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Donald S. Burke, M.D., Honored with Election to Institute of Medicine

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 12, 2009 – Donald S. Burke, M.D., 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 Dr. Burke, an expert in the prevention, diagnosis and control of infectious diseases, will be announced today at the 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.”

Dr. Burke, associate vice chancellor for Global Health at the University of Pittsburgh and director of Pitt’s Center for Vaccine Research, has focused his research on HIV/AIDS, tropical viruses, hepatitis, influenza and emerging infectious diseases.  His life-long 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, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. “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.”

Dr. Burke’s expertise spans “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.

Dr. 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.

Prior to joining the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Burke had a distinguished 23-year career at the Walter Reed Army Institute, where he last served as associate director for Emerging Threats and Biotechnology and retired from active duty at the rank of Colonel in 1997.  He then assumed a leadership position in public health as director of the Center for Immunization Research at Johns Hopkins University. At Pitt, he assembled and is leading an international team of epidemiologists and computer scientists who are evaluating pandemic influenza control strategies.

Dr. 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, has mentored students who have gone on to become leaders in infectious disease research and development worldwide.

Established in 1970 by the National Academy of Sciences as a national resource for independent, scientifically informed analysis and recommendations on health issues, the IOM 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.  

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