Among the class of 100 new inductees honored at today’s annual meeting are Toren Finkel, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology and director of the Pitt Aging Institute, and Amy Wagner, professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation and neuroscience at Pitt.
Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine and recognizes individuals who have demonstrated outstanding professional achievement and commitment to service. New members are elected by current members through a process that recognizes individuals who have made major contributions to the advancement of medical sciences, health care and public health.
“This is a wonderful honor from my peers, made possible through my good fortune of working with so my talented people along the way, as well as the unwavering support of my family,” Finkel said.
Finkel’s work centers on how oxidative stress and the function of mitochondria alter the rate of aging. The long-term goal is to uncover the molecular basis of aging and age-related diseases through the study of a variety of different cellular pathways. Recently, Finkel’s focus has been on autophagy—the body’s natural way of clearing out old and damaged parts of cells—as a target for anti-aging therapeutics.
Wagner uses biomarkers and statistical modeling to predict how well patients will recover from brain injury and to guide clinical decisions along the way—a strategy she calls “personalized rehabilitation medicine.” This clinical research informs her research studies using in vivo pre-clinical models aimed at identifying intervention strategies that promote neurorecovery. She also treats patients with neurological conditions who are undergoing inpatient rehabilitation, and she is a consultant for neurologically devastated patients during their acute hospitalization at UPMC.
“One of the things that I look forward to the most with my academy membership is being able to use my voice to represent and serve all rehabilitation populations, but particularly our brain injury population, which is underserved,” Wagner said. “Disability is such a huge issue—there are over 50 million people in this country who have some type of disability. Being able to advocate for them and to bring that to a national stage, showing what we have to offer, is really important.”
Of the inductees, Academy President Victor J. Dzau said: “This distinguished and diverse class of new members is a truly exceptional group of scholars and leaders whose expertise in science, medicine, health and policy will be integral to helping the National Academy of Medicine address today’s most pressing health challenges and inform the future of health and health care for the benefit of everyone around the globe.”
“It is exciting—but hardly surprising—to see Drs. Finkel and Wagner recognized for their remarkable contributions to the field of medicine,” said Pitt’s Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences Anantha Shekhar. “On behalf of all of their many proud colleagues and students at the University of Pittsburgh: Congratulations!”
Before Finkel and Wagner, Pitt’s most recent class of inductees was in 2018, when Amy Houtrow, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, Clifton Calloway, the Ronald Stewart Professor of Emergency Medicine Research and Robert Friedlander, the Walter Dandy Professor and chair of neurological surgery, joined the academy.