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UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh Announces Leadership Changes to Research and Surgical Programs

July 25, 2018

UPMC Children’s Hospital has announced leadership changes aimed at growing its research and surgical programs. 

George K. Gittes, MD, a nationally recognized pediatric surgeon and well-established basic scientist, has been appointed director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation Institute for Pediatric Research and co-scientific director at UPMC Children’s Hospital. He also will assume the title of surgeon-in-chief emeritus. 
Victor Morell, MD, an esteemed cardiothoracic surgeon who has made UPMC Children’s a national leader in cardiothoracic quality and safety measures, has been named surgeon-in-chief.
“Drs. Gittes and Morell are both incredibly talented surgeons and leaders who over the last decade have elevated their respective surgical divisions to among the best in the country,” said Christopher Gessner, president, UPMC Children’s. “Because of his unique background as a pediatric surgeon and researcher, this is an exciting opportunity for Dr. Gittes to develop our Mellon Institute and mentor a new generation of dynamic pediatric researchers. At the same time, Dr. Morell will enhance all of our surgical divisions by employing best practices that have made UPMC Children’s a leading center for complex congenital heart surgery.”
In addition to his role as surgeon-in-chief, Morell will continue in his existing roles as chief, Division of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery; co-director, Heart Institute; and co-director, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute.
Under Morell’s leadership, UPMC Children’s pediatric cardiovascular surgery program has outcomes that are among the highest in the nation. UPMC Children’s had one of the lowest overall four-year surgical mortality rates among all high-volume programs with a mortality rate under 2 percent and was awarded a 3-Star rating by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (2012-2016), one of only 11 programs to receive this distinction. Nationally, the average mortality rate for all pediatric cardiovascular programs was 3.1 percent during the same reporting period.

Morell, professor of cardiothoracic surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and the Eugene S. Wiener Endowed Chair in Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery, also led a highly successful 2014 collaboration between UPMC Children’s and St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa, Florida. Morell and other UPMC Children’s cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists and staff collaborate with St. Joseph’s cardiac team on surgical and non-invasive cardiology services, as well as monitoring of St. Joseph’s cardiac intensive care unit via telemedicine.
Since joining UPMC Children’s in 2005, Gittes has served as surgeon-in-chief and chief of the Division of Pediatric General and Thoracic Surgery — one of the busiest pediatric surgical programs in the United States and the home of the Benedum Pediatric Trauma Program, one of only two Level I Regional Resource Pediatric Trauma Centers in Pennsylvania.
Gittes, professor of surgery and pediatrics, Pitt School of Medicine and the Benjamin R. Fisher Chair in Pediatric Surgery, will lead the Mellon Institute, which is an incubator for research that challenges conventional wisdom and can lead to paradigm shifts in pediatric medicine. The high-risk, high-impact investigations undertaken at the institute are typically not funded through government or conventional sources, placing Children’s in a unique realm of pediatric research centers.
And as co-scientific director, Gittes will work alongside Terence Dermody, MD, chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Pitt School of Medicine and physician-in-chief and scientific director at UPMC Children’s, to further enhance the hospital’s already robust and historically significant pediatric research program. 
In his own lab, Gittes and his team have been performing studies using gene therapy to treat diabetes. His team has found that a virus injected into the pancreatic duct of mice will reverse their diabetes, leading to the potential to change the treatment of juvenile diabetes.