pittsburgh’s health sciences community,” Lo said.

She received her doctorate in 1979 from Rockefeller University and her B.S. in 1974 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where her advisor was Nobel Laureate David Baltimore. Prior to working at NHLBI, she was a professor of biology in the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.

Lo will join Pitt’s faculty in the summer, as will her husband, tissue engineering expert Rocky Tuan, who will direct a new Center for Cellular and Molecular Engineering in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery.

The center’s mission is to develop the knowledge base and the technical know-how to restore normal function by applying principles of cellular and molecular biology as well as the physical sciences and engineering.

“Research has the greatest impact when it is based on real-world needs, developed by means of integrated scientific principles, and delivered using translational approaches,” said Tuan, who also will serve as the executive vice chair for orthopaedic research. He is currently chief of the Cartilage Biology and Orthopaedics Branch at the National Institute of Arthritis, and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health.

Lo and Tuan have served on many professional committees and boards, published significant research papers in top-tier scientific journals, and delivered invited talks at highly regarded academic centers. They have been married for 33 years and have one child.