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New Associate Chief of Cardiology Appointments at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute

January 7, 2021

In December 2020, Samir Saba, MD, and Mark Gladwin, MD, announced the creation of five new associate chief of cardiology positions in the division of cardiology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The newly designated associate chiefs are key faculty in the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, all with years of contributions to UPMC and the field of cardiology at both regional and national levels. 

In their new roles, the associate chiefs will work closely with Dr. Saba to advance the academic mission of the division in education, research, diversity, and faculty advancement.

Katie Berlacher, MD:  Associate Chief of Cardiology for Education 

Kathryn Berlacher, MDDr. Berlacher grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and graduated from Duke University in 2001 and The Ohio State University College of Medicine in 2005. She completed her Internal Medicine residency at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and stayed on for an extra year as a Chief Resident. She remained with UPMC for her cardiovascular fellowship, during which time she served as the chief education fellow. In 2012, she joined the cardiology faculty while completing her Master’s degree in Medical Education, serving as the associate program director of the fellowship, as well as the subspecialty education coordinator for the internal medicine residency, overseeing all cardiology rotations and career mentoring for residents. In 2015, Dr. Berlacher became the cardiovascular fellowship program director, as well as the director of the Magee Women’s Heart Program. Nationally, Dr. Berlacher has been involved in multiple medical societies, currently serving as the chair of the overarching education committee for the American College of Cardiology. She had previously served as the governor of the Pennsylvania American College of Cardiology state chapter. Her scholarship focuses on innovation in medical education, diversity and inclusion in training programs, and faculty development.  

In her new role, Dr. Berlacher will continue to oversee new initiatives in training and education of our fellows and faculty in the cardiology division.  

Stephen Chan, MD, PhD: Associate Chief of Cardiology for Basic Research

Stephen Chan, MD, PhDDr. Chan is a tenured professor in the UPMC Department of Medicine and director of the Vascular Medicine Institute and the Center for Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Disease. Since arriving at the University of Pittsburgh in 2015, he has established an impressive research enterprise that spans basic to translational research in the field of pulmonary hypertension. Capitalizing on the emerging discipline of "network medicine", he employs bioinformatics and computational biology in a systems-wide discovery approach using genetically altered rodent models and human subjects to accelerate mechanistic discovery in pulmonary vascular disease. His fundamental discoveries were the first to describe the systems-level activities of non-coding RNAs in pulmonary vessels.  

Dr. Chan is the principal investigator of multiple National Institutes of Health (NIH) R-level and U-level grants, was awarded an Established Investigator Award from the American Heart Association, has made high-impact discoveries, and has nurtured entrepreneurial programs developing novel therapies for patients suffering from pulmonary hypertension. He has received numerous research awards from the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and the Pulmonary Hypertension Association. Dr. Chan was elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation in 2016, currently serves on five journal editorial boards, is an at-large member of the American Heart Association 3CPR Council Leadership Committee, and is the chair of the Respiratory Integrative Biology and Translational Research NIH Study Section.

In addition to his role as a physician-scientist, Dr. Chan is passionate about teaching. To date, he has served as a mentor or co-mentor to over twenty-five post-doctoral, doctoral, and pre-doctoral students. Since 2015, Dr. Chan has served as UPMC’s Associate Cardiology Fellowship Director for Research. In 2019, he was awarded a Medical Student Research Mentoring Merit Award from the University of Pittsburgh. As a clinician, Dr. Chan previously participated in a large inpatient clinical practice in cardiovascular medicine and pulmonary vascular medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and now leads an interdisciplinary group caring for patients with pulmonary hypertension at UPMC. Finally, Dr. Chan also engages in community service, notably as a founder of a non-profit organization providing medical care to impoverished populations throughout the world via telemedicine.  

In Dr. Chan’s role as associate chief of cardiology for basic research, he will bring new energy and initiatives that build on the great success of our faculty, trainees, and staff.  

A.J. Conrad Smith, MD: Associate Chief of Cardiology for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

AJ Conrad Smith, MDDr. Smith received his Bachelor of Science degree from Stanford University in 1983 and his medical degree from University of California at San Francisco in 1987 before moving to Boston where he completed residency training in internal medicine and fellowship training in general and interventional cardiology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1994, Conrad joined the faculty at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Cardiovascular Institute (now the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute) where he is currently an associate professor of medicine. Dr. Smith continues to assume several leadership roles within the department, including director of interventional cardiology and director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory. He has also assumed leadership roles within the American College of Cardiology as President and Governor of the Pennsylvania Chapter, for which he received the distinguished service award in 2006.

