University Biomedical Researchers Lead National ASCI Awards

Issue Date: 
May 19, 2014

Eight University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine physician-scientists who translate lab findings into bedside care comprise the largest group from any single institution among the 76 individuals who have been elected this year to the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI).

Founded in 1908, ASCI is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected medical honor societies. It is dedicated to the advancement of research that extends the understanding of and improves the treatment of human diseases. Its members are committed to mentoring future generations of physician-scientists.

Each year, the society elects a maximum of 80 new members from the several hundred who are nominated. Those elected are from all medical specialties and must have demonstrated outstanding records of scholarly achievement in biomedical research. Induction into the society reflects high levels of accomplishment by members relatively early in their careers because they must be age 50 or younger during the year of their election. Membership is granted to physicians residing in the United States and Canada who have “accomplished meritorious, original, creative, and independent investigations in the clinical or allied sciences of medicine” and have “unimpeachable moral standing in the medical profession.”

“To have more than 10 percent of the faculty members from across the country selected for this high honor come from Pitt is extraordinary,” said University of Pittsburgh Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg. “Most basically, of course, it is a powerful endorsement of the work being done by these eight Pitt faculty members, but it also is an important external statement about the collective research strengths that exist in our University.”

“To have eight faculty members elected to ASCI, one of the most prestigious societies of physician-scientists, is a remarkable achievement,” said Arthur S. Levine, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean, School of Medicine. “Our scientists are at the forefront of their fields and deserve every professional honor. I am delighted that the work of these rising stars has been recognized.”

The inductees, with their research areas, follow.

Cristian Apetrei, associate professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, studies simian immunodeficiency virus, which infects non-human primates, to develop new reference strains and disease models that will enable better understanding of human HIV infection, prevention, and therapies.


Carlton M. Bates, associate professor of pediatrics, and chief, Division of Nephrology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, develops genetic mouse models of kidney and lower urinary tract development. By suppressing or altering the activity of certain genes, he and his team are able to breed mice with structural kidney disease akin to what is seen in affected children, leading to new insights into the causes of congenital kidney and bladder diseases, which are leading causes of pediatric chronic kidney disease.


Hülya Bayir, professor of critical care medicine, is interested in uncovering the most basic mechanisms that account for secondary damage in the wake of acute brain injury, focusing on malfunctioning mitochondria, the power plants of human cells. Her research has identified agents that show great promise in preventing injury-induced neurological damage.


Peter C. Lucas, associate professor of pathology, is a surgical and molecular pathologist with an interest in the relationship between chronic inflammation and the development of cancer, metabolic dysfunction, insulin resistance, vascular disease, and atherosclerosis. Each disease category is quite distinct, but several underlying molecular mechanisms related to inflammation link them, which could lead to the development of new therapies.


Linda M. McAllister-Lucas, associate professor of pediatrics, and chief, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, is a pediatric oncologist physician-scientist who is delving into the role of a particular multi-protein complex that, when improperly regulated, is thought to lead to the blood cancer B-cell lymphoma, as well as contribute to an inflammatory disease of the blood vessels. Her group is now evaluating
 new approaches to treating specific malignant and inflammatory disorders.

Mary Phillips, professor of psychiatry, identifies and investigates neural circuitry abnormalities that underlie abnormal emotion processing in adults and youths with mood disorders. She is a mentor to more than 40 junior investigators, has extensive national and international collaborations, and has authored or coauthored more than 230 publications.


Aleksandar Rajkovic, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, studies the development of the testes and ovaries to better understand the pathways that lead to male and female infertility, as well as tumor growth, such as ovarian cancer.


Yutong Zhao, associate professor of medicine, focuses on the biology of cells that line the lung and the role the lining plays in disorders characterized by inflammation. In one of his research endeavors—hailed as landmark for the field—Zhao discovered FBXL19, an enzyme component that plays a key role in reducing the severity of lung injury and inflammation.