Genomics Innovator Dietrich Stephan Named Chair of Pitt Public Health Department of Human Genetics

Dietrich A. Stephan, Ph.D., has been named chair of the Department of Human Genetics at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Dr. Stephan also will serve as the associate director of the Institute for Personalized Medicine, a collaborative initiative between the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences and UPMC, where he will lead the efforts in population genetics and translational acceleration of new discoveries.  

Dr. Stephan has blazed a trail in “translating” his research findings on the causes of human diseases into a plethora of diagnostic tests that can identify diseases early – often even before they strike – and are used routinely worldwide to help physicians and patients make better decisions. Dr. Stephan is well-known for his pioneering work in inventing and building the infrastructure to allow people to be tested for their genetic risk factors for common chronic diseases, such as heart disease, age-related blindness, diabetes and cancers - and thus enabling them to manage their risks to stay healthy.

In addition to diagnostics developments, Dr. Stephan’s therapeutic development programs have resulted in the first human trials for a number of new and effective therapies, including drugs for diseases of the brain such as autism spectrum disorder and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), pediatric and adult cancers, and several still in development for currently intractable and devastating diseases.

“Dr. Stephan brings an extraordinary set of talents to Pittsburgh. He is a proven leader, having served as a department chair in the past, as a biotechnology CEO and as a board member of many high-profile organizations,” said Donald S. Burke, M.D., the UPMC Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health and the dean of Pitt Public Health. “Dr. Stephan has a vision for the future of health care at the population level that is inspiring and infectious. He will help bring about a new era of applied public health genetics, including preventions and interventions, not only here in Pittsburgh but worldwide.”

Dr. Stephan comes to Pittsburgh from San Francisco where he most recently was the founder, president and chief executive officer of Silicon Valley Biosystems, a diagnostics company dedicated to helping physicians improve patient health and outcomes through an understanding of the human genome. Last year, his company entered into an agreement to provide whole genome diagnostics to the Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine and Mayo Medical Laboratories.

Dr. Stephan will replace Ilyas Kamboh, Ph.D., professor of human genetics, who served as chairman for almost a decade. During his tenure, Dr. Kamboh recruited and mentored many outstanding junior faculty, advanced the department’s research programs in the genetics of  diseases such as Alzheimer’s, and guided one of the nation’s premier genetic counseling programs.

“From the industrial revolution to today’s national leadership in education and health care, Pittsburgh consistently produces breakthrough innovations, and does so without pretense,” says Dr. Stephan. “There are unique assets here that will let us achieve things that are impossible elsewhere. We plan to leverage all of these unique institutions, experts, tools and strategies in Pittsburgh and beyond to achieve our vision of alleviating suffering and preventable death on a public health scale.”

Dr. Stephan received his undergraduate degree from Carnegie Mellon University and his Ph.D. in human genetics from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Stephan trained as a fellow at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health. He later served as professor and chairman of the Department of Neurogenomics of the non-profit Translational Genomics Research Institute. Dr. Stephan has founded, built and sold several biotechnology companies and has led the implementation of clinical programs in personalized medicine at several prominent health care systems. Among numerous awards, in 2012 he was selected as a Legacy Laureate of the University of Pittsburgh.


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