Most importantly, throughout the entirety of his career, Dr. Smith has been a champion of promoting diversity and inclusion in the medical field through his active involvement in the Association of Black Cardiologists as well as through grassroots work within underserved communities in the general Pittsburgh area. In his new role as associate chief of cardiology for diversity, Dr. Smith will continue building on this legacy by working closely with the division chief on initiatives aimed at promoting more diversity and inclusion within the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, and by promoting an increased equity of care for all in our community. 

Prem Soman, MD, PhD: Associate Chief of Cardiology for Faculty Development 

Prem Soman, MD, PhDAfter his initial medical and postgraduate training in India and the UK, Dr. Soman completed fellowships in cardiology and cardiac imaging at the Tufts Medical Center in Boston. He was recruited to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center in 2005 and is currently a tenured associate professor of medicine and clinical and translational science, and the director of nuclear cardiology and the cardiac amyloidosis center. During his tenure here in Pittsburgh, Dr. Sultan has established several programs that have critically advanced the mission of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, including the Advanced Cardiac Imaging Fellowship, the Multidisciplinary Cardiac Amyloidosis Center and fellowship, and the Cardiac PET program, which will be going live in the first quarter of 2021. He has mentored many residents and fellows, several of whom have gone on to academic and leadership positions of their own. He is an established clinical researcher with over 130 publications and has co-authored several national guideline documents. The national leadership positions he has held include president of the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology, chair of the American College of Cardiology Imaging Council, and president of the Cardiovascular Council of the Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging. He is currently an associate editor of Circulation CV Imaging.

In this new role as associate chief of cardiology, Dr. Soman will work closely with the chief of cardiology on career advancement and promotions for our faculty. This role will complement and leverage his current appointment on the Tenure and Promotions Committee of the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Flordeliza (Liza) Villanueva, MD: Associate Chief of Cardiology for Translational Research 

Flordeliza Villanueva, MDDr. Villanueva received her BA (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) and MD (Alpha Omega Alpha) from Boston University. She completed her internal medicine residency at Duke University and cardiology fellowship at the University of Virginia. In 1992, she joined the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, where she is currently tenured professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology. She is the founding director of the Center for Ultrasound Molecular Imaging and Therapeutics and the founding director of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute’s inaugural NIH T32 for post-doctoral fellows, entitled “Training Program in Imaging Sciences in Translational Cardiovascular Research.” She has served on numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study Sections and is currently a chartered member of the NIH Image Technology Development Study Section. She has held many roles in professional societies, including serving on the Board of Directors of the American Society of Echocardiography (ASE) and numerous ASE committees. She previously received the Feigenbaum Award from the American Society of Echocardiography, the highest award given to a young investigator in echocardiography. She is an Established Investigator of the AHA and has been elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation and the Association of University Cardiologists. She served for five years, until September 2020, as the vice chair for Pre-Clinical Research in the Department of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.  
In the clinical arena, Dr. Villanueva is currently the director of Non-Invasive Cardiac Imaging at Presbyterian University Hospital at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, overseeing the clinical imaging programs at our academic mothership.   

Dr. Villanueva has focused her research on the development of ultrasound contrast agents for assessment of the microcirculation, ultrasound molecular imaging, and ultrasound-mediated image-guided therapeutics. Her lab was the first to demonstrate that molecularly targeted ultrasound contrast agents bind to biological surfaces overexpressing the molecular target, ultimately allowing ultrasonic imaging of disease/function-specific epitopes in vivo. Her group has led the study of how unique acoustic behaviors of ultrasound contrast agents can be harnessed to therapeutic effect -- such as targeted drug/gene delivery and modulation of endothelial barrier function -- for clinical applications in cardiovascular medicine, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Her research collaborations span academic institutions throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe, as well as industry.  

In her new role, Dr. Villanueva will continue to work with the division chief on recruiting academic faculty to the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute, and on overseeing new initiatives in translational research across the division and beyond.