Pitt Alumnus O’Malley to Receive National Medal of Science

Issue Date: 
September 8, 2008


                                      Bert W. O’Malley

Pitt alumnus Bert W. O’Malley will be recognized as a recipient of the 2007 National Medal of Science, President George W. Bush has announced. Administered by the National Science Foundation, the National Medal of Science is the nation’s highest honor for science and engineering and recognizes individuals for pioneering research. O’Malley is one of eight leaders in science to be honored during a White House ceremony Sept. 29.

O’Malley received his bachelor’s degree from Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences in 1959 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Pitt’s School of Medicine in 1963. He is highly regarded in the fields of endocrinology, reproduction, genetic disease, and endocrine cancers. He has helped advance the field of molecular endocrinology by encouraging his colleagues to embrace molecular biology technology.

“The selection of distinguished Pitt alumnus Bert O’Malley for the nation’s highest scientific honor visibly and very appropriately recognizes his many outstanding contributions to the field of biological sciences,” said Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Dr. O’Malley has been honored by his alma mater as the recipient of the Dickson Prize in Medicine, the Philip S. Hench Distinguished Alumnus Award, and the Bicentennial Medallion of Distinction. Most recently, he was named a Legacy Laureate, one of the highest honors our University can bestow upon one of its graduates.

Everyone at Pitt is proud of Dr. O’Malley and his distinguised career that has produced so many trailblazing scientific discoveries.”

“Bert O’Malley, through his creativity and willingness to ask the most extreme ‘What if?’ questions, has revolutionized our understanding of hormone function and, more generally, gene expression at the most fundamental level,” said Arthur S. Levine, Pitt senior vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine. “As Bert himself once said in an interview, ‘You have to understand how the cell works to understand the nature of disease.’

“The O’Malley lab’s discoveries are now being applied clinically to understand fertility regulation, reproductive tissue differentiation, and predispositions to reproductive cancers, among other questions. In addition, Bert is the grandfather of what we now call ‘team science,’ having trained more than 250 students and postdoctoral fellows in a lab where, as he describes it, people took their science seriously and worked collaboratively but still had time for some levity. Many of Bert’s trainees have followed in their mentor’s footsteps to become the next generation of leaders in the field, perhaps the most singular honor of all,” added Levine.

O’Malley currently serves as the Thomas C. Thompson Chair in Cell Biology and chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) in Houston, Tex. He also directs BCM’s Center for Reproductive Biology and is associate director for basic science at the school’s Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center.

O’Malley served as president of the Endocrine Society and was instrumental in establishing the journal Molecular Endocrinology, one of the most highly cited peer-reviewed biomedical science journals. He has written more than 600 scientific and medical publications and holds 19 patents for special techniques and inventions related to molecular and cellular biology.

O’Malley has received numerous honors and awards, including the Academia Nazionale dei Lincei Antonio Feltrinelli International Prize for Biology, awarded to distinguished scholars, and the Brinker International Award for Breast Cancer Research. He also was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Academy of Medicine in Ireland.

O’Malley joins distinguished Pitt-affiliated National Medal of Science winners Herbert W. Boyer (Arts and Sciences ’60G, ’63G), a former Pitt trustee, cofounder of Genentech, Inc., and biotechnology pioneer; Donald A. Henderson, a University Distinguished Service Professor and Resident Scholar at the UPMC Center for Biosecurity; Paul C. Lauterbur (Arts and Sciences ’62G), who shared the 2003 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his part in developing magnetic resonance imaging; and Thomas E. Starzl, transplant pioneer and Distinguished Service Professor of Surgery.

The first National Medal of Science was awarded in 1963, and past honorees include renowned behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner and artificial heart pioneer Michael E. DeBakey.